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"Another crisis may come to the Delta Queen. It makes little difference. The stately steamboat will survive. Because it must. The river is unthinkable without a Delta Queen." - Bern Keating (1986)

On Oct 23, 2008, at 11:00 AM, Shawn Dake wrote:

Dear Ms. Muster,

It is a distinct pleasure to simply be writing an email to you. You and your father are owed a debt of gratitude for all you have done for the Delta Queen. If you have not previously read it, I wanted to draw your attention to an article I did last year following my experiences aboard the Delta Queen. I tried to "paint" the total experience in words and pictures. The story is relatively long, and is divided into three parts. It can be accessed using the following link:

I am writing a very short tribute to the Delta Queen for the news page at and wanted to provide links not only to my own stories but other relevant pieces. I was moved by your article at and wanted your permission to provide a link to it so that other readers could view it. You are of course welcome to link my Delta Queen story to if you wish. I hope to have the news tribute online by tomorrow, Friday, so I'd appreciate hearing if it is alright to provide the link. Thanks for all you've done and for carrying on the legacy of a great "Steamboatin'" family.

All the best,
Shawn J. Dake email

PS. Just by coincidence we had young relatives visiting up until yesterday, who were from Mesa, Arizona. We live in Southern California, and took them to the beach for their first time.

Dear Shawn,

Thank you for all the great information on our Queen. Your posting will become a permanent record at That is a great coincidence about Mesa! We have a beach here too, down south in Baja Arizona (Rocky Point, Mexico)!!

Guestbook Posting

Hi Nori,

Just visited your great site and wondered if you knew of any museum, historical society or association that has a good list and photos of Upper Mississippi pilots and captains. I have 9 captains in my Short family that ran the river from 1850-1940. They sure loved taking pictures of their steamboats* but I only have a few photos of the men themselves, and am always looking for more. Any ideas?

Dianne Krogh (Short) (email)
Oak Harbor, WA

*I recently started scanning some of my photos. See the Steamboat Collection album in the photos link at:

Follow up from Dianne Krogh:

Thanks for posting my blurb in the guestbook, Nori. . . . I joined about 2 weeks ago and posted a message in the history section of the forums. Judy and Mel there referred me to the library at Univ. of Wisc.-La Crosse. Since then I've found out that the library does have photos of many of the steamboats my family captained, but no individual photos were found in their collection.

Editor's Note: Go to the University of Wisconsin La Crosse Murphy Lirary and put "steamboats" in the search box in the top right corner. Click here for the library.

Guestbook Posting
November 10, 2008

name=Ronald Lietha
location=Tomahawk, Wisconsin
message=If you are looking for information on the U.S. General Allen Government boat (1922-1943), formerly the "Minnesota", Mayo Brothers pleasure paddlewheeler, I might be able to help
email=Yes, include my email (encoded in SpamStopper software) click here to email
visits=First time
rate=No rating. Presents
The Legend of the Delta Queen
Excerpts from the book by the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, 1986

Editor's Note: We published the first two excerpts one year ago, November 2007. Since that time, the Save the Delta Queen Campaign has had significant victories. However, we still have work to do. The season ended, the Delta Queen is now docked but not forgotten. We must continue to call our legislators and blog on the news sites that cover the issues.

Let's take inspiration from history. To this end, now presents the conclusion to the 1970 struggle with Congress (see new excerpt, below click here).

Also, let us be kind to each other and to our so-called enemies: the legislators we must win over; the people who own the boat. This holiday season (whatever your faith), pray for Oberstar and anybody that made you personally angry. God forbid Oberstar should get a promotion! But life is too short to become angry because the world puts incompetent people into positions of authority. Actually, moving him to the transportation department would get him out of the House transporation committee. Hmmm.

It is time to let go of our anger now. This is an opportunity to prove to ourselves that America is a good place. We are more than a bunch of frightened people bludgeoning each other with our angry words and actions. Sometimes it seems like that, but at least when it comes to saving ornate paddlewheel riverboats, let us prove that we can be civil.

Preservation is progress. Yes! Saving American landmarks is progressive and conservative at the same time! Saving this landmark is an issue to unite all Americans!

