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The River: Final touches on the Clyde; and a sad notice of the passing of Miss Letha Jane Greene

The riverboat captain is a storyteller, and Captain Don Sanders will be sharing the stories of his long association with the river — from discovery to a way of love and life. This a part of a long and continuing story.

By Capt. Don Sanders
Special to NKyTribune

Since the Rafter CLYDE sold a few weeks ago, I’ve mainly invested my time completing a few onboard chores before the sternwheeler paddles away to a new life on the Tennessee River. Since the CLYDE was in the boatyard two years ago, I haven’t worked this hard. Cappy Julie Johnston, the boat’s new Master, left a list of “must-dos.” I have expanded the inventory to include tasks I wouldn’t want left unfinished before seeing the boat leave.

Cappy Julie Johnston, the boat’s new Master, left a list of ‘must-dos,’ but I have expanded the inventory.

Recently, I wrote about scrubbing the accumulation of algae and Zebra Mussels off CLYDE’s historically-accurate, wooden paddlewheel. Since then, that portion of the wheel and the white, steel Circles I repainted look almost new. However, those sections of the sternwheel lately immersed in the murky backwaters of the Ohio River look as nasty and covered in slimy algae as did the parts which found themselves underwater for over six months. Perhaps the Tennessee River will be kinder to the paddlewheel than has the Ohio.

A sad notification came this week telling of the passing of Miss Letha Jane Greene, the youngest daughter of the late Captain Tom and Mrs. Letha Greene who brought the DELTA QUEEN from California in the late-1940s. Janie, born a year later than I, became a close friend in the mid-1960s when my DELTA QUEEN career first started as a “clock-puncher,” or night watchman, about the Greene’s fantastic family steamboat.

A sad notification came this week telling of the passing of Miss Letha Jane Greene, the youngest daughter of the late Captain Tom and Mrs. Letha Greene who brought the DELTA QUEEN from California in the late-1940s.

In the dead of night between rounds patrolling the QUEEN searching for fires and misevents while most passengers and crew slept, I took the occasion to write another chapter in a continuing story about a fictional steamboat, the HONEYDEW, and its zany crew. Before my shift ended at six-in-the-morning, Jane always found me at the small round table that had been a dining table on the DELTA QUEEN when the boat steamed between Sacramento and San Francisco. By then, the latest happenings aboard the HONEYDEW were ready and waiting for her scrutiny. Years later, when I asked her if she remembered the stories, she said she did, and remarked, “I always thought you’d end up being a writer. Big time!” I reckon my column is as close to the big-time as I will ever get.

During that same year, 1965, Jane and her mother were on the DELTA QUEEN round trip from St. Louis to St. Paul and back. Along the St. Louis levee near where we were tied, the riverboat bar and restaurant, RIVER QUEEN, beckoned with flavorful fare and liberally-poured adult beverages. Their bourbon-and-cokes served where the portside steam engine once supplied half the power to the long-removed paddlewheel, were specialties of the eatery floating downstream below the historic Eads Bridge. When I asked Janie if she would accompany me to the RIVER QUEEN for a couple of rounds while I was off-watch, then in the engineroom instead of “punching the clock,” she quickly declined, explaining,

“The RIVER QUEEN was really our family boat, the GORDON C. GREENE.” Jane Greene.

“As you know, the RIVER QUEEN was really our family boat, the GORDON C. GREENE. We kids all grew up on the GORDON, and I have fond memories of the boat as she was, so I do not want to see what she’s become.”

The second half of that trip, from St. Paul to St. Louis was on a swollen Mississippi River. In Mrs. Letha’s classic book, “Long Live the DELTA QUEEN,” Mrs. Greene recalled that once the steamboat returned to St. Louis after knocking the smokestack off on the Keithsburg, Illinois railroad bridge the night before:

“This had been a strenuous trip, and I didn’t care to drive home. Jane and I made reservations on the first jet to Cincinnati to go home to rest from my Flood Trip of 1965.”

What Mrs. Greene didn’t record, though, was that I was the third member of that DELTA QUEEN group on the airplane leaving for Cincinnati. The Greenes were heading home to rest while I was fixing to enlist in the United States Air Force. Within six more years, the Greene family no longer owned the DELTA QUEEN and I was back aboard as the First Officer and Alternate Master of, perhaps, the most famous steamboat in the world at that time.

Mrs. Letha’s classic book, “Long Live the DELTA QUEEN.”

