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AVALON Anniversary

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    AVALON Anniversary

    Today, August 28th, is the 50th anniversary of my very first steamboat ride. At 2:30 on the afternoon of Thursday, Aug. 28, 1958, my dad and I were aboard the steamer AVALON as she backed away from the Municipal Landing below the mouth of the Ice Harbor on her afternoon excursion at Dubuque. Little did I suspect what that innocent ride on an old steamboat would lead to! I still remember that afternoon like it happened yesterday, so powerful were the impressions it made on a 10-year old boy's heart and mind. The sweet smell of molasses in the air as we passed the barge unloading facility of Inland Molasses Co. on the riverfront . . . the colored pennants flapping in the afternoon breeze from up on the boat's roof (the only season she sported those pennants, and only on the Upper Mississippi, for those of you who look for little things to help date photos of the old girl) . . . the scare of my life as that beautiful mellow whistle unexpectedly let loose with three blasts as she backed out into the channel, dripping me with condensate as I stood on the hurricane roof below . . . and those mysterious letters painted on the bucket boards as they splashed the muddy Mississippi: "VISIT OUR SOUVENIR STAND," a marketing and advertising ploy of owner Ernie Meyer. He knew that 10-year olds would stand hypnotized at the stern, watching that wheel turn, with that subliminal message registering with each revolution of the wheel. And it worked! My Steamer AVALON balloon (which popped during the trip), my AVALON decal (which went on my favorite drinking glass when we got home), and my two AVALON postcards were part of the loot from the souvenir stand during that first trip. Posted below is the faded, yellow newspaper ad from the day of my inaugural trip, a shot of the wide-eyed 10-year old who didn't have a clue what he was getting into, and a portrait of the veteran steamer up at Prairie du Chien three weeks earlier. Unfortunately, I didn't know how to use a camera, and taking any pictures never occurred to me that day. But boy, did I ever remedy that on my trips the next three years. And then, suddenly, she never came back to Dubuque after that last summer of 1961. But I did meet her ladyship, the DELTA QUEEN, for the first time in September of 61, and the rest, as they say, is history.

    Thanks to my friends on this messageboard for allowing me to indulge in memories of how this all started. How can it be a half-century already? Do you remember your first time?
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    Last edited by David Tschiggfrie; 08-28-2008, 10:14 PM. Reason: Post thumbnails

    Thanks so much for sharing your memories,,...
    Yea ,,I remember my first time,...And it dose something to YA,,,,!!!


      Many thanks for sharing the golden memories of your first steamboat ride aboard the venerable Str. AVALON. As Capt. Doc Hawley said to me in a recent phone call, "Dave undoubtedly knows that boat's detailed history better than anybody on the face on the earth!" I am continually amazed at the photos, slides and other memorabilia that you -- and your faithful sidekick, Jonathan -- uncover and so generously share with others.

      Many, like myself, have "Fallen under the spell of the Belle", but you, Doc, Judy and Capt. Don Sanders are undoubtedly amongst the few who can vividly recall the days when the AVALON tramped the Upper Mississippi, bringing temporary "magic" to many a river landing -- and causing joyful happenings in the hearts of youngsters like David J. Tschiggfrie in 1958!

      Congratulations upon 5 decades of steamboating - and my personal thanks and appreciation for your friendship these past 38 years! Keep up steam!

      Herewith are several AVALON images which include Capts. Doc Hawley and Ernie Wagner.
      Attached Files


        Thanks, you guys for the fun memories. My own AVALON memory dates from, perhaps 1954. The Avalon was drowsing in the sun at the Cincinnati Public Landing that summer and I watched as some trucks of fuel oil came and were pumped off into her. She then started loading for a trip to Coney Island...some eight miles or so up the river. As a student at the time, I didn't have the price of admission. Her wheel started rolling slowly as the passengers boarded and when loaded, she blew that mellow whistle to back out into the river. Alas, her stem was stuck fast on the bottom due to the heavy burden of oil and pax. She twisted and turned and put on more steam but it was no go! The wheel wash churned up a ton of malodorous muck off the bottom of the then somewhat polluted river. After about five minutes of squiggling around a short fellow in uniform appeared and was soon seen shooing the pax to the stern. After a bit of scurrying about, they went aft and under the shift in weight, the AVALON floated off and up the river she went. I wish I could have been on her that day! This was a day when the old Public Landing was unsullied by a ball park or parking meters. There were the BIG chains anchoring the Greene Line wharfboat, the no longer used wharfboat of the ISLAND QUEEN, by then a boat club and at times, including all of the off season a steamer called the DELTA QUEEN.
        Cap'n Walnut


