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inactive user 01 04-02-2014 09:05 AM

The BELLE, memories
Good morning,

I thought it might be fun to start a thread for this years birthday girl by sharing our first meetings and special memories of the boat.

My first experience with the Belle was in 1976 when I was very new to the world. My parents took me on an afternoon excursion which I don't recall but do have pictures of.

There have been many memorable experiences with the Belle but the one that remains most vivid was at that first Tall Stacks in 1988. My family and I were touring the P.A. Denny in the early evening when that whistle blew from under the Suspension Bridge. The twinkling deck lights, the steam, and the hairs on my neck standing at attention from the sound of that whistle. From that moment on I was hooked.

Hope others will share their stories about their first encounters with us.


Judy Patsch 04-02-2014 02:31 PM

I saw the AVALON and GORDON C. GREENE together in Davenport in 1951, according to my father, but I don't remember that. In 1952 she started playing from Rock Island rather than Davenport and my family went down to our levee each of the nights to listen to her calliope concert, which was almost an hour long. We sat on our campstools under the old FERRY sign and watched her go out on her moonlight trip. Then we would ride the Sunday afternoon trip, sitting up on the Texas stern. Of course that calliope player was none other than Clarke C. Hawley, who noted that only in RI and Muscatine did we applaud his playing by honking our car horns. On my first trip on the NATCHEZ in June 1980 I was standing out on the roof as that same calliope player serenaded the NOLA passengers. I have pictures of the RI levee days, which I'll post when I find them.
As to a BELLE memory, in June 1977 Jim Blum was DQ Captain and there were a number of steamboaters aboard. He announced that our stop in Louisville would be extended to 4:30 so passengers (and he) could go over and ride the BELLE. I couldn't help but cry when I came up those stairs and saw the beautiful ballroom and overall great shape of a boat I hadn't seen in 16 years, when she was in need of a facelift. As we were making our approach to turn for the landing, the DQ was blowing her 20 minute warning whistle, but we had no fear of missing the boat since her Captain was with us.

R. Dale Flick 04-02-2014 02:55 PM

*Those AVALON/BELLE Memories*
*Those AVALON/BELLE Memories*
Steamboating colleagues:
Great initiating post from A.J Richardson for sure and I'm certain more will come through from others who saw, rode and worked on the AVALON/BELLE. Judy on the money; so why not poke those memories well back to the 1950s? The AVALON was a real fixture here docked behind the GREENE LINE wharfboat or at the cobbled Public Landing or steaming up by old Coal Haven Landing here with, then, the smell of good old coal burned in her boilers before conversion to oil and installing of boilers from the GORDON C. GREENE. If any of you want detailed writing, memories of her then pull down your copy of 'MOONLITE AT 8:30: The Excursion Boat Story,' Capts. Alan L. Bates and Clarke C. Hawley. Their history of the AVALON entering service here after the loss of the last ISLAND QUEEN too detailed to relate here. And then appeared the personage of Ernest A. 'Woody' Meyer her later impresario and promoter. That in itself a book. I've numerous news clippings her of the AVALON from the 1950s with one covering her early spring awakening with work, painting, cleaning by the crew.

I remember my first AVALON trip in the early 1950s boarding her from the GREENE wharboat; later right off the Public Landing. An adventure for me but not one for my mother who wasn't keen in boats or water in any way, shape of form muddy or salt water. Dad and I toured the boat from stem to stern with the boilers roaring. Don't ask who was who aboard then other than old family friend Emory Edington. Capt. Doc Hawley wasn't long in following with Capt. Ernest Wagner. To many the boat was something of a let-down compared to the last ISLAND QUEEN. I thought she was a beauty then and still hold to that now. She and the DELTA QUEEN both together at the same place being once true packet steamboats. Imagine that?

In not too long, Betty Blake departed WLW-TV here as a PR gal, joined the AVALON in their offices located in the then Duttenhoffer Bldg. here in town--now a part of the giant P&G corporate operation--where she did the scut work as the 'head or promo' man/gal with all the rest of her fascinating story pretty much known. I remember as a kid phoning the AVALON office for information leading to my sunday school excursion. This lady named Betty answered in a dusky voice. "Sure, we'll do all we can to welcome you...spread the word if you can," she said. She was kind in sending information and we all went again on the boat. Little did I know that in later years Betty's and my shadows would meet on the highway of life.

