Congress scuttles a piece of history

Byline: | Category: Government | Posted at: Friday, 17 August 2007


Having grown up in Cincinnati, the Delta Queen, is an icon for me.  The last “real” steamboat in America, complete with boiler and sternwheel drive, was homeported there when I was a kid.  But next year may be the ship’s last.

The culprit?  Congress.

In 1966 Congress passed the Safety at Sea Act, which required that all passenger ships carrying more than 50 overnight passengers, be made of wood metal [Thanks to the alert eyes of many readers who pointed out my glaring error].  The Delta Queen has a double steel hull, but its superstructure is wood, including oak, mahogany, and teak.  To compensate, the wood decks are coated in a fire retardent material and there is a sprinkler system throughout.

Because of those protective measures, and the fact that the Queen is never more than a mile from shore, Congress has always granted her a waiver from the all-steel construction requirement.  The exemption renewal again passed through the House this past year, but died in the Senate.

Why?  Because of a renewed interest in safety?  No.   Because her crew isn’t unionized.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, “would not support the exemption unless the Seafarers International Union gets behind it.”

And so a piece of history, the last riverboat recognizable to Mark Twain, a ship listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a vessel safe enough that the Secret Service permitted Jimmy Carter, when he was a sitting President, to board her, will cease operation because a powerful Senator is beholden to a union.

There’s more information in the Cincinnati Enquirer article as well as here.


Senator Inouye has not always been anti-wooden ship.  In 1999 he proudly announced that he was able to successfully insert a three-quarter million dollar earmark for the Native Hawaiian Culture and Arts program.  Part of that grant was for upkeep of the Hokulea, a twin hulled wooden replica of an ancient Polynesian ship. 

The Hokulea has since logged over 110,000 miles throughout the Pacific–certainly most of which was more than a mile from the nearest shoreline–all without the benefit of modern navigational devices and other amenities.  Among the crewmembers on one of its rustic voyages:  the son of Hawaii’s other U.S. Senator:  Daniel Akaka.


A reader finds it ironic “that someone who witnessed the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 would now torpedo an American maritime icon.” 

As a seventeen year old kid in Honolulu, Senator Inouye didn’t just witness, Pearl Harbor, he volunteered for a week to help with the wounded, before going off himself to serve, and in the process lose an arm and be awarded the nation’s second-highest honor. 

In light of his Pearl Harbor experience, I would imagine that Inouye might take offense at the “torpedo” reference, but it’s obvious that he should also understand the significance of “American maritime icons”.  That’s why he went out of his way to bring other significant martime icons to Hawaii, including the USS Missouri, and the USS Bowfin.  It’s time for him to allow America’s river towns like Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Louisville, St. Paul, Memphis, and New Orleans to honor their own maritime heritage with a living memory of their past.


Jawa had the story a few days ago.

Why people like riverboats even more than 100  years past their day.

The Delta Queen calliope.

The Cincinnati Post article and editorial.

Oh, and there’s a Nashville connection.  One of her last scheduled cruises before she is put into mothballs is a seven-night cruise from Nashville to Cincinnati beginning October 14, 2008.

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23 Responses to “Congress scuttles a piece of history”

  1. Ravin Says:

    My husband recently went to work at Oak Ridge National Lab. In the process of setting up his office, he brought books from his “old” office into the lab. As he was bringing in the box of books, he was stopped and told that he couldn’t do that. National Security Issues? No. Everything is unionized and because of this someone from the “book carriers” union had to do this job for him. Of coure, there is no “book carriers” union. I made that up. I’m sure it has a government/union title like “biodegradeable environmental engineer” or some such crap. The unions had a problem with him actually “carrying” the books inside. He was advised to contact someone who would carry the books for him. He called the department responsible for these tasks and was told they could get to him in a few weeks. How’s that for your tax dollars at work?

  2. submandave Says:

    Over the next few weeks he just needs to cary them in one and two at a time, under his arm. “Oh, I’m not doing union work, just carrying a couple of reference books I was reading.”

