Winterizing the Belle of Louisville

This undated photograph shows the Belle during her Idlewild years (1914-1947) wintering on the snowy banks of Alton Slough, IL.

A Legacy of Care

Built in 1914, the Belle of Louisville is entering her 110th year. Her legacy as the oldest operating Mississippi River-style steamboat in the world is due in no small part to the care she has received for over a century. As we enter the colder months here on the banks of the Ohio River, our crew must initiate a special process known as “winterization” to protect the Belle from the elements. Read on to learn more about the measures our expert crew have been taking to keep the Belle ready to cruise next season!

Braving the Elements

Protecting the Belle from ice formation is key to keeping her in good shape. Steam, of course, is water in gas form. This means that there are lots of opportunities for water to freeze on the boat and damage it if anything involved in producing the steam is not thoroughly cleaned and drained. The water is shut off for the boat as well. Eventually, the electricity will also be turned off for the winter.

Winter Cleaning

Parts of the Belle’s inner workings, such as the boiler that was added in the 1960s, are cleaned out for the next season. The boiler, which was originally powered by coal, was converted to diesel fuel in the 1960s. However, if you have ever ventured downstairs during a Belle of Louisville cruise, you will know that the boiler room is still a “firebox” evocative of another era. Soot has to be cleaned out of the boiler’s pipes and the firebox, and the firebrick lining the inside of the firebox also gets cleaned. In the picture below, you can see a small entryway that leads to the firebox during the cleaning process. This is done manually, with a crew member crawling in to clean with the help of an industrial light.

Working Artifacts

Many of the more fragile, antique parts of the boat (such as the gauge seen above) are put into storage in the winter to protect them from the harsh conditions that could arise in an unpredictable Louisville winter. Although these items are working parts of the boat that are in use all season, during the winter, they are kept in a more climate-controlled environment to preserve them for the next year!

As the Belle says goodbye to its passengers for the winter, items such as tables and lifejackets are also stored.

Waiting Patiently for the Next Season

We’ve put the tables away and stored the chairs on the top deck of the boat. The ballroom, captured in this photograph by one of our crew members, waits for next season. It calls to mind this 1920 photograph of the Belle’s ballroom, and certainly evokes a feeling of nostalgia for the 109 winters that this ship has survived. Considering the fact that most steamboats at the height of the Steamboat Era lasted for less than five years, the Belle is certainly exceptional.

Belle ballroom, 2023
Idlewild Dancefloor, 1920

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