The dreamers and the doers make a difference for a community. So I felt nostalgic when word came back in October that Richard J. Lynn, 88, had passed away. His Missouri River Queen touched port in Platte County some, although his influence was felt throughout Kansas City and perhaps beyond.
Lynn operated various cruise boats on the Missouri River in the Kansas City area. Among the last and best known was the three-decker Missouri River Queen. Whether the old-time looking wooden paddles on the stern wheel moved the boat or simply rotated in the water while diesel-powered propellers moved the boat I do not remember for sure.
But for perception being reality, it looked and felt like an old-time riverboat.
When Missouri voters approved “riverboat” gambling in the early 1990s, many living west of Columbia had been on dinner or party cruises on the Missouri River Queen. The boat was a tourist draw and a haven for groups looking for an unusual way to host special events.
I recall boarding once at Parkville over gangplanks. The Queen tied up at the big mooring anchors in English Landing Park, moorings probably installed for shipping barge tie-offs. On another time, I boarded at Kaw Point in Kansas City, Kan., as the
Lynn family last ran their operation from there, but the upstream run went past Parkville.
The city was always one of the prettiest sights during the cruise.
To be on the upper deck on a summer night was special. The Missouri River bottoms are wide and the sky above big, especially when no clouds block the stars. Bluffs and banks seem impressive. Beneath the boat, the river gurgles and churns.
But on a boat that big, all seems safe.
These were party cruises so beverage consumption certainly lightened the mood, but to be on the river on a boat that felt somewhat like an 1800s riverboat was also part of the fun. The crew was always professional with prescribed routines to follow.
A trip was not unlike an airline flight with announcements, rules and instructions on what to do in case of emergency. Only on this trip you could walk around, you weren’t crammed into a confined space, and the plan was to get off where you got on.
This is what voters thought they were getting when they approved riverboat gambling in the early 1990s.
The first gambling casinos actually did cruise the river. Voters somehow felt the forbidden fruit of gambling felt less threatening in the middle of the river. Plus they thought they were getting a chance to ride around on the river in boats that harkened of the steamboat era. Perhaps even tourists would come to ride the boats and not even gamble.
I rode along with the captain on one of the early gambling boats. I got to pull the cord that sounded the big horn on top, just like pulling into port circa 1857.
But soon after gambling began, the industry began crying that the river was unsafe and expensive. Suddenly state law was changed so it was ok to float boats in coffer cells — essentially big tubs — so boats were on the water but didn’t have to ply the river.
Riverboats went away. I’m not even sure if the floating in a pit part is required now. Riverboats reappeared briefly and then were gone.
Yet that pull of the boats helped persuade voters to approve gambling decades ago. Riverside, Mo., perhaps would not have all its improvements paid today without the Argosy Casino money if not for the influence of the Lynn family’s cruise operations.
They helped sell people on the river.
Family members say Richard Lynn loved the river. He must have.
The river rises and falls due to water released from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dams upstream. Although at times, rains pump water into the river and cause sudden rises. The river can be full of trash and logs after heavy precipitation. Ice flows arrive in winter. Low water has been a problem at times, especially in winter.
Lynn mastered all this and operated a cruise boat where no one else dared. Now you can still float on the river. If you need help, check out kcriverrun.com — where Randy White offers guided canoe and kayak trips on the river. White helped out with a Platte County 175th Anniversary event and can put you on the Big Muddy.
But I miss the chance for a carefree ride up and down the river on a cruise boat.
I suppose costs such as fuel, maintenance and staff keep another person from stepping forward to offer the service. Lynn began his career when diesel and insurance was far more affordable than today. He also started cruising the river before digital entertainment became such a distraction for the public’s time and money.
Sometimes, one individual’s daydreams and dedication enrich a broad community, and when they’re gone, the community never recovers that piece.
I’m going to be an optimist and say that the Missouri River holds history and is powerful, so another dreamer and doer will appear to provide river cruises. But it may be in another century hence.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.