Delta Queen Stories

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John Lewis (rip)

Hello Nori,
I found your site VERY interesting.
I am Mayor John Lewis of Bridgeport, Alabama. I was in the Purser's Office on the DQ in 63-64 and knew your father, Dick Simonton, and especially E.J. Quinby. I had known Mrs. Greene for about five years when I went to work in the Purser's office. She sent me a letter, asking my if I would like to work on the boat. I have visited Cmdr. Quinby at his home in Summit, New Jersey a couple of times when in the NYC area. Do you know what year he died?

Mrs. Greene was a graceful and a wonderful lady. She was very business like, but had a heart of gold, and a spot of mirth in that big beautiful heart that was full of laughter. Captain Wagner was a special friend, and I would visit the boat on many occasions and travel with them, long after I left as an employee. There will always be a special place in my heart for the Delta Queen family. I will later send you a picture of the crew I took during that era. Please visit this is our City website I built. At the first, on the home page, you will see the Delta Queen. Attached is a picture I located of Col. Quinby from the early days of the DQ, when the Cally - Ope as he called it was a red metal box you could lock.

I was off and on the boat many times after I left. I would catch the boat someplace, and Captain Wagner would tell me to load my car aboard, (which I did)and I would stay aboard for a week or so. I loved the boat and being around the old crew. I probably met your father, because thoise were some of the years I was traveling with my car. I had a 1962 Ford, which had about as many river miles as road miles on it. Please feel free to post my emails if you wish. Happy Steam boatin'.
John Lewis

Greg Menke

[Ed's. note: Greg is now Director at the Seamen's Church Institute Center for Maritime Education in Paducah, Kentucky.]

The first memory I have of the Delta Queen was at the young age of 7 or 8. My older brother worked on the boat during his summers off from college. He was a night watchman and calliope player. He arranged for me to ride the boat from Fernbank lock, old lock 37 at mile 483.2 Ohio River to Cincinnati. If my memory serves me correctly he and EJ Quimby were recording a calliope record that day. Virginia Bennett has recently sent me a copy of the 45 rpm recording in its original sleeve in mint condition.

Being only 7 or 8 years old, I have lasting memories of the engine room and pitman arms. To a guy my size they were huge and made quite an impression on me when the boat first started to get underway from the lock chamber.

When I was in my freshman year of college I decided that I would follow in my older brothers footsteps and work on the Delta Queen during my summer vacation. It just so happened that my freshman year of college was 1970-71, the year that the DQ made her last voyage from Cincinnati to New Orleans where she would never run again due to the Safety at Sea Law. Not to be held back, I wrote the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. a letter requesting employment aboard the boat the following summer. I received a letter in return stating that the boat would be arriving in Cincinnati on a certain date in May and that I should bring my letter and give it to the Captain and I would have a job. Unbeknownst to me, the DQ arrived at Cincinnati to an immense turn out of people glad to see the boat saved. I tried to get on the boat to find the Captain, and the Mate, Don Sanders, threw me off the boat at least three or four times. I finally saw the Captain come down the stairs to the bow of the boat on the main deck. I guess I wasn't sure it was the Captain but he sure did look like one. ( It was Captain Wagner) I ran up the stage and shoved my letter in his face. He read the letter and shook his head and said, "I wish those folks in the office would let me know what they are doing." He started to tell me that he did not have a job for me when another employee came down the steps and informed the Captain that he was quitting. Captain Wagner looked at me and asked me, "Do you want his job?" I immediately said "yes." Captain Wagner said, "You don't know what kind of job he had." I said, "I don't care I'll do anything you need done."

It turned out the gentleman that quit was a night watchman. Here I was having never worked on a boat in my life with a job that carried officer status. I was a good clock puncher. My partner and I, his name was Jamie, can't remember the last name, worked all summer together. There were huge crowds that year everywhere we went due to the boat getting the reprieve from the SOLAS law.

Like my brother, I also took piano lessons when I was younger. When the Captain found this out he let me try my hand at the calliope. I really enjoyed playing the calliope and have led a campaign to raise money to refurbish an old Tangley calliope for the River Heritage Museum here in Paducah KY. My older brother made a calliope 45 and I have made a calliope CD.

During my second summer on the boat we had a couple of bad breaks on our Kentucky Lake trips. We had three scheduled that year between Cincinnati and KY. Lake. We didn't make it to KY. Lake once that year. On the first trip we hit the Madison IN bridge and spent the week at Jeffboat repairing the damage. The second was cut short by a grounding immediately below Cannelton Lock where we tore about a third of the paddlewheel off. The remainder of that trip was spent at Tell city IN. repairing the wheel. On the third trip we made it as far as Paducah but due to fog delays did not have time to go up the Tennessee to the lake.

