MADISON, Ind. (June 2004) When Jerry Hay heard in 1970 that
the Delta Queen steamboat would be put out of commission because federal
legislation had outlawed wooden construction, the Terre Haute, Ind.,
native decided he had to first see it. Traveling on his own in a small
johnboat for more than 200 miles from Terre Haute to Paducah, Ky.,
Hay said farewell to the historic vessel for what he thought would
be the first and last time.
by Ruth Wright
Jerry Hay during a stopover in Madison.
Hay, 57, didnt know then that he would see the Delta Queen
again. After countless letters and petitions, the steamboat was granted
a congressional exemption, under which she operates to this day. Hay
also didnt know that he would one day work aboard the boat,
sharing with its passengers his memories of that youthful journey
down the river.
Hay has worked for the past four years as a riverlorian, a river
historian, for the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. of New Orleans.
The first two years were aboard the Delta Queen. He now works on the
Mississippi Queen, pointing out to its passengers places of interest
and relating anecdotal details. They dont always know
if Im telling the truth, joked Hay in a recent interview.
Hay has always been fascinated with rivers and riverboats. When he
was 14 he built a boat. Unfortunately, it sank on its maiden voyage.
Ive done better since, said Hay, who has made many
successful river journeys. They have included travel on nearly every
major U.S. river and navigation of the entire lengths of the Mississippi,
Ohio, Wabash and White rivers. During his trips Hay kept journals,
which resulted in the publication in 1997 and 2002 of guidebooks of
the Wabash and White rivers.
Hays most recent foray into the realm of writing has been two
books, one of which will be published this year. His first childrens
book, A Goose Named Gilligan, is scheduled for release
in September. It is based on the true adventures of a wild goose that
Hay rescued from a trotline.
Gilligan has since lived mostly at Hays cabin on the Wabash,
providing a number of funny and interesting stories which Hay often
relates to passengers aboard the Mississippi Queen. In fact, it was
when Hay was telling a Gilligan story that the idea for a book was
proposed by a passenger who worked for publisher HB Kramer of San
Francisco. She suggested that Hay write a book about Gilligan for
her company. Hay ultimately traveled to San Francisco, where he signed
a contract for the book. Gilligan sequels are already in the works.
In 1997 Hay began working on Beyond The Bridges, a comprehensive
volume about river life, travel, history and lore based upon the many
years Hay has spent exploring rivers of the United States. He hopes
to have it completed next year.
Editing the book is writer and historian Barbara Huffman of Vevay,
Ind. Huffman became acquainted with Hay about two years ago when he
came to see The Barbara H., the historic sternwheeler owned by Huffman
and her husband, Steve.
Huffman called Hay a great story-teller, and said that
his river knowledge is extensive.
I think Jerrys book is going to have universal appeal,
she said. I was disappointed when I had to put the manuscript
Included in Beyond The Bridges is a chapter about Hays
top 10 favorite river towns. Ranked No. 3 is Madison. Friendly people,
good docking facilities, easy access to downtown and the many things
to do and see were what put Madison near the top of his list, said
Hay, who said he prefers small towns despite the fact that he ranked
Louisville, Ky., as his No. 1.
In addition to author and riverlorian, Hay occasionally takes on the
role of historic re-enactor. He has portrayed Capt. William Clark
for both the Delta Queen and for events surrounding the Lewis and
Clark Bicentennial. I think I relate to him, said Hay
about Clark, who with Capt. Meriwether Lewis and crew led the now-legendary
1803-1806 expedition to map new U.S. territory west of the Mississippi.
Hay, a father of two sons and a daughter, lives in Terre Haute when
he is not traveling on the Mississippi Queen. His childrens
book will be available nationwide this fall.
More information about is available online at www.indianawaterways.com/beyondthebridges.htm.