Delta Queen Stories

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Gary Cosby Jr.

The Delta Queen, by Gary Cosby Jr. (copyright Gary Cosby Jr. - published with permission)

This boat is really special to me because it is probably the earliest memory I have with my grandfather, Helon Waddell who was the lock master for many years at Wheeler Dam on the Tennessee River. When I was a small boy he would call my mom and dad and let them know the Delta Queen was going to come through the locks and they would take my brother and I down to watch the boat lock through. I was very cool then and seeing the boat today still produces wonder and awe in me and connects me to a time now long past.

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On Jul 5, 2008, at 12:39 PM, Gary Cosby Jr. wrote:

I don't mind you publishing or linking to the Delta Queen post on A Little News but neither the photos nor the words may be published in any way beyond your Delta Queen page. Good luck saving the boat. I hate that it is being retired because of the Congressional exemption being lost.
Gary Cosby Jr.

On Sat, Jul 5, 2008 at 2:55 PM, Nori Muster wrote:

Thank you Gary, you are a photo journalist, right?

On Jul 5, 2008, at 7:57 PM, Gary Cosby Jr. wrote:

I am a photojournalist. I work for The Decatur Daily in Decatur, Alabama. Folks can link to my blog at The newspaper website is paid only so I don't think it would be helpful but just in case the link is Thanks and good luck.

Patrick Mullins

From Facebook, Delta Queen Memories group, posted November 24, 2020:

Here's a Delta Queen story from many years ago: In the spring of 1978 I got hired on as a deckhand on the steamer Delta Queen. She had stopped in St. Louis, and I went down to the riverfront to poke around. I had worked on the SS Admiral the previous two summers, and he captain of the Admiral was there, and introduced me to the captain of the Delta Queen. I was hired on the spot. I blew off my high school graduation, and shipped out that evening!

Most of the Delta Queen crew were from Ohio. I was from St. Louis, as was the captain, but not too many more.

Later we were cruising up the Ohio River and I was supposed to get off work (first watch) at noon, just about the time the boat was scheduled to arrive in Cincinnati. A friend of mine on the boat was a big Reds fan, and we planned to go to the baseball game together - the Cardinals were playing that afternoon at Riverfront.

There was a minor mechanical problem with the boat, and we got into Cincinnati in the afternoon many hours late.

As it turned out, I missed history. On that day Tom Seaver pitched a no-hitter, against my Cardinals, and I should have been there to see it. Oh well!

Dennis Hamilton

To: Nori Muster
From: Dennis Hamilton
Subj: DQ Crewmember Recollections

I served on the Delta Queen in the Summers of 1972, '73, and '74, during my breaks from the University of Cincnnati. Prior to becoming a crewmember, I was a passenger on the Labor Day Weekend cruises of 1970 and 1971.

Captain Jim Blum got me hired in my first job as a deckhand. Capt. Jim was (and still is) a train buff, and we had known each other through our interest in railroads.

During those years, the Delta Queen had quite a few college kids working on the boat. Most of these kids were from the Cincinnati area (like me), but there was a deckhand from California and one from New York City that worked with me during that first Summer.

Nori, I always had a lot of respect for your father. Bill Muster and Betty Blake were true "cheerleaders" for the Delta Queen. Certainly, one thing that I had in common with Bill Muster was the fact that we both had a camera nearby at all times. We both took a lot of pictures of life aboard the boat.

During the early 1970's, many of the legendary men of steamboating were still around. Of course, Ernie Wagner was the boat's Master, and the pilots included Captains Harry Louden, Rip Ware, Walter Karnath, Harry Hamilton and others. We also had occasional passengers of C.W. Stoll, and Capt. Fred Way Jr. These men didn't think of themselves as "legends", but they certainly helped to make this a memorable time for me.

One man that I enjoyed seeing his career blossom was Gabe Chengery. When I first met him, he worked in the Purser's Office, and quite honestly, I would have never believed that he'd become the boat's Master for so many years! Gabe was well-dressed, good-looking, quick to laugh, and he was a mean calliope player. Therefore, I thought that he'd be a great candidate for a career in the Purser's Office. I'm glad that he proved me wrong!

My favorite story about Gabe was from the Summer of 1973. The DQ was in St. Paul, MN, and a fellow crewmember, Ed Feeney and I decided that we'd get off the boat downriver at Winona, MN. We'd then take Amtrak to Chicago for a couple days of train riding., and we'd meet-up with the DQ when it arrived in St. Louis.

