Gabriel Chengery, 28, remembers as a child being fascinated by the bright lights and shrieking calliope as the steamboats cruised down the Ohio River near his home in Pittsburgh. “I’m afraid I used to swipe 50 cents from my mother’s purse so I could make the three-hour harbor cruise.” He doesn’t have to worry about the fare any longer. In July he became captain of the Delta Queen, the 50-year-old riverboat that has been designated a national historic site by the government. Chengery originally trained as a legal stenographer after high school and apprenticed in the divorce courts, but the lure of the Mississippi was too strong. He turned down a $12,000-a-year courtroom job to work as a deckhand on the Delta Queen for $55 a week. Six years later he had earned his captain’s license. “It takes time to become a good captain,” he says. “I’m always looking for better ways to get things done, better ways to handle the crew.” While on board, Chengery is on call 24 hours a day, but every 30 days he gets a week off. Even then the Delta Queen and the river are never far from his thoughts. “I’ll be in a bar somewhere and someone will ask, ‘What do you do?’ ‘I’m a Mississippi steamboat captain,’ I say. They never believe me, but it starts a lot of good conversations.”
Sandra McDonald, 25, has traveled a rocky road since childhood—geologically speaking, that is. She became fascinated with rocks on family camping trips in California, and her father, an aeronautical engineer, encouraged her interest by buying geology books and studying them with her. Before picking up a master’s in geology at Northern Arizona University, Sandra worked for a year with the U.S. Geological Survey at Menlo Park, Calif. and for a summer with Chevron Oil in Colorado. Chevron’s parent, Standard Oil of California, hired her a year ago as resident geologist on oil exploration sites, a rare appointment for a woman. Wearing cowboy boots and a hard hat for her work in the boondocks, Sandra records the hourly progress of the drill. “Even if a hole doesn’t produce oil,” she explains, “the information from the cuttings and mud samples is very important because it shows us the rocks, gases and minerals at various depths.” So far she has proposed four well sites, every one of which has produced. She does most of her paperwork on the drilling site, returning to her San Francisco office about one week a month. “I get stir crazy and like to get out in the field where the action is,” she says. She also likes to paint, camp out and pilot single-engine planes. If she grows tired of rocks, Sandra could always fly for a living. She already holds a commercial license.