The Delta King and her identical twin the Delta Queen – called the million dollar boats – were fabricated from 1924 to 1927 on the River Clyde at the Isherwood Yard in Glasgow, Scotland, (other sources claim William Denny & Brothers Ltd., Dumbarton, Scotland) and assembled that same year at Banner Island shipyard in Stockton, CA. The machinery was built by William Denny & Brothers Ltd., Dumbarton, Scotland. The paddlewheel shaft and the cranks were forged at the Krupp Stahlwerke AG, Germany. The boats were completed on May 20, 1927.
Both boats run for the California Transportation Company of San Francisco on the so called “Delta Route”, the Sacramtento – San Joaquin River Delta, which gave them their names. The boats took up their regular service on June 1, 1927, replacing the steamers Fort Sutter and Capital City. Both boats had their last regular runs on September 29, 1940, the closing day of the Golden Gate International Exposition or world fair on Treasure Island.
The Delta Queen was required by the Navy as receiving ship for naval reservists. The first group arrived on October 16, 1940. The Delta King followed in November 1940. This leases were planned for 6 months but in April 1941, the Navy renewed the leases for another 6 months. In fall of 1941 both boats returned to Stockton but instead of returning them to regular passenger service the California Transportation Company sold the boats to the Isbrandsten Steamship Co. of New York. Both vessels should be towed to the East Coast via the Panama Canal for use as excursion boats on the Hudson River. Pearl Harbor brought a turn in the fate of the boats. The Delta Queen and the Delta King rushed back into Navy service as emergency hospital transports. They were classified as Yard House Boats, the Delta King as YHB-6 and the Delta Queen as YHB-7, but retained their names. On July 5, 1944, reclassified the boats as Yard Ferry Boats, the Delta King as YFB-55 and the Delta Queen as YFB-56. During the founding conference of the United Nations from April 25 to June 26, 1945, the Delta Queen took delegates of the 51 gathered nations on sightseeing trips around San Francisco Bay. In 1946 the boats went into lay-up at the Reserve Fleet on Suisan Bay, called the “mothball fleet”. The Delta King was off the Navy records on April 17, 1946, the Delta Queen on August 28.
The Delta King should have been the first boat to be sold by the Maritime Commission. On October 18, 1946, the Southeast Asia Importing & Exporting Co. of Siam mad the highest bid. Realizing that the boat was a paddlewheeler and not a sea going steamer they lost their interest. There were serveral auctions but the Delta King wasn’t sold. Finally, in September 1947 a bid of L.G. Wingard, his wife Mary Lou Wingard, Jack Salmon and Les Fulton was accepted. The Delta King was prepared for a journey to Seattle, WA, to serve as a fish cannery at Fulton’s Shipyard at Antioch, CA, but the work stopped. In 1952 the Delta King was sold to Kitimat Constructors. They wanted her as a home for the workers of Alcan (Aluminium Company of Canada Ldt.) in British Columbia. At Fulton’s the steam engines, the machinery and the paddlewheel were removed (and later bought by Tom Greene as reserve parts for the Delta Queen). On April 15, 1952, the Delta King started her voyage tuged by two of Fulton’s tugboats, Bear Flag and Mr. Thomas. At Richmond the sea going tug Navigator of the Island Tug & Barge Company took over. On May 9, 1952, the Delta King arrived at the end of Douglas Channel near Kitimat. At high tide on May 15, 1952, the Delta King was floated into a basin where she rested on solid ground after pumping away the water. By late 1958 the Alcan had built an additional housing for its workers and wouldn’t need the Delta King any longer.
On March 2, 1959, John Kessel of Stockton, CA, announced the purchase of the Delta King to be used as theater and restaurant, hotel and museum on the Stockton Channel. The Delta King was refloated and tuged back to her birthplace at Stockton, CA, where she arrived on April 29, 1959. Following was a never ending fight between attorneys-at-law, owners, want to be owners and more. In fall of 1959 the Delta King acted as a Mississippi River steamer in the MGM film The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn starring Tony Randall, Judy Canova, Andy Devine, Buster Keaton, Archie Moore and Eddie Hodges (as Huck). The Delta King was mostly filmed from the front and from the distance a tugboat on her side to move her. The real stack was covered with two phony stacks.
On July 20, 1969, the Delta King was towed back to Sacramento by a group of interested people, Tom Horton, Gordon McDonald, Justus Ghormley, Dee Haberlin, Dan Clarke, Robbie Van Vorn and Geoff Wong, who wanted to save the Delta King. The ownership wasn’t yet cleared. They tried to restore the Delta King. In February 1974 the Delta King was tuged away in order of Gene Detgen who claimed to be the legal owner. She was brought to Collinsville. In summer 1974 the Delta King flooded because she got stuck in the muddy bottom during low tide but was soon refloated. The boat was brought to Rio Vista to be prepared for a new role for the Quimby Island Reclamation District but the company went bankrupt.
On January 27, 1978, the boat was for auction and was sold to Tom Fat, but he was outbid on February 10 by M. K. Sun. Sun brought the Delta King to Red Rock Marina in Richmond. His plan was to use her as restaurant at the San Francisco waterfront. In 1980 Sun got the permisson for his plan and brought the boat to Lauritzen Channel. On April 3-4, 1981, the Delta King sunk again. This time the water was deeper and the refloating job much more difficult. The Delta King was refloated in June 1982. Again the Delta King’s fate changed. She was going back to Sacramento where she arrived in July 1984.
In 1985 finally a restoration of the Delta King started ending with a grand opening on May 20, 1989. Since that the Delta King is serving as a hotel, theater and restaurant at the Old Sacramento waterfront.
The steam whistle of the Delta Queen is said to be in the possession ht the Museum of Vancouver, but so far this is not confirmed.
For a very detailed history of the Delta King, check this amazing story from Shawn Dake at Maritime Matter: “The DELTA KING California’s Monarch“.
The Delta King has her own website: www.deltaking.com.