Majestic Still

Showboat Majestic“Mothballing” is a term used to describe putting boats and ships into storage. When theaters close down, they are said to “go dark”. In the very near future, both of these phrases may apply to long time Cincinnati riverfront fixture the Showboat Majestic. It’s the last of its kind. That sort of thing happens around here more than it should. Martha, the last known Passenger Pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. The Delta Queen, the last steamboat carrying overnight passengers, called Cincinnati home before losing an important exemption in 2009. Now it is the last authentic showboat that is shutting down.

Showboat MajesticI put the word “authentic” in that last sentence since there may very well be other boats around on which shows are regularly performed. But the Majestic was built as a showboat and that is what it has always been. In 1923, Captain Thomas Jefferson Reynolds set out with his family on the boat he had built with the help of friends and relatives. For the next three decades or so, the boat would be home to the captain, his wife, and their eleven children, six of whom were born on board. Up to the start of World War II, the Majestic cruised the Ohio River and its tributaries providing welcome entertainment to the many small communities along the way. During the depression, seats at performances were traded for, literally, chickens and eggs. In 1943, the boat was docked in Henderson, West Virginia, while Captain Reynolds worked as a river security agent.

Showboat MajesticAfter the war, changes begun long before were even more apparent. Many of those little river towns now had their own theaters and the residents of those that didn’t had cars to drive to someplace that did. Captain Reynolds kept his family and boat afloat thorough contracts with universities who used the Majestic in summer theater projects. Reynolds died in 1959 just months after selling the showboat to Indiana University. The boat spent a couple of years, still working, tied up in Jeffersonville, Indiana, after the Safety at Sea Act of 1965 brought an end to traveling the river with cast and crew aboard. In 1967, the City of Cincinnati bought the boat and a long run of University of Cincinnati student performances began. Since 1991, the floating theater has been operated by Cincinnati Landmark Productions. More detailed histories of the Showboat Majestic can be found on CLP’s website and elsewhere. Those plaques on the bulkhead proclaim the boat an Historic Place and a National Historic Landmark.

My own first contact with the Majestic came early in the University Of Cincinnati era when my wife and her sisters, undoubtedly through some UC contacts, organized an on board birthday party for their mother. The family did not buy out the theater but did buy a few rows and guests were able to hang out after the performance eating cake and drinking sangria. I attended another performance or two in the 1970s then sort of forgot about the theater. Oh, I knew it was there, I saw it often enough, but I took little notice of it until reminded of it by someone on another boat. It was July 2009 and I was staying on the Delta Queen for the first time. The historic steamboat had docked in Chattanooga just a month before and many of the traveling workforce, including entertainers Laura Sable and Bill Wiemuth, were still aboard. As we bemoaned the status of the Queen, Laurel pointed out the treasure that Cincinnati still had with the Majestic. I did attend a performance on the showboat early the next season but Wednesday’s was my first since then and apparently my last.

Showboat MajesticThe show was fantastic. Showboat Follies! contains glimpses of all aspects of Showboat Majestic‘s history with plenty of Cincinnati’s past and present mixed in. It took some incredibly creative people to put it together and it was delivered by a wonderfully talented cast. The performance today, September 29, 2013, will be the last for Cincinnati Landmark Productions on board the Majestic. It is not because I haven’t attended more shows. They have been operating at over 80% capacity for some time now. A new theater, which can be used year round, is being built and will allow the company to deal more with performance issues and less with keeping their theater from sinking or floating away. Leaving the Majestic has not been an easy decision and it is obvious that the boat will be missed. Near the end of Wednesday’s show, CLP’s Artistic Director, Tim Perrino, came on stage to talk with the audience about the move. I sensed approaching tears more than once while he spoke and that was with four more shows on the schedule. I predict a lot of wet cheeks this afternoon.

