Enjoying Fall Foliage on a Green Sternwheeler

The forty-year old Marietta tourist icon “The Valley Gem”, an authentic Ohio River Sternwheeler tourist boat, is celebrating four decades on the river by going green.

Instead of burning smelly diesel fuel they are being propelled down the river with used cooking oil.

According to Co-captain Don Sanford, “It smells very pleasant, very much like somebody is grilling something good.”

The 303-passenger sternwheeler made the conversion from expensive diesel fuel to used cooking oil last summer.  According to owner and Captain Jason Sands, “We had been thinking of doing this for about four years.”

The Valley Gem has been taking tourists up and down parts of the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers near Marietta since 1972.  The first, smaller, Valley Gem was replaced by the present 300-plus capacity sternwheeler in 1989.

“Back in the 90’s diesel fuel cost us 65-70 cents a gallon” Says Captain Sands, “Now it costs us an average of $3.20 a gallon when we buy large amounts.”   Since the boat consumes about a thousand gallons of fuel each month, that was the incentive that prompted Sands and Sanford to construct a bio-diesel processing facility and start begging for used cooking oil from restaurant facilities around the town of Marietta.

“Many restaurants are happy to have someone haul away their used cooking oil, so we get the oil for free and it costs us about 80 cents a gallon to process it so we can use it as fuel.”

The used oil that once was used to cook chicken, fish and fries has proved so successful that both Sands and Sanford have purchased diesel-powered cars and trucks for their personal use and also run them on the converted cooking oil.

“Our passengers have benefited from the conversion to cooking oil,” Sands said, “It has enabled us to keep prices lower by eliminating our dependence on expensive diesel fuel.”

The Valley Gem is gearing up for its most popular cruises of the season, the fall foliage trips on the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers, including some special longer trips slated for this September and October….

★ You can read the rest of this story in the Saturday, August 25th edition of the Plain Dealer or on their website: www.cleveland.com

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