Steam Whistle Concert

By Staff


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

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

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

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

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,

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.


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