Dubuque-Built Diesel Excursion boats

by Travis Vasconcelos

Beginning in what I can best determine as 1959 and ending in 1971, Captain Dennis Trone designed and built a large number of modern diesel-powered riverboats at the fabled Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works in Dubuque, IA. These boats were a cost effective answer to the fading number of expensive to operate steam excursion boats of the day. The boats were phenomenal examples of the boat builders art featuring interesting and very aesthetically pleasing lines in a time of flat steel hulls. The vessels all featured the look of the old time steamboat in many and varying different ways. Some pulled a fake wheel behind, others were actually powered by chain-driven wheels, some had hydraulic rams operating at high pressure much like a true steamboat. The last one (The JULIA BELLE SWAIN) was a true steamboat with all the modern shipbuilding lessons her predecessors taught the good Captain.

Dubuque Boat and Boiler has a great and varied history. Beginning in 1870 as the Iowa Iron Works, boat parts and later hulls were built at their factory inland and portaged to the river. When the Dubuque Ice Harbor was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1885 the Iron Works relocated to the harbor. There they began construction of complete vessels until 1891 when a failed shaft on a vessel built for the U.S Navy (Torpedo Boat #2, the ERICSSON) resulted in a lawsuit levying a $17,000.00 fine on the company and temporarily closing the facility. This lead Dubuque resident, U.S. Senator William Allison to attach as amendment to a Navy Appropriations bill a bill to repay the Iowa Iron Works. This repayment was used as capitol to reorganize the company under the new name Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works in 1904. Under this name, the company would build boats for another 68 years.

The excursion boat business began humbly with Henry Barr "Hank" Miller, President and Capt. Dennis Trone, Vice President following a idea to provide the post war affluent public with a unique product recalling the great excursion boats of the 1920’s. These new boats would be very efficient, attractive, and affordable to small operators to begin their own businesses.

One of the first boats was one Capt. Dennis Trone designed by hand, the TALISMAN. She was built for a company he and his brother began called Sangamon Packet Company. The vessel was a relatively small sternwheeler (60’x16’x3′) which operated until the early 1990’s at Lincoln’s New Salem State Park in Illinois. She utilized hydraulic rams to operate her paddlewheel, in the exact same way a steam engine would do, except the rams utilized highly pressurized hydraulic fluid, energized by pumps attached to a diesel engine which also ran the onboard light plant. Burning barely 20 gallons an hour, and not requiring a licensed Engine room staff, the vessel could be operated with two deck crew (who doubled in the bar and concession stand) and a Pilot who also could operate in the capacity of Captain. The vessel was a success! She lead the way to a number of sister vessels who have since traveled all over the globe.

The purpose of this blog is to make as comprehensive a list as possible of the Dubuque-built excursion boats and allow others to fill in the blanks. I will try and list every vessel I can. The idea is to have the name of the vessel, any additional names she operated under, the dates she operated, the basic measurements of the vessel, the drive train, and her current disposition. My hope is we can work together to put together the best list possible of these boats and their histories and submit this list for publication for the Mississippi River Museum and the S&D Reflector.

Name, Build Date, Measurements, Propulsion method (ie; propellor, paddlewheel (Hydraulic or chain-driven), diesel, or steam), History, disposition

TALISMAN: 1961, 60’x16’x3′ diesel hydraulic paddlewheel. Operated at Lincoln’s New Salem State Park in Illinois on the Sangamon River. Due to lack of navigation pool, laid up in the late 1990’s and is currently beached 2 miles from her operational landing.

GATEWAY CLIPPER: 1962 85’x35′ twin prop Cat 333 Diesel 400 hp. Carried fake paddlewheel and smokestacks. Operated at Pittsburgh PA by Gateway Clipper Line. Leased to BB Riverboats, renamed BETTY BLAKE Feb 1980. Later rumored to have been renamed OH SUSANNAH.. Disposition unknown

MARK TWAIN: 1963 89’x31’x5′ twin prop Cat D-242 ta total 600 hp. Carries fake wheel, stage, and stacks. Owned and operated by Streckfus Steamers New Orleans. Transferred to the St. Louis, MO operation in 1970 and renamed HUCK FINN. This vessel was sold to the Belle of Louisville Operating board in 1995 and renamed SPIRIT OF JEFFERSON. Today she operates at Louisville, KY as a consort to the historic steamboat BELLE OF LOUISVILLE. Due to age and weight concerns the decorative sternwheel was removed in 2004 and the well left behind was hulled in.

