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Rally on the River & The Great DQ Steam Up!

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Old 11-05-2010, 04:35 PM
Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: On the "Beautiful Ohio" at New Albany, Indiana, opposite Louisville, Kentucky
Posts: 2,078
Default Rally on the River & The Great DQ Steam Up!

Just back from Chattanooga and what a GREAT time we had this week for the Rally on the River and the Great DQ Steam Up! Wish you ALL could have been with us! I'll admit that I have been apprehensive and skeptical about experiencing the DQ as a permanently moored vessel, but thanks to the hard work and efforts of MANY, our beloved DQ is doing well and I've returned home feeling MUCH better about the boat in her current role.

We (Travis Vasconcelos, Kathleen O'Connell and I) had a pleasant drive down from Louisville and arrived on Tuesday afternoon. The DELTA QUEEN was ever radiant in the bright sunshine, her sternwheel gleaming. A gentle rain fell for most of Wednesday, but that certainly didn't dampen the spirits and enthusiasm of ANYBODY! The trees in Coolidge Park, where the DQ is moored, are beautiful in their autumn coloring and provide a wonderful setting for the landing and the grand lady who resides there.

There is SO much to tell that I hardly know where to begin, so I'll just mention a few of the high points. First and foremost, Chief Engineers Kenny Howe and Dan Lewis, ably assisted by Phillip Johnson, Brian Russell, Chris Merrick and others worked tirelessly in the engine room, boiler room and elsewhere for many long hours to make it all happen. To say that they worked hard is an understatement! Whatever problems arose, they quickly and efficiently had them all under control. Travis and I were in the engine room when Chief Kenny declared all was ready, gently opened the throttle and set the engines in motion. The odor of hot oil and steam was simply FABULOUS as that big red paddlewheel began to slowly revolve. And, yes, there were moist eyes all around!

It was glorious to see smoke pouring from the stack and beautiful white clouds of steam emanating from the DQ. And to hear that hauntingly beautiful and melodious whistle echoing over the Tennessee River was..... well, you know what it does to all of us! Soon thereafter, Travis ("Mr. Wizard of the Whistles") limbered up the calliope and the buildings of downtown Chattanooga began reverberating with rollicking tunes. A few resonating taps on the big roof bell also added to the sounds, sights and smells that are uniquely steamboatin'!

It was thrilling to be invited to take part in this Rally on the River and I can't say enough good things about Leah Ann & Randy Ingram, who are now managing the operation with tender loving care. In a very short time, they have greatly improved the situation and things are getting better with each new day. They and their wonderful staff couldn't have been more hospitable to all of us and were so appreciative that former DQ crew members and passengers volunteered their time to come to Chattanooga to convey their great love for the boat to the public and for the good of the cause. A whistle salute to Leah Ann and Randy! The DQ is in GOOD hands!

Although we didn't let go the lines and back her out (about the only thing we didn't do!) be assured that the DQ is very much ALIVE! Her decks vibrate, "passengers" come aboard with luggage and check in at the purser's office to stay in her cabins, delicious food is served in The Orleans Room, the Texas Lounge resounds with music and laughter in the evenings, the gift shop purveys steamboaty souvenirs, people enjoy the solitude of the Betty Blake Library -- and everywhere you look there is activity. Yes, it would be wonderful to depart on a trip, but the horrid thought that she could be tied up in a backwater slough, vacant, dark and vulnerable to vandals, quickly dispels the disappointment!

I was most pleased to be asked to serve as the pilothouse tour guide this week during the time the boat was open to the public. I took along some vintage photographs to share with visitors, including one from the days when the pilotwheel (now on display at the Ohio River Museum in Marietta, Ohio) was in use. Travis did a magnificent job of coordinating the tours and seemingly was in three places at once. I enjoyed talking with various members of the media as well as the grateful visitors who came aboard. One reporter asked me WHY so many of us love the DQ as we do when it's "just a boat". I told him that, unless you have the SPECIAL feelings we have, it's a bit difficult to explain, except for the fact that we don't regard the DQ as simply an entity of wood and steel; she's a living, beloved relative -- akin to a grandmother -- who has played a starring role in our lives and helped make us who we are -- and that river people share a common bond that makes us forever 'family'. He looked thoughtfully for a moment and then said he understood. I surely hope so!

