[ Future of the Delta Queen Steamboat Co Boats ]

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Date: January 14, 2003 at 18:39:13
From: R. Dale Flick
Subject: Part IV Capt. Mary B. Greene in the cabin of the GORDON C. GREENE

Part IV 'Faith in the Future.'

[*This final installment of the G. Andrews Espy paper has been edited/condensed to save the patience of the reader and conserve space on Espy was no 'river minded' individual, ending his monograph with information pretty much known by the readers of this medium. His paper was never formally published and was prepared as a 'before dinner' program selection. His British mind caused him to refer to steamboat boilers as 'kettles'--an old world term. The patience of more informed readers is summoned in this final chapter. This ranks as no definitive history on the subject (Espy's or mine). [*] denotes edited comments by this 'poster.']

In 1931, the LOUISVILLE & CINCINNATI PACKET COMPANY, the oldest steamboat line in the world, went into receivership after financial trouble, bad business and obsolete equipment [Except for the giant CINCINNATI] forced it to cease operations. This was an opportunity that Capt. Mary had been waiting for and with some hard bidding, she secured the remnants of the line and its business which was carrying mail, passengers, and freight between Louisville & Cincinnati. The TOM & CHRIS GREENE were placed in this new service with Mary in command of one and her son, Tom, commanding the other. Chris Greene [*died 1944] usually remained in Cincinnati managing the company's finances. [*The Greenes got the 'corporate holdings' and coveted navigation rights between the two cities. Along with this the L&C steamers KENTUCKY & JOHN W. HUBBARD. The side-wheel, double-cabin CINCINNATI, though more modern, 1924, was a behemoth that would have drained the expenses of any company at that time. The Greenes, with Capt. Jesse P. Hughes advising, turned her down. Sold to STRECKFUS STEAMERS of St. Louis, she became the PRESIDENT. Her unfinished sister became the ISLAND QUEEN. Cabins of the TOM & CHRIS were removed in 1936 for automobile and related cargo shipping. Removed from service and sold, 1947 and 1950 following the declining trade and labor issues. CARY BIRD & EVERGREENE ceased operation in 1946.]

Fortunately for the GREENE LINE, and again through the foresight of Mary, the EAGLE PACKET CO'S., CAPE GIRARDEAU, of St. Louis, a big oil-burning steel-hull sternwheeler, was purchased in 1935 [*See Gordon Greene's recent posting on the web along with others.] Over a period of two years, her entire superstructure was rebuilt to provide accommodation for 175 passengers and a crew of 60. New federal laws requiring sprinkler systems for ovrnight passenger boats was installed. Great care was taken in the selection of the materials used in this modernization; a minimum amount of heavy material such as plumbing was installed in order that the hull did not draw over seven feet. With a small amount of freight and full passenger list, she could not draw much over eight feet and navigate the Ohio, Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers, whose canalization assumed a minimum depth of nine feet of water in their shallowest spots.

"A long resplendent tunnel" is the best description of the main cabin in the center and extending the entire length of the boat. By day, the cabin serves as a dining room and in the evening as a social center where Capt. Mary invariably leads the first couple in the 'Steamboat Dance.' Cabins on either side open both onto a closed deck and the main cabin. Below are the engines, boiler room, crew quarters, freight space and [*work areas].

The fuel, known as Bunker 'C', is of a sludgy molasses texture. It is kept in oil compartments in the hull. As the boat normally burns 3,000 to 4,000 gallons a week, capacity of 60,000 gallons has been provided. The muffled roar heard in the stacks begins down in the boiler room. The fuel oil is injected under the big boilers in blasts of yellow flame, and the roar is part of the combustion process.

On the enclosed and open decks above is where BINGO is held and the more ambitious show their skill at shuffleboard. Comfortable rocking and straight chairs can be found on all decks, vantage points from which to see the ever changing scenery of the most fabulous river system in the world. [*Espy relates the history of the DELTA QUEEN, her purchase by the Greenes and the transit from California to New Orleans and thence to Cincinnati and DRAVO at Pittsburgh where she was undergoing modernization for GL service.]

She [*DELTA QUEEN] is now undergoing $100,000 worth of remodeling [*Cost figures at that point]. Air-conditioning and refurnishing. Many features will remain unchanged, such as the main cabin areas, Siamese Ironwood decks, teakwood railings, and the wrought iron staircase in the salon. Capt. Greene [*Tom] hopes she will be ready to sail the first of June, for at that date, the GORDON C. GREENE will take over the GOLDEN EAGLE'S [*Lost, 1947] St. Louis trade.

A trip on a GREENE LINE steamer means being the guest of Capt. Mary and Capt. Tom, always pleasant, with a yarn about every important spot, and one gets a rest the like of which is unobtained anywhere in the world.

G. Andrews Espy

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Closing note: The financial agonies of the LOUISVILLE & cincinati packet line were mazimized by the Great Depression. Letters and informal interviews with surviving crew members and engineers by me years ago brought forth the problem of "..getting a cut of the coal pile." This an old river term for company employees--from the upper echelons down--taking expenses for their own benefit out of company in-house requisitions and orders (i.e. fuel, food stores, lubricants, office supplies etc.). It was a factor that helped bring the venerable line down. A mini ENRON of its day, so to speak. The Greenes were totally hands-on managers. Their approach predated the newer GENERAL MOTORS concept of MBWA--'management by walking around' or 'management by working along side.' It paid off in the end.

Closing: The Greenes are a remarkable family. The late Letha C. Greene carried forward a grand legacy in the face of adversity and being a 'woman in a man's world' as the trusee of a grand tradition. They, along with individuals like Capt. Jesse Hughes, Capt. Fred Way, and a score of others, will never be seen again in the annnals of the 'American Maritime Experience.' LONG LIVE THE DELTA QUEEN!

Respectfully submitted on January 14, 2003,
R. Dale Flick
PS> Effusive apologies for taking too much posting space. I rank as a dismal excuse for an 'expert' on any subject.

Copyright by Franz Neumeier