Showboat MajesticMartha won’t be back but both the Delta Queen and the Showboat Majestic could be. The City of Cincinnati has no intention of scrapping the Majestic and hopes that a new tenant can be found. In a strange twist, the US House of Representatives voted to restore the Delta Queen‘s Safety at Sea exemption just hours before I sat down for Wednesday night’s show. The bill is expected to pass the Senate and get the President’s signature. A cruising Delta Queen is still a long long way off but it is a whole lot closer than it has been in a long long time. The picture is of the Delta Queen docked next to the Showboat Majestic during the steamboat’s last visit to Cincinnati in October, 2008.

My Wheels – Chapter 7
1961 Renault 4CV

Renault 4CVHaving that long white Chevy convertible on campus sure was cool but I knew it was a fleeting thing. A high school buddy would also be attending college in Cincinnati when I returned for my sophomore year and the two of us decided to share an apartment somewhere between our two schools. This meant I needed, or at least could justify, a car but it wouldn’t be that lovely Impala. Reason number one, of course, was that I only owned half and there was no way I could afford to buy out my sister. Another was that, even at a quarter a gallon, feeding that V8 was a challenge for a perpetually broke college student. Sis bought all of the Chevy and I bought a semi-running 1961 Renault 4CV.

I bought it from a high school friend and I really wish I could remember how he came by it. This is not the sort of vehicle high school kids in rural Ohio typically lusted after. I got it cheap because of the semi-running part. The rings were pretty much shot and I doubted the small trunk would hold enough cans of oil to get me back to Cincinnati. I worked out a deal with a mechanic where I would do the grunt work and he would handle the finer points of installing new rings for a greatly reduced price. By mid summer I had a fine running five year old imported sedan.

Fine running is, of course, relative and so too, in some sense, is the five year old bit. Though this particular specimen was just five years old, the 4CV had been in production since 1947 with a design that started in 1941. The 4CV name comes from four taxable horsepower. Stateside, the earliest models were rated at 23 horsepower so I guess one French horse equals 5.75 American horses. My car was from the final year of production and benefited from all fourteen years of improvements. It had 28 American horses. The engine and 3-speed transmission were in the rear. First gear was unsynchronized and the floor mounted shifter made the one in a VW Beetle feel like a Hurst. Incidentally, the three previous My Wheels 3-speeds, ’53 Chevy, ’54 Merc, and ’52 Ford were also unsynchronized in first as was standard at the time. Twenty-eight horsepower and Cincinnati hills just made it a lot more memorable.

Memorable, in fact, is a great description of this car. I only owned it for six months or so but I’ve got a ton of memories. In Cincinnati, it quickly became known as Supercar because it was anything but. At 40+ miles per gallon and easily parked dimensions, it was a popular ride for small — absolute max of four — group outings. When coming to a stop and the mood was right, someone might shout “air brakes” which signaled those in the front to hold open the suicide doors to help slow the car. The gas tank held just over seven gallons. It was a time when gas stations often gave away drinking glasses and other premiums “with an 8 gallon fill-up”. (A few years later, graffiti at a campus construction site, written in two installments, read “Free Angela Davis”… “with an 8 gallon fill-up” but that’s another story.) Had the 4CV been more popular, there might have been a class action suit in there somewhere but, as it was, I never got a free glass with the Renault.

Renault 4CVThe car pictured at the top of the article is not mine although it looks pretty much the same. About the only difference is the wheels and I’m going to use pictures of a car at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville to talk about them and a few other items. My car had wheels like the one at left. A bolt in the center of the chrome hubcap held it in place to cover the three, yes three, lugs. A friend who sometimes borrowed the car eventually bought it and I can’t remember whether this story comes from before or after the transfer in ownership. In either case, he had a flat one night while driving the car near the UC campus. As he fumbled with the French jack a couple of football player types came by and simply held up the car while he changed the tire.

Renault 4CVRenault 4CVZooming in on a couple of spots on the Lane car will help in describing some of the 4CV’s other unique features. Look closely at the bumper in the first picture. Notice that the hole in the bumper lines up perfectly with the hole in the body which lines up perfectly with the end of the engine’s crankshaft. Yep, a folding crank, possibly the same one that worked the jack, fit through those holes and could turn the engine. And yes, I did use it to start the car on occasion. In fact, I used it several times on one particular drive until I figured out that a short in a cable was draining the 6 volt battery.

