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Blue Earth couple working hard to save the DQ from Jim Oberstar

By Staff | Nov 14, 2008

A Blue Earth couple is upset with one of Minnesota’s U.S. congressman – Jim Oberstar, (DFL) Duluth.

The reason stems from the fact Oberstar is causing the shutdown of the DQ.

No, the congressman is not forcing the local Dairy Queen to close. The DQ in this story stands for Delta Queen.

Jim and Johanna Hocker are huge fans of old river steamboats. Their particular favorite is the Delta Queen.

In fact, the Hockers just returned from a ten day trip down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers on the Delta Queen.

It was their tenth trip on a steamboat.

The Hockers had one of the nicer staterooms on the Delta Queen, number 106, right on the main deck.

They say that a trip on a riverboat is a lot like a trip on a cruise ship in the ocean, except you are always close to shore.

However, in their ten days on the trip, they only left the boat three times – in Maysville, Ohio, Washington, Ky., and Cape Giradeau, Mo. The rest of the time they enjoyed on board entertainment.

Out of the 165 passengers on board, 140 were repeat customers. There were also 80 crew members.

“There is nothing like a steamboat trip down the river,” Johanna Hocker says. “Its beautiful.”

Her favorite moment on the trip was when the Delta Queen was coming into Louisville and passed the steamboat ‘Belle of Louisville.’ The two boats blared their steam whistles as they passed.

Both boats have had an annual race, held since 1963. This year the Delta Queen won the contest.

This year’s race may have been the last one ever, however. And this is where Rep. Jim Oberstar comes in.

Way back in 1966 Congress passed the ‘Safety At Sea’ act which was intended to make travel on boats and ships safe.

Most of the law focused on ocean going vessels. Boats and ships in the Great Lakes were exempt.

So were boats on the river, which makes sense because the shore is always in sight.

Of course, a boat like the Delta Queen, powered by steam, and with a wooden hull, was a fire hazard. The wood had to be coated with a fire resistant paint, and a safety crew was always on board, trained in fire fighting.

So for 42 years, the Delta Queen and other steamboats were granted an exemption from the law.

That exemption expired on Nov. 1, and it may not be renewed, if Oberstar has his way.

He is chairman of the Transportation Committee which is in charge of this matter.

Oberstar’s problem with the Delta Queen is that it’s previous owners hired union workers, and the current owners do not have a union crew on board.

The Hockers say they were ashamed to be from Minnesota when on this last cruise, when it is their representative who is blocking this exemption.

Their trip, which ran from Oct. 21 – 31, was the last trip of the Delta Queen for this season. They are hoping it won’t be the last one ever.

“The trip was sort of a media blitz,” Johanna Hocker says. “Reporters from television and newspapers along the rivers were all doing stories on this situation.”

The Hockers were filmed holding up signs which read ‘Save the Queen.’

An additional problem is both the Delta Queen and her sister boat, the American Queen, are both up for sale.

The Delta Queen has an interesting past. It was built in 1927 and actually cruised the Sacremento River for most of its early life.

During World War II it was commandeered by the U.S. Navy and commissioned as YHB-7 (Yard Harbor Boat – 7). The navy used it as a troop carrier, and it is estimated it carried over 200,000 wounded military personnel around the San Francisco area.

The Delta Queen was the smallest troop carrier used in the war, and the oldest.

After the war a pair of river boat captains bought the Delta Queen and hauled the 3,360 ton vessel to the midwest.

Johanna Hocker says it would be a travesty if the boats are ordered to quit operating due to Rep. Oberstar’s committee. She is doing what she can to fight him.

If you would like to see more history of the Delta Queen and steamboats, go to these web sites: www. steamboats.org or www. deltaqueenhistory.com, or www. save-the-delta-queen.org