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Rally on the River & The Great DQ Steam Up!

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    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
    Attached Files

    Keith, Thank you so much for your vivid description of the wonderful time had by all during the Great River Rally and DQ Steam Up. I had been waiting for a report. Hopefully some phone calls over the weekend will fill in the rest of the details.


      Well said Keith! It truly was a great experience and quite a success. The local community covered the event very well as we were in every paper and on every news station for two days. As to why the articles aren't online yet I don't know but lets keep watching. A lot of awareness has been generated for the Delta Queen and our new cause to purchase and preserve her.

      For those interested in the technical stuff about her engines. We fired only on one boiler and at a reduced pressure. After sitting all this time she was barely stiff at all and as soon as Chief Kenny Howe put steam through the throttle, she rolled right over. After 12 hours of sweat and elbow grease, the ole girl came to life a few minutes before 8:00 pm Wednesday Nov 3. The following morning we raised steam again to 130 psi, got her warmed up and following a little stubbornness, at 2:00 pm the engines began rolling again. They continued until almost 5:00 that evening, getting plenty of oil and grease in them.

      Its hard to explain the emotion of feeling the boat quiver beneath my feet again. You could feel her wanting to just throw the lines and go. The atmosphere was perfect. The afternoon sky was bright with just a couple clouds, three calliopes belting out river tunes, that giant wheel swirling water behind her, many frequent floaters scattered about the decks and a nice black haze blowing out the stack. The only let down was 20 minutes after Keith blew a departure whistle the fantasy was over and she remained tied to the bank.

      You could feel it in the air, it was a great day to be on the Delta Queen and I sure hope its just a hint of what's to come. I have posted some video shots I took of the engines on youtube, click the link below to see them!


      YouTube - Rally on the River - Steamboat Delta Queen rolls main engines


        A few photos...

        1)Soot Happens!
        2)Yours truly, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to pose next to a rolling wheel!
        3)130 psi was needed to roll the engines.
        Attached Files


          A few more of the spotless engine room that quite a few wide eyed people and amazed little kids got to walk through Thursday.
          Attached Files


            Great report, Keith!!

            Here are some more photos. Look at that guy in the pilot house (no. 11) or that young one in the engine room (no. 6) :-).



              that wheel going forwards and that look out the back watching the frothy water going away just looks like she's going somewhere's. Thankyou very much for taking that video and sharing with us. Hopefully someday I'll get to ride her. Till that day comes, I agree, I'd rather see her as a boutique hotel than rotting away, hidden from our view in a backwater somewhere


                Keith has said it best! I will tell a little of my personal experience...

                We (Keith Norrington, Kathleen O'Connell and myself) got to Chattanooga on Tuesday afternoon and were welcomed with open arms by a truly caring staff and many good friends! After settling down and dropping off luggage in our rooms we walked her decks and were pleasantly surprised by the changes since my May stay aboard the boat. New paint, polished brass, refinished railings, cleaned carpets, repairs to deck areas, and other surprises abounded! The boat truly looks MUCH better than it did just months ago!

                After a little walk for dinner, we rejoined our friends for a meeting with Leah Ann Spencer-Ingram, her husband Randy Ingram (the proprietors) followed by dessert, camaraderie and river talk till the later hours when we adjourned to bed for the next days activities.

                The Engine Room staff were hard at work Wednesday morning early adjusting machinery, raising steam, working out bugs and kinks to bring her back to life. After breakfast I met with Leah Ann and her staff to go over the plans for the "Rally On The River the next day". Her staff really came alive with excitement, despite the rainy day that washed her decks clear for the event! Later I worked on getting some documents prepared to have a meeting with our tour staff and planning on the public tours the next day. We met and determined the best ways to manage large groups for the tours and even did a vessel walk through to try out our plan. As we did, crew were feverishly all around us setting things up for the coming guests, moving furniture, polishing serving dishes. All the while Barb Hamiester, Gayle Hindeman, Pat Traynor, Pat Carr, Dot Cornelius, Ed Frazier and the gang were polishing brass, cleaning windows, assisting with set up, busy as they could be!

