Steam Locomotives & Whistles

| November/December 1971

304 Glover Drive, Longview, Texas 75601

I grew up on an East Texas farm near the town of Kilgore. The old International And Great Northern Railroad (known in railroad circles as 'the jenny') ran through our farm. It was here that my 'first love' for steam locomotives and their whistles began. Along the tracks of 'the jenny' as a boy I had a favorite spot on a hill from which I could get my eyes, ears, and heart full in viewing the trains as they rushed through our farm. Great billows of smoke and steam gushed from the stacks of the engines high into the air and drifted gently windward. The sharp blasts from the steam whistles seem to split the air into shreds as the 'hogger' (engineer) called for the grade crossing. The weaving motion of the box cars as they rounded the curve and disappeared out of sight reminded me of a slithering snake seeking a hiding place. The huffing puffing of the steam locomotives as they tackled the grades, with an occasional slipping of wheels, made one wonder whether or not they would 'make the grade.' Usually if they were successful in 'making the grade' the 'hogger' would then engage in some fancy 'whistle playing,' indicative of triumph.

The steam whistles used on locomotives of those days were of two types the single bell'ear splitting' and the fancy melodious Natham chime which was easy on the ear. As a boy (and even now as a man) I loved both kinds. There were times, when atmospheric conditions were just right, when these whistles could be heard for miles about the countryside, and at other times you could scarcely hear them at short distances away. I learned that two long and two short blasts from the whistles indicated that the train was approaching a grade crossing. One long blast with a slight 'slurring off' in tone indicated approach to a railroad station. A series of quick sharp blasts indicated livestock on the tracks. The 'high ball', or departure signal, was accomplished by two blasts sometimes quick and sharp at other times the two blasts were prolonged and 'slurred', which produced emotional disturbance on the part of those who would be left behind! The so-called 'whistle talk' covered many other signals for the people who worked for the railroads, all of which was understood by them, and heeded promptly. The 'happy whistling' Petes and Georges on the steam locomotives were loved and appreciated by some, and despised and hated by others. As a boy they were always kind to me and seemed to know that my heart was with them in their work of running the trains. I got the vision of being a 'throttle jerker' when I became a man; but it was a vision which I never realized. Instead I became a gospel preacher and have traveled over many states in my work most of which has been behind steam locomotives with all kinds of whistles and most all kinds of whistling. In my travels I have talked with the railroad men and about their work and from them I have learned much about railroading. Many people who do not know me and what my life's work has been, decide, upon hearing me talk about 'railroading', that I must be a retired railroad man. My reply is: 'I have never been a railroad man; but I have always been a railroad fan.' For many years I have collected items pertaining to 'The Age Of Steam' and particularly as it relates to steam locomotives and their whistles. The collection is said to be the largest and most varied to be found. So you see 'my first love' for these things lives on.


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