That’s a radiator cap in the middle of the chrome wings on the rear deck. The engine was water cooled. The climate control system consisted of a little door under the rear seat and a toggle switch on the dash. Opening the door and flipping the switch caused some air to be pushed through the opening. Since the air passed through the radiator, it was a few degrees above ambient and stayed that way for as much as an inch beyond the little door. Those French. What a great sense of humor.

Renault 4CVOn the Lane car, the original cap has been replaced with a stamped metal one that actually looks like a radiator cap. The cap on my car was big and chrome and looked like the one at left. Full service gas stations were the norm but I had to be extremely careful with them to prevent my radiator being topped up with regular. The gas tank fill tube was inside the engine compartment. I once got a parking ticket on the OSU campus in Columbus. Since that big chrome radiator cap was the only thing on the outside of the car with any lettering, the ticket identified the vehicle make as Tourner et Bloquer.

Renault 4CVHere is one more picture of the Lane car taken through the rear window. The wipers are in their off position. The front windows actually rolled down though the rear ones just slid sideways to clear half of the framed area. My roommate and I once took a fairly long road trip in the Renault. By rearranging the rear seat and the front passenger’s seat, we made a “bed” where one of us could sleep while the other drove. In some now forgotten small Indiana town, I almost got a speeding ticket while Dale, my roommate, slept.

It was late at night and I had essentially passed through the town when the flashing light came on behind me. An uncle who spent a lifetime in law enforcement always advised getting out of the car if pulled over. The officer would feel safer if he could see you in the open with both hands visible. That always made sense to me but somewhere along the line it became just about the worse thing you can do. But it was still a good thing in 1966 and that’s what I did. The man in the car motioned for me to come back and get in the front seat beside him. He was an older fellow who wrote in a small lined notebook as he asked me where I was from, where I was going, and similar questions. When he learned that I lived in Cincinnati, he told me that he had once lived there, too. His family had moved away not long after the canal was closed down. That was, he thought he remembered, about the same time the buffalo nickle came out. (Both happened in 1913.) About that time he stopped writing and after a few more questions tore the page from the notebook and wadded it up. “Guess you won’t be coming through here again very soon”, he said. “No use giving you this ticket.” I’ve got a feeling that talking to me just made the old guy’s night go a little quicker and at the time I was certainly glad to move on without a ticket, even one handwritten on notebook paper. Looking back, though, it would be kind of cool to say I got a speeding ticket in a Renault 4CV. Can’t be many of those I bet.

My Wheels – Chapter 6 — 1959 Chevrolet

Book Review
Hoosier Tour
Dennis & Terri Horvath

hoosiertour_cvrCarl Fisher was a busy man in 1913. His Prest-O-Lite Company and his automobile dealership were both going great guns, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway he co-founded looked like it might amount to something, the Ocean-to-Ocean Rock Highway he had proposed in September of 1912 was taking off, and then there was the Indiana Automobile Manufacturers’ Association.

In the early years of the industry, Indiana was second only to Michigan in number of automobile manufacturers. Several of them cooperated in a 1911 four state promotional tour that was so successful they organized the IAMA and another four state tour in 1912. In 1913 they were ready for something bigger. The result was the Indiana-Pacific Tour that went from Indianapolis to San Francisco then down the coast to end at Los Angeles. Carl Fisher was part of the tour that left Indianapolis on July 1, 1913, the same day that the Lincoln Highway Association, which is what his Rock Highway proposal had led to, was incorporated. That coincidence of dates and a connection with the troublesome Colorado loop of the Lincoln Highway were essentially the only details of the IAMA tour I knew of. Now, thanks to Dennis and Terri Horvath, I know a lot more.

Hoosier Tour: A 1913 Indiana to Pacific Journey is not filled with flowery prose or lots of humor. That’s not how the Horvaths write. Neither is it filled with terse sentences and clipped descriptions. It is filled with an enjoyable and accurate account of the complete tour and the lead up to it. It tells of the men and machines on the tour and gives a hint of the tour’s impact on the acceptance of automobiles and the Good Roads Movement.

