For this month’s edition of our Crew Spotlight series, we are interviewing Belle of Louisville Riverboat’s Assistant Engineer, Stephen Settles! Stephen has worked for the Belle for seven years, starting as a Fireman and Striker. While every day on the job looks a little different, Stephen says the most unique aspect of his job is getting to work with and handle equipment that’s over 100 years old, as well as work to keep the legacy alive of a national historic vessel. Read on to learn more about Stephen’s important role at Belle of Louisville Riverboats!
How long have you worked with Belle of Louisville Riverboats?
I have been with the Belle for seven years. Like all engineers, I started as a Fireman/Striker during the cruising season and worked as a watchman in the winter. I sat for my Coast Guard Designated Duty Engineer license in 2019, now I am an Assistant Engineer.
What are some of the important responsibilities of your job?
Depending on my role, during a cruise I’ll fire the boiler or handle the engines and steam equipment. Beyond that I’m responsible, with the rest of the Engine Department, for any and all maintenance and repair projects aboard all three of our vessels.
In your opinion, what is the best aspect of your job?
Sharing this historic marvel with the public. There is nothing more gratifying than answering questions in the engine room or seeing folk’s astonishment when I show them the boiler room.
What does a typical workday look for you?
There isn’t really a ‘typical’ workday. If the Belle is going out, I’ll either be firing the boiler or running striker in the engine room.
As the fireman I’ll keep an eye on my steam pressure gauge and adjust the burners to maintain our typical steam pressure, 180-190 PSI. Some trips I just sit back and watch the gauge, some trips I’ll be adjusting valves the entire time.
Most of the striker’s job happens before we leave the wharf. We have a long list of pre-trip checks, everything from taking on potable water and checking our generators to greasing, oiling, and warming up the main engines. Once we’re underway, I’ll handle the engines in response to orders from the Pilot via the Engine Order Telegraph.
Under the Chief and Alternative Chief Engineers, I’m also training to work as the Watch Engineer. The Watch Engineer is responsible for the entire engine department during a cruise and works closely with the striker.
If the Belle isn’t going out, then I’ll tackle any maintenance or repair projects we’ve got. Anything from rewiring a light fixture, greasing or painting equipment in the engine room, or threading pipe for a plumbing repair.
What is the most unique aspect of your job?
Getting to handle equipment that’s over 100 years old, in the same manner and for the same purpose which it was built. As opposed to a more ‘typical’ job, my workplace is constantly changing with the angle of the sun, the subtle pitch of the deck underfoot, the vagaries of the weather.
What is your favorite memory of working with Belle of Louisville Riverboats?
My first trip, The Great Steamboat Race of 2016. I was in the boiler room training under Fireman Roy Betts. We were fairly flying along, Roy had to yell over the burners to explain what was happening. I had no idea what to do, but his enthusiasm and excitement affected me. I still feel it whenever we get a double full ahead and the exhaust starts screaming through the ‘scape pipes.
Why is Belle of Louisville Riverboats important to you?
The Belle herself is an icon. She’s been in Louisville for the majority of her career, it is our joy and duty to maintain her and our historic fleet. But a boat is nothing without her crew. I’m honored to have learned from and continue to work with an exceptional group of people. We’re part of a continuum of river people going back not only to the launching of the Belle but to the first application of steam to the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. This organization continues the over 200-year legacy of people working on the river.
What are some fun facts about you?
I am a decent cook and a mediocre guitarist; I dabble with various string instruments. My wife works on an Oldham County horse farm where we live with our daughter, our pets, and a surprising number of house plants.