The DELTA KING California’s Monarch

Photograph by Shawn J. Dake c. 2009

During the Gold Rush thousands came to seek their fortune along the rivers of California. Today, treasure can still be found resting just below the east bank of the Sacramento River. The historic steamboat, DELTA KING has survived for over eight decades and today welcomes visitors to come aboard for a drink, a wonderful dinner or an overnight stay floating on the river for which it was built.

The DELTA KING on the Sacramento River with Tower Bridge in the background. Photo by Shawn J. Dake

The DELTA KING is the perfect compliment to the backdrop of historic Old Sacramento. Located at 1000 Front Street, adjacent to the original western terminus of the trans-continental railroad and within easy walking distance of the California State Railroad Museum, the riverboat can transport those, using a bit of imagination, back through the decades without ever leaving the pier. The DELTA KING has been welcoming guests in this location since May 20, 1989. The grand opening of the hotel coincided with the 62nd anniversary of the DELTA KING and its identical sister the DELTA QUEEN, being dedicated at their builder’s yard in Stockton, California. A rich and incredible history followed the christening of these boats, eventually leading each of them on very different paths. Yet they managed to survive, providing an authentic glimpse back into the long-gone, golden-age of steamboats; an era that was ending just as these boats began.

Flying the CTC flag, the CAPITAL CITY was the fore bearer of the DELTA KING and DELTA QUEEN. Postcard view from the collection of Shawn J. Dake

The California Transportation Company was the dominant shipper of passengers and freight between San Francisco and Sacramento. In the early 1920’s their president, Alfred E. Anderson began planning replacements for the company’s two existing steamboats the CAPITAL CITY dating from 1910 and the FORT SUTTER of 1912. The two new boats would be the largest and most luxurious overnight river steamers, each costing over $875,000. Even in the roaring ’20’s, nearly a million dollars was an extravagant sum of money. The plans became reality with the keel laying of the DELTA KING on December 28, 1924. The California Navigation and Improvement Company shipyard was expanded to accommodate construction of the steamboats along the banks of the San Joaquin River at Stockton. The steel hull was actually built by William Denny & Brother’s Dumbarton yard in Scotland. The sections were assembled on the banks of the River Clyde, then taken apart, carefully marked for reassembly and shipped by freighter to San Francisco, then barged to the construction site. Cross compound condensing engines were designed by the Charles H. Evans Company of San Francisco in 1925 but built in Scotland. Two oil-fired water tube boilers were acquired from unused, surplus machinery intended for World War I, U.S. Navy destroyers. The four deck superstructure was entirely constructed of oak, teak, mahogany and Oregon cedar, while the Main Deck freight level was constructed of hard ironbark purportedly from Siam.

The DELTA KING and DELTA QUEEN were assembled in 1925 from hull sections prefabricated in Scotland. Photo credited to the builder James Burns
The launch of the DELTA KING on May 9, 1925. Photo credit, James Burns

Since there was only one slipway at the yard the DELTA KING was launched with just the hull and framing for the freight deck constructed to quickly make room for work to begin on the DELTA QUEEN. The “King” touched water for the first time on May 9, 1925 in a sideways launch into the river. Seven months later the “Queen” slid into the water with all her decks already framed. At the same time the superstructure on the “King” was nearing completion. The interior outfitting dragged on slowly for over a year. Eventually the California Transportation Company acquired the shipbuilder. On April 24, 1927, the DELTA KING ran her first set of trials. Both boats would enter commercial service within a day of each other. The DELTA KING was first, leaving San Francisco’s Pier 3 near the ferry building at 6:30pm, June 1, 1927, arriving at Sacramento’s M Street wharf the following morning. The evening of June 2nd as the “King” departed Sacramento, the DELTA QUEEN began her own maiden voyage upriver from San Francisco. For the next 13 years the two sister boats would pass each other, just around midnight, close to the halfway point of Rio Vista.

An early photo of the DELTA KING. Photo archives of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company
Brochure showing the DELTA KING approaching Sacramento and photos of the interiors. Courtesy of The Delta King

The day after the two boats were formally dedicated, the Carquinez Bridge opened on May 21, 1927 completing a road link between Sacramento and San Francisco Bay. Cars and trucks were now able to travel basically the same route once reserved for riverboats. The prosperous times of the 1920’s came to an abrupt halt with the stock market crash of October 29, 1929 signaling the start of the Great Depression. The timing could not have been worse for the Delta twins. In 1930, the California Transportation Company, already struggling to pay off the nearly two million dollar building cost of their newest boats, lost money. They were not alone as the freight business for all competitors on the river declined. The Southern Pacific Railroad gave up on their riverboats that year. The remaining companies, Fay Transportation Company, Sacramento Navigation Company and the California Transportation Company, while keeping their separate identities were brought together under a unified management.