As a prelude to the AVALON here it should be remembered that Ed Schott of CONEY ISLAND had pretty much thrown in the sponge after the loss of the ISLAND QUEEN with no replacement due to well-known demogaphics of changing habits, excurion boats, cost of building or purchasing a new one. That issue surfaced for some years with no planned boat for CONEY ISLAND.

Sure the AVALON was considered 'old' even them, lathered with paint thick as icing, but she was clean and fun. Mother again was a little dubious seeing, hearing those boilers roaring, steam hissing, engines coming to life with that certain vibration and slap, slap, slap of her red wheel. I can't recall any food or drink purchased aboard my first trip--if any. Dad and I were glued to the boilers, engines, decks above watching the passing shore up to near CONEY before turning around and back down. Another time we steamed well beyond CONEY and then on other trips down river. Passing under the bridges with her whistle and calliope playing resounded like no other sound I've ever heard. The smell of river smoke, steam and muddy water just as intoxicating then as now.

Later I was down at the GREENE LINE wharboat the day the big auction was held for the AVALON going to Louisville. She was laid behind the GREENE operation with windows down, lights on, people coming and going. And there was a feeling of loss when she left Cincinnati for a newer, more caring home. Will others with those early memories please step up to the microphone. Well, again, what do I know?

R. Dale Flick who will never see age 70 again.
Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River, Cincinnati.

Lexie Palmore 04-03-2014 03:57 PM

Pure Magic
My first experience with the Belle was in Cincinnati. I do not know why, as I was a steamboat newbie, but apparently, the DQ was overnighting and the Belle was there, so I went over to take an excursion. I had never seen it before except in pictures. I cannot recollect how, but by some special dispensation, I was allowed in the pilot house. C. W. Stoll was the pilot. He informed me that he was using the old bell system as the engineer on watch knew "the bells". I was in hog heaven. It was like finding something you've been looking for all your life. I might have even been allowed to steer a little, even though it was at night. I was walking on air a good while afterwards.

inactive user 01 04-04-2014 01:46 PM

Thank you Judy, Dale, and Lexie for sharing. Come on everyone else, don't be shy. The Belle has touched so many people I know there's a lot more stories out there just waiting to be typed.


Dan Lewis 04-04-2014 09:16 PM

Growing up in Cincinnati, my first recollections of the Belle were as the Delta Queen's rival every year for their race. Of course, I rooted for the DQ then. My family moved to Louisville, though, when I was a young teenager. The first year we lived in Louisville we road the Belle on one of her Fall lock trips. Of course, the boat was packed! One of the most poignant recollections of that trip was feeling the heat and noise coming from the boiler room. As many times as I've had the experience, I've always enjoyed the first time steam is brought back to a cold boat. Their is a smell I've caught before anything else that tells me there's steam on her. Each boat--Belle, DQ, AQ--though, has its own unique scent--but I know it's the scent of steam!

Pat Carr 04-04-2014 10:52 PM

A funny story

I saw the Avalon several times on the Ohio River as a teenager. Then in 2003, arriving on the American Queen, I walked into the Ohio River Museum and the first thing I said was "What happened to the Avalon?" They looked at me very strangely and then told me the Avalon had been the Belle of Louisville since 1962. I must have sounded like I came from outer space or something, not knowing that. So I bought Alan Bates's book about the Belle and looked forward to riding that boat someday.

I have had some wonderful times on the Belle since then. But the greatest experience was riding the Belle from Louisville to Cincinnati for Tall Stacks in 2006!!

