Fifty years ago, Captain James “Jim” Sands had a dream and the river called his name. He was tired of the construction life and wanted a job that allowed him to be with his family more. Thus began the Valley Gem. Jim, and his wife Peggy, risked all they had to build this business. Their sons Jimmy and Jason (J.J.) worked right along side them as they grew up. What we call the first Valley Gem was put into operation in 1973 and was able to carry 98 passengers. Much like we do today, they ran the boat every opportunity they could to grow the business. Before long, 98 passengers wasn’t enough and Jim and Peggy decided they needed a bigger boat. Jim began a two year process of designing and redesigning a new Valley Gem and that is the boat you can ride today. It took 18 months to build and was completed by members of the Sands family, along with local experts. It took a village, a lot of hard work, and long days. In April of 1989, the new Valley Gem launched and is able to carry 290 passengers.
The Sands family, like many others, had their fair share of setbacks and sadness. In 1990 their son, Jimmy, passed away and Jim followed in 1998. Their youngest son, Jason (J.J.) would take up the mantle having grown up with the business and even helping to build the second boat. He and Peggy, along with Captain Don Sandford, continued on and kept Jim’s dream alive. Peggy passed in 2016. Jason and his wife, Heather, currently run the business.
To those of us who have been here longest, the business has changed so much. Awnings, air conditioning, food service, brochures, websites and ticketing have all been added or changed throughout the years. All of which has made the Valley Gem better. But it all started with a man, his dream, his family and a lot of hard work. Jim’s dream lives on through his son. We are so proud of this business, where we came from and where we want to go. As we embark on this 50th year, we hope to add some new and exciting things with the Major/Riviera and to keep offering a fun, relaxing and joyous time on the river. Watch for information regarding our 50th Anniversary Celebration June 3-4.
From Captain Jason, Captain Heather, Captain Don, our children and all the captains yet to be, we thank you for 50 years and hope for many more to come...