The Phantom Whistle

| September/October 1990

108 Garfield Avenue Madison, New Jersey 07940

One Sunday afternoon I was reading the paper out on my sun porch with the windows open to admit the gentle breeze. Above the ambient noises of the neighborhood I thought I heard the unmistakable sound of a steam locomotive whistle. Now I'm not so far away from the railroad tracks through town and I can often hear an engineer blowing for the Convent crossing. This wasn't a diesel's air horn. It was steam. It just had to be steam!

Thinking back, I had heard that whistle once before, perhaps a month or two earlier. Now and again I fire up my Crown Sheet Sales boiler to run my Stuart 5A engine out in the driveway and do probably annoy the neighbors by blowing its whistle from an ex-B&O freight engine. Was this the Flying Dutchman of whistles coming to haunt me?

Let's go find it! So off in the car with the windows down trying to vector in on the intermittent sound. Around the corner and a block away is a large church setting well back from the street which is surrounded by extensive parking facilities and driveways. The sound was coming from there. Pulling in off the street, I was face to face with an apparition coming towards me belching steam and emitting the sound that had originally attracted my attention. A tall slim boiler with its stack extending its height even further was hiding the operator of this vehicle. The seat he was occupying was a part of the angle iron frame. Suspended beneath this frame was a flat, twin cylinder steam engine of the Stanley Steamer genre and was propelling this collection of steam era memorabilia.

I parked my car to one side and melted into the crowd of onlookers that had gathered. What appeared to be the owner and his son and a friend were attending the needs of this unique transportation device. They had shut off the LPG burner and were unscrewing the whistle. The whistle? Next, water was being added to the boiler from a jerry can through the whistle connection.

This was too much. I broke my silence and asked, 'Why don't you use the injector?' A Penberthy injector was piped up to what turned out to be a rectangular water tank beneath the seat.