After a couple of chapters describing the IAMA and its planning for the tour, Hoosier Tour follows the Indiana vehicles across the country. Though not organized as such, the book is something of a group diary in that a day’s beginning and end points are usually mentioned along with highlights and lowlights.

This was a huge event in its day. It included eighteen cars and two trucks from fourteen manufacturers. Several journalists and a former Indianapolis mayor rode along. One car was driven by the winner of the inaugural Indianapolis 500, Ray Harroun. Several governors climbed aboard when the tour entered their state and rode along until it exited. Virtually every cluster of building on the route demanded a visit and presented the participants with gifts ranging from watermelons to free gas.

As an advertisement for Indiana built automobiles, the tour was a complete success. Not one car dropped out for mechanical reasons. It also performed well in regards to another stated purpose, boosting the Good Roads Movement. Aside from the high profile tour raising awareness considerably, it triggered improvement along the route it followed. Every locale wanted to make a good impression and the book tells of many improvements made just days ahead of the tour’s arrival.

One reason to impress was the belief, held by many, that Fisher was using the tour to evaluate the intended route of the Lincoln Highway. He denied any official connection between the route of the Indiana-Pacific Tour and the Lincoln Highway and much of the tour route was not even close to the path that would be announced in September but the belief was not totally without merit. Those familiar with Lincoln Highway history may know that the highway, as originally announced, did not enter Colorado but that a “Colorado Loop” was quickly added in response to pressure from the state. After reading the Horvaths’ account of the tour’s visit to Denver, which included a parade and a real brass band, it is rather easy to see why Colorado had expectations.

Even though the Indiana-Pacific Tour would continue on to Los Angeles, reaching San Francisco made good the title and there were great celebrations. A parade greeted them on arrival though the Horvaths do not say whether or not it included another brass band. Banquets, tours of the recently rebuilt city, and a stop at Cliff House kept the tourists busy for about three days. The book follows them down the coast to Los Angeles where most of the tourists boarded a train for the trip home. With the tourists back in Indianapolis, the final chapter touches on what followed for the Indiana automotive industry. Next are several pages of photos from the tour and appendices listing the tour’s people and vehicles.

There is little question that the Indiana-Pacific Tour should be better known than it is. It demonstrated the ability of automobiles, particularly Indiana built automobiles, to travel long distances and it brought nationwide attention to the value of good roads. It deserves to be more than a footnote to the Lincoln Highway and this book should help with that.

A lot has changed in one hundred years. It is a little sad that we can no longer purchase an Indiana built Stutz Bearcat but it is a good thing that we no longer have to dodge thrown ears of corn as the driver of the Stutz on the tour had to do after frightening a farmer’s horses.

Author’s bookstore here.

Hoosier Tour: A 1913 Indiana to Pacific Journey, Dennis E. Horvath and Terri Horvath, AGG Publishing, 2013, paperback, 5 x 8 inches, 114 pages, ISBN 978-1490403267

Trip Peek #11
Trip #24
East End of 62

Me at Niagara FallsThis picture is from the my 2004 East End of 62 road trip. It started as a business trip and the first two days of the journal cover my time in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. I finished my work early on the third day and set out for Niagara Falls. The picture was taken the next day on the Maid of the Mist after a safe but noisy and wet dance with the falls. I’d recently developed a real interest in US-62 and Niagara is where it starts. I followed it all the way to a previously driven stretch in Kentucky before turning home. It would be five years before I was able to drive the rest of the route to El Paso, Texas.

Trip Pic Peek #10 — Trip #72 — Christmas on the Alafia

Trip Pic Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the trip journal it is from.

Now That’s Art

Joe Morgan WeekendCincinnati got a new statue Saturday. There was a big unveiling ceremony with an estimated 3,000 people in attendance. Most of those 3,000 people were standing directly in front of me. I’d heard of the planned unveiling some time ago and probably even considered attending some time ago. But it never really made it onto my agenda until Friday night.