In between tours, I sat on the lazy bench and re-read (for about the 25th time!) Capt. Fred Way's Saga of the Delta Queen. Goosebumps ran up and down my spine in reading some of the passages where I could actually look up from the book at exactly what Capt. Fred was writing about! Each night, before retiring to my Texas deck cabin, I would take a stroll around the quiet decks, always pausing at the stern to look over the wheel and thinking of all the dear people, many now departed, who have played a part in the history of the DELTA QUEEN. Precious memories!

After the tours concluded on Thursday, a progressive and elegant dinner was served, followed by a memorable musical show, presented by Laura Sable and Bill Wiemuth, in The Orleans Room. Also included was a silent auction of steamboat memorabilia. The mayor of Chattanooga attended the event and delivered a proclamation, declaring it "Rally on the River Day". Travis put on yet another terrific calliope concert, replete with "colored steam" much to the delight of those aboard and on the landing.

How wonderful it was to be with many good river friends this week, not only those who helped with the Rally on the River, but others such as Margaret Peabody, of Natchez, who was Tour Purser when I worked on the DQ, drove up, spent several nights on the boat and we had a great time reminiscing. We were delighted to see Capt. Robyn Strickland Jones and her good friend, Colleen Jarrell who came down from Charleston to be with us last night. A couple from Georgia, Dave and Mary Pat Michaels, came up into the pilothouse and she told me that her brother had worked on the boat in the 1970's. Turned out that her brother is Denny Hamilton, who worked in various jobs on the DQ for several years and with whom I frequently correspond! Mary Pat came back later to tell me she had called him (he now lives in Wisconsin) to report on the DQ event! Kathleen O'Connell, daughter of BELLE OF LOUISVILLE Capt. Pete O'Connell, accompanied Travis and me to Chattanooga, was of tremendous help with the tours and her company much enjoyed by all. Although her first allegiance is, understandably, to the BELLE, she's now a DQ devotee' as well!

Stalwart steamboat buffs and buffettes Barb Hameister, Pat Traynor (who was interviewed for tv twice!) Pat Carr, Gayle Hindman, Dot Cornelius, Ed Frazier, Robin Robertson and others helped not only with tours, but some were wielding dust rags and polishing cloths right up to show time! I dusted and swept out the pilothouse. Barb had already polished the telegraph and wheel revolution counter and next on her list was mopping the engine room floor! Barb is like the Energizer Bunny and NEVER stops! I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all of our visitors but especially meaningful, to me, were the children who were wide eyed with wonder at getting to come aboard and tour the revered riverboat. One small boy was practically bursting with enthusiasm and could barely contain himself as he sat on the pilothouse bench and told me that, "We got to see the engines working and that BIG red wheel going around. This boat is AWESOME!"

Indeed, the Str. DELTA QUEEN is one AWESOME lady! I could go on and on, but I'm sure that my colleagues from our time on the boat will augment my posting with memories and observations of their own. After four days of being "under the spell" of the DQ again it surely was hard to walk up the hill on Friday and leave her, but I think there are more good things to come in the near future! THANK YOU to ALL who were involved in the Great River Rally and DQ Steam Up. It truly was an honor and a privilege to again serve as a DQ crew member - after 32 years! This stellar event certainly revived my spirits and gave me renewed optimism that the DQ still has a chance for a bright future ahead of her. Keep the faith!


(1) Steam, Beautiful Steam!
(2) Your Pilothouse Tour Guide
(3) Brian & Phillip listen to Travis' calliope concert from the fantail
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Name:	Brian & Phillip on DQ Fantail  11-3-2010.jpg
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