Steam Calliope

Courtesy of Howard Camp, Newman, Georgia 32063 and through the kindness of The Newman Times-Herald. Howard Camp, left, builder of the Steam Calliope, observes as Burt Mashburn plays the instrument.

Howard Camp

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Newman, Georgia 30263 and through the kindness of The Newman Times-Herald.

Remember when the joyful notes of the old Steam Calliope used to proclaim the coming of the circus parade?

Or, if you're a real old timer did you ever ride on a river boat, thrilling to the tune of 'Here comes the Showboat'?

The old fashioned Calliopes are almost extinct today; however, a Newman steam-hobbist became so nostalgic for the melodious sounds of his childhood-that he actually constructed a genuine Calliope.

Howard Camp, Newnan plumber, of 18 West Washington St., demonstrated his masterpiece last Friday on U. S. 29, south of Newnan, to the delight of many calliope fans. Playing the instrument was Burt Mashburn, 12-year-old talented pianist of Cumming, who became enamored of it this past summer when Camp carried it to Cumming to be used in a Fourth of July celebration.

Camp says he saw his first calliope in 1933 during a Coweta County Fair. He has wanted one ever since, but it was not until 1958 that he actually decided to build one. He has worked on it for almost a decade, traveling many miles to look at some original models in museums and obtaining the necessary specifications, patterns and materials.

He went up north to see a calliope in a museum that was used on Captain Billy Bryant's Showboat in 1870 and make drawings, etc. Returning home, he learned to make the patterns first in wood, and then made the real patterns of aluminum, machining them down thin enough to make brass castings.

'The hardest thing for me to learn,' he stated, 'was how to voice the whistles so they would not only have the correct note but have a pleasant sound.'

'I also studied the components for brass that would take it year after year out in sun and rain. Some of the old calliopes were on the poop deck of steam boats so long that the steel 3-inch pipe manifold had rusted almost away, but the brass was good as new, and one even still had the mud that flowed in when the old boat sank, when it was raised fifty years later. My brass founder in Atlanta knew just what I needed, and he put in just enough lead to make it possible to machine it.' He obtained the brass tubing for his whistles in Mexico City.

Camp's calliope has 24 whistles and its valves control 100 pounds of steam pressure. They are so carefully balanced that a slight pressure on the keyboard will operate the valves and cause the whistles to blow.

The steam traction engine used by Camp to supply steam for the calliope is an old one that was used before the turn of the century in a gold mining operation in North Georgia.

The correct pronunciation for this musical instrument is often debated. Accordingly to Webster, it is a four syllable word pronounced CAL-EYE-OH-PEE, taken from the Greek, meaning 'beautiful voice'. Nevertheless, river men and circus men who were associated professionally with the instrument call it CAL-EE-OAP. The unpretentious folk along the river didn't attempt either pronunciation, calling it simply the STEAM PIE-ANNA.