Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cruising The Ohio River

In the late 1930's, we lived within sight of the Ohio river on second street in Cincinnati, Ohio. This is approximately where the Cincinnati Reds baseball stadium stands now. There were railroad tracks that ran just 25 feet behind our house, Freight trains rumbled by on a regular basis. These were the big powerful steam engines that chugged and belched steam as a column of smoke arose from it's stack. Also directly behind our house was the storage yard for huge empty steel boilers lined up in rows, some of which were touching each other, some a yard or so apart. These were huge things measuring about 20 feet long and 8 feet high. These became my playground as I loved to jump from one to another like an obstacle course. It's a wonder I didn't break my neck. During the long hot summers we sought relief from the heat in many ways. I remember some nights when we would lay down homemade quilts on the fire escape outside our second floor window in hopes of catching a breeze as it was unbearable inside even at night. One particular hot night the family gathered quilts, blankets and pillows and headed for Eden Park and spent the night sleeping on the grass.

Another escape for us was the "Island Queen" A side wheeler riverboat steamer in the grand style. She made several trips a day from the public landing at the foot of Broadway Street up the river about 20 miles to "Ohio Grove, the Coney Island of the West." as it was originally known. It was formally an apple orchard but the owner realized he could make more money renting his property than raising apples.   Shown here is the queen landing at Coney and the people heading up the ramp to the lighthouse entrance to Coney Island. I
I don't remember if the trip cost anything or not, it could not have been much as we never seemed to have any. I think maybe it was free as a way to get you to go to Coney Island and spend some money as this was during the Great Depression. I still remember walking up the long gangplank which was held up by a large steel chain suspended from a mast. I could hear the Calliope playing "In the good old summertime" as I stepped onto the main deck. I am surprised now that my mother allowed me such freedom because I remember exploring all over the boat to see what wonders lie there.On the main deck inside a huge room were the massive piston arms that were attached to the paddle wheels that turned and made the boat move. I still remember how massive and dangerous they looked. There was only a small railing between where I stood and the gigantic steel arm that was covered with rivets that retreated to my right inside a trough about 25 foot long and then rammed an equally large shiny steel piston which powered the paddle wheel, The piston disappeared into a dark cavern and then the process repeated over and over again.

The trip up the river took about 1 hour as I remembered it, we would disembark off the same gangplank and trudge up the blacktop covered hill to the entrance to Coney Island Park that was fashioned like a
small lighthouse. My mother used to pack a lunch and there was a covered picnic area with tables where we would eat. I remember her bringing Fried Chicken which was one of my favorites.
I recall one trip my mother gave my two sisters and I  $1.00 each to spend as we pleased. Lord knows where she got the money from as that was a lot of money in those days. Most of the rides were 5c admission, I was very careful of the rides I selected as I tried to make the money last as long as I could.

After a fun day strolling around the park and absorbing all the sights and sounds it was regretfully time to board the Island Queen for a trip once more down the Ohio River in the twilight with all of the boats lights shining brightly like jewels in the Queen's Crown. While the calliope played "My Old Kentucky Home"


Robin Rathmell said...

What a wonderful story. So descriptive. Where did all those simple times and pleasures go? Seems I went to Coney often as a child, but never on the Riverboat. Did you ever go to dances on it like mom and Aunt Loraine?

Junosmom said...

So, if I were a little girl, you wouldn't let me climb all over the boat like your mom did?

wonderful description, Dad!