    In today’s market, skilled and useful workers are recognized and appreciated without union protectionism.

  3. Ennis Says:

    Not surprising.

    The unions and George Soros own the Democratic party. That is why our schools suck, our government has more porn then the Hormel plant, and shite like this happens.

  4. Some Guy Says:

    I don’t see the problem, here. After all, Inouye comes CHEAP. According to, the transportation unions only had to give him $2500 to get him to dance on cue.

    Surely, someone could come up with more than $2500, right? It’s not like it’s anything personal, for him. It’s just business.

  5. Bryan Frymire Says:

    Don’t forget the “Belle of Louisville” when you list the originals. She started out life as the “Idlewild” and was saved from oblivion and turned into a day-cruiser owned by the city of Louisville Kentucky. She’s also on the National Register of Historic Places. As of this writing she has escaped the wrath of Inouye. And she’s gonna be fitted with air conditioning soon, thank the Lord.

  6. david still Says:

    boo ho–everything that is bad is the fault of the unions! schools suck? it is not the ousy pay that teachers get that keeps bright folks out of teching but the unions. Illegals taking over construction? The unions must have something to do with this?Your job went to China dn your tires no good and your toothpate poison and your kids’ toys made of lead? blame our unions. Housing market into the sewer? blme the unions. Screw that ship. It did not meet saftgey standards the same way the Utah mines got exemptions too…grow up[ and face the fact that it is the owners of compnies that have been making out even when they quit their firms and you lose your pension…

  7. dustydog Says:

    But that is $2500 on the books. Who knows how much he really gets?

  8. gebrauchshund Says:

    Re: #3

    “our government has more porn then the Hormel plant,”

    I knew porn was a booming industry, but the involvement of Hormel was news to me.

    The government, on the other hand, was no surprise.

  9. rulewriter Says:

    Re: #6
    “it is not the ousy pay that teachers get that keeps bright folks out of teching but the unions”

    If you’re point is there are no bright folks in the teacher’s unions I think you’ve proved it.

  10. Dada Says:

    David, your class warfare doesn’t work with smart people. The normal american citizen is the owner. It’s called a shareholder.

    And Unions aren’t responsible for everything, but they are responsible for the export of manufacturing and obviously for the problems in our schools. There are huge unions in factories and schools that demand more and more money for their members and refuse to allow things like education standards or profits. It’s bad, and it’s obvious.

    Your response: but but but you are gonna lose your pension and the owner is a fat cat!!! Lame. Wrong. Stupid.

    Some jackass who paints cars in a factory by pushing a button or some government employee who does nearly nothing does not deserve a pension. They do not deserve a twenty year retirement. being in a union is often about giving less to society and taking more from it. Union members live a luxuious and rich life while the common american pays for it.

    Unions are the fat cats, and they use government corruption to maintain their fat bellies.

  11. Duke DeLand Says:

    What a memory this article stirred….not into the terrible Demo/Union world of mediocrity, but the sight and sounds and movements of the old Steam Boats.

    Not sure if this still goes on, but Peoria, IL, had for years “Steamboat Days” as a festival. The Delta Queen would journey up the Illinois to Peoria, and meet for a race between it and the smaller/slower “Julia Belle Swain”…..

    They rigged the race to make it even by having the vessels race up Lake Peoria, a broad body of water, and into the Peoria Narrows of the Illinois River where they had to turn around and then race back to a finish line in downtown Peoria.

    The smaller Julia Belle could turn in the narrows in a single back-up, gor-forward movement. The Queen took several back and forth moves to get turned, thus evening the race against the slower vessel.

    It was almost always a wonderfully-interesting and exciting finish.

    Memories of Steal Paddle Wheelers….


