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Thread: Alan Bates and Me 6

  1. #1

    Default Alan Bates and Me 6

    I'm going to digress a minute and give some background on the BELLE. The world was a much different place in 1963, the first season the BELLE ran. I'm not sure the BELLE would be a success if it tried to start up in today's world. Here are my thoughts as to why the BELLE prospered:
    1. The county govt. wasn't interested in making a profit from the BELLE, they wanted it to pay for itself and not cost the taxpayers.
    2. The Coast Guard inspectors were local and they knew all the "players". They were rivermen so they knew what was critical and what could be delayed. They did not scrimp on safety; but they were reasonable.
    3. There wasn't the vast choice of activities that we have today. Louisville had no professional baseball team, very few kids were in little league, soccer and other organized sports.
    4. There were a lot more social clubs and people were active in them, ie VFW, church clubs, neighborhood clubs etc. This meant there were a lot more groups who were interested in chartering the boat. We had charters practically every night in the summer and the charter rate was reasonable, Clubs used BELLE cruises to make money.
    5. Ticket prices for the public cruises were very reasonable...$1.50 (about $12,00 in todays dollars) for adults and $.50 for children. That was for a 4 hr cruise. Today I think its $22.00 for a 2 hr. cruise.
    6. There was free parking on the wharf.
    7. There were only two rock and roll radio stations which every teen listened to. So when they advertised the BELLE's teen dance on those stations they reached every teen in Louisville. (the BELLE didn't make much on the teen dances, just the normal charter rate because the boat was chartered by the FOP which made a killing). This made a core of loyal future passengers who fondly remember those dances and, I really believe, is one of the main reasons the public demanded the boat be repaired after the sinking.
    I could go on but you can see things were different,

    The BELLE started operating in the spring of 1963. As far as I can remember Alan was not part of the boat. He played in the dance band on many charters and he did some consulting work, but he had not yet gotten his license. Paul Underwood, the first captain, was always worried that the stern end of the boat would "fall off", droop like the DQ's does now (the DQ's is not the result of hogging but poor support when they put the new hull on her). He would stand on the bank looking at the boat and once he asked me, "does it look like that stern is OK?" He had years and years of experience on sternwheelers and he had seen many an old boat hog, he was afraid that would happen to the BELLE. Alan made up drawings and designed some additional hog chains for the stern. These were installed and I guess they worked because the stern is a true today as it was the day the day she came out in 1914.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2006
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    *Alan Bates No. #6*
    Wonderful, Jim, wonderful! Just what we all need to know with warts and all. Your points above well stated and I know I hadn't thought of them let alone know. How could I? If not for Louisville political and financial support, the then AVALON would have gone to the junk yard as she looked pretty rough and ragged around the edges here. Places on her where paint laid on layer upon layer until it looked like icing on a wedding cake. I also thought of the prices you mention then with the cost equivalent now in 2019. Also the BELLE had the hard liquor bar aboard. I seem to think the old AVALON only sold beer in bottles. [?] Alan, in letters to me, was candid in relating "my situation and position then." I dared not asking probing questions. I do remember GL Purser Bob McCann mentioning to me about "...phone calls the GREENE LINE received to buy, take over the AVALON and run her." Bob said, "We have enough problems keeping the paddlewheel of one boat turning without two." OUCH! Yeah, lots of wonderful, warm and fuzzy old-time steamboat romance. Yeah, right.

    R. Dale Flick
    Old Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River, Cincinnati.

  3. #3
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    Jul 2006
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    Northern California above Lake Oroville on "Dewey Mountain"
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    There are those that question the "hogging" on the DQ, but if you go inside the main cabin deck, you can see the doors are built for a hmm, Higher "rake" of the floor than now exists. I hold that if it weren't for the flexibility of the wooden superstructure, she would have "split open" about 3/4 of the way back. I hope one of the "major rebuilds" that happens now includes correcting that-I understand that it wasn't corrected for fear of throwing the engines out of alignment. Maybe they can also improve the hull's fairing up to the wheel to improve handling?? Yep, big dollars, but they're going to have to spend big dollars anyway.
    Fixing the "hogging" will not only make her look "right" again, but lift the wheel up so she won't carry over so much water (which will probably improve (reduce) steam demand too!).
    But then, what do I know, living far from the rivers?

  4. #4
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    Paragould, AR or on m/v MAGNOLIA
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    Great, Jim! I eat this stuff up.

  5. #5

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    Dale...there was no hard liquor or beer sold on the BELLE in those early days. There was quite a debate over whether or not to sell liquor. The prevailing view was the BELLE was to be a family oriented entertainment, so for years they didn't fall for the quick profit liquor promised. As the board of directors changed, that philosophy changed, now they have full bar service. I have no idea what kind of money the bar brings in, but I do know it has cost the boat many charters. As I stated above many clubs used a BELLE charter as a way to make money. That included the clubs themselves selling alcohol during their charters, the boat sold set-ups...at inflated prices...from the concession stand. Once the BELLE no longer allowed charterers to sell booze, many quit renting the boat because they could no longer use a BELLE trip to make money or pay the expense of chartering the boat.
    My own opinion, I'd take the bar out. The public day trips are still pretty much a family affair and I don't think booze should be involved.

  6. #6
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    *Liquor sales/Group ticket profits*
    Hi, Jim,
    Great stuff RE: liquor sales on the BELLE then. Factors I hadn't considered. Interesting RE: when groups chartered they made money. This an old, old sales promo technique going way, way back in steamboat excursion business. Betty Blake cut her teeth with the AVALON here in Cincinnati employing that approach. I remember even our church getting a certain % back on tickets on the AVALON. And I do remember when the hard booze bar came into vogue on the BELLE. Today boat bar revenue really big and important. Sign of the times with present day by the drink liquor prices very profitable. It was clever business with a dash of shysterism as Alan Bates and Doc Hawley wrote/hinted in 'Moonlite at 8:30' book. Betty learned her trade well with the best of them. Her days as traveling 'drummer' for the boat up and down the rivers with classic tales she loved to tell. I well remember the time she headed out early in still cold weather to lay the groundwork in towns and cities for charters, passing out brochures, posters. making deals. She was unloading boxes of AVALON materials from the trunk of her car when her feet slipped on the ice and down she went breaking a couple ribs on the back fender. And there will never be another Betty Blake.

    R. Dale Flick
    Old Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River, Cincinnati.

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