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Bradley Hilltopics

Summer 2005 • Volume 11, Issue 3

Rollin' on the river

by Nancy Ridgeway

As the bright red paddlewheel of the Spirit of Peoria churns through the waters of the Illinois River, the words to “Proud Mary” seem to spill over the waves. Life seems “nice and easy” as worries are left at the dock when passengers board for a relaxing riverboat cruise.

Big wheel keep on turnin‘
Proud Mary keep on burnin‘
And we’re rollin‘, rollin‘
Rollin‘ on the river*

On a sunny May morning, Captain Alex Grieves ’92, decked out in a navy blue uniform and crisp white captain’s hat, welcomes a group of children and chaperones as they board the Spirit of Peoria for a field trip. The cruise offers students both a hands-on history lesson, as they experience a mode of transportation popular in the 1800s, and an environmental lesson, as they gain appreciation for the beauty of the river. Some teachers add a lesson on commerce, as they talk about yesteryear’s businessmen selling wares from the riverboat and how today’s barges haul various goods along the floating highway.

While piloting a paddlewheeler seems like a quaint career, Alex puts his experience behind the wheel into today’s terms. “Piloting a paddlewheeler is almost like playing a video game. The wind and the current of the water change the way we have to dock and to pilot. It’s a different job every day.”

Alex and Heather GrievesHis wife Heather Stone Grieves ’92 laughs and interjects, “It’s a big kid’s toy.”
When the Grieves accepted this business venture, Alex attended the River School in Memphis, Tennessee. “I learned the rules of the river. I have a U.S. Coast Guard license for 100-ton vessels. It’s almost like an apprenticeship. You have to train for 360 eight-hour days on a vessel the size you want to pilot.”

The Spirit of Peoria, with its festive trim and twin smokestacks, is reminiscent of the “floating wedding cake” design. Many fraternity and sorority formals, high school proms, wedding receptions, corporate parties, and field trips are hosted on the riverboat. In addition, sightseeing cruises, overnight excursions, weekend dinner cruises, gospel cruises, and holiday shows also are offered. Alex estimates the Spirit of Peoria makes about 150 excursions carrying approximately 25,000 passengers each year.

The Grieves began leasing the boat from the City of Peoria in 1994 and purchased it in 1996. Heather previously rode along on every cruise, selling candy and helping in other ways. Now that they have four children, she stays involved by doing the accounting at home. An art major, Heather says, “It’s a good thing I took some accounting. I earned A’s in it. I really enjoy it.”

Maneuvering the boat as it docks, Alex concludes, “It’s hard to get off the river once you’ve been hooked. I grew up on the water; I loved to water ski. It’s different piloting this boat, because it’s 50 feet out of the water and travels seven miles per hour.”

For more information visit the Spirit of Peoria. Go>


*John Fogerty, “Proud Mary“

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