  12. Duke DeLand Says:

    O.K., I got myself into the mood, and looked up the Julia Belle Swain, and find she is one of only 5 such paddle wheelers, including the Delta Queen, still afloat and working. She has indeed been sold and now operates in Wisconsin….

    her site:

    Go and look at her….she is the 1971 edition of a ship from the 1930s…..

    Sad… more Steamboat Days in Peoria!


  13. bob Says:

    There is still Tall Stacks in Cincinnati every three years. The next one is in 2009.

  14. ZZMike Says:

    Has anyone pointed out to these pointy-headed managers that for a very long time, all ships were made entirely of wood. Let’s see – there’s the USS Constitution for one, Admiral Nelson’s flagship for another (HMS Victory, I think), any number of ancient Greek triremes, the curiously-named galleass (with its many guns). And some of those ships are still afloat.

    This is yet another thing that only Democrats seem capable of.

    One possible solution would be to appoint the passengers as “temporary stewards”, removing them from the category of “passenger”.

  15. kentuckyliz Says:

    Duh. The answer to save the Delta Queen–they have two choices: no overnight trips; and/or, overnight trips limited to 50 passengers. Day trips without overnight would be for the safe capacity of the Delta Queen. Ping! No exemption needed. Nor union labor. Eff Inouye. Boycott freakin’ Hawaii. A hole.

  16. Brian Says:

    Unions are un-American.

  17. B. Waters Says:

    Science & Transportation Chairman Daniel Inouye, Democrat-Hawaii.

    Bow to lobbiests.

    Enough said.

  18. Warren Says:

    Thanks for letting me know which special intrest group paid off Senator Inouye to slip the knife in.

    Unions are nothing more that the old mob protection racket writ large and legalized!

  19. Lee Says:

    Being in Louisville, and with the Great Steamboat Race being a great yearly event, the Courier-Journal covered this story. Because this is the end of a event that I can remember from small childhood (I’m now 28).

    But you know what? The Courier-Journal fails to mention in its article what Sen. Inhouye said. There is no mention of unionism playing a factor whatsoever. You would almost think that the local Louisville paper was — you think? — burying this part of the story because it would make the Democratic party look bad, and in an election year of all things. (We have a gubernatorial race this Nov.)

    You don’t think a liberal paper would do that on purpose, do you?

  20. Random Nuclear Strikes » While I hate to question their judgement Says:

    […] Bob Krumm writes Having grown up in Cincinnati, the Delta Queen, is an icon for me. The last “real” steamboat in America, complete with boiler and sternwheel drive, was homeported there when I was a kid. But next year may be the ship’s last. […]

  21. Madgem Says:

    There is nothing in the world like seeing the Delta Queen churn up the Mississippi River. It is easy to picture Mr. Twain on the decks, or ladies in finery embarking on the river banks. Since she is not a seagoing vessel, she should be exempted. Her staff are thoroughly trained, and she has many extra safety features. Passengers are made aware of her special wood superstructure. If they are willing to take the risk, so be it! I’d travel on the Queen in a heartbeat if I could afford it!

    It is sad that the union bashing brawls affect the Delta Queen. I would also like to point out to those who think the unions are nothing but mafia: If it weren’t for the unions (ok, this means the early days of unionizing) I would not have paid vacation and sick leave, nor breaks. I would be working six days per week, ten or twelve hours a day, using unsafe equipment. Perhaps unions are dinosaurs, no longer needed. But I am grateful for the benefits I have that would not have been given up by the robber barons if not for the struggle of the early unions.

  22. Neal Says:

    Where were these “unions” that could save the Queen “today’back in 1970. Unions have had done nothing to retrofit the boat to current standards. It was just us hard working INDEPENDANTLY thinking Americans.
    Be a scab ride a paddlewheeler!!!

  23. allen dale Says:

    I love the Delta Queen, but as with all things in life, it has t ocome to an end. I don’t understand HOW we can NOT re-buid the DQ in a modern form… save the steam engines and paddlewheel ect… for more debat PLEASE come and visit my site. Thanks, Allen Dale.