Each crew member at Belle of Louisville Riverboats holds a unique role in maintaining these vessels and preserving their legacies for generations to come. In this month’s chapter of the Crew Spotlight Series, we interview the Chief Engineer of Belle of Louisville Riverboats, Daniel Lewis, to learn more about the important role he holds within Belle of Louisville Riverboats and its 108-year-old legacy.
How long have you worked with Belle of Louisville Riverboats?
I have been with the Belle for nearly 29 years.
I applied to the Belle in the winter of my senior year in high school because a friend had seen a flyer posted at school, and it sounded much more interesting than being a cook! The first five seasons I was only part-time, since I started work on my bachelor’s degree at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN.
I’ve always worked in the engineering department, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been involved in or helped other departments, especially after these many years! I started out, like most engineers, firing the Belle’s boilers for the first few seasons. During that time, I also learned some of the duties of the oiler or “striker” to help, but didn’t stand any watches, as such, until I became full-time.
After finishing a bachelor’s degree in history and getting a license to teach high school, I came back to the Belle in the summer of 2000 and became full-time in the fall of that year. [In] April 2003, I obtained my first license as a “Designated Duty Engineer” and began standing watches with it as “relief engineer” in June of the same year. In April 2007, I had served enough time to upgrade my license to “Chief Engineer.” Once I upgraded my license, my responsibilities fell more into the role as an “Alternate Chief Engineer”, taking more trips with my license and more managerial responsibilities. As is the custom with the Belle crew, though, I would still fill in as a striker or fireman to help cover the shifts.
To help gain more experience and continue to upgrade my license, I spent most of 2012 sailing on the Steamer American Queen as a 3rd Assistant Engineer, running her steam equipment daily as I lived aboard the boat for 30 days at a time and traveling home for 30 days. Anxious to help celebrate the Belle’s upcoming centennial, I came back in the fall of 2012.
After the retirement of Chief Jim McCoy in the summer of 2015, I took over more managerial responsibilities while working alongside Chief Steve Mattingly, like managing the mechanics of the Mary M. Miller as we sailed her back to Louisville after purchasing her from her former owners in Savannah, Georgia—a month-long journey! After the purchase of the Mary M. Miller and seeing how it changed the responsibilities of the engineers, I suggested creating the position of “Port Engineer” and was given that title in 2019.
In the Fall of 2020, I served as Engineering’s lead in planning for the Belle’s mandatory hull inspection that winter. The shipyard in Gallipolis, OH is over 300 miles up river, a distance she hadn’t traveled since her days as the Steamer Avalon! Shortly after that project, I officially took over as “Chief Engineer,” the role I continue to fill to this date.
What are some of the important responsibilities of your job?
These days my more important responsibilities include managing my department’s budget, hiring staff, and writing a weekly cruise schedule for my department while overseeing the various maintenance projects (both planned and unplanned) we encounter in a season.
In your opinion, what is the best aspect of your job?
The best aspect of my job is the opportunity to meet all the people coming to ride the Belle and show them why it is so important to keep her sailing!
What does a typical workday look for you?
It is hard to describe any of my workdays as “typical.” In one moment, I might be in a meeting to plan future capital projects with other supervisors and, in the next, dragging a shore power cord across the deck to help ready for the next cruise.
What is the most unique aspect of your job?
Operating and maintaining the Belle’s antique steam machinery.
What is your favorite memory of working with Belle of Louisville Riverboats?
This is a hard one to answer because I have so many! One of my favorites is the day I received my first license—a great sense of relief, excitement for the future, and pride in being a part of something much greater than myself!
Why is Belle of Louisville Riverboats important to you?
It is important to me because the Belle helps educate the community on the importance of the river and the people working on it—a glimpse of the past to help guide us into the future!