I would like to share a little information about the Madison Bridge and Cannelton lock incidents. At Madison, the river was high and there was quite a bit of drift in the river. It got foggy above the bridge. Captain Harry Louden was on watch and Captain Wagner and I were in the pilot house. I was serving as second Mate at this time. Captain Wagner was concerned about turning around and nosing into the bank for fear that the eccentrics on the wheel would get fouled with drift and cause the boat to lose use of the paddlewheel. As we approached the bridge I was on the St'bd wing bridge and Capt. Wagner was on the Port wing bridge. When we first saw the pier we were heading straight for it. Capt. Wagner gave the command for hard to Starboard to Capt. Louden which he immediately obeyed. This caused the boat to hit a glancing blow to the Port side of the boat at the front end of the upper boiler room. There was a diesel tank adjacent to where we hit. The impact threw me from the wing bridge into the pilot house. To make matters worse, I believe dinner was being served in the Orleans room at the time of impact.

I immediately left the pilot house and headed down to assess any damage. There was a pretty large hole in the side of the boat but all of the damage was above the water line. We went through the shore span of the bridge on the Indiana side of the river. There was a marina directly below the bridge. Thankfully it was early spring and there were no boats in yet. We did tear up some of the docks. We spent the remainder of the trip at Jeffboat, in Jeffersonville Indiana. The passengers stayed on board and were bused to area attractions. I can't remember anyone really getting upset.

The second incident occurred as we were leaving Cannelton Lock southbound. A fog was rolling in and visibility was deteriorating. Capt Harry Hamilton was on watch and I was in the Pilot house with him. He basically misread his radar. He read a snag in the river for a red buoy and the red buoy for a black. This put him out behind the red buoy which caused us to go aground. I was on the bow of the boat taking soundings with a pike pole when the whole boat seemed to buck and rear up. Unbeknownst to Capt Hamilton or anyone else he had come off the ground and backed into the bank. This caused about one third of the paddlewheel to be demolished as though it was made of tinker toys.

The M/V Eugenie P. Jones of Canal Barge co. came to our rescue and towed us to the Tell city IN. city front. Capt. Wagner called Mr. Bert Fenn, owner of the Tell city Chair Co. and a "steamboat buff." Bert had all the oak lumber we needed to rebuild the paddlewheel sitting on the Tell City riverfront the next morning. We worked 12 hour shifts rebuilding the wheel. As best I can remember it took us about three days. The passengers once again stayed on board and seemed to enjoy watching us rebuild the wheel. If you rode the boat for the next few years after that you may have noticed that the wheel was a little out of round and appeared to wobble when it revolved.

Ed Deumlehr was a deckhand onboard those two summers. I remember playing the chain and the piano with him during crew talent night. I would take a piece of chain link and a shackle pin and "play the chain" with a stroking motion to keep time for our rendition of the "Battle of New Orleans." What an act!

I guess the DQ years bring back some of the fondest memories of my river career. I remember Captain's Howard Tate, Harry Hamilton, Harry Louden, Arthur Zimmer, Charlie Fehlig, Rip Ware, Bill Davis, Don Sanders, Jim Blum, and of course Ernie Wagner. What a privilege it was to work with these individuals. They were the last of a long line of steamboat men.

It was probably Capt Hamilton who encouraged me to take up tow boating. He would always tell me, "Kid, you better get off this old steamboat cause it ain't going to be around much longer. Get over there on them towboats where you can make some real money." I took his advice and got a job, with his help at ESSO. I went tow boating and got my licenses. I came back to the steamboats for a brief time in 1978-79 when I took a job as relief Captain on the Belle of Louisville. The trip from 4th Street to 6 Mile Island didn't satisfy my need for adventure so I went back to tow boating in 1979.

Ed Duemler - Former DQ Employee

I signed on sometime in the summer of 1970 I think. I had just come back from a year in Paris and was on my motorcycle leaving Cincinnati for Alaska when I stopped to watch the DQ start upstream to Pittsburgh. A deckhand named Tony Espelage was sitting next to me on the landing there and urged me to go talk to Dan Sanders, running first mate, about a job. So I talked to Sanders, got a job, and within the hour had started on one of the great adventures of my young days.

Ernie Wagner was the Captain then and Harry Loudon was one of the pilots. But Harry just ran the Ohio I think. The pursers were Gabriel Chengary and Estil Boyd. The mates, as I've said, were Don Sanders (whose now Capt. of a gambling boat in Indiana) and Jim Blum who last I heard was captain of 'The President', the side-wheeler out of St. Louis.