The statue is of Joe Morgan, second baseman of the Big Red Machine. If you didn’t already know that, I’m not sure I even want you reading this but maybe you just forgot so here’s a little refresher. The Big Red Machine was the remarkable Cincinnati Reds team of the 1970s. Between 1970 and 1976 they won their division five times, their league four times, and the World Series twice. Those World Series wins were back to back in 1975 and 1976. In both of those years, Joe Morgan was the National League MVP. So seeing a statue of him unveiled would certainly be a cool thing but, on the other hand, I didn’t think it cool enough to fight a crowd to see something I could probably have all to myself on most afternoons in a month or so.

Then, on Friday, I’m out playing trivia with the Reds game on TV. It’s live trivia so the TV sound is off. It is the start of a Joe Morgan weekend and there is a pregame ceremony. I’m watching it out of the corner of my eye and eventually realize that, one by one,  Joe’s old teammates are trotting out on the field. Soon the entire Big Red Machine starting lineup is there. The most astonishing thing about this is that it includes Pete Rose who has been banned for life from participating in any aspect of Major League Baseball. He was being permitted on the field so that Joe’s celebration could be complete. Seeing the Great Eight, as that group was called, was cool enough to justify dealing with a crowd.

Joe Morgan WeekendJoe Morgan WeekendJoe Morgan WeekendSo I fought the crowd and the crowd won. My resolve to go wasn’t nearly as strong when I woke up as when I went to bed. I alternately talked myself into and out of going until it reached the now-or-never point. It once again sunk in that seeing the Great Eight together just might not ever happen again. I left home with just enough time to get there before the unveiling. The first picture is what I saw when I arrived. The second is what I saw after I had worked myself to the other side of the crowd. When things actually started, I realized that, not only were all those heads between me and the speakers, so was the tent. I had incorrectly assumed they would be in an open space to the left. I could, every once in a while, see one of the speakers under the tent covering and over the bobbing heads and I’ve included a picture of Joe to prove it.

Joe Morgan WeekendDrat! I had not actually seen the Great Eight. However, there would be another ceremony of some sort preceding the afternoon game with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The game was sold out but I got a ticket for a bad seat for a so so price from a scalper. I walked around the area and grabbed a sandwich. The crowd that initially hid the statue (shown at right) eventually thinned out so I could take the picture at the top of this article.

Joe Morgan Weekendjmwe07jmwe08I misjudged the time and the ceremony was already underway when I entered the stadium. I made it just in time to see Pete being introduced and Joe soon followed. The other six were already on the field. There was, of course, more to the Big Red Machine than these eight players but they were the heart of it. Of the 88 games that all of the Great Eight played in 1975 and 1976, they won 69 or nearly 80%.

Joe Morgan WeekendJoe Morgan WeekendThere were a few speeches and even the unveiling of a miniature of the life size statue outside the stadium. The ever classy Morgan talked much more about his teammates than about himself.

Joe Morgan WeekendJoe Morgan WeekendWhen it was time for the ceremonial first pitch, all eight players moved to their positions. The 69 year old Morgan had no trouble getting the ball to the plate and the 65 year old Johnny Bench had no trouble catching it. Then, as they walked toward each other, Bench flipped the ball back to Morgan who casually one-handed it. Then the Big Red Machine gathered for one more meeting by the pitcher’s mound.

Joe Morgan WeekendJoe Morgan WeekendAt the end of the day, when I looked through the pictures I had taken, I noticed that Bench’s star, in the line where the Great Eight had stood, was turned sideways. Had someone goofed when they laid them out? Had it been accidentally kicked around as the players waved to the crowd? Nope. A check of earlier photos revealed the truth. Bench had turned the star himself when the players moved to their chairs. Johnny is a joker.