The Legend of the Delta Queen, by Bern Keating
Chapter 4, "Saved Again" (excerpt)

A phone call from an old friend, Irving Gobel, who operated a Great Lakes steamer, carried to Mrs. [Leitha] Greene the shattering news that new legislation already passed by the House and pending before the Senate would forbid the operation of both their boats after July 1, 1966, only six weeks away. The villain in the piece was the wooden superstructure of both the Delta Queen and Mr. Gobel's South American, condemned by a new Safety at Seal Law passed in the aftermath of the Yarmouth Castle disaster the previous year. In some panic, Mrs. Greene called on [Richard] Simonton for help. He called on the general manager of his West Coast operations, a brainy troubleshooter named William Muster, who flew with him to Washington.

At a council of war, Muster saw that Gobel's South American and the Delta Queen faced problems so different that they could not make a joint defense. The Delta Queen wanted to argue that as a riverboat it was never far from shore, for instance, but the South American operated in the Great Lakes as far from friendly shores as many saltwater vessels.

About 2 a.m. Muster sent everybody to bed with the promise that he would have an argument ready by morning. He talked the hotel clerk into lending him the office typewriter and sat up all night pecking out a speech in the florid style suited to Jay Quinby's delivery [Quinby was the CEO.]

Without sleep, Muster hunted up a photocopier and ran off 50 copies as required by the Senate subcommittee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries. He arrived at the hearing room, papers in hand, just 15 minutes before Quinby was to take the stand. Commander Quinby put the senators on his side from the beginning. When they inquired where he had acquired the title of "professor" which he was using that particular day, he replied that the pianist of a bordello traditionally is called "the professor." It took some minutes for decorum to return to the hearing room.

Muster sympathized with the senators' dilemma. They wanted to save the Delta Queen. But that untreated wooden superstructure was an undeniable fact, and the public's memory of the Yarmouth Castle was too raw for the senators to ignore so obvious a fire hazard.

They worked out the dilemma with a typical Washington solution - a compromise. They granted not just the Delta Queen, but all vessels - the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth, and hundreds of other foreign flag vessels - an exemption to the Safety at Sea Law. But the exemption was good for only two years, during which time ship owners were expected to rework their vessels to make them comply with the law.

Once more the Delta Queen had tottered on the bring of destruction and had been snatched back at the last minute. But only for two years.

Muster foresaw a long war and decided it was time to know something about the battlefield. He had never seen the Delta Queen, so he, Quinby and Simonton traveled by train and bus to Paducah, Kentucky, where they waited in an early morning fog for its arrival. Muster reports his first encounter with the boat.

"The Delta Queen came out of the fog. She was right on top of us, hugging the bank and riding close to the willows to stay in the eddy currents as she came upstream. We were standing at the water's edge and she wasn't 15 feet out. She is 60 feet tall and every inch of her loomed above me. Now, a steamboat is not like a sputtering diesel; it is absolutely silent. So this enormous vessel glided by in the fog in dead silence. Then, this ghostly apparition was rocked by a full blast from her steam whistle. She was dynamite. I stood there mesmerized as she disappeared in the fog."

Chapter 5, "A Bypass Operation" (excerpt)

Inevitably, as it will, time passed. It was 1968 and the exemption was running out. Back to Washington went Betty Blake and Bill Muster.

At the Senate hearings, Senator E.L. Bartlett of Alaska casually said that he had only two ambitions left in life - to cross Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railroad and to ride a steamboat to New Orleans. He didn't have to whisper it twice; the invitation followed instantly - for the steamboat ride at least. Obviously, the senator could not fulfill his dream if the Delta Queen was scuttled by Congress, so he introduced a bill extending the boat's life to November 2, 1970, a date which was to become the most perilous of a peril-filled life.

So far, so good, but the pace was telling on some of the players; Simonton was ill, Quinby was aging.

That left Muster who felt that building a replacement for the Queen, steel from the keel up, might be the best solution. From boat builders, he got estimates of $12 to $14 million. He could not find that much capital or the energy among his associates, so he scouted about the country for willing capital, calling on hotel chains, airlines, resort managements. An article planted in The New York Times caught the eye of Steadman Hinckley of Overseas National Airways, who was persuaded in 1969 to buy the Greene Line with the plan of building a super-paddlewheeler.

Meanwhile, they still had a bird in hand, a paddlewheeler which was threatened with forcible retirement. Steadman Hinckley said to Betty Blake and Muster, "You run the Queen, I'll build the new steamboat." [Editor's Note: Keating makes this sound simple, but it is a point over which my father resigned, and resigned again, but came back. He did not like Hinckley or his plans for what eventually became the Mississippi Queen. See this link: Mississippi Queen christening.]

Representative Edward Garmatz of Maryland, a powerful senior congressman and chairman of the all-important House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, had declared war on the Delta Queen. He openly swore to block any further extensions. he found support in the Coast Guard. Between them, they tried to convince Congress that the Delta Queen was a dangerous firetrap.