          Great memory, and memories! I can't remember my first ride, it was probably 1952 and I was only 5. Dad said he took me over to Davenport in 1951 when the AVALON was tied up next to the GORDON C. GREENE. So unfortunate that I don't remember that scene! About the only thing I remember of my early rides was sitting at a table on the Texas stern and watching the scenery. My parents wouldn't let me move around the boat. Incidentally, that advertising scheme on the wheel that Dave described: it worked on him, the boat must have been moving ahead. Doc said that when they backed, people got very confused: STAND SOUVENIR OUR VISIT... The AVALON was in Rock Island for 3 days every year, often the Labor Day Weekend. We would ride the Sunday afternoon trip, except for 1961 when Dad thought the boat looked too 'rough' for us to ride. My biggest AVALON memories are the calliope concerts. My family, including my grandmother and 90+ greatgrandmother, would go down to the levee every night and sit on campstools near the old ferry sign and listen to the concert. We'd stay to watch the boat leave. On Saturday night, we'd go down to the foot of 18th Avenue and watch her come upriver - those lights kept getting bigger and bigger. Of course when we were listening to the calliope, we were listening to none other than CCH. In 1982 I went out on the roof of the NATCHEZ to watch him play - a mere 30 years from the Rock Island levee days. Rock Island and Muscatine levee fans honked their car horns in appreciation for the music between songs. As to souvenirs, we got that famous b&w postcard of the boat, and Mom discovered in our attic some 40 years later, the big blue pennant which is now in my 'museum'.
          Pix 1 was taken in 1953. That's our calliope concert spot, right by the old ferry sign (WJ QUINLAN).
          Pix 2 is the first one I ever took of the AVALON, in 1961. As a snapshot, the calliope player is a mere dot, but when blown up into an 8 x 10, its none other than Mate/Relief Captain Doc Hawley.
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            Ah, those first rides! When we returned the BoL from Green River a group of Girl Scouts rode with us to Evansville. One girl was so fascinated by the paddlewheel she hung over the stern rail the entire trip of about five hours - non stop!


              On my first cruise aboard the BELLE in the 1960's, we went down through the lock, turned around below New Albany and returned. Before the boat left the wharf my dad bought (for the sum of $2) me a copy of the book BELLE OF LOUISVILLE at the souvenir stand -- by none other than Alan L. Bates. It was autographed by the captain and I was torn between reading every word in it, looking at the fascinating photos and trying to absorb every sight, sound and smell of that wonderful old steamboat -- all in three hours time!!!
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                My first time back on the BELLE wasn't until 1977, when Jim Blum was DQ Master and he lengthened the shore stop a bit so we could ride the BELLE. When I got to the top of the stairs and saw that beautiful ballroom, the tears came. I so wanted to bring my dad over to Louisville to see the resurrected AVALON, but we never made that trip. He would have been really surprised and pleased to see the difference between 1960 and 1977. It should be noted that the AVALON's crew did a fantastic job with the supplies and money they had to work with - her condition in the later AVALON years was certainly not a reflection of neglect or a disparagement of her crew. Once the old gal got the additional resources from Louisville and the county, she certainly blossomed into the BELLE of the ball!
                1) "Daddy took this one on the levee 8-4-57 of the Avalon." If it were in color you'd see the red/white striping on the roof gingerbread.
                2) I took this in 1961, the same day of Doc's calliope photo.
                3) The view I had the first time aboard the BELLE in 1977.
                Attached Files
                Last edited by Judy Patsch; 08-29-2008, 12:59 PM. Reason: add pix


                  Happy Summer Days

                  David, you have an amazing memory. I cannot recall my first ride on the AVALON, but it was surely during one summer day in the mid-1950's and was probably on a special "Covington Day" excursion when my father, as head of the Covington (KY) Traffic Division of the local PD, arranged for automobile parking for passengers riding the steamboat when she landed above the Suspension Bridge where the MIKE FINK is now located.

                  Captain Wagner always took the opportunity to get some time off when the AVALON was playing the Cincinnati trade, so that is when my family and I met Capt. A.J. "Red" Schletker, who filled in for Wagner as Master. Cap'n Red always invited my Dad and me to ride with him as he steered, and there was a time, or two, when I was privileged to guide the steamboat for a short while after we were above the bridges, along a straight stretch, in the Cincinnati harbor.

                  Our favorite family gathering place to sit was on the Hurricane Roof just forward of the starboard chimney on a couch with floppy, soft cushions. As soon as our family of five came aboard, (always with those free yellow passes that Dad received for his help) we made a beeline for our special place where we made ourselves comfortable, almost like home, throughout the ride. Mom kept our seats saved for my brothers and I to return to, periodically, from our roamings about the boat. The whistle was right over our spot, and when it blew, the sound seemed to totally engulf us and I felt as though I was being lifted above the roof in the great white cloud of steam that condensed and fell back like rain around us.

                  Who can recall the AVALON without remembering the smells of popcorn, dance floor wax, steam, grass rope, heavy fuel oil, and the many other subtle scents that wrapped around the steamboat visitor and enhanced the experience? Later, after I was a member of the crew, floor sweepings with the odor of cigarette butts and stale beer became another smell that, even today, brings me back to those glorious and happy days on the Steamer AVALON.