JULIE N. DUBUQUE II: 1960 twin prop diesel, GM 6-71 diesels. 65’x25′, She was the second boat of the name honoring the founder of Dubuque, IA, Julien Dubuque. The middle initial "N" was honoring Nancy D. Miller, Great Grandaughter of the founder of the Dubuque boat yard J. J. Schreiner. Operated at Dubuque, IA until sold…disposition unclear. Assumed to have been operated at Pittsburgh, PA and Cincinnati, OH until assumed scrapped in the early 1980’s

PRAIRIE GAL: 1963 two paddlewheels chain driven, 91’x22′ scow bow, Allis-Chalmers D-262 diesels, 120hp. Initially operated at Dubuque, IA. Sold 1965 renamed LA CROSSE QUEEN (1). Was glass enclosed and heated 1967. Sold 1972..disposition unknown

LADY D: 1967, Paddlewheel, hydraulic ram operation, GM 6-71 diesels, 93’x18’x2.2′, scow bow. Operated at Dubuque, IA until sold in 1968, re located to the Des Moines river, in Iowa and renamed SPIRIT OF DES MOINES, Under this name she was untied from her dock and sank in 1995. Rebuilt in 2008, she was renamed JOHN ANDERSON WHITE, by owner Michael LaValle, Des Moines, IA where she operates today

LADY M: 1962, 2 Paddlewheels chain-driven. 91’x22′. Allis-Chalmers D-262 diesels, 120 hp. Single deck, pilothouse on top. Named for Oilve B. Miller. Sold 1975 to Great River Excursions, Hannibal MO. renamed MARK TWAIN. Sold 1981 to BB Riverboats, Cincinnati, OH. Leased to Capt. D. L. Reinbolt 1983, remaned SPIRIT OF VICKSBURG. Lease ended, vessel returned to BB Riverboats in 1986, renamed MARK TWAIN. Currently under lease and operating at Huntington, WV as of 2010.

LILY BELLE: 1959 sternwheel, chain-driven, Ford diesel, 60’x18’x3′. Operated by R.A. Hastings as a private house boat. Gifted to Mississippi River Museum Dubuque, IA in 2005

JUBILEE I: 1963, sternwheeler chain-driven, Cat 353 diesels, operated by Sun Line Cincinnati, OH until sold to Griffith Marine in Stillwater, MN in 1973. Still operating today at Stillwater for St. Croix Boat and Packet Company.

MEMPHIS QUEEN (II): 1955 77’x36’x4′ twin props and sternwheel. GM 6-71 (port side) Cat 333 TA (starboard side). Originally owned by Capt. E.B. Langford until sold to Capt. Tom Meanley in 1960 to become part of Memphis Queen Lines. Operated today in Memphis, TN her home since birth.

MISS GREEN RIVER II: 1968, twin prop, 260hp. Owned by M.E. Nash, operates at Mammoth Cave on the Green River in Kentucky.

PRAIRIE GAL II: 1966 twin props, Rover inboard/outboards 120 hp, 67’x12′ carries fake wheel, stacks, and stage. Sold 1968 to Roy C. Berrie Elk Boat Line, Mc Gregor, IA. disposition unknown

JULIUS N. DUBUQUE: 1956, twin props, Chrysler Marine engines 230hp. 46’x12’x4′ Fitted with fake paddlewheel, stacks, and stage to look like an old-time steamboat. Sold 1959 to Missouri River Passenger Excursions and renamed RIVER BELLE. Disposition unknown

SHOWBOAT: 1968, twin props, Cummins NHRS-6M diesels 123’x27. Looks like the old time packet boat with fake wheel, stacks, and stage. Owned by Captain Clarks Boat Line, Corpus Christi, TX

SHOWBOAT II: 1965 Twin prop, 85’x35′ Cat 353 diesels, Originally operated at Cleveland, OH, then taken to Philadelphia, PA. Sold 1975, renamed LIBERTY BELLE by Gateway Clipper, Pittsburgh, PA. Renamed GATEWAY LIBERTY BELLE in 1978, renames The DUTCHESS in 2008. Operated for Gateway Clipper in Pittsburgh

TOM SAWYER: 1966 twin prop, Cat D-343 TA diesels 600 hp. 89’x31’x5′ Has all the steamboaty stuff, fake wheel, stage, stacks. Operates today at St. Louis, MO for Gateway Arch Riverboats.