                Late in the afternoon we had a tryout of the calliope. Keith and I played sets till we were satisfied it would do what we wanted it to the next day! Okay, we were like kids playing with new toys...but, you can't blame us there!

                At 7:48pm the paddlewheel started to slowly come to life. Chief's Howe and Lewis, along with their staff (Christopher Merrick in the firebox, Brian Russell and Phillip Johnson assisting) worked their magic...for the steam engines came to life in the dark Tennessee River night and once again she was alive! You should have seen the excitement and tears of joy as the wheel rolled over! The Engine Room staff really worked a long and hard day! I bet they put in over 16 hours if not more! But, the fruit of their labours was surely sweet!

                The whole experience was magical. It was so much like bringing her out of lay up and getting her ready for her first guests of the season. When we had the Rally on the River on Thursday, it was like the boarding for the first cruise of the season! All the excitement of guests arriving, crew setting up the Orleans Room for the show, crew setting up food stations, crowds of people walking her decks, the trembling of her decks as the wheel turned, hearing the bell, whistle, and calliope breaking out into the fall was just magical!

                As I sat in the Forward Cabin Lounge late on Thursday night (after the festivities had wound down), I found myself wanting to go over and update the information board at my desk and find tomorrows "Tributary" to put out before I went to bed! Old habits die hard, huh?

                Friday morning was a cold wake up call. The dream came to an end all too fast! As Keith, Kathleen, and I drove back to Louisville we talked about the experience and spoke of the excitement to do it again soon! I think Kathleen is a new DELTA QUEEN fan! Her Dad (Capt. Pete O'Connell) may not agree with her on that one! He, he, he!

                If you haven't been there yet, you really need to go! The boat is being taken care of by Leah Ann and Randy Ingram. They are great people who have a true love for the boat. They treat their staff with respect with good reason, they have assembled a great crew to manage the operations of the DELTA QUEEN! It is a pleasure in this day and time to see a company who take care of the people who take care of them...and do it so well. The entire staff of the boat are dedicated professionals who truly are proud of the product they represent. They care about her history and are proud to be part of her future. No one I came in contact with on the boat had one bad thing to say about any part of the operation or their fellow crew. They gushed about the future and how hopeful they are. It was a pleasure to have that energy around while I was there...and to look forward to being there again soon in the near future!



                  Here are some more pictures I took (I have to admit, I kinda forgot to take I don't have many) and some links to some videos I have posted on YouTube of the events.

                  YouTube - DELTA QUEEN Engine Room 3, Nov 2010



                    Even more pictures and video of the events.

                    YouTube - DELTA QUEEN serenaded by the SOUTHERN BELLE 4, Nov 2010


                      A few more "behind the scenes" images from the RALLY ON THE RIVER celebration aboard the DELTA QUEEN

                      (1) Chief Engineer Kenny Howe taking a well deserved rest break
                      (2) Travis, "Mr. Wizard of the Whistles", limbers up the calliope in the rain
                      (3) Keith points out "Steamboat Willie" in Capt. Lexie Palmore's 1978 mural in The Orleans Room - concealed by a curtain, but still there after 32 years!
                      Attached Files


                        Thank you, Keith for the awesome report and great pictures of the Delta Queen! My excitement level for the reunion event this coming week in Chattanooga has just been ramped up several notches!


                          Pilot House Tour

                          Did you tell them to hold on to the brass rail and not wake the big captain? More especially, did you let some lady blow the whistle until "I goose you"?


                            BELLE OF CINCINNATI sighting. As I was driving along I-64 this afternoon at 2:35, the BOC was upbound in the Louisville harbor, just above the canal. Even in the pouring rain and foggy conditions she looked mighty pretty! Two weeks ago she was our "next door neighbor", alongside the DQ at Chattanooga.


                              Keith, Speaking of the Belle of Cincinnati, any feedback from those folks that made the journey on the Belle down the Ohio and up the Tennessee to Chattanooga. I wonder how was the trip. Will the Belle be making the trip again and when? Would any of the passengers recommend the trip? High points and other points of the journey?