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inactive user 01 06-16-2010 09:46 AM

Steam Trains vs. Steamboats

Got to thinking last night about the decline of the inland steamboat population and somehow I got to thinking about just how many scenic railways there are in the United States that are running steam locomotives. Many of which have been brought out of retirement. Because I am not closely associated with any groups that operate steam trains I do not know if they have suffered similar loses in engines running compared to the boats not running. Obviously there are big differences in the daily operation of these two different modes of transportation, but why are the steam trains seemingly making it and the boats going by the wayside? Is there just more mainstream interest in trains then there is in boats? Is it a proximity/exposure thing? I'm curious and I know there are those on this board who like myself are also interested in steam locos as well as the boats who might be able to share thoughts. Maybe we could learn something from those who have brought steam trains back to life and how to sustain their operation.


Keith Norrington 06-16-2010 10:38 AM

Good food for thought Aaron. And thanks for your fine letter in [I]The Waterways Journal [/I]concerning the Str. JULIA BELLE SWAIN. Let's hope it helps to bring about some positive action!

inactive user 01 06-16-2010 10:54 AM

Thanks Keith,

At this point I'm just about willing to consider anything to help save the boats we have left. Hopefully that letter might reach an audience who did not know of the JBS and her situation.

Hope to see you in Aug.


Lexie Palmore 06-16-2010 11:56 AM

If you want to keep a big secret, just do something on the river. For most people in this country, the vast Mississippi River System doesn't exist. It's nothing more than a line on a map or something you might occasionally have to cross. And God forbid you have to cross it on a FERRY!

In the meantime, railroads are everywhere.

And another thing that seems to be in an unusual abundance is sailing ships. Go figure.

Alan Bates 06-16-2010 03:27 PM

Those steam trains are owned and operated by railroad fan clubs. The members buy and refurbish the locomotives. They make arrangements for traffic rights or they buy branch lines outright. They then operate and maintain them by selling trips to others. They run them as businesses.

For years members of have been giving free advice to the DQCo and others. Why not try it yourselves?

You have spent thousands riding the Queen boats. Why not invest a few of those thousands to leasing the Julia Belle Swain (along with its officers), then operating her as you wish. You wash the windows and paint the stairs. You clean her and throw the lines. Promote her as the railfans do, maybe even in the various railfan journals. Tramp her along the rivers. The problems are no larger or more costly than those faced and met by the steam train enthusiasts.

Form an association. Incorporate. Find out how many DQ enthusiasts can serve or invest. Those railfans wash the windows, fire the boilers, sweep the cars, sell tickets and promote, promote, promote. They learn the techniques of operating steam locomotives and get the necessary licenses. Why can't you do the same for steamboats? Set out to do it, then do it.

Win or lose you can make your dreams real. Belly-aching will never accomplish it. Others will not do it for you.

inactive user 02 06-16-2010 06:27 PM


AMEN...couldn't have been put better! Those of us who can't afford to own her can donate our time. There are many community oriented things...Train operations, Community Theatres, Piublic Parks systems...there has to be room in there for a bunch of steamboat dreamers to make a dream come true! That JUlIA BELLE SWAIN is the perfect boat to do it with, too! Yeah, she needs some big money work on her at the moment...but, once that is done she is really economical and could do everything Cap has mentioned...I am there!


Bob Reynolds 06-16-2010 06:52 PM

Alan is right, but so is Lexie. The rivers of this country are invisible; knowledge of navigation on them is non-existent. There are execptions to this - folks who live in close proximity to the Ohio above Louisville and the Upper Miss above, say, Hannibal, are somewhat aware of the river and its commercial traffic. Almost no one else is.

I can't tell you the number of times someone has asked Sharon in the city of Memphis, TN, "Where is Bob now?" "On the way to [say] Nashville." "NASHVILLE?!? TENNESSEE?!? The Mississippi River doesn't go by Nashville!" These are educated people saying this. I used to always recommend a trip from St. Louis to St. Paul for those wanting to take a steamboat trip. Invariably they'd ask, "Oh, there's a river at St. Paul?"

In addition to money and time, a massive advertising campaign would need to be mounted. We old-timers talk about Betty Blake and what she did; you need somebody like that, and let's face it, she was gifted. I'm not saying this could not be done, but it would be WORK. As Alan said, it has to be run as a business.

inactive user 01 06-16-2010 10:23 PM


I totally agree with everything you've said and appreciate your response. My heart is in the right place but my wallet can't keep up. Like Travis said if the boat was anywhere near our stretch of river I'd be at the stage volunteering my services. I've been fortunate to have opportunities to volunteer first for the last three months the BONNIE BELLE ran out of Cincinnati (A venture that failed due to market saturation and lack of advertising) and most recently on the BARBARA H (trying to keep her going as a dockside attraction vessel). I've had a lot of people my age ask me why I do it, as if volunteering was a dirty word. My simple response is I've done it for the experience of doing it. I truly hope someone out there will give the Julia Belle a second chance at life and if it means volunteer labor to operate and maintain her that there are enough folks wherever she docks to get the job done. My letter to the journal was simply my effort to draw attention to her situation since the owner hasn't advertised her for sale.

Wonder if Alan Bernstein would consider buying her just so he'd have a real steamboat to "race" against the Belle. Another pipe dream.

Thanks to all for your responses, all make very valid points.


Pete Baker 06-16-2010 10:24 PM

Here's a link to Steam trains in the USA.

[url=]Surviving Steam Locomotives in the USA[/url]

I'm not an expert on either Steam Trains or Steamboats, but I would suspect that most steam locomotives in the US are in the Rockies & West. I know of several railroads that are privately owned by enthusiasts . Most are diesel however.

Maintenance, operating costs and Coast Guard regulations perhaps make large steamboat ownership less attractive. When you throw the economy at the mix it's difficult to fill a large boat with passengers who can afford the necessary ticket price, thus their demise.

On the other hand their seems to be a large ownership of steam launches in the 20 ft range. Check Earl Morse's site. I've been in touch with Earl.


Another site is that of Ken Brockway, a personal friend who has been working with me on the Fulton engine project.

[url=]My Sidewheeler - Steamboats,Model Engines and More![/url]


Jim Blum 06-16-2010 10:36 PM

As Alan most eloquently stated: VOLUNTEERS. Another item to throw the proverbial monkey wrench [either right handed or left handed] to Rail Excursions be it Steam or Diesel: INSURANCE. If the right of way isn't privately owned the Class 1 Railroads are difficult if not impossible to deal with as I understand.

Union Pacific runs a few Steam Excursions yes, however they own the Railroad and Locomotive(s).

On the JBS front a note in the latest issue of the Waterways Journal from the CO Owner took great exception of the thought that the boat was for sale! It's worth a read in the WJ, 'nuff said.

Punch my ticket for a cruise on the M/V Jim's Dream!

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