God Save the Queen

I'm one of those crazy people who thinks government and politicians can do the right thing when they want to. Like when innocent people and floating historical landmarks get caught up in a labor


I'm one of those crazy people who thinks government and politicians can do the right thing when they want to. Like when innocent people and floating historical landmarks get caught up in a labor dispute, I imagine that one or two persons of consequence would step up and do something about it.

This time, though, I'm starting to re-think my beliefs. That's because the Delta Queen, a historic riverboat once owned by a Cincinnati family and ported at the public landing, is in serious danger of becoming a floating museum that's docked somewhere, never to carry overnight passengers again.

My connections to the boat run deep in my consciousness, which might answer the question why I, a 34-year-old landlubber who's never even been on a cruise, would care about a mostly wooden boat that's 82 years old. Its time has passed in many respects.

Call me a sucker for living history — the same reason I like Union Terminal, live in Over-the-Rhine, frequent downtown and enjoy talking to older people — but I think the old boat is worth saving.

Depending on who you ask, the Delta Queen is either unsafe for overnight passengers and should be put out of service for that purpose or it's a pawn in a labor dispute between the boat's owners and the union representing people who work on that Delta Queen and other boats.

Since the Safety of Lives at Sea Act was modified in 1960, the Delta Queen received a special exemption from Congress to allow it to continue as an overnight passenger ship navigating the waters of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, including the Ohio River. That's the only way it can stay a financial viable operation, say its supporters, including Vicki Webster, a freelance writer who lives in downtown Cincinnati.

She and others led a rally at the public landing May 5 while the boat was docked there, advocating for another five-year exemption.

Ask U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot — who's been trying to garner Congressional support along with his Republican House colleague, Jean Schmidt — and the issue is all about labor's inability to play nice. Ask Chabot's opponent in November, Democrat Steve Driehaus, and safety is more of a concern.

The dispute baffles me, but I think I put the blame on the people who control the Congressional steering wheel. That's the Democrats, who are strong with labor.

It's unfortunate that the Delta Queen is being used as a pawn in that game. Couldn't there be something better to bargain with than a piece of history?

The Delta King, which is based in Sacramento, Calif., has a connection to Cincinnati much like the Sacramento Kings NBA team does. The NBA's Cincinnati Royals left town and eventually made their way to Sacramento.

The Delta Queen, the King's sister ship, was bought in 1946 and towed through the Panama Canal to Cincinnati, its new home port. Both boats were named after the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, where they used to ferry passengers between Sacramento and San Francisco before a highway connected the two cities in the 1940s.

The Queen's arrival in Cincinnati gave the boat new life and me the chance as a child to hear the steam-powered calliope playing every time it steamed down the Ohio River.

The King, it's worth noting, is permanently docked in Sacramento near the touristy Old Town part of downtown. It spends its time stationary as a so-so restaurant with cover bands playing on weekend nights on a stage near the boat's stern.

Webster said she's confident a solution will be found before the November deadline. Meanwhile, she's asking everyone she knows to call his or her representative in Congress and ask them to support legislation that will save the Delta Queen, known as H.R. 3852. Then ask three other people to do the same thing and ask them to ask three others, and so on.

Meanwhile, more rallies are planned up and down the Ohio River at many other Delta Queen ports.

Driehaus says Chabot is overly concerned about saving overnight trips on a boat when, with a housing crisis, some in his district don't have a place to sleep. I have to agree. But why does this dispute have to be so difficult to begin with?

Once the Delta Queen is tied up as a restaurant or museum, it'll never get back on the water again. And one more piece of living history will be gone forever.

Contact Joe Wessels: [email protected]

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