Delta Queen
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National Historic Landmark Study

by Kevin Foster, 1989

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This article borrowed from this Historic Landmark Study



The DELTA QUEEN Calliope
From YouTube

The DELTA QUEEN's Safety Features

Delta Queen underway on the lower Mississippi in 1988. Photo courtesy of Delta Queen Steamboat Company.

Present Historic and Physical Appearance

Delta Queen is a riveted-steel, sternwheel-propelled, overnight passenger steamboat. The superstructure is built of steel and wood, the decks of ironwood, and the hull of steel. Delta Queen's large sternwheel is propelled by a cross-compound, condensing, reciprocating steam engine.

Delta Queen was built in 1927 at the Stockton, California, yard of the C.N.& L. Shipyard. They assembled the hull and machinery and built the superstructure. The hull had been built by the shipyard of William Denny in Dumbarton-on-Clyde, Great Britain, disassembled and sent to California to be put back together. Delta Queen began her life carrying passengers in California and was later adapted for longer trips on the Western Rivers system. Her hull was designed to allow operation on the rough waters of San Francisco Bay and this feature has served her well. Over time she has been modified to meet the requirements of trade and of governmental agencies. The principal modifications were made when Delta Queen was fitted for service with the U.S. Navy in 1942, and when she was moved to the Mississippi in 1946. Most of the original construction survives and modifications made for safety, accommodation, and luxury do not detract from her integrity.[1]


Delta Queen was built of heavy, triple-dipped, galvanized steel plates, double-riveted to steel, angle frames. Her register length is 250 feet, her overall length is 285 feet. She is 44.5 feet broad molded, 58 feet in overall beam, and 11.5 feet depth of hold.[2] The hull has a sharp bow flaring out to a broad midsection, a flat bottom with no external keel, and a tucked-up run to the stern with separate skegs for each rudder. There is an overhanging main deck or guard, as on most other Western Rivers steamboats, but it is supported by a flaring of the upper hull sides, rather than the older system which suspended the guard from a hogging truss.

Internally, Delta Queen is divided into seven watertight compartments by six athwartships bulkheads. Delta Queen's hull is supported by an internal truss system, which supports the entire structure of the hull, and superstructure. Two longitudinal skeleton truss girders tie through the bulkheads from bow to stern. The great strength of the hull allows it to support the weight of heavy fittings, such as the engines, and boilers, without distortion. This system of internal, rather than external, supports for the hull became standard on riverboats during the late 1920s.[3]

The bow compartment forward of the collision bulkhead contains the operating machinery for the steam-powered capstan on the foredeck above. It also contains a bow thruster and the small Detroit Diesel engine that powers it. The bow thruster is a pair of small propellers in an athwartships tunnel, capable of running in either direction, that helps guide Delta Queen's bow when turning.

Aft of the collision bulkhead is the forward crew hold, which once was an economy men's sleeping cabin. This area holds seven cabins with two bunks in each cabin. The next compartment aft of the forward crew hold is the boiler room.

Boiler Room

The boiler room occupies the middle part of the hold and extends vertically up through the main deck. The two water tube boilers are arranged sideways along the keel. Each boiler is fired from the front with heated Number 6 grade, Bunker C crude oil, atomized by air blowers. The fire passes around the water in tubes to the back of the boiler and returns to the front twice before the exhaust gasses pass through uptakes and exit through the smokestack. Steam produced by the boilers is extracted from the steam drum on top and passes through the main steam line overhead to the engine room. The entire assembly is covered by a sheet steel jacket over refractory material that covers the boilers.[4]

The current boilers are the original pair fitted to Delta Queen. The forward boiler was built by the McNaul Boiler Manufacturing Company, of Toledo, Ohio, and certified by the U S Shipping Board in August 1919. The second boiler is a Foster Marine Boiler, serial number 4377, built by the Murray Iron Works Company, of Burlington, Iowa, for use in U.S. Navy destroyers. Sometime after the war these boilers were sold as surplus and bought for use in Delta Queen. When built they were certified for operating pressures up to 450 PSI. They are rated for pressures of up to 200 PSI in their latest inspection.[5]

