Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Sacramento River Delta fairly bustled with paddlewheel steamboats traveling between the cities of Sacramento and San Francisco. Most of these iconic riverboats have been long forgotten; but the sister ships Delta King and Delta Queen, launched in 1927, are two survivors of that bygone era.
For 50 years one of the most popular ways to travel up and down the mighty Mississippi River has been aboard the authentic paddlewheel steamboat Delta Queen. To ride on this boat is to step back in time — in fact, the Delta Queen has been declared a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National of Historic Places.
But true riverboat buffs will tell you that the Delta Queen was not originally built to travel on the Mississippi River. It’s a California boat, built in Stockton in the late 1920’s for service on the Sacramento River. The Delta Queen spent the first 20 years of her life as a night-boat taking passengers back and forth from Sacramento to San Francisco and becoming a familiar and much-loved part of the California landscape.
In 1947, the proud paddlewheeler left California, was towed through the Panama Canal and began her service on the Mississippi River.
Now, 50 years later, producer/host Huell Howser travels over 2,000 miles east to rediscover the Delta Queen’s California history and roots. Also, along for the ride are several Californians who remember her “good ole days” and have great stories to tell about her time on the Sacramento River.
Currently the Delta King resides as a permanent fixture in Old Sacramento, while the Delta Queen is similarly docked in Memphis, Tennessee. But when this episode of California’s Gold first aired back in 1998, she was still operating on the Mississippi River, offering passengers a nostalgic look back at the golden age of steam navigation.