You can’t ignore a steam whistle unless perhaps you’re deaf. They come in all sizes

Steam whistles in action!

and loudness and the high pitched ones will drive you crazy.

Today, what is it that draws people to live steam events? Perhaps it is memories of an age when steam was king?  From time to time, we should be reminded of the power of  steam. Yes, we women, too. At a recent steam event I met a woman who said she had told her husband she would wait in the car while he enjoyed the show. I’ll tell you later why she changed her mind about this event.

Burl Updyke and Curt Friday with steam whistle.

It was Whistlestop Weekend in Meridian, Mississippi, and a live steam festival was to dominate the event and who had to go? My husband. He loves steam engines, steam boats, steam trains, you name it. If it’s operated by steam, he’s drawn to it. And so are a lot of other people, like me. And so we attended the live steam event in Meridian. My husband, Burl, packed up the model steam engine he had machined and operated at other events, and this time he took along a steam whistle, he had yet to hear blow.

When steam engines were in their glory, they pumped water from mines, powered electrical plants, train locomotives, automobiles and boats. They made possible the use of machines during the industrial revolution, and they even powered pop corn machines, too. Why did a woman, for the first time, enjoy a live steam event? Because the COAA was there, “The Carousel Organ Association of America.” That included me and my husband with his band organ, and the woman thought the music changed the event from a  yucky, dirty, steam and soot show to a more palpable one.”I love music and appreciate your coming, you’ve made the event most enjoyable,” she said. She may not have been aware that years ago carousels were steam operated and it  may have powered the band organ, also.

We were there helping to provide the “happiest music on the earth.” There were a total of 40 of us with a variety of organs, some of them crank organs. Most people never tire of hearing the sounds they remember coming from the carousels of their youth. Today’s kids love it, too, some of the smallest resist being taken away from their stance in front of the band organ.

From our position on the steam festival grounds, we watched two men hoisting steam whistles up to a rooftop where there was a bracket built especially to hold them and where steam was piped. One whistle was especially large, six inches in diameter. Before this project was completed, at least six whistles were put in place and ropes dropped that had been attached to each whistle’s lever. That meant that people strolling on the grounds could easily reach the ropes and blow the whistles. Burl’s was the smallest, but it stood on it’s own. It’s high pitch wail is penetrating. We wondered if it may have been used on a farm steam tractor. On the grounds below, steam engines spit and puffed and the building, once a bustling industry that actually built steam engines, was now a steam museum.

In the 1830’s steam whistles were adopted by railroads and steamship companies. In 1893 at the Chicago World Fair, the largest whistle on record was five feet long. It’s said that York, Pennsylvania has a  steam whistle Christmas concert. If an array of whistles are arranged to play music they are called a calliope. And by the way, they are different than a band organ.

Listening for the steam whistle could mean good news, like waiting for the  factory noon time break. At the mines, a whistle blow could have meant bad news, such as death to some of its workers. Good or bad the steam whistle served as a warning. As I leave you with these thoughts on whistles, I can’t help but think of the warnings given to us by God who loves us dearly. He’s the one that has seen man through the centuries of change and even today His love continues to reach out to us, sometimes as a warning, and always as a reminder of the Good News of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.


  1. I didn’t realize that Dad hadn’t heard the steam whistle before this! That’s really fun!! I’m sure your music DID make the event much nicer. Sure seems like a steam whistle Christmas concert would be really loud!!! Very interesting post!


  2. I don’y think that I have ever heard a steam whistle, other then those on the old trains. I never really gave any thought to them. You have lots of information here. Very interesting.


    • Good to hear from you Colleen. You and Dom really have to experience a steam show. Thanks for standing with me. I have a goal set to reach 25 friends who will sign up to receive “” by email. Watch how it goes, God bless you.


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