From 1932 the Delta Boats were marketed under The River Lines banner. Courtesy of the Delta King.
A River Lines schedule for The “Million Dollar De Luxe Steamers.” Courtesy of the Delta King.

The new operation was called The River Lines. Set up February 1, 1932, the companies were able to return a small profit that year. Throughout the 1930’s, strikes and competition continued to exert their toll and by the autumn of 1935 the California Transportation Company declared bankruptcy. Under the reorganization plan, the DELTA KING and DELTA QUEEN continued their daily voyages, but the era of the California steamboat was drawing to a close.

The DELTA KING at full speed in 1938. Courtesy of the Delta King
A fanciful, yet idyllic scene along the Sacramento River in the 1930’s. Postcard from the collection of Shawn J. Dake.

The Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco’s World’s Fair, opened in 1939 and continued through the summer of 1940. On the surface, good times seemed to have returned. On April 22, 1939, the “King” and “Queen” indulged themselves in a great “River Boat Race” to the fair on Treasure Island. Round trip passage was $3.50 and the DELTA KING, carrying a capacity crowd of over 800 passengers, came out just slightly ahead at an average speed of 11 1⁄2 miles per hour. The final day of the Fair was September 29, 1940 and the DELTA QUEEN deviated from her usual overnight schedule on a special daylight cruise, sailing one-way from San Francisco at 9 a.m. upriver to Sacramento. That evening the DELTA KING followed on the regularly scheduled evening departure, arriving in the early morning hours of September 30th. With a toot of the steam whistle and the ringing down of “finished with engines” on the telegraph, it would be the end of regular steamboat service on California’s rivers.

The DELTA KING or DELTA QUEEN passing under Sacramento’s Tower Bridge constructed in 1935. The steamers normally docked at “M” Street downstream from the bridge. Postcard from the collection of Shawn J. Dake.

The Navy had arranged a short-term charter of the two Delta boats for use as barracks during the winter months. The intention was to return them to regular service during the spring and summer months of 1941. The outbreak of war in Europe and the increasing tensions in the Pacific would scuttle those plans. The DELTA KING was first acquired by the U.S. Navy in November, 1940. Initially the paddlewheeler was designated as “Yard House Boat Delta King” (YHB-6). The charter was renewed for a second time but by the fall of 1941 both boats were surplus to the Navy’s needs. They were returned to The River Lines but instead of a return to service, the two boats were sold to the Isbrandsten Steamship Company, which intended to take them through the Panama Canal for further service on the Mississippi River. The foredecks of the “King” were sheathed in wood as protection for the open-water tow. Fate intervened and one week after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the DELTA KING and DELTA QUEEN were requisitioned by the Navy. As Yard House Boats the primary purpose of the vessels was to serve as floating barracks. The “King” was primarily based at Tiburon, although it served throughout the Bay area. Throughout 1943, both boats were busy shuttling troops between Naval bases and piers in San Francisco, alongside their predecessors the FORT SUTTER and the former CAPITAL CITY, now renamed PORT OF STOCKTON. The Southern California steamers CATALINA and CABRILLO also served as troop ferries on the Bay, but under Army requisition. Finally on July 5, 1944 the DELTA KING was reclassified as the “Yard Ferryboat Delta King” becoming the YFB-55.

The DELTA KING (YFB-55) and the DELTA QUEEN (YFB-56) served on San Francisco Bay during World War II. Photo by Robert W. Parkinson.

After spending the war years as an accommodations vessel and ferrying troops to various locations around San Francisco Bay, the DELTA KING was stricken from the Naval Register on April 17, 1946. Along with the DELTA QUEEN, they were handed over to the War Shipping Administration and laid up in the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet in the company of 500 other surplus vessels of every description.

