The Delta King

Written By: Antioch Historical Board Member Bob Martin

The entrance to our Museum contains artifacts of days gone by. Some of those on the entrance walls represent river travel. In particular, steamboats that were used for transportation throughout our bay and rivers. One such steamboat was the Delta King. The museum is fortunate to have three artifacts on display from the Delta King: the pilot wheel, which has been restored; the rudder position arrow, which told the helmsman the position of the rudder; and the ship’s name sign.

Antioch Historical Museum The Delta King

The Delta King and sister ship, the Delta Queen, were 285-foot long stern-wheel steamboats, whose steel hulls were built in Scotland for the California Transportation Company by William Denny & Brothers. Ordered in April 1924, the Delta King was shipped in pieces on November 8, 1924, to Stockton, CA, where she was assembled with her wooden superstructure at Banner Island, Stockton.

A pair of two-cylinder engines produced 1,500 hp. Steering was by four rudders. The stern wheel was constructed of fir with 28 arms and paddles. The cabins were richly supplied and equipped with air conditioning and heating.

The Delta King and the Delta Queen, were the most lavishly appointed and expensive stern-wheel passenger boats ever commissioned at that time. Their lower decks carried freight and cars.

The Delta King was christened on May 20, 1927 and provided regular 10-hour transportation between San Francisco and Sacramento with excursions to Stockton. In 1930, ownership was passed to River Lines, Inc. In 1940, it was taken out of service when a highway linking San Francisco to Sacramento was built. Isbrandtsen Steamship Lines then purchased it for service on the Mississippi River. That plan never materialized as the U. S. Navy requisitioned the ship for service from 1940 to 1946 for duty as receiving ships for naval reservists and a naval ferry in San Francisco Bay.

In the 1950’s, the Delta King was towed to Kitimat, British Columbia to be used as a boarding house for employees of the Alcan Aluminum Plant and the Kemano Dam power project. Ownership changed several times. Finally, in 1978, while owned by Gus Skarakis and moored in Rio Vista, CA, it was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. In 1981, she sank for unknown reasons while in Richmond, CA. Raised a year later, there began a 5-year restoration and the Delta King returned to Sacramento on May 20, 1989.

Today the Delta King is home to a 44-room hotel, award winning restaurant and Capital Stage, a professional theater company
Although the use of sternwheel steamboats has given way to the railroad and highways, we can all dream about the luxury of traveling the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers on a very opulent riverboat.

The amenities were luxurious, including a grand staircase with ornate bronze filigree and mahogany handrails, oak paneling and brass chandeliers. The dining room featured fresh flowers, linen-covered tablecloths, mahogany chairs upholstered in leather, large windows, and stain glass skylights. Staterooms had single, twin or double beds, private baths with tiled floors. All staterooms opened to the social hall.

The following is the reminiscences of a friend’s father who traveled on the Delta King.

Think about leaving at 6:00 p.m. on a Friday evening from pier 3, in fog blanketed San Francisco with temperature in the low fifties to travel across San Francisco and San Pablo Bays; you pass under the Carquinez Bridge and continue through the narrow Carquinez Strait. You see the towns of Vallejo, Crocket, Martinez and Benicia. You listen to jazz from an onboard honky-tonk piano. You cruise into the Suisun Bay and in the distance you can see the lights of Pittsburg and Antioch. You travel into the Sacramento River with its islands. Along the riverbanks stand sycamores, cottonwoods, oaks, willows, blackberry vines and marshlands. You might see deer, elk and bear along the shoreline. During the trip you may hear the steamboat’s whistle signaling the Rio Vista, Isleton, Walnut Grove, Courtland, and Freeport drawbridges to open. As you get closer to Sacramento, you can feel the one hundred degree plus heat of summer. The King docks at the M Street wharf in Sacramento where you disembark the boat for a weekend of visiting with family and friends. Come

Sunday morning: It’s time to board the steamboat for the return trip to San Francisco.

If you enjoy seeing, reading and talking about Antioch’s history, consider becoming a member of the Antioch Historical Society Museum. Applications for membership are available at the Antioch Historical Society Museum
Wednesday and Saturday 1-4. Admission is FREE.

1500 West 4th Street
Antioch, Ca

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