The Cover Story, Part 2

disCover: The Complete Collection, cover image

Another post about the cover–and, by the way, there are still 98 chances for you to support Cites & Insights and my liblog (and other) research by buying this limited-edition hardbound collection.

This cover isn’t quite so large (9.25″ high, about 13″ wide). It was the last cover I prepared using Corel PhotoPaint before that 13-year-old program started crapping out. Now that I’ve figured out the text-placement/rotation tricks for Paint.Net, I’d use that anyway: Cleaner, simpler, faster.

The story behind the cover

In the book, I say this photo was taken on the Delta Queen while on the Arkansas River. Looking at the photo album now, I think that may be party wrong. It’s definitely the paddlewheel of the Delta Queen, as it’s driving the steamboat: for the Delta Queen, the paddlewheel (driven by an authentic steam engine) was the only means of propulsion. But I’m not sure which river we were on at the time. It may have been the Ohio River, somewhere outside Paducah. Or it might be the Arkansas River. It’s just not clear from the context of surrounding photos or the flyers included in the album (which seem to combine two different river cruises).

The Delta Queen is no longer an operating paddlewheel steamboat, unfortunately. The company that revived the three Delta Queen boats after the Delta Queen Steamboat Company went under (another casualty of 9/11) later shut them down, focusing its entire attention on the Windstar line (purchased from Holland America/Carnival). The Delta Queen itself is now a floating hotel docked in Chattanooga, Tennessee, just as the twin Delta King is a hotel/restaurant in Old Sacramento (California). It couldn’t have kept on cruising in any case: Congress did not renew the special exemption from Safety of Life at Sea regulations that allowed this wooden-superstructure boat to operate as an overnight cruiser. (Both times we were on the DQ, we had to sign special waivers.)

The DQ is a small boat with (at the time) tiny cabins–but that didn’t matter much, because you’d spend all your time out on deck and the decks were all ringed with rocking chairs. DQ and Delta King aren’t named for the Mississippi Delta–they’re named for the Sacramento Delta, since both were built in 1927 (in Scotland, reassembled in California) to run between Sacramento and San Francisco. My mother-in-law used to use the DQ for its original purpose. The engine is original, and was kept in magnificent condition: The engine room was always open to visitors and purportedly had the best coffee on board.

One of the two cruises–possibly the one this photo was taken on, possibly not–was a little odd. It was a “tramping cruise,” where only the start and end points were announced. The captain would stop at whatever places looked most interesting. A great idea in theory–but given the distance to be covered and some weather and traffic-related problems, it was a little strange in practice: We had a two-hour evening stop in Memphis (mostly to take on supplies), a Sunday morning stop in Paducah without advance warning for the Quilting Museum, so basically nothing was open…and that was it. We were on the river, and by the end of the week it was a little old, given the very limited recreational facilities on board. (A couple of younger passengers–most people were even older than we were, but there were a few under 45–were threatening to jump overboard if we were within five feet of land…)

But it was still fun, as were the other three heartland river cruises we took. I’m sad to report that the Mississippi Queen, a wonderful boat, has been sold for scrap. The American Queen, the largest passenger steamboat ever built (but still only 222 rooms), still exists but isn’t cruising: It needs a new owner. (We cruised during the inaugural season of the AQ, and loved it too.)

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