The water level in the boiler is shown by a water level indicator called a sight glass. The sight glass is a heavy glass window set into a pipe, open at top and bottom to the boiler interior, through which the water level can be viewed. This allows the water tender on duty not to let the water level drop low enough to damage the boilers. A periscope from the boiler room allows the engineer on duty to get an efficient fire by checking the exhaust for excessive smoking.[6]

A number of small auxiliary steam engines power various pumps and generators. Delta Queen uses several Diesel motors and generators as well as hydraulic rams to turn the tiller. She employs a Diesel generator to provide electrical power for ship's use. Two steam reciprocating, double-acting, duplex pumps handle pumping duties. The steam pumps are all located in a machinery space forward of, and below the engine room, as is the backup steam turbine electrical generator which provides emergency power.

The next compartment aft of the engine room is the midship crew hold, which serves as quarters for more of the crew. Each of these rooms is also designed for double occupancy, as in the forward crew hold.

The after crew hold for officers and entertainers is the next compartment aft. This area also contains the crew office which serves as bank and commissary for the crew. The crew and officer messes are located aft of the dining room as well.

The next compartment aft is the lower engine room, entered from the engine room above. Here are several auxiliary pumps, two feedwater heaters which use exhaust steam to warm the water going to the boilers, a steam turbine electrical generator, and the main condenser and circulating pump.

The aftermost compartment in the hull is the area where the steam steering gear and the multiple tillers are located. This is a cramped area because of the upward sweep of the hull bottom at the stern.


The superstructure of Delta Queen consists of four decks: the main, on which the propelling machinery is located; the saloon deck above the main deck; the observation deck above the saloon; and the Texas deck with the pilothouse atop. Delta Queen was built with an open main deck forward to allow automobiles to be carried. Stanchions and framing for the boiler deck are built of steel. Stanchions, decks, and bulkheads of the upper decks are built of wood with steel reinforcement.[5]

Main Deck

The main deck has an open foredeck which extends aft to the curved front of the saloon deck which stands forward of the superstructure front. A large steam powered capstan is set in the middle of the foredeck. The single mast, mounted on the centerline, supports a boom and landing stage (gangway). Two large sliding doors, to port and starboard, give access to storage and engineering spaces in the interior and an elegant wooden and brass staircase up to the saloon deck. The main stairway is flanked by rooms to port and starboard which run aft to the dining room.

The passenger dining room, called the Orleans Room, is now on the main deck, where it was moved during conversion for use on the Mississippi. Originally it was located in the corresponding space on the saloon deck above, where it was called the dining saloon. A liquor bar was set up in the early 1950s in the starboard side wing of the Orleans Room. This bar was destroyed in 1962 by a run-away barge, but was quickly repaired and put back into service. The galley is located behind the Orleans Room and produces both high-quality cuisine for passengers and more standard fare for the officers and crew.[7]

Engine Room

The engine room occupies the entire width of the stern on the main deck and contains the engines, rudders, auxiliary machinery, and engine controls. The engines are mounted to port and starboard in the engine room on massive structural members called cylinder timbers. The cylinder timbers support the cylinders and crossheads at their inboard ends and the paddlewheel shaft at the after end.

The engines were designed and built by the Charles H. Evans & Company of San Francisco from rough castings provided by Krupp Steel of Germany and William Denny & Sons of Scotland.[8]

The engines are cross-compound, poppet-valve engines equipped with a full-stroke cam with a variable cutoff. The cam regulates the steam supply to provide steam during the full stroke. The california cutoff uses a linkage motion to pull out a wedge and allows the valve to close. The point when the wedge is pulled out regulates the cutoff. The cam turns inside a frame as the pitman turns the paddlewheel, and converts the motion to linear to-and-fro motion. This motion operates the valve gear which admits steam to the cylinders. The pistons push a heavy crosshead along a slide attached atop the cylinder timbers. The crosshead pushes and pulls the pitman which turns the crank and thus the paddlewheel. The cylinders are of different diameters in a cross-compound engine. The high-pressure cylinder is 26 inches in diameter, and the low-pressure cylinder is 52-1\2 inches in diameter. Both have a stroke of ten feet. Each engine develops 2000 indicated Horsepower.[9] The paddlewheel is a massive construction of steel and wood which propels the boat. It is 29 feet in diameter and 18 feet long. Six flanges, holding sixteen arms each, are evenly spaced along the paddleshaft. The arms are all held rigid by iron circles and blocking. Each arm and flange assembly forms one segment of the paddlewheel. The ends of the arms on each segment are attached to the paddle bucket planks which push the boat. A wood and steel paddlebox originally covered the sternwheel, but was removed when Delta Queen traveled to the Mississippi.

