Behind the Scenes: Paddlewheel Repairs

Written by Ava Belle Ferree, Social Media and Communications Intern

Whether you’ve visited the Belle of Louisville or have only ever seen her in a picture, chances are that one of the first things you noticed was her big red wheel located at the back of the boat. This is the Paddlewheel, and it actually plays an essential role in the boat’s operation. In fact, the Paddlewheel is the Belle’s only means of propulsion! Continue reading to learn more about the Belle’s Paddlewheel, its important role in keeping the historic steamer moving and a behind-the-scenes look at the Paddlewheel repairs our crew completed in July!

What is the Paddlewheel Made of?

The Belle’s Paddlewheel is made up of 608 paddlewood pieces, weighing in at an astonishing 17.5 tons, or over 38,000 pounds! The Paddlewheel bucket planks are 24’ long and are made of hard white oak so that they can withstand the rigors of harsh river water and tear. Also, the Belle’s engines are attached to the Paddlewheel with pitman arms, which you can see on each end of the Paddlewheel. In total, the Paddlewheel is about 17’ in diameter.

Why is the Paddlewheel Important?

The Belle of Louisville is considered a “sternwheel steamboat” due to the fact that her Paddlewheel is attached to her stern, or back end, of the boat. The Belle’s Paddlewheel is an extremely important and essential attribute to the historic steamer, as it’s the boat’s only means of propulsion. It propels the boat by pushing water to make the boat move forward or in reverse!

A Behind the Scenes Look at Paddlewheel Repairs

Paddlewheel repairs are important and necessary projects, as each piece of paddlewood can last up to (approximately) 20 years before having to be replaced. A big responsibility of our crew members is taking on these maintenance projects, in which they are specially trained in to do.

In July, our crew spent three consecutive days hard at work replacing paddlewood on the Belle’s paddlewheel. In total, four wheel arms, one circle piece, seven wedge-shaped keys, eight short blocks and eight long blocks were replaced. In addition, one bucket plank was patched and the crew keyed the wheel. (Which is to hammer the wedge shape pieces in to tighten everything.)

A fun fact is that once the paddlewood pieces have been removed, our crew then reuses them to create unique souvenirs, including wall décor, clocks and more, which can be found for sale in our Gift Shop!

Donate to Support Preservation and Restoration Projects like Paddlewheel Repairs

Preservation and maintenance projects like paddlewheel repairs are important measures that are necessary in order to keep the Belle cruising, and these projects would not be possible without our donors and community supporters. If you’re interested in getting involved or making a donation to our 501c3 non-profit, visit our Friends of the Belle page. Any and all donations are greatly appreciated!

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