Delta Queen Through the Years
The storied riverboat
has survived many owners,
various roles over time
(April 2014) – The 87-year-old Delta Queen steamboat has a remarkable history.
The Delta Queen and her identical twin, the Delta King – called the million-dollar boats – were fabricated from 1924-1927 on the River Clyde at the William Denny & Brothers Ltd. in California Dumbarton, Scotland, and assembled that same year at Banner Island Shipyard in Stockton, Calif. The machinery was built by William Denny & Brothers Ltd., Dumbarton, Scotland. The paddlewheel shaft and the cranks were forged at Krupp Stahlwerke AG, Germany. The boats were completed on May 20,1927.
Both boats ran for the California Transportation Co. of San Francisco on the so-called “Delta Route,” the Sacramento to San Joaquin River Delta, which gave them their names. The boats took up regular service on June 1, 1927, and ran for 13 years, replacing the steamers Fort Sutter and Capital City. Both boats had their last regular runs on Sept. 29, 1940.
Then the Delta Queen was required by the U.S. Navy as a receiving ship for naval reservists. The first group arrived on Oct. 16, 1940. The Delta King followed in November 1940.
In fall 1941, both boats returned to Stockton, but instead of returning them to regular passenger service, the California Transportation System sold the boats to the Isbrandsten Steamship Co. of New York. The boats were towed to the East Coast via the Panama Canal for use as excursion boats on the Hudson River.
When the United States entered World War II, the boats were rushed back into Navy service as emergency hospital transports. They were classified as Yard House Boats but retained their names. In 1946, the boats went into lay-up at the Reserve Fleet on Suisan Bay, called the “mothball fleet.” The Delta King went off the Navy records on April 17; the Delta Queen on Aug. 28.
On Dec. 17, 1946, the Delta Queen was bought from the War Shipping Administration by Capt. Tom R. Greene of Greene Line Steamers of Cincinnati for use on the Mississippi River system. Capt. Frederick Way Jr., engineer Charlie Dietz and ship carpenter Bill Horn prepared the Delta Queen on Fultons shipyard in Antioch, Calif., for her voyage on sea.
The Delta Queen began her legendary voyage through the Panama Canal on April 19, 1947, tugged by the tug Osage. She arrived in New Orleans on May 18, 1947, after 29 days and covering 5,261 miles of open sea. The Delta Queen was re-assembled and prepared for her voyage up the Mississippi River and the Ohio River to Dravo Corp. on Neville Island in Pittsburgh for a major overhaul. She went back into passenger service on June 21, 1948.
In 1966 the Safety of Life at Sea Law nearly ended the Delta Queen´s career. Because of her wooden structure, the legislation would end her passenger cruise. With the help of Betty Blake, Bill Muster and E. Jay Quinby, the Delta Queen got an extension for two years. E. Jay Quinby also installed a calliope on the Delta Queen, which was rescued from the sunken showboat Water Queen, made by Thomas J. Nichols as one of the famous “Three Sisters.”
In 1969, the ownership changed to Overseas National Airways. The Delta Queen´s extension ran out in November 1970. The “Save The Delta Queen” campaign, promoted by Betty Blake, seemed to be a failure. On Oct. 21, 1970, the Delta Queen left St. Paul for her final cruise to New Orleans with Capt. Ernest Wagner as master arriving in New Orleans on Nov. 2. On Dec. 31, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed another extension until 1973. Those extensions were prolonged until the 2008.
In 1973, the company´s name was changed to Delta Queen Steamboat Co. because the Greene family was no longer involved. In April 1976, the Delta Queen was sold to the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of New York. Soon after that the Prudential Lines Inc. of San Francisco became involved. In the early 1980s Sam Zell and Bob Lurie of Chicago acquired control of the outstanding stock.
On Oct. 19, 2001, American Classical Voyages, the parental company of the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. and still under control of Sam Zell, filed for Chapter 11. All boats finished their cruises except the Delta Queen, which finished the season on Jan. 5, 2002. Fortunately, the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. was bought by Delaware North Companies, Inc., and the Delta Queen went back in service on Aug. 26, 2002, the year of her 75th birthday.
In 2006, the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. again was sold, this time to Ambassadors International, which formed a new cruise line called Majestic America Line, running now also the Empress of the North, the Columbia Queen, the Queen of the West and other ships.
Since the exemption for the Delta Queen from the Safety at Sea Act expired at the end of October 2008, she has no longer been allowed to carry overnight passengers. In February 2009, the Delta Queen arrived in Chattanooga Tenn., to serve as a floating hotel. Ambassadors International filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and all assets were sold for $39 million to Colorado-based Xanterra Parks & Resorts Inc. Xanterra is a large holding company owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz.
Delta Queen fans, meanwhile, are still working on getting a renewal of the exemption from Congress, and the boat is once again for sale.
• Source: Delta Queen Hotel
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