LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- When it comes to historic landmarks in Kentuckiana, the Belle of Louisville stands out as a true gem. It's the oldest river steamboat in operation. I swapped gigs with members of the crew for a trip down the Ohio River.

The familiar sound of the Belle of Louisville means it's about to leave the Fourth Street Wharf for another cruise on the Ohio River.

Passengers say no trip to the city is complete without a ride the historic vessel. We even greeted two women who came all the way from Virginia.

Mark Doty first joined the crew as a deck hand 31 years ago. He's now captain of the ship and he takes pride in the history behind the paddlewheeler.

"We operate this boat the way they did 100 years ago," Doty said. "When you come on, you can see the boilers fired like they used to be and you can go back to the engine room and hear the clickety-clack of the engine and hear the steam exhausting," Doty said.

The ship was originally built in 1914 and purchased by the city in the 60s when she was named The Idlewild.

"When they bought the boat back in 62, Marlow Cook, the county judge, took a lot of grief for buying it because it was somewhat of a rust bucket and needed a lot of work. Today she is in better shape than she ever has been."

The Belle is still steam-powered. It's a little tricky to drive. Two engineers in the engine room act as the transmission and control the speed.

Two engineers in the engine room help keep the boat on course.

My instructions: "to go full ahead, go full stern and then full ahead."

I seemed to do Ok.

The driver in the wheelhouse signals when he wants to speed up and slow down.

Boat Pilot Drew Cederholm let me take her for a spin.

"So we use landmarks and that's how we keep our course," Cederholm said.

"We're veering to the left, do we need to bring it back to the right?" I asked.

"Yeah, go ahead, start bringing it right until you see the mast slow down," Cederholm said. "When you see the mast slow down, you know that you've made the right adjustment."

The Belle is recognized as the oldest river steamboat still in operation, and she was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1989.

Louisville's Festival of Riverboats is being planned for October of 2014 to mark the Belle's 100th birthday.

Dozens of history vessels are expected to line up for a parade to salute the Legendary Lady of the river.

A typical afternoon cruise on the Ohio lasts about two hours.

Captain Doty says the best part is just sitting back and watching the sights pass by and listening to the River.


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