A small portion of the Ready Reserve Fleet mothballed at Suisun Bay. Contemporary photo by Shawn J. Dake

The Maritime Commission planned to put the two steamboats up for auction to the highest bidder. The DELTA KING was first to go, and bidders were asked to submit a 25% cash deposit by the afternoon of October 18, 1946. Only two bidders came forward, a group calling itself Southeast Asia Importing & Exporting Co., and Captain Tom Greene representing the Greene Line steamers of Cincinnati, Ohio. Greene bid $26,350 for the DELTA KING. He had inspected both of the boats and decided that either of them would be a great addition to his fleet on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. In excerpts from a letter to Captain Frederick Way he provided a beautiful description of what he found aboard the old boats resting at Suisun Bay:

“There is a grand staircase up to the saloon deck, as you come on the head of the boat, and then the boilers are aft of that again, down in the hold. George Wise was along with [Tom Greene’s wife] Letha and me from St. Louis, and being a good river engineer he knew what to look for, and crawled in the boilers and says they are in fine shape… The saloon or boiler deck has a large observation circle forward called the smoking room or bar. The woodwork interior of this deck is natural grain oak and has fine texture and finish, almost as smooth as a piano. Art glass, stained and leaded, over the observation room windows which are heavy plate. Mahogany and teak decoration; all the window frames are mahogany. The dining room next, runs clear across the boat and passengers can watch the scenery glide by from any table. The grand staircase forward of the dining room beats anything I ever saw including the Waldorf Astoria. The builder tore it down twice getting it right, they say. The lady passengers could really peacock down that staircase in their evening dresses for the Captain’s dinner. It leads up to the ladies lounge which has on it the prettiest carpet I ever saw.”

The Grand Staircase that so impressed Captain Tom Greene. Cincinnati Library photo

Tom Greene was obviously smitten with what he saw and was already envisioning one of the finest steamboats ever constructed sailing with his passengers along the Mississippi River. Sadly perhaps for the DELTA KING, this scenario would belong only to its sister the DELTA QUEEN which would go on to a fabled second career plying new waters far from California. The winning bid for the DELTA KING came in at $60,168, far in excess of what Tom Greene had offered. A month later when bids were opened for the DELTA QUEEN, the only one to come forward was Captain Greene who had upped the ante and won the “Queen” for $46,250. In a twist, that would only be the first of many to come for the DELTA KING, the new Chinese owner turned around and offered the boat to Tom Greene. Apparently without any due diligence, the company thought they were bidding on an ocean-going ship that was capable of making the long voyage across the Pacific to Asia and were shocked to find they owned a flat-bottomed paddlewheel steamboat. Captain Greene had all he could manage with one boat and declined the offer, although his imagination must have pictured the magnificence of both boats sailing again side-by-side. Presumably the Chinese company lost its $15,000 deposit and walked away, as the “King” was again offered at auction by the Maritime Commission.

Interestingly, the River Lines made an attempt to get the boat back in the auction held April 20, 1948. Their high bid of $17,552 was rejected by the Commission as too low. At a third auction held in September the high bid of $24,000 was submitted by a partnership headed by L.G. Wingard who planned to tow the boat north to Puget Sound then on to Alaska for use as a fish cannery. For four years the DELTA KING sat idle as these latest plans and several others faltered. Finally in 1952 the partnership sold the boat to Kitimat Constructors who would use it as a dormitory for a major aluminum plant construction project at Kitimat on the north coast of British Columbia.

The DELTA KING aground at low tide minus engines and paddlewheel. Courtesy of the Delta King.

Before beginning the long ocean tow through the Pacific, the DELTA KING was irreversibly altered. The steam engines and machinery spaces including the paddlewheel were removed and stored at the Fulton Shipyard in Antioch, California. These would later be purchased by the Greene Line as replacement parts for the DELTA QUEEN. The paddlewheel shaft on that boat is still the original one from the DELTA KING. Remaining aboard the “King” would be the boilers and generators which would provide heating and electricity to the vessel in her stationary role. The wartime gray paint finally gave way to a fresh new coat of white, making the old vessel look a bit more like herself, albeit minus the former covered paddlewheel. On April 18th at the end of a tow line, the DELTA KING passed under the Golden Gate Bridge and out to sea. By May 8th it had safely reached its destination and a week later the once proud riverboat was slipped into a man made trench on the high tide, the opening closed and the steamboat essentially became a landlocked building, where it would remain for the next seven years.

