American Queen stops in Marietta

MARIETTA – The American Queen steamboat – minus its steam-powered paddlewheel – pulled into Marietta on diesel powered engines Sunday morning with 329 passengers aboard on their way from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati.

The vessel had to make an unscheduled layover in Maysville, Ky., on June 29 on its way from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh after a stress fracture developed in the paddlewheel shaft. The wheel was disassembled and the shaft removed as the boat continued the cruise, under tow, to Pittsburgh last week with all passengers on board.

Switching to its diesel-powered “z-engines,” the American Queen left Pittsburgh midnight Friday for a return trip to Cincinnati, with Marietta the first stop along the route.

“The boat was still carrying the shaft when I got on in Pittsburgh, but somewhere just south of there they put it on a truck and shipped it off for repairs,” said Taylor Abbott, of Clarington, who was heading home from the boat during the stop in Marietta on Sunday.

Abbott said he’s traveled on the American Queen before, and noted the difference in sounds coming from the engine room when the paddlewheel is pushing the boat along instead of the diesel-powered engines.

“You can hear the steam hissing in the stern, when the wheel is running,” he said.

In spite of the missing wheel, Abbott said the trip was pleasant enough.

“The food was great and entertainment was top-notch,” he said.

Passengers Nancy Durst, from Erie, Pa., and Carolyn Marks of Northumberland, Pa., were among more than 35 members of the Pennsylvania Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star on the cruise from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati.

“We watched the Fourth of July fireworks from the boat in Pittsburgh and then left for Cincinnati at midnight,” Durst said. “It’s been a wonderful trip.”

Marks agreed.

“It’s been terrific, and we’re all enjoying it immensely,” she said. “This is our first stop, and we’re going to take a tour of Marietta, to see the Mound Cemetery, the Castle and the museums. And we want to do some shopping downtown.”

Michael Brown, hotel manager for the American Queen, said traveling without the paddlewheel hasn’t been too bad, although the boat moves a little slower under strictly diesel power.

“But we’ve been able to keep on schedule, and both the crew and passengers love this stop in Marietta,” he said. “The crew especially looks forward to some ice cream (from the Works hot dog and ice cream shop at the Ohio River Levee).”

Brown said the Marietta wharf is also conveniently located for the crew and passengers who can easily access downtown restaurant and stores just blocks from where the boat is moored.

Cruise passenger Frances Hamilton, from Florida, was among those who took one of the American Queen’s “hop-off, hop-on” bus tours to some the local attractions Sunday.

“This is my first time in Marietta – it’s a beautiful little town, and I thought the bus tours were very well done,” she said. “The tour guide was very knowledgeable. And your museums here are very inviting.”

John and Susan Pierce, both natives of Vienna now living in North Carolina, just happened to be visiting family over the Fourth of July weekend and heard the American Queen was stopping in Marietta.

“We grew up along this river, and we both love its history,” Susan said, adding that their house in North Carolina is decorated with riverboat items and artwork.

“So we take a little bit of home with us wherever we live,” she said. “And we enjoy seeing these steamboats on the river.”

Carol Ellis, shore excursion specialist for the American Queen, was aboard when the paddlewheel had to be removed in Maysville. She said the captain and crew made sure there was plenty for the passengers to do during the layover.

“The captain was very visible, visiting passengers all over the boat, and there were plenty of activities added to help passengers pass the time,” she said. “When you’re handed a lemon, you make lemonade, and that’s what we did.”

Ellis said a big onboard celebration is planned when repairs are done and the paddlewheel is restored on the stern of the American Queen.

It hasn’t been determined whether the steamboat will return to Marietta later this summer, according to one crew member who said a lot will depend on how soon the paddlewheel repairs are completed and on how the weather holds up.