The Old Bay Line & Captain Chapman aboard the Steamboat City of Richmond Old Point Comfort to Baltimore, 1944The End of my Summer Vacation By Dianne Jordan
I loved the smell of creosote from the wharf as the late afternoon sunset behind the steamer while the last passengers were boarding. As an eight year old climbing the gangplank to the second deck it always brought that extra thrill of excitement as we began another overnight trip to Baltimore.
My mother and I visited my grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins on the way home to Adrian, Michigan on the B&O train at the end of every summer spent at our cottage at Gloucester Point on the York River, and this was my favorite part of the trip.
The whistle sounded as we pulled away from the pier in front of the Chamberlin Hotel, moving into the channel and up the Chesapeake Bay, as the Purser tipped his cap and handed Mother a small envelope with the ship’s logo, inviting us to join the Captain’s table for dinner.
I could never sit still until the bong, bong, bong sounded for the evening meal, and I ran all over the boat while my mother settled into our cabin. We finally headed to the dining room, an elegant setting that looked like something from a Hollywood musical. The wide steps with gleaming wood and velvet carpeting led us down ten or twelve steps to the dining room with its formal arrangement. Crystal and china were arranged on the tables for the first course, and silvery place settings and flickering candles set the scene for a festive dinner. I can still see this scene in my mind’s eye after all these years. I felt like a princess.
After dinner the grown-ups settled in on the main deck for cocktails and “horse-racing”, both legal activities since we had left the Virginia State line behind, and all of its restrictions about alcohol and gambling.
In the meantime, the younger children ran pell mell down to the second deck where the recreation room waited. There were ping pong tables, board games and trays of sugary desserts and cokes which stoked our high energy even higher.
But the main attraction was slot machines! The long banks of brightly colored “one-armed bandits” beckoned to us as surely as if they had been alive. My mother had given me a little red change purse full of nickels, and I ran straight to my favorite spot.
I was not as tall as the others, but I could put the nickels in all by myself.
I dropped a coin into the slot and watched as it disappeared and fell with a clunk into the bottom of the grate. It took all of my strength to pull down the handle, and I gazed at the wheels as they began to turn, hypnotized by the sound and the rainbow blur
until, at last, they slowed down and each wheel clicked to a stop. I held my breath and waited for the last cherries, bells and bars to line up and….jackpot! Dozens of nickels poured from the basket and rolled out onto the floor until they came to a stop against the deck chairs and walls on all sides. We ran to scoop them up, and kneeled down in a circle to count what looked like a small fortune; more than ten dollars! After racing upstairs to show our parents, we spent the rest of the evening talking about how we would spend it!
The perfect end to another summer. FYI:
The Old Bay Line had only three ships in service, when it ended in 1962.
The City of Richmond was sold, but sank just off South Carolina while being towed tothe Virgin Islands, in 1964.
The City of Norfolk was idled until 1966, towed to New Jersey and scrapped.
The District ofColombia was scrapped.
The Baltimore Steam Packet Co. (Old Bay Line) provided overnight passenger and mail service* on the
Chesapeake Bay primarily between Baltimore, MD and Norfolk, VA from 1840-1962. Read More Features
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