Landlocked and snowbound, the DELTA KING as a dormitory for Alcan workers at Kitimat, British Columbia. Courtesy of the Delta King

Against all odds, when the boat was next offered for sale, the plan was to refloat it and bring it back to California. A movement had been started in Stockton, where the “King” had been built to return the boat to its historic home. To that end, John Kessel purchased the DELTA KING for $32,000 with the intention of making it into a hotel, theater, restaurant and museum. Late in the afternoon of April 28, 1959 the DELTA KING passed inbound under the Golden Gate Bridge continuing on to Stockton the next day, seemingly coming full circle from where it had originated 32 years earlier.

The idea of using retired ships and boats as restaurants seldom comes to successful fruition. Grand schemes devolve into failure, usually due to lack of funds, limited knowledge of the complexities of running a ship, even a static one, or legal disputes that tie up development and simply take all the fun out of it. In the case of the DELTA KING all of these things and more happened. As a decade of idleness and neglect passed, even the question of who owned the boat became blurred. Claims seemed to come from every corner ranging from high powered lawyers to plumbers with liens for a few thousand dollars. Previously unheard of people seemed to crawl out of the woodwork.

Going nowhere except toward an uncertain future. Note large windows cut into the hull. Postcard from the collection of Shawn J. Dake

As the hot summer of 1969 began, a group intent on preserving the derelict DELTA KING began hatching a plan to return the boat to Sacramento. The group eventually incorporated as a nonprofit organization called “Riverboat’s Comin’!, Inc.” A week before, through their attorney Geoffrey Wong, a wharfage lien was purchased from the presumed owner of the Stockton property where the “King” was moored. They obtained a letter from him requesting the removal of the riverboat from his property. With this as their only legal standing, the group surreptitiously boarded the DELTA KING on the night of July 19th and had it towed to Sacramento where it received anything but a quiet welcome. The boat tied up at the old River Lines dock just downriver from the Tower Bridge. The event received massive media coverage from newspapers all the way up to the nightly network news, despite having stiff competition from the first moon landing that was occurring at precisely the same time on July 20th. Not surprisingly, a firestorm of legal battles was ignited. Depending on one’s point of view it was either an act of preservation or piracy. Reflecting how crazy things had become, on July 25th, the Riverboat’s Comin’ group staged a party and christening ceremony, attended by Sacramento’s mayor and a large crowd on Tower Bridge, while the same day the boat was arrested by U.S. Marshals. By August 7th the Marshals released the vessel due to lack of payments to keep them aboard and the Riverboat’s Comin’ people returned. They continued fund raising and repairs, then staged Sacramento’s first Dixieland Jazz Festival aboard on October 12th to great success. Despite periodic setbacks it looked like the DELTA KING had found a home in Sacramento.

Historical plaque presented to the DELTA KING following its initial return to Sacramento in 1969. Courtesy of the Delta King.

But by 1973, the good times were over. Courts ruled on the ownership while safety and legal issues continued to arise. On February 16, 1974 the battle was over as the DELTA KING was again hooked to tugs and towed away from Sacramento. The destination was supposed to be San Francisco, but instead the old boat was “hidden” in a marsh near Collinsville where it was left unattended. By summer it was stuck on the muddy bottom and as the high tide rose, the old boat was flooded throughout the hold up to the freight deck. Crews were able to pump out the boat and it was raised and towed to Rio Vista. As big a threat as the flooding had been were the continuing legal issues, which seemed to get bigger and more complex by the day. In short order the new developers ran out of money and declared bankruptcy. Following more years of uncertainty, the boat was again auctioned in 1978, but even that could not be done without controversy. Ultimately a restaurant owner named M.K. Sun won the bidding by offering $35,200. His ultimate intention was to open the boat on the waterfront in San Francisco. The DELTA KING was initially towed to a marina in Richmond, California, then two years later it moved to an inlet near the former Kaiser shipyard. In 1981, M.K. Sun died, sinking his plans. The night of April 3rd, the DELTA KING did too. The boat’s freight deck jutted out above the hull. This got hung up on the dock at high tide and as the tide went out the boat listed to starboard. Water flowed into the lower deck and just as had happened seven years earlier, the “King” filled with water and sank. This time the depth was much greater with the stern settled to 20 feet. Fortunately the bow remained higher, saving the woodwork around the grand staircase and all of the passenger spaces on the upper two decks. The vessel remained soaking in the waters of the bay for 15 months.

The partially sunken DELTA KING viewed from the stern. Courtesy of the Delta King.

