Paddlewheel boat a popular Tahoe attraction |

Paddlewheel boat a popular Tahoe attraction

Elaine Goodman

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Soon after taking a job playing Tahoe Tessie on the Tahoe Queen, college student April Carpenter figured out a way to keep cool beneath the big green sea serpent costume.

Carpenter removed the stuffing from a life vest and replaced it with ice packs, which are chilled before she straps on the vest under the cumbersome costume.

Dressed as Tessie, Carpenter greets passengers as they board the Queen for the Family Fun cruise from Ski Run Marina to Emerald Bay. She interacts with children on board and turns pages during a 20-minute story time.

Carpenter is part of a crew that keeps one of Lake Tahoe’s most popular attractions running smoothly.

During a cruise earlier this month, she shared some of Tessie’s secrets.

Don’t tell the kids, but sometimes Tessie is a man – like on a recent day when Carpenter got stuck in traffic and couldn’t get to work on time.

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“Guys do play Tessie when there’s an occasional emergency,” she said.

The green costume goes to the dry cleaner when it gets dirty.

And Carpenter confided that boys about 9 years old can be her least favorite passengers. The urchins have been known to grab Tessie’s tail and announce in front of other children, “You’re just a human.”

“Do you have to ruin it for everybody?” Carpenter wondered.

Also in charge of entertaining passengers is Eric Jensen, known on the cruise as “Huck Finn.” Playing a banjo and singing, Jensen said the job gives him a chance to meet people from all over the world.

“Some of the countries I didn’t even know existed,” he said.

Jensen is a classical guitar player who used to perform in an upscale restaurant at a Reno casino. When he was first offered the job on the Tahoe Queen, he had never played the banjo. But Jensen said he was able to learn the instrument in a matter of weeks.

Commanding the three-deck, 500-passenger paddlewheeler on this particular Friday was Capt. Chris Gallup, who started working on the Tahoe Queen as a busboy in 1990. He received his 100-ton captain’s license in 1996.

Going from memory, Gallup highlighted facts about Lake Tahoe throughout the trip for his passengers.

“I’m sure you haven’t seen these color changes before, unless you’ve been to Hawaii or the South Pacific,” Gallup said over the public address system.

The lake is 1,645 feet deep, and, “It never freezes, either. It’s too deep,” he said.

Another part of Gallup’s job is conducting wedding ceremonies.

Like all of the Tahoe Queen’s captains, Gallup is a licensed minister.

“If they have a (marriage) license, I have a legal right to marry them,” Gallup said.

Gallup estimated he has performed 600 to 700 weddings since 1996.

But there’s a serious side to Gallup’s work as well.

Last year, Gallup organized a disaster drill on the lake for agencies including the U.S. Coast Guard and law enforcement from both sides of the state line. The drill, the largest ever on Lake Tahoe, involved a simulated bomb on the Tahoe Queen and included helicopter rescues.

Gallup also was honored in October with a U.S. Coast Guard Certificate of Merit for rescuing five children and an adult in a sinking rental boat.

In addition to the Family Fun cruise, the Tahoe Queen offers a variety of sight-seeing and dinner cruises.

The Tahoe Queen and Lake Tahoe’s other paddlewheeler, the M.S. Dixie II, which had been archrivals for many years, now are both owned by Aramark Parks & Resorts. The M.S. Dixie II offers cruises departing from Zephyr Cove.

Aboard the Tahoe Queen during the Family Fun cruise, Fresno resident Richard Beatie said the trip was a relaxing way to spend a few hours with his wife, Amrit, and sons, 6-year-old Dhillon and 3-year-old Nolan.

“It’s good for the kids, because they’re containable,” Beatie said.

“Plus you get out on the water,” he said. “It’s always nice to see the mountains from a distance.”

The family was at Tahoe to attend the wedding of Beatie’s sister.