Steam Whistle Concert

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A unique 'Concert' of steam whistles from past steamboats, trains, industrial plants and other sources, was the feature of the second annual Schweizer ( native of Switzerland) Fest held in Tell City, Indiana Monday night, August 1, 1960. Arranged by Bert Fenn, vice-president of the Tell City Historical Society and also vice-president of the Tell City Chair Co., the whistles were blown on the roof of the chair company factory, whose boilers supplied the steam.

Of special interest to visiting river-men were the steamboat whistles that had been loaned for the occasion. Prominent among them was the whistle from the St. Louis and New Orleans Anchor Line steamer Gold Dust, a large single-chime brass whistle, with a bell 24 inches high by 7 inches in diameter. The Gold Dust is the vessel on which Mark Twain made a trip from St. Louis to Vicksburg, in 1882, commemorating his return to the river after an absence of 21 years and which he described in 'Life on the Mississippi. '

These whistles were loaned by museums, libraries, and collectors. You were to bring your tape recorder and make a record of this event. Programs were given out so that you had a complete description of where each whistle came from. The concert was at 5:00 p.m. and you did not have to be close to hear it.

Probably the biggest whistle was a wildcat whistle from the Langstaff Planing Mill, Paducah, Ky. which had a bell 30 inches long and 9 inches in diameter. The plunger travels 20 in.

There were several tow boat whistles and eight whistles from steam locomotives. Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Mann of Otterbein, Indiana were among the steam enthusiasts who journeyed to this event, on the Ohio River.


Each whistle will be sounded several times, followed by a pause before the next whistle is blown, so that listeners can follow the program and identify each whistle. No attempt will be made to set a speed record there will be delays while whistles are changed on the mountings.

Spectators are advised that the whistles will sound best a few blocks away from the blowing site. Most Tell Citians will be able to enjoy the concert from their own yards.

Visitors will not be permitted on the factory premises daring the concert.


To be blown in this order from the boiler house roof of Tell City Chair Company Factory No. 3:

No. 1

TELL CITY'S 5 O'CLOCK FACTORY WHISTLES. There was a time in Tell City when a right spirited whistle concert could be heard every working day at 7:00, 12:00, 1:00 and 5:00 when the many factories in town cut loose simultaneously with their whistles. Concurrent with this was a Grand Concert of Howling Dogs with every dog in town participating. They always held forth longer than the whistles. The dogs' miseries were no more than those of generations of boys, the combined efforts of whom never found one satisfactory answer to that maternal question that was standard to being late for meals: 'But didn't you hear the factory whistles?'

Today all factories have electric horn systems which signal the start and end of shifts, but a few of our factories still continue to blow their roof whistles also. Promptly at 5:00 our concert will open with the simultaneous blowing of the whistles of the Tell City Chair Company Plants No. 2 and No. 3, and the Fischer Chair Company their regular 'quitting time' signal.

No. 2

KNOTT MFG. CO. WILDCAT WHISTLE. No one in Tell City remembers another whistle on this plant, and this whistle has been famous for a long time. In recent years it has been blown as a single note whistle and 'wildcatted' only on special occasions. A wildcat whistle is hard to explain. You listen to one with your spine as much as your ears. It has a sliding piston which raises the pitch from a rumble to a scream. Just when you think it can go no higher, it does and that's when your spine hears it. Gus Ahlf says they used to call this one the 'Heul Hund', which translates into something like 'howling dog'. The Heul Hund is loaned by the Knott Mfg. Co. of Tell City.

No. 3

STR. WYNOKA was a stern wheel tow boat built in 1899, owned by the U. S. Engineers. In 1933 she was sold to private interests and renamed BISSO, sold again in 1935 and renamed GOLD SHIELD. She ended her days in 1939 by sinking at Algiers, La. On the lower Mississippi where she spent much of her life, there are Cajun fishermen who carry on a perpetual feud with tow boats. The pilot who brushes the willows can expect a 'pot shot' into the pilot house for disturbing their nets and lines. Somewhere during her career this whistle ran smack-dab into the middle of such a feud. For veteran steam boater Capt. Leon Ash of Vevay, Indiana, who loaned the WYNOKA whistle, pointed out a bullet dent near its top and told us this story when we picked it up last week. It's a single-chime copper whistle with a bell 24' high and 8' in diameter.