After a great deal of effort on June 24, 1982 the DELTA KING was raised from the bottom, dripping and stinking but saved once more. The Sun Family heirs had entered into an option to buy agreement with Robert Taylor of Vancouver, B.C. He was a man who loved ships and had experience with them, but more importantly could find money and support among influential people. His enthusiasm went a long way toward saving the DELTA KING. It was hoped the boat could become an integral part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. But the Park Service continued to put obstacles in the way and previously committed financial backers dropped out. Finally in March and April of 1984 the momentous events that would shape the future for the DELTA KING fell into place. Robert Taylor offered the vessel for sale to a Sacramento architect named Walter Harvey. Harvey was interested but wanted to establish a partnership so he contacted Ed Coyne a real estate developer who had previously done riverfront work in Sacramento. The two inspected the boat docked at Alameda and saw the potential, beyond its sadly decayed appearance. Unfortunately yet another ownership issue developed but was soon resolved. The Sun Family repossessed the vessel in May and entered into a joint venture with the Coyne Family. By June, 1984 it was in the Pacific Dry Dock in Oakland having the hull inspected, which proved to be in excellent condition with more than 50% of the original plating still intact after 57 years in the water. Repairs were done and the hull coated with an epoxy intended to last 50 to 100 years without further drydock visits. A new corporation was formed called Delta King Enterprises, Inc., which consisted of a 30% interest for members of the Sun Family with the remaining 70% belonging to Coyne and Company, Inc., made up of Ed, Mike, Charlie, Christopher and Jeanne Coyne. On the night of July 16th the DELTA KING made its final voyage from San Francisco Bay, up the Sacramento River. A further move on September 26, 1984 took the boat to its old home at the former River Lines dock where a full restoration could begin.

A historic marker designates the site of the old River Lines dock with the steamers DELTA QUEEN and OAKLAND nested together. Photo by Shawn J. Dake

An enormous amount of work lay ahead. The old adage that “a boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money” could not be more true, especially in the case of a formerly sunken riverboat from the 1920’s. But the owner’s grand visions of what the DELTA KING could once again become overshadowed the naysayers who felt the boat was beyond saving. Although it took nearly five years to complete, the original plan to turn the vessel into a floating hotel, restaurant, bar, theater, banquet and conference center were fully realized. Early on, it was decided that the restoration would be as historically accurate as possible. Much of the original woodwork was retained and where it was damaged, new wood was carefully matched. Walter Harvey and his wife Joanna were married onboard in December, 1984, and together they handled the architectural and interior design details. With expenses steadily increasing, the Sun Family decided not to get any more deeply involved and sold out their interest to the Coynes for $300,000. Their 30% share was taken over by the Harveys and in July 1985 the corporation was renamed Riverboat Delta King, Inc. That year the stars seemed to be aligning when Sacramento’s Redevelopment Agency announced plans to revitalize the waterfront of Old Sacramento, including the DELTA KING as part of the plan. A permanent berth was guaranteed just north of the Tower Bridge at the end of K Street.

New permanent berth on the other side of Tower Bridge. Photo by Shawn J. Dake

Meanwhile, work continued at the old River Lines dock south of the bridge until February, 1987 when an unforeseen event forced an early move to the new site. Floods had undermined the traditional home of the Delta boats, collapsing the river wall, cracking the dock beyond repair and threatening the boat. It was quickly moved to safety. A little over a month later on March 20, 1987 the DELTA KING would make its final voyage traveling the last few yards to the new dock that has been its home ever since.

Restored to its original grandeur as the reigning monarch of the Sacramento River. Photo by Shawn J. Dake

Efforts continued to make the “King Of The River” ready to accept guests. The original staterooms were doubled in size by combining two cabins into one. The exterior of those 44 rooms still have the original cabin doors, but now only half of them open.

A refurbished cabin #420 situated at the stern of the former Observation Deck. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.
Cabin doors and wood-framed windows open onto the deck. Photo by Shawn J. Dake
The “Captain’s Quarters” is the largest suite onboard. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.
The Pilothouse still commands a view of the river. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.

The most luxurious accommodation onboard, The Captain’s Quarters, was created by opening up the overhead on the Texas Deck forward so that the Pilothouse was joined with the original Chief Engineer and Captain’s cabins below to form a two deck high suite. Just below, the former Observation Room became the Delta Lounge, renovated to be virtually a twin of the same space on the DELTA QUEEN. The missing leaded glass windows were replaced with stained glass beautifully depicting river scenes.