With the passage of several more years, Jane Greene and I became reacquainted in the pilothouse of the GRAND VICTORIA II casino boat in Rising Sun, Indiana, at Mile 506 on the Middle Ohio River, where I was the Senior Captain for over sixteen years. Undoubtedly, Jane came for the casino activities, but on her three, or so, visits, she never failed to drop by the pilothouse where she always amazed and amused the occupants on-watch. The GRAND VIC’s Bridge Mate and Alternate Master, Captain Sandra Clark Ashworth, can attest to that. Jane Greene was undoubtedly her father’s daughter. I’ve often wondered why she didn’t get a steamboat license and command the DELTA QUEEN, herself. Ms. Greene certainly had all the necessary qualifications and more.

On a much brighter note, who remembers reading about Terri Christie, a master culinarian on the Ingram Barge Company’s M/V JOE B. WYATT, a 6,120 HP twin-screw diesel towboat built as the STEEL CHALLENGER in 1982 at the St. Louis Shipyard, in my “The River” column of the first day of December last year? Please don’t call her “Cookie,” anymore; she is now Captain Terri Christie.

Talk about an astonishing and delightful surprise, when Cap’n Terri proudly announced, “It’s official I’ve passed the 200 Ton Master’s exam. OUPV, 100 Ton Master’s & 200 Ton Mate/Master’s. You can call me ‘Captain’ now.”

Please don’t call her ‘Cookie” anymore. She is now Captain Terri Christie.

Cappy Terri’s first license is a boatload. She can officially be the Officer-in-Charge on an Uninspected Passenger Vessel carrying six-paying passengers plus the crew. She has a 100-ton Master’s and a 200-ton Mate’s ticket. Additionally, she is authorized to be a Steersman on towboats on the Western Rivers, as the Mississippi River and tributaries are known.

“I’ve just gotta find a company that will allow a woman in,” she added.

Why do I have the feeling that Cap’n Terri Christie will eventually end up with her very own riverboat? Quite likely, she, a native of the Volunteer State, will command a dinner cruiser on the Cumberland or the Tennessee Rivers. If I had to postulate, I would suggest that with her experience in foodservice, both afloat and ashore, there will be a fancy paddlewheel cruiser known for its onboard menus rivaling anything else on the river and be located at Nashville, Tennessee.

Stay tuned. With the determination and grit that Captain Terri has shown so far, anything and everything is possible. I wonder if she is accepting advance reservations?

Why do I have the feeling that Cap’n Terri Christie will eventually end up with her very own riverboat?

Captain Don Sanders is a river man. He has been a riverboat captain with the Delta Queen Steamboat Company and with Rising Star Casino. He learned to fly an airplane before he learned to drive a “machine” and became a captain in the USAF. He is an adventurer, a historian, and a storyteller. Now, he is a columnist for the NKyTribune and will share his stories of growing up in Covington and his stories of the river. Hang on for the ride — the river never looked so good. 

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  1. Jo Ann W Schoen says:

    Thanks so much the tribute to my friend, Jane Greene. She will be missed by all of her river friends. Long Live the DELTA QUEEN! Congrats to Captain Terri. I’ll forward to cruising with her sometime soon!

  2. Heidi English says:

    What a wonderful read about strong women. Thanks Captain Don!

  3. Mike Washenko says:

    Another great read Capt.

  4. Cornelia Reade-Hale says:

    Yet again you bring strong river personalities to life for your readers. Thanks for telling of Jane’s past. Yes she will be greatly missed. I also look forward to Capt Terri’s adventures.
    Bless the Clyde in her new home. Bless you in your new adventures.

  5. John mccloy says:

    I met ms. Greene on a cruise on the “ Belle of Cincinnati “ when I commented on a jacket she was wearing
    That showed all the Delta Queens visiting ports on the back. I had no idea til she introduced herself and even then did not know she was Tom Greene’s daughter or the author of “ Long Live the Delta Queen “ . I took pictures with tears in my eyes when the Queen pulled out of her home port of Cincinnati for the last time.
    I do not expect to ever hear her whistle or calliope again on the river.

  6. Diane Roland says:

    Thank you for writing so lovingly of my friend Jane Greene. I had the pleasure of teaching with her at WITHROW High School and was with her when she talked to you on the Grand Vic.

  7. Capt. Don says:

    Thanks, everyone for your comments. Janie was a legend on her own.

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