No. 4

L & N BERKSHIRE was one of the latest type engines and was one of the last steam engines built for U. S. railroads. These engines were ultra-modern and had just about every refinement it was possible to build in for efficiency. L & N had 43 Berkshires which were built between 1941 and 1952. This 3-chime whistle was loaned by James Reising of Louisville.

No. 5

SOUTHERN R. Y. WHISTLE. The Southern had no 'Coded' whistles and this lack of uniformity gave some distinctive sounds to their engines. Some of the Southern engineers owned their own whistles and spent much time tuning them to make them different. The tradition of this whistle has it originally coming from an ocean freighter and cut down when put on the Southern locomotive. At any rate it's still a large whistle with a bell 16' long and 8' in diameter. This single-chime whistle is loaned by the Kentucky Railway Museum of Louisville, and the fellows there warn us that if properly handled it has one deep note, but if given too much steam it has a hideous overtone shriek of mortal agony.

No. 6

THE TELL CITY FURNITURE COMPANY was organized in 1859 one year after Tell City was founded. This whistle is very likely the original whistle of the factory. Certainly it is an old one, crudely made of cast iron. And it is unusual in that it mounts horizontally on a vertical steam line. It is a double whistle, steam blowing from the center to both the right and left producing two notes. Old timers remember this whistle back as far as 75 years, and it was in regular use until a few years ago. Loaned by the Swiss Plywood Corp. of Tell City.

No. 7

STR. CHARLES R. HOOK is a stern wheel tow boat built in 1922 as the DESTREHAN, renamed in 1941. Retired in 1957 she is now laid up at Cincinnati, owned by the Cincinnati Marine Service, Inc., who have loaned her whistle. Your committee can attest to the authenticity of this whistle we removed it personally one hot July afternoon a few weeks ago. There are two separate whistles on a T mounting. The original mounting was made to take three whistles but the third elbow had an old plug and the Hook must have carried only the two whistles you are to hear, for some time.

No. 8

K & I ENGINE #40 was a Switcher built in 1930. The last time any K & I engine ran under Steam was when #40 was fired up for a Television program. This engine immortalized herself one time by running away without an engineer. She left the roundhouse at Louisville and the tower man lined up switches not knowing she was going on her own. Then there was nothing to do but send her across the bridge, through New Albany, around the loop and onto the Southern Line. She was running merrily along toward St. Louis when she ran out of steam at Duncan Hill near Edwardsville. E. G. Baker of Louisville has loaned this brass 3-chime whistle.

No. 9

STR. CHICKAMAUGA was a stern wheel tow boat built in 1915. She sank in 1926, was raised and Capt. James Howard of Jeffersonville bought her, rebuilt and renamed her ED J. HOWARD. There are three separate whistles on a manifold mounting. Loaned by the Howard National Steamboat Museum, Jeffersonville, Ind.

No. 10

STR. ED J. HOWARD was rebuilt from the CHICKAMAUGA in 1927 by the Howard Shipyard of Jeffersonville, Indiana. She was used as a harbor boat around Louisville and originally carried the CHICKAMAUGA'S whistle. In the early 1930's Martha Howard was married and one of the happy celebrants rang the shipyard bell to commemorate the nuptials, little realizing that this was the shipyard fire bell. Capt. Jim Howard left the party to fight a non-existent blaze. This false alarm caused him to remove the bell and substitute the whistle you are now to hear. However it used so much steam when blown that the lights dimmed all over the Howard Shipyard. So this whistle was placed on the ED J. HOWARD and the CHICKMAUGA'S whistle was used at the shipyard.

This is a huge copper whistle marked 'Worcester Steam Siren'. At first glance it appears to be a tall single-chime whistle, but it is separated in the middle into a bell above and a bell below. Steam blows both upward and downward from the center to produce two tones. It is believed that this whistle was at one time also used on the excursion boat LOUISIANA. Loaned by the Howard National Steamboat Museum of Jeffersonville, Indiana.

