Big wheels keep on turnin’…

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Jamie Alich

Times’ Staff Writer

It has been 20 years since the grand Delta Queen steamboat was designated a national historic landmark, but the great dame of Southern waterways is still steaming through the banks of Alabama.

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The Delta Queen is on one of its many river cruises that leads the last operational steam paddle-wheeler with overnight accommodations through Demopolis and the Blackbelt Region.

The Navy leased the steamboat after the Depression as a troop barracks then as a way to carry servicemen to and from ships in the San Francisco Bay. The Delta Queen is also the only steamboat to ever transmit the Panama Canal.

The history of the Delta Queen begins in Stockton, California, where it was built and furnished from 1925 to 1927.

The steamer’s price tag ran at one million dollars. The paddlewheel steamboat was first launched on the Sacramento River as one of two steamers commissioned by the California Transportation Company to give luxury overnight travel between Sacramento and San Francisco.

The Delta Queen has called the Mississippi River home since 1947. It is 285 feet in length, 66.5ft in height from the water to the top of the steam stack and has a gross tonnage of 3,360. The paddlewheel itself weighs forty-four tons, is nineteen feet wide and twenty-eight feet in diameter. The average speed is 6 mph with a peak speed of ten mph.

Employed on the Delta Queen are eighty officers and crewmembers. The steamboat has four passenger decks to accommodate one hundred seventy-four passengers in eighty-seven, double occupancy staterooms.

Many special features grace the steamboat, including: original Tiffany style stained glass windows, rich hardwood paneling, gleaming brass fittings, the only Siamese ironwood floor aboard a steamboat, a grand staircase crowned by a crystal chandelier and a steam calliope. The steam calliope, played on the Delta Queen by Travis Vasconcelos is an instrument that, when played, pushes steam through the brass pipes on top of the ship.

Presidents Hoover, Truman and Carter have traveled on the Delta Queen; as well as, Princess Margaret, Jan Peerce, Van Johnson, Arlo Guthrie and Helen Hayes.

The current cruise the Delta Queen is running will last until August 7th and will include Tuscaloosa, Demopolis, Waverly Plantation and Savannah. The theme for this cruise is “Heart of Dixie”.

The Delta Queen is owned by the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, Inc., and makes New Orleans as its homeport.

The next stop in Demopolis for the Delta Queen is scheduled for the Aug. 20 through Aug. 27 cruise.