To make our train reservations, I walked to the Main Post Office in St. Paul to use a payphone. My reservations were made nearly complete, but the Amtrak reservationist couldn't confirm one leg of our trip. She needed a phone number from me so that she could call me back after she got our space. I told her that would be a problem because I worked on this old riverboat called the Delta Queen, and the boat didn't have any phones. (I don't think she believed me...) Anyway, I gave her the phone number of the payphone at the Post Office, just to keep her happy.

Several hours later, I was on the boat preparing for our departure when Gabe walked up to me and said, "Your Amtrak reservations are all set now..." I said something to the effect that, "How yould you POSSIBLY know that??!?" Gabe then proceeded to tell me me that earlier in the day he went to to the St. Paul Post Office to deliver the boat's mail. When he arrived, a payphone began ringing incessantly in a corner of the cavernous lobby. It didn't stop ringing. Gabe thought to himself, "Do I pick it up and quiet this place down, or what?" He walked over to the phone and answered it saying, "St. Paul Post Office..." The voice on the phone asked, "Is this Dennis Hamilton?" Gabe said, "Denny Hamilton!! Why I work with him on the Delta Queen!..." She then proceeded to tell him that all of our train reservations were now confirmed. Gabe was glad to pass-on the good news to me.

In October of 1974, I left the DQ to pursue a a career with Amtrak that lasted over 25 years. However, it wasn't the end of my days of working on the Delta Queen. In 1978, I arranged with Captain Blum to work on the boat for two weeks during my vacation in August of 1979. Little did I know that the first week of this cruise would turn-out to be the Jimmy Carter Presidential Cruise. I could write a book about that cruise, but we'll save all that stuff for another time...

Long live the Delta Queen!

Ben Sandmel
Click here to see Ben's book about New Orleans musical legend Ernie K-Doe.

On Jun 11, 2009, at 9:52 AM, Ben Sandmel wrote:

Hi Nori,

Here are some recollections for the website.

I started working on the DQ in early June of '73, just before my 21st birthday. In those days you could simply go down to the landing and ask for a job, and on the third try I was hired, thanks to a deckhand named Lou Webb, who is now a towboat pilot, and whom I knew from music circles in Cincinnati, which is where I signed on. They told me I had a job, I came back that evening, and my first task was to take down the flags on the hurricane deck.

Captain Wagner was the master, then; Gabe Chengery was the first mate, a guy named Chuck Rogers was the second mate, although he left in July. The other semi second-mate was Red Lundsford. He had broken his leg while riding as the passenger on Captain Wagner's motorcycle, and thus was on crutches and could not work full time and so he would over-compensate quite a bit. For instance, he had the bunk beneath mine, and if I didn't leap out of bed when awoken at 5:30 to go on watch, he would start jabbing the underside of my mattress with his crutches until I got up. A difficult guy.

Captain Wagner would throw parties for the crew on the bow, with lots of free beer. He would sit there eating sandwiches of limburger cheese, raw onions and mustard, while Chuck Rogers played guitar and sang country songs.

Vic Stadtmiller was the head deckhand. And Kevin McCollister, who wrote into your website, was a deckhand although not until the next year, '74.

Others whom I remember were Ida Ferrell, a maid; Ed Smith, the firemen; all three of the Tookers -- Vic, Mom, and Pop; Ben Keith, the maitre'd; Jim Bryans and Jerry Critchfield were engineers; waiters included Reuben Pilot, Henry Mitchell, and A.J.

Pilots included Captain Louden, Harry Hamilton, and Charlie Fehlig. On the lower Miss, Captain Tate, on the upper Miss, Captain Karnath, among others.

I worked for 3 months in '73, between my junior and senior years of college, then went back in the summer of '74 and worked until the end of the season. After that I worked several lay-ups, both in New Orleans and Cincinnati. In the summer of '76 I worked on the towboats Elisha Woods and Buckeye State, out of Cincinnati and running to Charleston, WV. In December of '81 I worked on the MQ.

I should add that during all this time I was a deckhand, except for a short stint as watchman, filling in for someone who left.