Tom Schiffer 04-07-2014 10:44 AM

Sigh! AJ, Judy, Dale, Pat and Dan...I've posted part of this before. Can't say it was the first time I saw her...I was fascinated by the Greene Line Wharf and the boats often moored there...but in the mid 1950s the AVALON was there loading from the Public Landing. A succession of oil trucks came down the landing and discharged their load into the Avalon's tanks. Then she started loading for Coney Island. I had neither the time or the money to join them, but did stay to see them off. Those three big whistles blended their tones to send their message to the far reaches of the valley, echoed off the buildings in town and lifted the hairs on the back of my neck! The stage was raised and she was put in reverse and nothing happened! Nothing but the churning up of the bottom of the river and sending waves crashing on the landing...and the smell of the river bottom...then much more noisome than now. Rudders were cut one way and another but to no avail...her stem was hard down on the bottom. Finally, a little fellow, (Doc Hawley?) herded all the pax aft and she floated free. Again, that BIG whistle and off she went. Like Pat, my most memorable trip was to Cincy from Louisville to attend Tall Stacks. During 2005, under Chief McCoy, Bruce Babcock recruited a group of steam engineers to give the BELLE an "EKG". Among the group were Keith engineer from Cummins Diesel and myself...being a licensed steam engineer in Ohio. Kenny Howe and Alan Bates were an integral part of the "home team". I could tell from the sound of the exhaust that SOMETHING was wrong...the port engine exhaust did not sound the same as the starboard least one of them had to be wrong and the indicator cards confirmed it. I understand that work on the poppet valves that winter helped oil consumption if not speed. To get a more protracted reading, we did it going to Tall Stacks in October of 2006. Keith brought his lap top to read and record the pressures and since his GPS would not read in the engine room, somebody had to take it to the pilot house. Sigh, I had to do it...communicating with Keith in the engine room via two-way radio! Kevin Mullen was Master and Bill Ray was pilot and I sat the Lazy Bench. And, yes, pilot house chatter has lost little, if any, of its savor, range of topics and learned opinions on sex, steamboat collisions and other calamities since Mark Twain laid down his pen! Unlike Judy, I know where my photos of the event are and, given time and encouragement, may post them. One of the very real plusses of the BELLE was meeting and getting to know all of the above named and many more of you reading this...including our web master and Carman. In the mid fifties, when I first saw the AVELON, I never thought I would have my own steamer and many of you would join me in enjoying it. Cap'n Walnut.

R. Dale Flick 04-07-2014 03:34 PM

*BELLE Memories/Pat's funny story*
Steamboating colleagues:
Just now catching up on all the postings here. Pat Carr's self-confession RE: the AVALON/BELLE well done. Beginning in 1948, when the DELTA QUEEN entered service, there were then and even up until the last years, Cincinnatians with no idea about either the DQ or the AVALON. People continued to ask, "Is that big white steamboat at the landing still running excursions to CONEY ISLAND?" [Meaning the DQ]. This long after CONEY ISLAND closed for a time; then reopened doing fine along with huge SUNLITE SWIMMING POOL now. The CONEY motto said, "You don't stop playing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop playing." How many remember that? Who remembers the faux sand beach next to the swimming pool with the high powered water sprayers to wash the sand off before you went back in the pool? How many remember the landing at CONEY for the last ISLAND QUEEN leading up to the park and through the old stone gate with the little light house on top?

Betty Blake was one sly gal when she left WLW-TV to join the AVALON as the head 'promo' or 'dummer' selling the AVALON in the Duttenhoffer Bldg. here in Cincinnati. Betty negoatiated a contract in which she would be put on commission basis for groups, tours booked here and all up and down the Inland Rivers where the AVALON appeared. And she was always well ahead of the boat even in the winter driving her car to make sales calls. In time head honcho Ernest Myers saw her pay checks on commission that were now dangerously close his own 'cut' of the operation. He made noises to "reduce" Betty's salary. She stood her ground and won. "It's a contract and it must be honored or..." There were no questions after that.

The AVALON, though based here with a local operating season, spent more time on the rivers away from Cincinnati than here. Tom, that oil you saw intended for the AVALON was really nasty, thick stuff if you never saw it up close--almost between a thick goo and tar needing to be preheated before injection in her boilers. The 'goo' was realtively safe and wouldn't have burned even if you put a match to it. It was the 'fumes' off that oil that could be a real danger. Well, what do I know?

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

Bill Judd 04-07-2014 04:10 PM

Well Aaron started this thing so here goes my relationship with the Avalon. So far nobody has talked about Prom night. I did three prom nights on the Avalon, one from my school and two others from my dates schools. It was the "cats meow" to have Prom on that boat. Now I have to admit my attentions were more directed to my date than to the boat. As Dale mentioned earlier about being at the auction, I too was there, now a grown up and representing a possible buyer. As the bids progressed the question among the commercial river group was " who the heck is Judge Marlowe Cook". We found out soon enough as he claimed his boat. If I remember right Judge Cook caught a lot of flack from the Jefferson County taxpayers. Strange but I have only set foot twice, since that auction day, on the boat.

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