Two of the other deckhands were Ernest Johnson and Rooster whose real name was Louis Bayless. Rooster favored red rooster wine and so got the name. Off and on, there were quite a few deckhands I remember but those were the ones more central to my time there. Engineering had Kenny Howe who became a good friend but with whom I've lost contact. He is probably still living in Louisville with wife and kids. He did work for Jeffboat while they built the MQ and told me the story of how they welded down the decking before some bright soul figured out that they hadn't put the boilers in yet. OOPS. Cut those deck plates up.

Head Engineer was... Swede? There was also a maintenance guy named Tommy Talon who used to stick his cigarette in his ear while he worked. He was a knarly old guy who, much to the deck crew's surprise and glee, had two incredibly beautiful daughters who came swishing on one fine sunny spring day. Vic Statmiller, another deckhand and just out of the Navy, eventually married one of them. I think Vic's also the one who drove the little blue VW off the other side of the boat and into the Arkansas River. No, there was another older guy who was head engineer, 4 stripes, and while I can see his face, I can't dredge up a name. Oh. here's a good one, Gene Bing. Young blond guy. Nice, Sang pretty. He came on in Marietta, Ohio not long after I got on the boat. His wife had left him in a particularly messy way and he signed on probably to head for the orient. I liked Gene. He was competent and fun, played pretty good guitar and sang tenor. Eventually he met a girl named Shari down in New Orleans and they landed in Houston I think. He's one that I'd like to see again. Closing out the engineering, there was a guy named Todd we all liked pretty well.

Up in the boiler room were Fast Eddie Smith and Bubba Chin. Bubba had once played sax for BB King or so he said. I chose to believe him. Fast Eddie made kick ass raisin wine down in the boiler room somewhere. We'd sit and talk, and sip. He had some connection with Cap Wagner that I only found out about later. One winter over in New Orleans while most of the crew was off the boat, Eddie was doing the watchman gig... walk around the boat and key the clock thing. There were a couple of racist white guys who got drunked up and decided to kill Eddie when he came clocking through the kitchen. So they got a big butcher knife and when Eddie came through they cut him up pretty good. It was Captain Wagner who found him, picked him up and got him saved. Eddie had that scar running diagonally all the way across his belly... about a foot and a half long.

On the housekeeping side there was Franklin Miles heading it up. You have a picture of him there on the web site. Faye worked for him and ran the gift shop and there was a redheaded woman we all drooled over named Meriam??? I don't know... the rumor had her hooked up with Franklin. But then everyone was hooking up in those days in a musical chairs sort of way. Tom Neff worked for Franklin and was a real New Orleans queen. We all liked him and his stories were funny as hell. But you had to watch out about getting drunk when he was around because he'd definitely take advantage... which got him punched out more than once. Cooks... I remember Jerry someome who sang real high, and then the inimitable Raymond Tatum who more than once went up town and came back with his shoes and teeth stolen. A good fella Raymond... but he ran his mouth a little too much. And another cook named Sam who'd been in prison for murder or manslaughter. I'd play guitar and he'd sing that old blues song called "Don't Deceive Me". I knew it off the Delany and Bonnie record but he knew it from way on back.

Backtracking to deckhands for a minute... there was Tommy Turtle. Tom Phillips was his real name. He'd buy records, 12" albums, and then give them away after listening to them. His best friend back in Hattiesburg, MS was Greg Taylor who later got real famous as a harmonica player for Jimmy Buffet, James Taylor and a whole hatful of others. Last I saw Tommy he was headed for Atlanta to do drug rehab work with kids. I always wondered if Turtle's Records was his deal.

Waiters I remember are few. Henry was a pretty good friend although I don't remember his last name. Robert Davis was the head waiter and I still see him every once in a while , or at least I used to, running the bar at private parties around Cincinnati. He's still got that big smile, big gold tooth I always envied and that wonderful attitude. We talk old times and laugh. I remember a maid named Mamie and how she used to sell half pints to the crew... watered down stuff it was. And some of the maids would comfort the male crew sometimes. The porters I remember faces but no names. The bar staff there was Paul R? who eventually married Faye of the gift shop. And Harvey Simmonds whom I still know. He's become a trappist monk and is now Brother Benedict. Gosh I don't know who else I remember. I do remember having a boxed lunch with Ruth Gordon the actress at cave in rock. She took a liking to me for some reason and wanted to have lunch. I remember seeing Elvis but not being able to get too close. John Hartford was around every so often and steered when he came on. He had licenses.

Well, just some quick memories from the deck.