Muster pleaded with Garmatz that a new boat was a-building, so it was only the decent thing to let the old boat operate till the new boat could take over. No deal. So Betty Blake and Bill Muster undertook an exhaustive campaign to convince the country that the Delta Queen was fireproofed and safe, and a precious American legacy which must be preserved. Indeed, on June 15, 1970, the Delta Queen was listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the Department of the Interior. Almost every act that Betty, Bill, or any member of the company or crew did for the next two years had something to do with saving the Delta Queen.

The boat always had flown a ring of decorative flags around the upper deck to give a feeling of motion even when it was tied up, for instance, but Betty ordered them all replaced by American flags.

"This is an American boat fighting the Coast Guard," she said with magnificent irrelevance, "so let every flag show she's American."

Largely through the Society for American Travel Writers, Betty enlisted most of the nation's travel journalists in her campaign. Coached by her, they pointed out that the Safety at Sea Law was meant for ocean-going vessels, but the Delta Queen was never out of sight of land, so that passengers could be off-loaded in minutes should a fire develop.

They reported that for the previous 60 years riverboats had enjoyed a perfect passenger safety record. The last passenger death by fire, they wrote, happened off Winona, Minnesota, in 1910. The captain had confined a drunk to a cabin aboard the Strekfus boat called simply the J.S. To teach everybody a lesson, the drunk set the cabin ablaze; he died in the flames. The vessel put all 1,200 passengers ashore safely before burning to the waterline, supporting Betty's argument that riverboat passengers are not vulnerable like ocean goers. Few large hotels have as good a fire record as the entire riverboat passenger industry. (The killer fire on the Island Queen happened in a shipyard when a welder cut into a vapor-filled fuel tank - an accident hardly likely to happen on a cruise.)

When Betty went to Washington, she took Vic Tooker, the king of riverboat musicians, to play his banjo at impromptu concerts in the capital's stuffiest restaurants.

"It worked," Tooker says. "We'd start sing-alongs in those fancy restaurants and by the fifth bar - bar of music, that is - we'd have the most powerful people in Washington singing river songs. Senator Ribicoff has a great river man's voice even if he is from Connecticut, and he led some great singing."

Vic won the boat some favorable international press when he found the Queen moored alongside a Russian grain ship which had been quarantined in New Orleans for 30 days. Vic was playing a calliope concert for embarking passengers when he noticed that the entire Russian crew, bored and homesick, were lined up at the railing taking in the alien music. He remembered that a popular song called "Meadowlands" was a pop version of a Russian patriotic song. So he swung into a steamy screaming production of "Meadowlands" which threw the sailors into a cheering frenzy. The New York Times said the calliope concert had done more for détente than a platoon of cultural envoys. And it hadn't damaged the Save the Delta Queen campaign either.

Betty lined up 13 governors and dozens of congressmen in her lobby. Representatives, senators, and the President were bombarded by letters - more than a quarter of a million according to an estimate by a Washington authority - pleading for the boat. Prodded by their constituents, congressmen introduced 25 separate bills to save the Queen, most of them granting permanent exemption.

But all of them ran up against Representative Garmatz, mulishly planted in the path of passage. It made no difference how many congressman joined Betty's crusade. So long as bills having to do with shipping had to cross the committee chairman's desk, he could keep them bottled up and never let them come to a vote. Editorials protested the one-man blockade and pleaded with Garmatz to end his solitary veto and let the matter come to a vote of representatives of all the people. Garmatz was unmoved.

The Legend of the Delta Queen, by Bern Keating
Chapter 5, Conclusion

While Betty was keeping the hoopla going, Bill Muster was hustling around Washington's power centers trying to pressure Garmatz into releasing any one of the bills which would save the Queen. After an interview with Garmatz himself, Muster, for reasons he could not make public, gave up hope of saving the Queen through regular congressional channels. [Editor's Note: we can conjecture that Bern Keating refers to the bribe that Garmatz allegedly expected but Greene Line refused to pay.]

As the November 2, 1970, deadline approached, the Greene Line swore to go down gallantly. Betty Blake and Bill Muster organized a Farewell Forever trip from St. Paul to new Orleans which would look more like a Roman triumph than a funeral.

On October 20, 1970, the Delta Queen began its final run down the river. Betty and Muster scooted along ahead of the boat, alerting the river bank people. Mobs poured out to greet the boat. Towns with a thousand people lined up 5,000 spectators to cheer the Queen as it passed. High-school bands played. At Rock Island Dam in the early morning hours, hundreds of flower children turned out to sing farewell songs.