All engine room controls are located between the engines. A system of bells, connected to the pilothouse, guide the engineer on duty as to what speed and direction is desired. There must be a chief engineer and a striker on duty in the engine room and a fireman in the boiler room when Delta Queen is operated.[10]

The steering is controlled from the pilothouse, but much of the multiple rudder system is located in the engine room. The former system using cables from the pilothouse down to the central tiller at the rear of the boat proved to be too dangerous due to frequent breaks in the cable. Today, hydraulic controls guide the central tiller arm and two other tillers for sure control in maneuvering. Delta Queen has adopted several systems for greater safety not present when she was built. Two additional rudders, called monkey rudders, have been added behind the paddlewheel for better steering. [11]

Cabin (Saloon) Deck

The deck above the boilers is often known as the boiler deck, but on Delta Queen, it is now called the cabin deck. When she was working in California, this was known as the saloon deck. This deck, and all higher decks, have an outside promenade with a large open area forward of the deckhouse proper. The cabin and Texas decks were extended forward of the enclosed superstructure in 1945. A sweeping curve outlines the edge of the cabin deck forward. Deck stanchions support the extension of the Texas deck forward as well. Wire mesh fills in the spaces beneath the railings in traditional Western Rivers style.

Inside the enclosed area of the superstructure of the cabin deck is the largest of the boat's three lounges, the forward cabin lounge. The lounge was once divided in half by a glass wall with a smoking room forward and a lobby aft. The stairway up from the main deck is located at the forward end of this room amidships and the stairway down to the Orleans Room is in the center of the room. Trunking for the boiler exhaust gasses up to the smokestack also is in the center of this room. The grand stairway, constructed of mahogany and brass, rises up to the Texas lounge directly over the stairway down to the Orleans Room. At the rear wall of the forward cabin lounge is a souvenir store to starboard and the pursers' office to port.[12]

A glass wall separates the forward cabin lounge from the aft cabin lounge. This lounge formerly extended forward only to the rear of the dining saloon, but now extends forward to the glass wall of the forward lounge. Large staterooms line the outside of the aft cabin lounge from the glass wall aft. Ten stateroom cabins were created in 1945 from the area formerly occupied by the dining saloon. These large cabins are called staterooms because of the tradition on Western Rivers steamboats of naming the larger cabins for states.

The next deck up is now called the Texas deck but was formerly known as the observation deck. The Texas Lounge is located forward, at the top of the grand staircase. This lounge contains a bar and windows with a fine view forward. Aft of the lounge are a number of small cabins, little changed from their original appearance. These cabins all open onto the outside deck. Two outside stairways to port and to starboard give access up to the sun deck and down to the cabin deck. Deck chairs on the wide outside decks allow passengers to enjoy passing scenery in comfort.[13]

Above the deck now called the Texas deck is the sun deck, formerly called the Texas. The tradition on Western Rivers steamboats is that the highest deck on the boat was also used to hold the largest stateroom. That room was named for what was then the largest state, Texas. Today this deck is called the sun deck however, and holds a number of large, fine cabins, including the one to starboard aft named for its most famous occupant, President Jimmy Carter. Forward on the sun deck are the deck and engineering officer's cabins. Small staterooms house the officers during extended cruises of six weeks on, and six weeks off duty. Beyond the officers cabins there are two carbon-arc searchlights mounted on low pylons to allow landmarks to be identified at night.

