The River Queen ferried passengers between Johnson’s Beach and Rio Nido, a distance of more than one mile. I have used this scene in a couple of my historical fiction novels–Memories That Linger and Stumptown Daze–remembering those childhood adventures that often got us into a lot of trouble. But in reality, the banks of the lower reaches of the Russian River near Guerneville in rural Sonoma County were relatively safe in those days, at least in the fifties.
My father would drop my mother, two sisters and myself off for the entire summer while he visited on the weekends from his job in San Francisco. Relatives and friends would join us for the wholesome fun that this vacation wonderland had to offer. The feeling of freedom was welcomed with open arms by kids of all ages. We rode our bicycles through the redwood canyons until supper time after which we would listen to a live band at one of the five local dance halls. The times began to change with the introduction of 1960 and the radical changes of the protest movement. Charles Manson, LSD, cabin squatters, and rage invaded the area, leaving a legacy of torment and confusion. But we always had the River Queen.
River Queen, A Brief History:
From the late forties to the late sixties, Captain M.B. “Bid” Greene offered a leisurely cruise on the Russian River between Guerneville and Rio Nido. The voyage cost ten cents one way, fifteen cents round trip. To the delight of his passengers, “Cruising Down the River” was played over and over until journey’s end. Bid’s wife would accompany him, sitting directly behind the wheel, knitting or reading a favorite book. One of my favorite memories is riding aboard the River Queen to the Independence Day celebration at Johnson’s, which was usually held on any day but July 4th to take advantage of a pyrotechnic’s discount. After disembarking, the family would secure a place on the pebbled shore and watch a fireworks display that seemed to literally rain down upon us. With the finale, we would rush back to our captain to claim a seat for the return trip to Rio Nido. Bid Green died in Sebastopol, California, on October 2nd, 1978. He will always be remembered for his broad smile and gracious spirit.