Saving the Queen

Congressional inaction to send
Delta Queen into retirement

The vessel will be docked after this season

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(September 2007) – Wayne Rassman of Warsaw, Ky., remembers seeing steamboats travel up and down the Ohio River since he was a small child. “I grew up with steamboats, and I love them,” he said. “They are part of our history.”
Rassman is just one of the many steamboat advocates working to save the historic paddlewheeler Delta Queen from being permanently being. Majestic America Line, the owner of the American treasure, on Aug. 1 announced the U.S. Congress will not extend the Delta Queen’s exemption from a 1966 maritime law banning passenger vessels with wooden superstructures that carry more than 50 overnight passengers from operating from a U.S. port.

Delta Queen

Photo by Don Ward

The Delta Queen makes one of her
many stops in Madison. The colorful
steamboat arrives with caliope fanfare
and always draws a crowd of fans.

Although the 80-year-old steamboat has a beautiful superstructure styled and crafted with oak, mahogany, cedar, teak and extremely rare Siamese Ironbark, she also has two complete all-steel hulls under her.
Congress has allowed the historic boat to operate with a special exemption from the law for more than 40 years. The exemption has been extended six times but is now set to expire in November 2008.
Despite efforts by the owners of the elegant icon of Americana and thousands of loyal supporters, including many congressional leaders, a seventh extension was not included on recent legislation.
“We are incredibly disappointed by this decision, but we are extremely grateful to those who worked tirelessly on behalf of the Delta Queen to preserve her place on the Mississippi River,” said Joe Ueberroth, president and CEO of Ambassadors International, which owns and operates Majestic America Line, in a press release. “We appreciate their efforts and we will continue to keep them involved as we plan the best way to honor the Delta Queen.”
Twenty-four final cruises through November 2008 have been planned for the great, historic steamboat as an overnight passenger vessel. Majestic Lines said it is committed to providing the Delta Queen with a proper and well-deserved send off before she retires.
Built in 1926, the Delta Queen is registered as a National Historic Landmark and is the last of thousands of operational steam-powered stern-wheelers that used to be seen traveling the rivers in the U.S. She was inducted into the National Maritime Hall of Fame in 2004.
A veteran of World War II and the only steamboat to transit the Panama Canal, the Delta Queen has been host to three U.S. presidents and a princess. Numerous celebrities and other dignitaries have graced her hand-crafted decks and stately rooms.
She can accommodate up to 176 passengers on her four luxurious decks and for years has been a beloved fixture along the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Arkansas, Black Warrior and Cumberland rivers.
Wherever she goes, crowds gather along the banks to see her majestic red sternwheel churn the waters. “She brings tourism dollars into the communities where she stops,’ said Rassman.
Passengers on the boat shop and dine at the various stops, and steamboat lovers travel to the ports to get a close look at her. Madison, Ind., is one of the towns along the Ohio River where she makes regular stops. “She is going to be sorely missed if we don’t do something,” Rassman said.
He has been involved for years in the continuing efforts to renew her exemption. There have been numerous initiatives over the years by former owners and fans. A new online petition is urging supporters to contact their senators and congressmen to push for another extension for the regal ship.
Rassman said he was amazed to find out three of the five congressmen in his area didn’t know anything about the situation. “We need to get Congress to act now,” he said. “Sitting back and waiting is not going to get this done.”

• For more information about the private initiative to save the historic Delta Queen, visit: www.save-the-delta-queen.org.

Back to September 2007 Articles.



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