The Delta Queen steamboat
on Oct. 23 made what could be its last stop ever in Madison, Ind., drawing
a large crowd of supporters who turned up at the Ohio River to wave goodbye
as she departed. The steamboat stopped on Monday for two hours on its
way to Cincinnati, then made another brief layover on its way downriver.
The sight of the vessel pulling away and sailing downstream was sad to
the many supporters standing on the banks of the Ohio River who came to
pay their final respects.
The only way the steamboat will ever return to Madison is if Congress
grants an extension of a safety exemption that it has enjoyed nine times
over the past 40 years. The current Safety of Seas Act exemption is set
to expire Nov. 1. The act bars wooden ships from overnight cruises. The
law was created to affect ocean-going vessels that have wood above the
water line, but it has been applied to riverboats. The Delta Queen has
a steel hull and underwent a recent safety upgrade, but those factors
have not yet proved successful in earning another exemption.
by Don Ward
historic Delta Queen docks
in Madison in late October
during its final voyage.
After several failed attempts this year to obtain
an exemption through Congress, the issue likely wont come up for
consideration until at least January 2009. Some say the exemption is a
victim of a congressional fight over union vs. non-union labor. When Majestic
American Line bought the steamboat company in 2006, it did not recognize
the Seafarers International Union, so the steamboats are operating with
a non-union crew. That has prompted several pro-union lawmakers to block
or defeat measures in Congress that would have extended the Delta Queens
Meanwhile, the Majestic American Line has not booked any cruises for next
year, and the vessel will likely be permanently docked after this voyage,
according to Capt. John Dugger. The Majestic American Line has had its
fleet of six East and West Coast steamboats for sale for some time and
is still in negotiations with one company to purchase and operate the
Delta Queen for day trips.
The Delta Queen is one of three steamboats the company has operated in
the Midwest. The others are the Mississippi Queen and American Queen.
The Delta Queen has been operating since 1927. The companys other
three West Coast steamboats already have been tied up for the winter.
On Monday, Oct. 20, Dugger and his wife, Janice, visited their friend,
Kathie Petkovic, who manages the Riverboat Inn in Madison. The couple
became friends with Petkovic and her parents during their many cruises
aboard the Delta Queen. Petkovic paid tribute by having Dugger photographed
with a plaque in his honor that hangs outside of one of the motel rooms.
He also signed a relic of the Delta Queen that hangs on the wall of the
deck at the motel a piece of wood from the paddlewheel that was
given to Petkovic this year.
by Don Ward
Queen Captain John Dugger
poses with wife Janice (left) and
Riverboat Inn manager Kathie
Petkovic (right) during an
Oct. 20 visit.
The Duggers were with Petkovic the first time she
visited Madison while on a steamboat cruise. It was on that stop that
Petkovic fell in love with Madison and eventually returned there to negotiate
the purchase and later manage the motel.
Its a beautiful town, and one of the favorite stops for our
passengers, said Dugger, 63, who was substituting as captain on
the cruise for Capt. Paul Thoeny, who was on vacation. Dugger is from
Collierville, Miss., and has been with the steamboat company for eight
years, mostly aboard the American Queen. He says he will continue working
for a barge company after the steamboat docks for good. Other crew members
will have to look for new jobs.
Dugger said most of the 170 passengers aboard the steamboat reserved so
they could specifically be a part of the last cruise. There was also 65
crew members aboard.
Its been hard for our crew because they know they may be out
of a job unless another company buys Majestic soon, he said. The
people in all of the towns have been great and have come out to greet
us. There is a lot of support.
John Nicoles and wife, Mary Dial, of Oakland, Calif., were among the passengers
on the final cruise. They said they made specific reservations to be on
the steamboats last voyage and were making their first trip through
the Midwest. They said every town along the river has shown support.
You can definitely tell that this cruise is much different from
the rest, Nicoles said. Thats all everybody on board
talks about. The crew is worried about their job security and there is
a general sadness about it all. Some are very emotional about it. Its
definitely not a celebratory mood on board.
Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout.
Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: Don@RoundAboutMadison.com.