Steam Locomotives & Whistles

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.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment