Visitors to North Idaho almost were deprived of a popular tourist attraction this summer – a Mississippi sternwheeler replica that offers cruises on the Spokane River from June through September.
The River Queen cruise boat is owned by Red Lion Hotels and almost was docked for good this year after extensive rusting was discovered on its hull during routine maintenance inspections in the fall, said Pam Scott, the company’s director of corporate communications. Scott said Red Lion decided the cruises were too popular to end and is paying $35,000 to have the boat repaired.
Red Lion hired Sam Landrum and his crew at Lake City Marine Service in Post Falls to cut out and replace an 18-foot-long section of rusted steel hull. It is an arduous task requiring multiple inspections by the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure seaworthiness, Landrum said.
“When you talk about people’s lives on the boat, you don’t want the bottom to fall out,” Landrum said. “So they’re very strict. When you’ve got an inspected vessel, it’s not like your pleasure boat.”
After cutting out the rusted hull, Landrum will replace the steel, weld it back together and then paint the bottom to help prevent additional rusting. In addition, he said, the boat will be scheduled for more frequent painting to help preserve it.
“A boat like this is a maintenance nightmare,” Landrum said. “I’ve been working on this boat since it got here. It’s kind of a love-hate relationship.”
The River Queen was built in LaCrosse, Wis., in 1990 and sailed the upper Mississippi out of St. Cloud, Minn., until it was purchased by Red Lion Templin’s Hotel in 1999.
The boat was dismantled and trucked to North Idaho, where Landrum helped assemble and launch it. He also has captained it over the years. The captain now is Diana Klybert.
Landrum said the repair work should be complete by early May, in time for the tourism season.