The Delta Lounge Bar. Photo by Shawn J. Dake
A corner of the former Smoking Room on the Saloon Deck. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.
The Grand Staircase aboard the DELTA KING. Courtesy of the Delta King.
At the foot of the staircase was the purser’s office and the entrance to the restaurant. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.

The Grand Staircase retained much of its original splendor. After cocktails guests can descend to the Pilothouse Restaurant which was restored in the location of the original dining saloon. The former purser’s office at the entrance became the only elevator aboard. Just forward the former Smoking Room serves as an annex to the restaurant and for private functions.

Engines originally designed by the Charles H. Evans Company in 1925 shown in this photo aboard the DELTA QUEEN. Photo by Shawn J. Dake copyright, c. 2007
The same space on the DELTA KING is now the Paddlewheel Room. Photo by Shawn J. Dake c. 2009.

With the engine room and original machinery removed many years before, those spaces presented a clean slate for new development. Within the hull, the Delta King Theater was constructed forward and the multi-function Mark Twain Salon was built just aft of midship. At the aft end of the old freight deck the empty engine space was refashioned into the large Paddlewheel Room with a wall of glass overlooking its namesake. Except there was no paddlewheel as it had been gone since 1952. A new one had to be built from scratch including the huge central shaft surrounded by the signature red-painted planks that make up the buckets and the supporting arms on a sternwheeler.

The rebuilt paddlewheel of the DELTA KING. Photo by Shawn J. Dake c. 2009
The original paddlewheel shaft from the DELTA KING was used as a replacement aboard the DELTA QUEEN. Photo by Shawn J. Dake c. 2007.

Originally the paddlewheel on the DELTA KING was covered to protect passengers against spray, especially in windy San Francisco. Ironically by going through the extra expense to build a new paddlewheel and leaving it open to view, it created one of the only elements that was not wholly authentic to the original appearance of the “King.” The smokestack also had gone missing and a new one had to be created to take its place. The deck house on the bow was also rebuilt, which became the Fort Sutter conference room.

Pilothouse and funnel. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.
Models of the “King and Queen” reside on the former Freight Deck. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.

The remainder of the freight deck became additional conference rooms along the port side with the executive offices to starboard. One deck higher, the original aft Social Hall became the hotel lobby with the linen room being transformed into the reception desk.

The Social Hall in 1927 with stained glass ceiling and French tapestry. Photo by Bob Lodder.
The hotel lobby today. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.

When the Coyne family began the remarkable restoration of the DELTA KING in 1984, the price tag was estimated to run up to $5 million. By the time the work was finished, that amount had ballooned to over $9 million! The results were nothing short of incredible and a historic landmark, virtually given up for dead, had been saved. Five years of hard work culminated in a grand opening that rivaled or surpassed the welcome accorded the DELTA KING when it first arrived in Sacramento in 1927. In an extremely nice gesture, the Delta Queen Steamboat Company supplied the bottle of champagne used for the rechristening. Shortly after 2 o’clock on the sunny afternoon of May 20, 1989 five women instrumental in the boat’s revitalization, Joanna Harvey, Jeanne Coyne and sister-in-laws Terry, Leanne, and Jane Coyne broke that bottle over the steel bow. A thousand balloons took to the air, bands played, whistles blew and that evening fireworks lit the sky. The DELTA KING was back in business.

Welcome Aboard! Photo by Shawn J. Dake.
The classic riverboat contrasts with a modern building at Sacramento. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.

In the autumn of 1989 the Coyne family acquired the remaining interests of Walter and Joanna Harvey to become the sole owners. Without these four brothers and their sister it is doubtful that the DELTA KING would still survive today. Charlie Coyne remains as General Manager. He is very aware of the treasure he protects and where it fits in the history of California. He remarked that with California now being the eighth largest economy in the world, that it all began “on the Sacramento River at Old Sacramento. It was on this very spot that people from the world over landed on schooners from San Francisco, as they sought to make their fortunes in the gold fields.” It would be easy to say that there is no experience in the world like the DELTA KING, but there is one other.

The DELTA QUEEN in 2007. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.

The DELTA QUEEN still survives, in a similar role as a stationary hotel in Chattanooga along the banks of the Tennessee River. Although fully operational, it was forced out of service in 2008 by a U.S. Congress that cared more about political bickering, than the wonder of a steamboat paddling along the rivers of America. Maybe someday, in a more sensible climate it can return again. Remarkable turns of events have surrounded both of these boats throughout their long careers. Both remain, preserved today thanks to the efforts of their watchful caretakers.