                    Ah, what memories, Sam! Thanks for recalling those lazy, hazy days of summer on board the AVALON. Both Judy and I referred to the old B&W souvenir postcards sold at the souvenir stand on the boat in our earlier postings. Well, while digging around this summer with my son Jonathan doing research for his steam calliope research grant, I came up with an obscure, esoteric find that probably deserves one of the top spots on the list of AVALON trivia, a find that would only be appreciated by a true AVALON-ophile. All others need not peruse this posting any further.

                    First, I believe Steamer Avalon, Inc. only sold two B&W postcard views on the boat: the starboard side elevation and the "Spacious Marine Ballroom" shot. I've always wondered where that AVALON photo was taken. I naturally assumed it was snapped in the Cincinnati area, but considering that the boat went EVERYWHERE, I guess that really wasn't a safe assumption to make. It is pretty obvious, however, that the picture has been liberally air-brushed (see thumbnail 1 below). You can even see the stanchions peeking out below the main deck siding, and of course, the opening in the bulkhead by the engineroom is conspicuously missing, as are the lightbulbs and wiring around the boiler deck overhang and above the windows of the boiler deck. The ballroom shot is even more obviously "touched up" -- spliced is probably a fairer description -- and the touch-up artist even left tell-tale traces of his splice marks on that dance floor, which comes out looking like something the size of Waldorf-Astoria Hotel Ballroom in New York.

                    Anyway, when I was in McGregor, IA rcently, June Kuefler, daughter of Margery Goergen, a long-time photographer in the McGregor area, provided me with this shot of the AVALON taken by her mother (see thumbnail 2 below). I did a double take when I saw it, and nearly fell off my chair! It's the postcard photo! No doubt about it. That postcard shot of the boat was taken opposite McGregor, Iowa. So that answers the question of WHERE.

                    But now, the mysterious trail of the origin of the souvenir postcard gets more interesting . . . WHEN was it taken? Well, the original photo had to be snapped in either 1949, 50, or 51 based on the physical appearance of the boat. No other years are possible. So, I had logically assumed then that the photo was retouched in 1954 (or later) to produce the postcard which showed the boat as she appeared when she came out of Owensboro in March 54 after her refit and conversion to oil, when her main deck bulkheads were added and the boiler deck was closed in with siding, just like in the PC photo. In other words, the post card shows the boat the way she looked at the time they were sold aboard the steamer. At least that's what I thought until this summer. Then up at LaCrosse's Murphy Library, we found a copy of that ubiquitous postcard in their AVALON folder, BUT with writing and a postmark on the back side (see thumbnail 3 below). WOW!! It's addressed at St. Paul on June 25, 1950 and postmarked two days later!

                    Now here's the amazing thing. Ernie Meyer had this postcard manufactured and sold on the boat four full years before she actually appeared the way she is pictured! Now I can't help but wonder if AVALON passengers in 1950-53 noticed the obvious difference in appearance between the steamer they were riding on and the postcard they bought at the souvenir stand. The changes to the boiler deck (enclosing the deck with siding and windows) were similar to transformations that had previously taken place on the GORDON C. GREENE, ISLAND QUEEN, and PRESIDENT over their later years, and the IQ and PRESIDENT also ended up with main deck bulkheads outboard of the stanchions as well. So I suppose Meyer had a similar design in mind for his excursion boat too, but it took him four years to make the actual conversion. So now I can absolutely date the appearance of the famous AVALON postcard. It was first sold aboard the boat in her 1950 season and the original shot had to be snapped the previous summer in 1949 on the Upper Mississippi.

                    I wonder how many thousands of these AVALON PCs lie forgotten in photo albums and in cardboard boxes in basements and attics of cities all over the inland rivers of this country. But now, the humble story of this postcard has been told and fully documented. And that's got to put your mind at ease, and help you sleep easier at night! Meyer, of course, had the services of one of the principals in Steamer Avalon, Inc., Mr. Harry Anderson of the Enquirer Printing Co. in Cincinnati, to mass produce these things -- and at a cheap, reduced price to the company, I'm sure! Anderson's company undoubtedly supplied the advertising copy and four-color posters for the boat as well. And probably the tickets, too.

                    The four most widely-distributed AVALON postcards besides the ones produced by Str. Avalon, Inc., (at least the ones that I'm aware of) are the shots at: Clinton, IA with the tell-tale lighthouse on shore; the night bow shot at Louisville; the shot of the boat landed at Cape Girardeau; and the view of the steamer passing under the Hannibal bridge on the UMR with whistle blowing. All of these views are in color. If anyone has other AVALON postcards, I'd love to see a copy of them, and would like to add them to my collection.

                    Well, that's enough about postcards. I warned you that this was intended only for AVALON-lovers. If you continued to read on despite my warning, I can't be held reponsible for your minutiae overload!
                    Attached Files