Randy Ward

It was the summer of 1970, the "fight" was on. My dad, Val Ward, was in charge of the Indiana Farm Bureau oil refinery dock at Mt. Vernon, Indiana. He received a desperate phone call one day from Bob Baldwin, then VP of Operations for Greene Line Steamers. 'Seems that the Delta Queen had lost her fueling source for the summer (and beyond, at that point), and the needed a place to fuel the boat on the lower Ohio River trips. They needed my dad's help to keep the boat running.

After discussions with Greene Line and the refinery personnel, my dad was able to get the necessary fittings made, and he was able to provide the fuel to keep the DQ running that year, not only at Mt. Vernon, but by truck transport (X.R. Claybrook fleet) . In appreciation, Greene Line offered him a cruise for the whole family, but he declined, not wanting to look corrupt. He did, however, ask for a trip for me (then 17 years old) as a deck passenger, for the trip from the Farm Bureau dock (Mile 829.7) to Dress Plaza in Evansville (Mile 792).

I took the trip on July 10, 1970, and loved every second of it! I was already a "river rat," scratch building models of towboats and barges, and this was almost overload! I was free to roam the boat (carrying a large bag of souvenirs), including the pilothouse. Harry Louden was steering, and Capt. Wagner was chewing his ever-present cigar.

On August 22nd, I took a 2nd trip, this time with my mother. She was content to sit in a deck chair and watch the riverbanks drift by. I was, again, all over the boat.

I also helped publicized the fight over the Safety-At-Sea Law, providing information to the local newspaper and driving around with my "Save the Delta Queen/Keep Steamboating Alive" bumper stickers on my Volkswagen. My dad later told me that he decided to help out because of my love of riverboats. (He and Capt. Fred Way Jr. had even corresponded about me, and I've purchased Inland River Records and have been a subscriber to the Waterways Journal since 1970.)

After 31 tough economic years, I finally had enough money saved up to make a short cruise with with my bride for our 25th anniversary. Then, Sept. 11th happened, and I was laid off shortly thereafter - the same week the DQ Steamboat Company's parent went bankrupt. It's been 3-1/2 years since I had a full-time job, and the money I saved went quickly to pay bills. I'm left with just some memories from 35 years ago.

I also have a few memories of Capt. Wagner calling the house when he needed to get hold of my dad for a fueling. I used to monitor the marine radio much of the time, including the marine operator in Evansville. I had so many ties with the river when my dad was alive, and now I'm "in exile" in New Hampshire, 1200 miles from where I grew up. I still have my towboat (and DQ) models in my home office, and still long to see her again. By the way, I have some photos from that July 10th trip, including the infamous VW beetle that was later driven into the river by a deckhand. (Bob Baldwin also had his Ford station wagon with boat and trailer on the deck on that first 1970 trip.)

Thanks for the memories! If you would like some photos, let me know.

(former author of "Cap'n Randy's River Pages" and former unofficial webmaster for S&D)

Charles Greene

On Mar 29, 2006, at 9:25 PM, Charles Greene wrote:

In the early '50's, while my grandfather S.W. (Bill) Greene was the head of the Chamber of Commerce of Mt Vernon, IL, I took a ride on the Delta Queen with my grandmother, (who was barely 5ft tall). Bill refused to go with us. According to my grandmother, he had a cousin who owned the boat & they didn't get along.

While on the boat, I spied some round tokens with the Delta Queen logo on a table & idly took a few. Wrong choice! Two men scurried after me hollering about their "chips" Terrified, I flung them overboard. From what I know now, Capt Mary would have been proud of me.

Earlier, I had lashed together a homebuilt raft & tried to row acorss Diamond Lake in Mundelein, Il. with Alan Deveroux. When we were rescued part way out, I was mad that our adventure had been cut short. I had read & reread Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn, & often daydreamed about having adventures like theirs and so carefully planned a trial run across Diamond Lake. To my chagrin, we made the local paper. At least our rescuers said it was well made.

Years later, I came across the site of Samuel Clemmons home overlooking a river in California & instantly understood. It look like the mighty Mississippi from that perch. It was in his blood, & as it turns out it may be in mine too. Capt Mary would understand. I'm begininning to.

Charles Greene

Hi Charles,
Thank you for your stories about the Greene family. Yeah, Mary Greene would be proud of you! Interesting stuff. I apologize for taking so long to answer you, but you should see my inbox! May I post your memories somewhere at my site?

Go ahead & post away! Today our country is long on technology and short on romanticism, I'd love to be able to bring back the great riverboats and the lifestyle that went with it. (Looking back at an old photo, the year of my trip on the Delta Queen was 1954 or 1955)
Charles Greene

Please contact if you want to post your memories of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company - click here for contact info.