Cocktail hour on the Sacramento River. Photo by Shawn J. Dake
Delta King Theater within the hull. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.
The Mark Twain Salon. Note the curvature of the hull and the restored portholes. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.

Today Old Sacramento and the riverfront is once again a lively place. So too is the DELTA KING. On any given day functions ranging from weddings to business meetings are taking place onboard. Hotel guests check in and out of the beautifully refurbished rooms. Professional live theater productions are presented by the Capital Stage company. On Friday and Saturday nights there is also a Murder Mystery Dinner Theater. Very fine dining can still be enjoyed in the same wood-paneled room where passengers once gathered at the start of their journeys. Prices today are a bit higher than the .50 cents to $1.50 range paid by River Lines passengers for entrees, but guests will come away with a memorable dining experience. A Sunday brunch is also offered.

The River Lines Original menu from the 1930’s. Courtesy of the Delta King.
Still in its original location the Dining Saloon is now called the Pilothouse Restaurant. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.

One of the most enjoyable things you can do aboard the DELTA KING today is simply sit on deck, perhaps enjoying a cocktail at the Delta Bar and Grill or relaxing in a chair outside your cabin, if you are lucky enough to be staying overnight. Watching the river flow by it is easy to be transported back to the days when the DELTA KING was the best method to travel down this waterway.

End of another day on the river. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.
A wonderful place to relax on deck and watch the river flow by. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.
California’s golden “King.” Photo by Shawn J. Dake.

Sunset seems to be an especially magical time as you envision the “King” getting ready to turn into the stream at the beginning of another nighttime journey to San Francisco. Following some evening entertainment, back in your cabin the sounds of the river might lull you to sleep. The ambiance of the old riverboat seems to soak into your system. Just by being aboard, you too become part of its history.

The DELTA KING. Photo by Shawn J. Dake

Permanent Location:

DELTA KING Restaurant, Hotel, Entertainment
1000 Front Street (at K)
Old Sacramento, California 95814 USA
Hotel Reservations: (916) 444-5464 or (800) 825-5464
Website: Contact:

Vessel Information:

DELTA KING steamboat

Builder: California Navigation and Improvement Company shipyard at Stockton, California assembled the prefabricated parts and built the wooden superstructure based on plans supplied by the affiliated California Transportation Company and their president Captain A.E. Anderson along with Port Engineer Jim Burns. Steel hull and machinery built by William Denny & Brothers at Dumbarton, Scotland. Constructed between December 28, 1924 and May 20, 1927.

Maiden Voyage: June 1, 1927, San Francisco to Sacramento.

Gross Tonnage: 1,837 tons

Length: 285 feet overall

Beam: 58 feet

Draft: 8 feet approximately (varied depending on conditions and load)

Passengers: As originally built 200 passengers could be accommodated in 96 cabins. In addition dormitory space with 42 berths for men only were located within the forward part of the hull. Additional passengers could be carried without use of cabins. At present, 44 cabins are used as hotel rooms and suites.


There have been many books written about the DELTA QUEEN but only one definitive account includes the DELTA KING. Stan Garvey must be singled out for having written one of the most readable and accurate works on California maritime history. It is still in print and available onboard the DELTA KING and through most booksellers.

Garvey, Stan King & Queen Of The River, The Legendary Paddle-Wheel Steamboats Delta King And Delta Queen 1995 by River Heritage Press.

Mills, Mimi and Tom Burkett The Legendary Delta Queen 1997 by The Delta Queen Steamboat Company

Way, Frederick Jr. The Saga Of The Delta Queen 1951 by Frederick Way, Jr.


Sincere thanks to Charlie Coyne, Tami Caufield and Cheryl Barrera of the DELTA KING. As always, thanks to Martin Cox for helping to pull all the pieces together and truly caring about maritime history in all its many forms.

Published June 2010 copyright Shawn Dake,

Shawn Dake

Shawn Dake

Shawn J. Dake, freelance travel writer and regular contributor to MaritimeMatters, worked in tourism and cruise industry for over 35 years.  A native of Southern California, his first job was as a tour guide aboard the Queen Mary.  A frequent lecturer on ship-related topics he has appeared on TV programs.  Owner of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel agency, he served as President of the local Chapter of Steamship Historical Society of America.  With a love of the sea, he is a veteran of 115 cruises.
Shawn Dake

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