The steam calliope whistles are mounted at the stern on the roof of this deck, with steam provided by pipes from the boiler and controlled by the keyboard on the rear side of this deck. The calliope is sometimes played at night and is fitted with colored lights to make different colored steam appear above the whistles. Passengers are not told of this secret process but the members of the crew hint that various flavors and colors of jello are fed into the boiler to produce the effect.[14]


The pilothouse is a wide, glass-enclosed, house with a flat roof, mounted above the forward end of the sun deck. The roof is surmounted by a modern radar on a short mast and a short mainmast with lights mounted atop. This is the highest point on Delta Queen and occasionally prone to damage from low bridges. The one-pipe, three-chime steam whistle is mounted behind the pilothouse, on an iron steam pipe.

The main feature of the pilothouse interior is the control stand forward amidships. The wheel which formerly steered the boat has been removed. The rudders are controlled by steering levers in the modern manner. Also in the pilothouse are modern radios, controls for the spotlights, radar sets, a large coffee urn, and a small refrigerator. A door in the rear wall gives access out onto the roof of the sun deck. Bridge wings to each side of the pilothouse allow the captain to view landing or lock-through operations from a commanding viewpoint.


The 41-feet tall, 16-inch diameter, single pole foremast is stepped amidships just forward of the superstructure. The foremast supports a 54-foot long boom at the level of the boiler deck. The boom is used to support and position the heavy 54-foot long, 7,800-pound, landing stage by means of the stage hoist and guys, a multiple pulley system.[15]

Boiler exhaust travels up from the boilers and out of the boat through the short, telescoping smokestack. When the boat was new, she had a taller funnel with a cowl top, but over time, fashion changes and low bridges have caused the stack to be replaced several times. Today the stack is painted black surrounded by a green band with the white initials "DQ" on the band. These colors have been inherited from the Greene Line which brought Delta Queen to the Mississippi.[16]

The only other features on the upper silhouette of Delta Queen are a flagstaff aft, four flag poles on each side of the Sun deck, and several ventilator cowls on the roof top. The flagstaff serves double duty as a place to raise the national flag and as a mark for the pilot to judge the centerline of the boat when looking aft.

National Historic Landmark Study, Delta Queen, Part 2


1. "Delta Queen Scheduled For Launch Today," Stockton Record (Stockton, California: December 12, 1925) p. 1.

2. United States Department of Commerce, Merchant Vessels Of The United States (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1929) pp. 54-55 and Frederick Way, Jr., Way's Packet Directory; 1848-1983 (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University, 1983) pp. 124-125.

3. David John Lyon, The Denny List (Vol. III, Greenwich, London: National Maritime Museum, 1975) Hull numbers 1168-1169.

4. Alan L. Bates, The Western Rivers Steamboat Cyclopoedium (Leonia, New Jersey: Hustle Press, 1981) pp. 22-30.

5. A. E. Seaton, A Manual of Marine Engineering (London: Charles Griffin And Company, Limited, 1928) pp. 37-38.

6. Letha C. Greene, Long Live The Delta Queen (New York: Hastings House Publishers, 1973) pp. 63-65.

7. Virginia S. Eifert, Delta Queen The Story Of A Steamboat (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1960) p. 69.

8. International Library of Technology, Marine Boilers, Marine Engines, Western River Steamboats (Scranton, Pennsylvania: International Textbook Company, 1902) pp. 11.13 - 11.16.

9. Bates, op. cit., pp. 92-97.

10. Bates, op. cit., pp. 36-39.

11. The California Transportation Company, "Deluxe Steamers Delta King, Delta Queen, Cabin Plan" (Deck Plan from Delta King Pamphlet File, J. Porter Shaw Library, San Francisco Maritime National Park)

12. The Delta Queen Steamboat Company, "Steamboats Delta Queen & Mississippi Queen, Steamboatin' 1989" (New Orleans: The Delta Queen Steamboat Company, 188) pp. 54-55.

13. Greene, op. cit. pp. 145-147.

14. "Delta Queen" Murray Tube Bulletin, (Vol. 12, August-September, No. 4) p. 3, and Bates, Steamboat Cyclopoedium, pp. 80-84.

15. See photographs for changes over time.


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