LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Belle of Louisville's old steam engines are getting a free makeover, thanks to a Louisville company that is even older than the historic steamboat.
This comes as the Belle this year is celebrating 100 years on the river.
The Belle has spent the harsh winter safely docked at the Fourth Street Wharf. Later this year a big celebration is planned to mark its centennial.
Family-owned Atlas Machine & Supply Company of Louisville donated the time and parts to restore the steam engines on the riverboat to keep that big red paddlewheel turning.
"We are doing a complete rebuild of these engines," Atlas president Rich Gimmel told WDRB News. "It is the first time ever, we believe, that the engines have been rebuilt, and they are actually more than 100 years old."
The engines are even older than the Belle because they came from another boat.
Atlas plant manager Dennis Hanna says the rebuilding project posed some special challenges.
"The biggest difficulty is that there isn't anything like it left in the world," said Hanna. "You have to be very careful, like for instance the steam valve, if you break it, you have to make a new one so you have to be very careful."
Atlas itself is more than 100 years old. Gimmel says the project ended up costing a little more than estimated.
"Once we got into this thing," said Gimmel, "we saw how much need there was. It was a fun job, but maybe a little too much fun because the total value of the project was in excess of $50,000. Nevertheless, we just love doing the project."
Atlas even brought one of its senior engineers out of retirement to work during the two months of restoration.
The successful Louisville company, now in its fourth generation, rebuilds and repairs giant machines for heavy industry.
Atlas is helping to keep the Belle rolling on the river for many years to come.
"I am not sure you'll be able to water ski behind the Belle," laughed Gimmel. "But those engines are going to be a lot more efficient when we get done. There is a lot more power going to that paddlewheel when we get done."
A special ceremony is planned for Tuesday, Feb. 25, on the Belle to mark the installation of the rebuilt engines.
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