The ship S / S Mariefred has been steaming for over 100 years

HISTORY OF TECHNOLOGY. The steamship S / S Mariefred has followed the Stockholm-Mariefred route faithfully for over a hundred years. From the beginning as an important link between big city and countryside, full of utensils, tools and fresh milk. Now unique in its kind, as Lake Mälaren’s last steam-powered passenger ship in regular traffic.

It is just after seven on Saturday morning, in Stockholm there is a holiday silence. The air is still a bit chilly on the quay, crowned by City Hall’s three gold crowns, but inside S / S Mariefred’s cramped engine room, the temperature has already begun to rise. Work on today’s trip to Mariefred has begun – three hours are needed to get the pressure up enough before departure.

– We have kept the boiler warm during the week, that is why it is still burning in the coal, says Joel Stenbäck and shaves ash and glowing coal residues from one cast iron door.

It’s hot, there is smoke from the burning ashes and the dust from the coal soon settles powder-thin over the engine room. When the ashes are scraped off, he and the fire apprentice Petter Iwanowski start shoveling new coal into each oven door.

Graphics: Jonas Askergren Source: Captain Claes Insulander

They are both everyday animators, but work seasonally in what is a Swedish profession on the verge of extinction.

– It is definitely a challenging job, but it is also what I wanted – a real body work. It will be a good change to my regular job, says Joel Stenbäck, who has been a firefighter at S / S Mariefred since 2014.

Claes Insulander, commander of the steamship Mariefred. Photo: Fredrik Sederholm

When Teknikhistoria visits the steamship, the season is almost over. A short and pandemic summer surrounded by only 70 passengers per trip as a maximum limit, against the normal 230. But among the crew on Mariefred, the joy is still palpable before actually being able to resume the trade, unlike 2020 when the covid restrictions led to the ship getting stand by the quay.

– It has never happened before, not since 1903. And then we have still managed two fires and a steam boiler change, states Claes Insulander.

Drawing: Maritime History Museum

He has been captain and captain of S / S Mariefred since 1978 and knows the ship in the smallest detail. And then, of course, it’s not just about technical knowledge about the inherently impressive steam engine, a coal-fired compound engine of 298 horsepower, but also about the whole story that surrounds a ship that has followed its trade for 118 years.

– When she was built at Södra Varvet in 1903, it was at the time when steam traffic literally exploded around Lake Mälaren. Then there were no cars, the railway was expensive to transport. Instead, each city would soon have its own steamboat company. Mariefred transported tools, manpower and agricultural products, among other things. Fresh milk from the farms to Stockholm, 100 bottles a day.

Bo Palmqvist / Maritime History Museum

S / S Mariefred, built to order by Mariefreds Ångfartygs AB, quickly became an important link between the capital and the countryside. She went brilliantly financially. Then came the turnaround.

– It started with the cooperative dairies, when the farmers’ cooperative merged and started small local dairies. Then the need for daily shipping ceased and the milk transports, which accounted for 40–50 percent of Mariefred’s revenues, disappeared immediately. Then it became more and more common to transport goods by truck.

In the 1930s, the era of steamboats was over. The boat fleet in Lake Mälaren, which once held over two hundred passenger ships, fell sharply. Today, very few passenger ships run in Lake Mälaren, and of these, Mariefred is unique in its kind with its steam drive.

Much of the job as a firefighter is to make sure the lighthouse burns evenly by looking, listening and feeling. Petter Iwanowski, an apprentice firefighter at Mariefred, senses that no slag has formed on the grid – the grid under the coals – with a long straight. Photo: FREDRIK SEDERHOLM

Last summer with coal

Now a new time awaits. The 2021 season was the last with a steam boiler powered by coal. Next year, the ship will instead be powered by oil.

– It is for several reasons that we make this shift. The biggest is that the work environment, with the dust that coal emits, is not good for our firefighters who toil in the sweat of their faces 10-13 hours a day. Then it is not environmentally good, we are responsible for very large emissions and therefore have increasingly stringent environmental requirements to follow. In addition, it is very difficult to get hold of good quality coal these days, says Claes Insulander.


Two tons of coal a day shovel Mariefred’s firers in, “a few shovels every ten to twenty minutes” as Joel Stenbäck sums it up. He thinks the best thing is to have a thin lighthouse, just a layer of carbon that lets through a lot of oxygen.

– It depends on what type of fireman you are, some want a thick lighthouse with several layers. I do not like it, it increases the risk of getting a melt of slag that forms a cake on the grid and stops the oxygen supply.

“Lubrication is A and O”

Much of the work is about looking and listening to the lighthouse, seeing that it burns evenly and feeling the presence of slag on the grate – the grate under the coals – with long shaves. A finesse, as well as the entire work with a steamship, states the engineer and technical manager Lars Wedin. While the coal-fired boilers have been lit with diesel-soaked newspaper rolls, he has begun his shift with a routine review of the steam engine.

– It’s the manual that is fun, but electronics has always been my thing, says Lars Wedin, while he fills oil in several cups in the machine: “Lubrication is A and O.”

About an hour before the steam engine is started, engineer Lars Wedin opens the valves and releases the steam, after filling with oil where it is needed. Photo: FREDRIK SEDERHOLM

He is a ship engineer trained at Chalmers, with special certification in steam engines via the Swedish Transport Administration. Actually retired after 32 years of service on the steamboat S / S Polstjärnan with trade in Lake Vänern. But then a machinist was needed at Mariefred, and it was an offer that Lars Wedin could not refuse.

That Mariefred’s crew is a close-knit gang is well visible. A friendly nibble where everyone takes care of their own, but at the same time gets used to working together in the preparations. But it is also an experienced crew with a broad knowledge of both the technology and the ship.

– A boat consists of its crew, and I am lucky to have a very good one, says Claes Insulander.

The three meters measure the pressure in the steam engine’s high pressure cylinder. Photo: FREDRIK SEDERHOLM

It is half past nine, and in the engine room Lars Wedin starts the steam engine. Half an hour until departure, the pressure is high enough – in operation it should be 11-12 kilos per square centimeter. The machine starts with a soft rumble, the crankshaft thumps rhythmically.

– The smooth passage is the difference between a steam engine and the boat engine in, for example, a Finnish ferry. Here you can place a glass of water on the table in the salon without seeing a ripple on the water surface, says Lars Wedin.

The passengers are released on board, for one of the last voyages with the steamer Mariefred with coal as fuel.

Source: Nyteknik – Senaste nytt by

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