No. 11

WILDCAT STEAMBOAT WHISTLE. This is an old steam boat whistle saved from oblivion by Capt. L. C. Johnson of Louisville and put back into playing condition by P. B. 'Buck' English of Dam 46. Both of these river men have our thanks for the use of this fine 'instrument'. This type of whistle, and perhaps this very one, was used on the Green River packet EVANSVILLE for many years and several of her pilots were expert at playing actual tunes on it for the enjoyment of the countryside. Whistles of this type are sometimes called 'Mocking bird whistles'.

No. 12

L & N 152, a Pacific type passenger locomotive built in 1905, was the third engine of this class built for the L & N. She was the last L & N passenger steamer to run and that was for the filming of the movie Raintree County. L & N 152 is the only L & N engine in existence today and is on display at the Kentucky Railway Museum in Louisville. They have taken off this 3-chime whistle just for this concert.

No. 13

RAFFLE WHISTLE. The known history of this whistle is one month old. We bought it at a junk shop. This is the one that will be presented to the out-of-town whistle-lender whose name is drawn from a hat following the concert. It's a 3-chime brass whistle with a bell 6' long and has its own valve.

No. 14

STR. GOLD DUST. Courtney M. Ellis of Nashville, Tenn., is a retired steamboat engineer and boiler inspector who not only loaned us this whistle but supplied its story. The GOLD DUST was a side wheel boat built in 1889, owned by the famous St. Louis and New Orleans Anchor Line. This was one of the largest and most prominent packet lines on the river and traced its history back into the 1860's. The GOLD DUST was short lived, sinking in 1892 in the Mississippi River two miles above Hickman, Ky., after a boiler explosion. Later when parts of her boilers and machinery were salvaged, this whistle was recovered and placed on a planing mill in South Fulton, Tenn. In 1910 when this mill burned it was moved to a sawmill near Dresden, Tennessee. From 1913 to 1944 the whistle was silently in storage, then for five years it again saw sawmill service. Once again it remained silent for a year, then in 1950 it was placed on a steam laundry at Dresden, Tenn., and blown until 1954. This is a large single-chime brass whistle with a 24' bell, 7' in diameter.

No. 15

I C WHISTLE was rescued from a scrap heap and its history is an unsolved mystery. It's a large 3-chime whistle made of brass and was loaned by Ernest Gibson of Louisville, Ky.

No. 16

THE 'READY WHISTLE' FROM STR. GRAND REPUBLIC is a little whistle from a big boat. River historian Capt. Fred Way, Jr. describes her as 'clearly a boat to end all boats in which respect she may be said to have succeededanything else that ever happened on the fabled Mississippi never again touched the elegance of the GREAT REPUBLIC.' Built in 1867 as the GREAT REPUBLIC, this 350 ft. side wheel boat was renamed GRAND REPUBLIC in 1876. She burned 1877. The whistle on our concert is NOT the roof whistle. It is the 'ready whistle' which was located on the boiler. Every river steamboat had one. When the pilot was ready to leave a landing he signaled this intention to the engineer with a gong or the main whistle. The engineer signaled he was ready with this small whistle. Loaned by Miss Ruth Ferris of St. Louis, Missouri.

No. 17

STR. BOWLING GREEN. This is a famous Green River whistle which started out on the CRESCENT CITY in 1898 and was transferred to the 'BOWLING GREEN when she came out in 1905. The BOWLING GREEN sink at South Carrollton, Ky., March 31, 1920 and this whistle was the only thing salvaged from the boat. It was then put on the EVANSVILLE who carried it until July 25, 1931 when she burned at Bowling Green, Ky. Once again this whistle was the only thing salvaged. (This was one of two whistles that the EVANSVILLE carried. The other was her famous Mockingbird whistle.) Until July 1940 the whistle was stored at Evansville at which time the Williams brothers gave it to their nephews Captains James R. and Tom Hines to use on the tow boat BETTY TURNER. This was the last steamboat to operate on Green River and its tributaries. When they sold her in 1947 they reserved the whistle. People along Green (River still talk about this whistle with a smile on their face and a far-away look in their eyes. It's actually two whistles on a T mounting. Both are 8' in diameter, one has an 18' bell and the other a 12' bell. Loaned by the James R. Hines Corp. of Bowling Green, Kentucky.