CAPT CLARKS SHOWBOAT: 1967 twin prop Cummins NT-855 diesels, 123’x27′, Originally operated by Capt. Clarks Boat Line Corpus Christi, TX. Sold 1971, renamed COMMODORE by Sterckfus Steamers, New Orleans, LA. Moved to their St. Louis operation in 1973. Sold Jan 1981 to New Orleans Steamboat Company who renamed her BECKY THATCHER. Sold 1982 to BB Riverboats Cincinnati, OH who initially operated her at the Worlds Fair in Knoxville, TN on the Tennessee River, relocated to Cincinnati Ohio in winter 1983. Sold 1995 to Sacramento Riverboats, and moved to Sacramento, CA on the Sacramento River where she was renamed SPIRIT OF SACRAMENTO. Retired and put up for sale in 2009, sitting below the city front of Sacramento for sale as this is written

STAR OF JAMESTOWN: Hydraulic Ram sternwheel….history and disposition unknown

BELLE CAROL: 1967, single screw/sternwheel, 75’x16′. GM 4-71 diesel. Owned and operated by Memphis Queen Line, Memphis, TN. Disposition unknown

BORDER STAR: 1969 hydraulic ram sternwheel, 105’x21’3′, Cat diesels, 240 hp. Built for Kansas City (MO) Missouri River Navigation Company. Sold 1970 to Arkansas Charter Inc., Jack Trotter, proprietor Little Rock, AR.. Sold 1975 to Sangamon Packet Company, Petersburg, IL, relocated to Knoxville, TN on the Tennessee River. Sold April 1978 to Capt. Lloyd Poore who renamed her BONNIE BELLE for his wife Bonnie and his mother Belle. Sold 1995, relocated to Toledo, OH and renamed ARAWANNA BELLE, sold 1999 and moved to Cocoa Beach, FL and renamed COCOA BELLE. Sold 2005 to Capt Joe Baer and moved to Mandeville, LA and renamed MAGNOLIA BELLE.

LADY MIM: 1970 2 sternwheels, chain-driven, CM 3-71 diesels 91’x28′. Originally operated at Dubuque, IA. Sold July 1972, renamed COMMODORE by Gus Fraza, Dixon, IL, sold 1974 to Belle Carol Riverboat Company, Nashville, TN, renamed CAPTAIN ANN, sold 1995 and renamed EMERALD QUEEN, sold 2005 and renamed BAMA BELLE, operated at Tuscaloosa, AL on the Black Warrior River.

BISCAYNE BELLE: 1965 twin prop, 85’x31′, GM 8V-71 diesels, has fake sternwheel, stacks, and stage. Originally operated by Grey Line Tours, Miami, FL, sold July 1978 to Gateway Clipper Line Pittsburgh, PA renamed GATEWAY RIVER BELLE. Fake sternwheeler removed in 2004 to satisfy USCG inspection stating she was too stern heavy. Wheel well hulled over. Sold 2006 to Tunica Riverboat Company and renamed TUNICA QUEEN where she operates at Tunica, MS on the Mississippi River.

LUELLA BELLE: 1962 twin prop, GM diesels 260 hp, 82’x19.5′, has fake paddlewheel, stacks, and stage. Originally owned by Cal Harbor Excursions, Chiacago, IL. Sold 1973 to Great River Packet Company, Monticello, IL renamed CITY OF NAUVOO. Sold 1975 to Mon River Packet Company, Millsboro, PA renamed CITY OF CHAMPIONS. Sold March 1982 to Gateway Clipper Line, Pittsburgh, PA renamed GOOD SHIP LOLLIPOP, renamed 2008 The COUNTESS.

JONATHAN PADELFORD: 1970, Paddlewheel, single prop, Hydraulic ram for paddlewheel operation. Cat D334 runs paddlewheel, Cat D330 diesel engine drives prop. Total 460 hp. Originally 105’x21’x3′, lengthened by Lamont Shipbuilding to 125’x24.7’x3.5′. Operates at St. Paul, MN for Padelford Packet Company.

JULIA BELLE SWAIN: 1971, steam sternwheel, Engines 12’s-5foot strokes, high pressure. Built by Gillette & Eaton for ferry CITY OF BATON ROUGE. 149’x27′. Last of the line, this beautiful steamboat was designed by Captain Dennis Trone for himself. He operated her at Peoria, IL originally. Leaving there for Chattanooga in the winter to extend his operating season. While traveling back to Peoria, IL in the spring he stopped by Louisville, KY to race the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE and DELTA QUEEN in 1975, 1976, and 1977. As of 1978 the Chattanooga trips ceased and the boat operated at Peoria until 1985 when she moved to La Claire, IA to operate with her new sistership the diesel electric TWILIGHT. Sold in 1994 to Robert Kalhagen, Milwaukee, WI, the boat was relocated to La Crosse, WI where she operated until 2008. She was laid up at that time and may never operate again. The boat is the pinnacle of the Dubuque Boat and Boiler Company design and was the most technically advanced steamboat ever built from the famed yard. Should something ever happen to her, the best of the best would be lost…a crime in anyones book!