I run into Doc Hawley from time to time in New Orleans, and I always enjoying talking about the river with him. I haven't worked on a boat since '81, but I was hired as a guest lecturer on board on the MQ and AQ for a series of "Music On The River" cruises in 1997. In addition to giving talks, I performed with the old Cajun band that I was working with, The Hackberry Ramblers. It was great to be back on board, although odd not to be taking out the lines when the boat landed.

Working on the Delta Queen was definitely one of the best and most eye-opening, educational experiences that I've ever had. I'm very glad that I did it.

Keep up the great work with your website -- all best, Ben Sandmel

Editor's note: Ben Sandmel is a journalist, folklorist, musician, and record producer. He sent two photos and this document - how cool!

Ben Sandmel taking out the head line to moor the Delta Queen at Natchez, MS, November 1974.

Ben Sandmel on board the Delta Queen, c. 1970s.

Delta Queen entering a lock, 1973. Preston 'Red' Lunsford on crutches, Lou Webb preparing to throw the head-line. Photo courtesy of Ben Sandmel, possibly taken by John K. McLaughlin.

Engineering room on the Delta Queen 1974, Ben Sandmel and John Gilliam.

Blogger Tracey

My Journey Into River Life
by Tracey (see original)

I was in college studying to be a history major with a focus on Ohio history when a job opportunity became available on the Delta Queen. I decided that working on the boat would give me a greater first-hand experience of the history and legend of an American Icon than I could ever learn from a textbook in college.

The evolution of my career with the Delta Queen Steamboat Company took many twists and turns along the way. I have never regretted for one minute any of the choices I made as far as advancements and promotions during my career. Each position gave me more insight, more experience and more of a complete understanding overall of what it takes to make the Delta Queen successful.

When I was originally hired my position was Crew Purser. The Crew Purser position very quickly evolved into the position of Tour Purser. Within a short period of time, I was offered the relief Chief Purser position. Within a year, I was asked to become the relief Cruise Director.

The Delta Queen's Future Changes as the Boat is Sold to a Private Investor

When Sam Zell, a private investor, purchased the company, he sent a representative on the boats to discuss jobs in the office. His intention was to move the corporate headquarters to New Orleans and combine it with Marine/Hotel division. He wanted people in the office who understood the boats, had a passion for them and would understand the living conditions that crew members endured. I was approached to revamp the shore tour operation and accepted the position to move off the boat. This gave me the opportunity I had dreamed of -- to live in New Orleans.

From Cincinnati to New Orleans, the Relocation and Restructuring of the Delta Queen Under New Ownership

Once the office was relocated, I was given the task to drive the entire river system and set up tours, guides and motor coaches. The revenue for shore tours was very low and I was given the task to increase sales and offer a variety of options. By the time I revamped the tour program, our sales increased 70% in one season. My next position was to Manager of Production. In this capacity, I worked directly with the VP of Production as the project coordinator and associate producer. I worked as the road manager for a promotional road show which included the coordination of the cast, crew and technical production staff

My Evolution into the Entertainment Industry

The next promotion was to Manager of Entertainment. In this capacity I worked directly with the Director of Entertainment with the hiring of the entertainment staff. I also implemented and developed operations manuals for all theme cruises on the boats. During this time, I was directly involved in the building and staffing of the American Queen and also the transition of the company to include the American Hawaiian Vessels. During my time in the office, I spent the majority of the time on the boats travelling and observing the programming. In 1992, I was offered the position of Director of Entertainment, reporting directly to the Vice-President of Entertainment.

Thomas Harris

On Nov 19, 2009, at 3:55 PM, Thomas Harris wrote:

My mother and I went on the Delta Queen back in 1968 on a trip to Kentucky Lake. Mom had gone on the Delta Queen and Delta King on overnight trips from San Francisco to Sacramento when she was a young girl, so this was not her first trip on the boat, though it was mine. I was 16. While on the trip I met a young girl, Candy, also aged 16. She lived in Oregon, and I lived in California. I had befriended the night watchman (by knowing what a watchclock was, how it worked and what it was used for) and so I was allowed to go with him on one of his rounds of the boat. This included a stop in the engine room. The next day I befriended the engineer (by knowing what a compound reciprocating steam engine was) and so I was allowed to walk out onto the tail by the wheel and get all wet. My mother was upset, but I was ecstatic. Just as we left the boat for the last time Candy gave me an envelope with her address on it. Candy and I have been married for 36 years, and have 7 children.
-Thomas Harris

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