At St. Louis, in a noisy ceremony on the riverfront, the mayor gave Betty a white cockatoo as a symbol of long life. After leaving, Betty realized that the mayor had forgotten to include bird feed and the cockatoo was threatened with an even shorter life than the Delta Queen.

"Don't worry," said the unflappable Captain Wagner, "we'll make a bird-feed stop at Caruthersville."

Hundreds turned out for the unscheduled stop while a deckhand dashed to the nearest grocery for bird seed. Appropriate calliope music kept the scene lively. The Caruthersville folk gave the passengers and crew enough pumpkins to make pie for Thanksgiving through the year 4000.

Noting the fervent support of the river folk, Bill and Betty felt their hope flare again. At river stops, Muster spoke from the bridge, exhorting the crowds to bring pressure on their congressmen. At Natchez school children massed on the bank, holding up letters to spell out "We'll miss you, Delta Queen." They promised to write to Washington.

From Baton Rouge downstream, seagoing vessels blew whistles in salute as the Queen passed. Towboats, excursion vessels, pleasure boats ran alongside, their crews and passengers cheering the gallant old steamboat.

Approaching the final stop at New Orleans, Tooker blasted out a greeting on the calliope. Fireboats saluted the steamboat with plumes of water. On the dock, the city's jazz greats had gathered, including the famed Olympia Brass Band, to give the Delta Queen a jazz funeral.

Once he had tied up, Captain Wagner wrote in his log, "November 2, 1970: Delta Queen docked in high winds at the Bienville Street Dock, French Quarter." And he added the valedictory words to a 44-year career, "End of log."

After surviving a dozen near-fatal catastrophes, the great boat had finally been done in by a lone lawmaker who didn't even have a constituency on the steamboating rivers.

The last ride had been a two-week party, but the party was over. Vic Tooker had played Taps on his trumpet, and all hands settled back dismally to face a future without a steamboat in it.

Back in the office at Cincinnati, the staff were listlessly closing files and cleaning out desks when a phone call came in for Muster from the company's Washington attorney, Bill Kohler. He had found a congressman ready to try an end run around Garmatz. Betty and Muster flew to Washington. [Editor's Note: according to documents, this part happened in October 1970; the book apparently has this slightly out of order.]

At the request of Representative William McCullough of Ohio, a shrewd Tom Mooney, who was legislative aide to the House Judiciary Committee, had dug up an obscure bill giving a federal employee named Elmer M. Grady $900 for moving expenses. He proposed adding an amendment granting the Delta Queen another exemption. [Editor's Note:'s archives records show that it was Rep. Marlow Cook who added the Delta Queen amendment to the Elmer M. Grade private relief bill (HR 6114).] That bill would go through the Judiciary Committee, which included the friendly Representative McCullough, thus bypassing Garmatz.

Garmatz went into a rage. He circulated to all members of the House a letter blasting the maneuver [Editor's Note: the letter is dated Dec. 1, 1970 and is posted at this site - click here.] Such a letter from a powerful committee chairman is a deadly device, rarely ignored by the House. But Garmatz drew with his own hand on each letter a skull and crossbones warning that blood would be on the hands of each congressman if disaster should hit the Delta Queen. Garmatz's colleagues raised eyebrows at the garish artwork and questioned his stability. [The hand-drawn skull and bones are shown on page two of the letter - click here - and were photocopied along with the rest of the letter.] . . .

[Editor's Note: The Elmer M. Grade bill passed with the Delta Queen rider on Dec. 17, after a dramatic fight on the floor of the House of Representatives.] The House for the first time had a chance to express the will of the people rather than the will of a lone congressman. The vote was 295 to 73 to give Elmer M. Grady his $900. Oh, and to bring the Delta Queen back to life too, of course, at least until 1973 [Editor's Note: the Delta Queen easily won every exemption after that until the current situation.]

As almost his last act of 1970, on December 31, President Richard Nixon signed the bill and the Delta Queen had survived one more cliffhanger, the closest squeak of nearly a half-century of perilous escapes. [Editor's Note: the woman pushing Richard Nixon's hand as he signed the bill was our own Vicki Webster, the current head of the Save the Delta Queen Campaign.]

More info. on this painting click here.

John Weise, 5552 Dry Ridge Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45252 (513) 385 - 2381 email $15 covers the calendar, shipping & handling.

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