Joe Morgan WeekendJoe Morgan WeekendThere is an awful lot of Cincinnati history in these two murals at Great American Ball Park. For one thing, the mosaics are reminiscent of those that once hung in Union Terminal and have since been moved to the airport. Sadly, those are once again in danger as the building they are in is slated for demolition. Secondly, there is the suspension bridge in the background. The bridge officially opened January 1, 1867. It’s still there and can be seen from the current ball park. One mural is of the 1869 Red Stockings, the world’s first fully professional baseball team. Note that the bridge is correctly shown without the steel trusses that were added in the 1890s. The other is of the Big Red Machine, the same eight men who were on the field today. The Red Stockings had a 65-0 record in 1969. In the seven seasons between 1970 and 1976, the Big Red Machine had a record of 683-443.

With the game tied 3-3, I left after eight innings. The Reds won in the tenth. That’s when the Reds latest speedster, Billy Hamilton, scored from second, which he had stolen, on a Todd Frazier single. Today was the thirty-ninth anniversary of another Reds win over the Dodgers. During the 1970s, the Reds-Dodgers rivalry was one of the biggest in baseball. Joe Morgan was playing with a sprained ankle on September 7, 1974 so wouldn’t be stealing any bases. Instead, he beat the Dodgers with a two-run eighth-inning homer.

My Wheels – Chapter 6
1959 Chevrolet

1959 Chevrolet adThe advertisement at right is the fourth one on my wall and for the first time I really am talking about exactly the car pictured in the ad. The twist this time is that it was only half mine. My sister is almost exactly two years younger than me so she was turning sixteen when I was graduating. Having a car wasn’t quite as important for girls as for boys but it was still a good thing and that was especially true for kids, like us, living outside of town. We had each come into a few hundred dollars and I convinced her that we should combine resources and get a really cool car. We’d share it for the rest of the summer then, when I headed off for college in the fall, it would be all hers except for the occasional weekend when I came home for a visit. We looked at quite a few cars, including 1958 and ’59 four passenger Thunderbirds, before settling on a white 1959 Impala convertible. I have the number $750 stuck in my head and I imagine that’s what we each contributed. It would have sold for something over $3500 when it was new and $1500 for the six year old  car sounds about right.

The 1959 Chevrolet is one of my all time favorite automobiles and I really don’t believe it is because I once owned half of one. U.S. auto designers went crazy in the 1950s. Fins were in and they just kept getting taller until culminating in the towering blades on the 1959 Cadillac. Those ridiculous appendages are one of the most widely recognized automobile features ever and scream 1950s louder than almost anything else. The Chevy’s fins were no less extreme but, at least in my opinion, they had a lot more style. The Caddy was a fearsome projectile; The Chevy a graceful bird. Sorry. The prose is getting almost as silly as the fins but the truth is I like the smoothly arched fins that Chevrolet sported in 1959. The car looked like something an artist had created without constantly being told to get rid of these, add more of those, and straighten out that. The illusion was gone the next year. Horizontal wings were still around on the 1960 model but they were a crude caricature of those of ’59; Straight lines replaced the graceful arches and boring round lenses from the parts bin replaced the big red cat eye tail lights.

chev59Getting back to my, I mean our, Chevy, you don’t have to imagine anything different from the car in the photo. That’s not our car but it could be. White with red interior and black top. 283 V8 with Powerglide automatic transmission. As we had planned, the car stayed with my sister while I lived in an on campus dormitory in Cincinnati — mostly. I did take to car with me for the last few weeks of the school year and I no doubt felt like one really cool dude. I don’t recall specific issues but the joint ownership thing came to an end that summer. For one thing, I decided I wanted a car with me for the next school year. I’m sure I didn’t have the money to buy out my sister and going with something that got a little better gas mileage seemed like a good idea. My sister became sole owner of the Impala but not its sole driver. I never did know all the details but there was at least one wreck when someone else was driving. I don’t believe the car was actually totaled but there was enough damage that the car went off to a new home.

chev59_bkI’ve always liked this publicity picture. It emphasizes the car’s unique appearance and offers a hint at what it might be like in the front seat. I remember what it was like in the front seat. The hood was far from short — this was a full size American cruiser — but it could seem that way by comparison with the rest of the car. With the top down, the view in the mirror was of a rear deck that reached to the horizon and extended all the way across it.

My Wheels – Chapter 5 — 1952 Ford