The second oldest of Switzerland’s 15 operational paddle steamers is due to be taken out of service later this month to undergo a major refurbishment. The Lake of Lucerne Paddle Steamer Unterwalden was built 106 years ago by the Zurich-based firm of Escher Wyss. Remarkably, the steamer is still operating with its original boilers, although due to their condition, the steam pressure has been reduced in recent years. The Swiss paddle steamers are regularly visited by members of the PSPS Scottish Branch and both enthusiast and crew members from the Swiss fleets visit the Clyde-based paddler. Useful information on the preservation of paddle steamers in the 21st Century has been shared between the operators in Switzerland and the UK
When the opening bridge at the Acheregg narrows was replaced by a fixed span bridge in 1961 the two oldest paddle steamers on the lake, Uri and Unterwalden, were modified to enable their funnels, masts and wheelhouses to be retracted to allow them to pass under the bridge en route to Alpnachstad, a popular destination due to the lower terminus station of the Mount Pilatus funicular railway being located there. The modification impaired the classic original lines of both vessels. When Uri was rebuilt in the early 1990s she was restored to her original condition and appearance, therefore, since that time Unterwalden has been the only one of the lakes five paddlers that has been able to go to Alpnachstad.
Unterwalden on Swiss National Day 2003 - note the huge Swiss Flag on the cliff face of Vitznaualp above the steamer
Unterwalden was withdrawn from service in 1975 and replaced by a modern motorship of the same name. At the time her owners, SGV (The Lake Lucerne Navigation Co), had intended to gradually replace the remaining paddlers with new vessels. However, local enthusiasts lobbied for the paddler to be restored and returned to service. Eventually, ten years after her withdrawal, the Unterwalden returned to service and for a few years two paddlers were able to go to Alpnachstad again. When she was returned to service in 1985 it was estimated that her then 83 year old boiler plant still had significant life and this has been borne out.
The upcoming major refit, which will be undertaken in the covered building hall at the SGV’s own shipyard in Lucerne, will probably see the Unterwalden restored to something close to her original 1902 design but this will be complicated by the desire to maintain the ability of the vessel to pass under the bridge at the Acheregg Narrows.