with Capt. Gabe
on the S.S. Delta Queen
celebrates boats surprise visit
VEVAY, Ind. (June 1999) The town of Vevay, Ind.,
was in for a surprise visit from a special guest on Wednesday, May 5:
The S.S. Delta Queen made her first landing at the small southern Indiana
community in 26 years.
by Don Ward
Delta Queen passenger ship is
a frequent visitor to Madisons
riverfront. But on this particular
voyage, she made a surprise stop in
Vevay, 15 miles upriver. It was her
first stop there in 26 years.
Vevay was chosen for the honor by virtue of a unique itinerary
designed to celebrate the 30th career anniversary of one of her masters,
Capt. Gabe Chengery.
He indulged his longtime desire to offer 19th century tramping
cruises, stopping wherever and whenever the whim arose,
Lucette Brehm, public relations coordinator of the Delta Queen Steamboat
Billed as Capt. Gabes Tramping Cruises, the unannounced
landings of Americas oldest overnight passenger steamer began
during the 1998 cruising season and proved so popular with both the
DQs crew and passengers that they have been continued into the
The DQs 1973 landing at Vevay was in conjunction with that years
Swiss Wine Festival.
They took us on a cruise to Markland Dam and back, passenger
Mabel Wolf recalled. I think the fare was maybe 50 cents. It was
Also putting in an appearance that weekend were the S.S. Belle of Louisville
and the former Vevay/Ghent, Ky., ferry, the Martha A. Graham.
Commissioned in 1924 and completed in 1927, the DQ in part owes her
longevity to the extraordinary vision of Capt. Tom Rea Greene of Cincinnati.
The DQ and her sister ship, the Delta King, started life as packet boats
on Californias Sacramento River, operating between San Francisco
and Stockton, Calif. Hull plates and other steelwork were fabricated
in Glasgow, Scotland, while machinery was engineered nearby in Dumbarten.
Metalwork for their sternwheels was forged in Germany.
Both vessels weathered the financial ruin of the Great Depression, only
to be sold and laid up in 1940 after completion of a new highway between
her trade cities.
But plans were soon afloat to return the Delta King to service on the
Mississippi River. Accordingly, the DK was enclosed in a crate prior
to transshipment, but the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, changed those
plans. Both vessels were immediately commandeered by the U.S. Navy for
use as personnel transports. At wars end they were turned over
to the U.S. Maritime Commission, which in 1946 sold them at auction.
Capt. Greene, president of Cincinnatis Greene Line Steamers, turned
in the high bid for the Delta Queen and crated her up for shipment to
However, the DQ made the trip alone; the Delta King stayed behind in
Sacramento, where she still reigns as a popular tourist attraction.
So far the DQ is the only river boat ever to have transited the Panama
Canal. By virtue of that trip, she also holds the record for the longest
After a British cruise ship burned at sea in 1965, the U.S. Congress
passed the Safety at Sea Law that outlawed vessels with wooden superstructures
from carrying overnight passengers.
this photo dating from 1928
when they were new, the Delta
Queen (left) and Delta King dock
together in Stockton, Calif. The
sternwheels were originally
enclosed on both vessels.
But they forgot about the Delta Queen, Capt.
Clarke C. Doc Hawley, one of the boats masters, explained.
Shes a riverboat, and were in sight of land all the
time. Luckily, the American public did not let them forget her for very
Today, she operates under a series of exemptions from the 1966 law.
In 1970 she was listed on the National Register of Historic Places,
and in 1989 was designated a National Historic Landmark.
Her safety record is unblemished, although she has had her share of
mishaps. Virginia Bennett, then assistant purser, was aboard the DQ
on her first trip on the upper Mississippi in 1954 when the boat experienced
She was laid up for 11 days, a trying time for the crew, since it was
soon discovered that one of her passengers was a pyromaniac who managed
to set fire to the boat three times. To top things off, a parked car
on the levee jumped out of gear one morning and rolled into the river,
striking the DQ on its way down and causing some structural damage.
Richard Stewart, then-purser of Greene Line Steamers, wrote home to
his parents from New Orleans in late March 1964 that the boat had been
caught in the tidal wave from the Alaskan earthquake.
It picked up the DQ and slammed it against the wharf like it was
a johnboat, he wrote.
Capt Lexie Palmore, the first female to pilot the boat full-time, was
standing her first watch at the helm in the spring of 1978 when she
was literally given a baptism of fire.
We were caught in a raging thunderstorm, and the boat was struck
by lightning, she recalled. It was a real Murphys
Law of a trip.
Although her tramping itinerary is kept a closely guarded secret from
passengers, the Switzerland Co. Welcome Center was contacted by the
DQs home office in New Orleans to plan special events to welcome
May 5 was declared Capt. Gabe Chengery Day, and the Vevay town council
presented him with a key to the city. Passengers were entertained with
free concerts at the Historic Hoosier Theater by Bill and Stacia Wiseman
and the Switzerland Co. High School choir.
The DQ treated everyone to a calliope recital, which was followed by
music from Switzerland County High Schools nationally acclaimed
marching band at the new Paul Ogle Riverfront Park. All students from
both grade schools were bused to Vevays ferry landing, bringing
an estimated 2,000 well-wishers to the waterfront.
Everyone had a wonderful time, said Ann Mulligan, director
of the Welcome Center. We have worked so long and so hard to encourage
tourism here, and its gratifying to see it becoming a reality.
The Delta Queen landed in Vevay during National Tourism Week, and we
couldnt have found a better example.
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