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Air Horns on Steam Engines

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Air Horns on Steam Engines
Posted by cefinkjr on Friday, July 9, 2021 3:11 PM

Russ Davis, in his Riding the Pennsy T-1 (pp 32-41, Trains, July 1943) mentions an air horn on PRR 6111 in addition to the normal steam whistle. Presumably PRR 6110 (the only other T1 delivered to PRR by the spring of 1943) also had an air horn.  Did later T1's or any other PRR class have air horns?

I had always thought air horns on steam engines were a West Coast affectation.  I know some SP classes, partiularly some GS and AC classes, had air horns.  Did any other roads put air horns on any steam locomotives?

Chuck
Allen, TX

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Posted by Overmod on Friday, July 9, 2021 3:34 PM

cefinkjr
Did any other roads put air horns on any steam locomotives?

There were many.  In the East, one of the first to use air horns extensively was the Lackawanna -- there is now a fascinating video of the first days of the 4-8-4s in 1929 containing the sound of their tuned (but relatively tiny) chime horns.

Kiefer I believe actually has a discussion of the air horn applied to the Niagaras, including the surprisingly substantial fuel and water savings occasioned by its use.  As I recall the use of air horns in place of either saturated or superheated-steam whistles became popular in the brief period, mostly in the Forties, of high-pressure steam at low water rate of the obligate treated water.  

I don't remember the precise numbers offhand but a standard long-bell Nathan blown at Niagara pressure -- I don't remember whether this was original 290 or revised lower service pressure -- used sonething like 6lb steam per second, both a mass and corresponding enthalpy loss.  Unsurprising that a horn worked off main-reservoir air was perceived as a better substitute (with a cross-compound compressor making pressure at required volume).

I think that hand-in-hand with feedwater treatment regimes you'll find an attraction to using air horns in place of whistles after about 1947.

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Posted by OT Dean on Friday, July 9, 2021 11:52 PM

Overmod
cefinkjr Did any other roads put air horns on any steam locomotives? There were many.  In the East, one of the first to use air horns extensively was the Lackawanna -- there is now a fascinating video of the first days of the 4-8-4s in 1929 containing the sound of their tuned (but relatively tiny) chime horns.

Add the Milwaukee Road to the list.  I was born in a house close enough practically peer into passenger car windows as the trains passed, then a half-block away from the Milwaukee-Twin Cities double-track main while still a baby.  My older brothers and I were amazed to hear steam locos honking for the big grade crossing just a block east of our street, instead of the long, musical chime whistle songs.  Years later, when my oldest brother worked for the MILW in the Menominee Valley Yard that split the city, he asked someone about it.  It turns out that whistling for grade crossings cost the company 17¢  each!  Imagine how many crossings there were (are) along the hundreds and thousands of miles of main line.  Still, the sound of air horns doesn't stir my blood or bring back memories the way the wail of a whistle does.

Deano 

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Posted by BEAUSABRE on Saturday, July 10, 2021 12:14 AM

To sort of turn things on their heads, many early diesels had air whistles and Hancock made an air whistle model until at least 1960. When I lived in the Hudson Valley in the 1980's, the sound of ex-NH FL9's on MNCR would echo across the Valley at sunset. Incredibly beautiful.

http://www.dieselairhorns.com/sounds/Hancock.mp3

http://www.dieselairhorns.com/collection.html

http://cs.trains.com/trn/f/741/t/280434.aspx

 

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Posted by gmpullman on Saturday, July 10, 2021 1:37 AM

     —And who would expect, upon hearing a three-chime air whistle, to look down the track and see an approaching GG1?

 GG1_top by Edmund, on Flickr

 GG1_top_crop by Edmund, on Flickr

I can't say how many or for how long they had them but, early-on, they were there. Quickly replaced by the Leslie Typhon A-200 that they retained for the remainder of their careers.

This was also the air horn many of the steam locomotives were fitted with.

Good Luck, Ed

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Posted by dknelson on Saturday, July 10, 2021 11:22 AM

OT Dean
Add the Milwaukee Road to the list. 

Milwaukee Road 261 still has its air horn and yes my understanding is that the steam whistle was to be used at crossings mainly if the air horn did not function correctly.  In fact I think 261 had two backup steam whistles.  

Some years ago I was following 261 on an excursion and mid-day was surprised to suddenly hear the air horn --we later learned the steam whistles had a malfunction.  Of course anyone in love with steam wants to hear the whistle but in this case it was interesting and different to hear the horn.  

Dave Nelson

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Posted by NHTX on Saturday, July 10, 2021 2:20 PM

     The Hancock air whistle as used on the FL-9 was widely embraced by the New Haven.  In 1955, it was selected to replace the one-note, goose like "honkers" on the 40 unit Budd Rail Diesel Car (RDC) fleet.  Without its distinctive dish-like sound reflector, it was also applied to the "washboard" fleet of electric multiple unit cars.  The Hancock 4700 also graced all three groups of road switchers acquired by the NH in 1956-ALCo RS-11s, EMD GP-9s and FM H16-44s, along with the EMD SW-1200 yard switchers.  It should also be noted that the three lightweight, experimental trains ordered by the Patrick B. McGinnis regime in the 1950s came with regular three-chime diesel airhorns and, the only one that was moderately successful was the "Roger Williams" which was built on proven Budd RDC technology.  Maybe they should have equipped 'em with 4700s instead?

     The NH also rostered 31 ALCo high hood yard switchers with deliveries beginning in 1938, followed by 65 ALCo S-1, 22 ALCo S-2s and, 10 Lima-Hamilton LH-12 yard switchers, by 1950.  All of these locomotives sported three chime, brass whistles, reputedly removed from retired electric locomotives.  As one of the pioneers in mainline railroad electrification, the New Haven had a sizeable stable of sparkers to move its trains but, in light of war-time demands for brass, it seems some other metal would have been used.

Air horns on steamers, whistles on diesels and electrics.  

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Posted by BEAUSABRE on Saturday, July 10, 2021 3:38 PM
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Posted by BEAUSABRE on Saturday, July 10, 2021 3:40 PM
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Posted by NHTX on Saturday, July 10, 2021 5:27 PM

BEAUSABRE, many thanks for the info and Hancock 4700 recordings.  Are there any audio recordings of the New Haven's DEYs or three chimed electrics' whistles out there?

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Posted by Overmod on Saturday, July 10, 2021 8:39 PM

NHTX
Are there any audio recordings of the New Haven's DEYs or three chimed electrics' whistles out there?

I certainly hope so.

But if not, there may be similar Crosby whistles that have been recorded.  Here's an example from one of the Alco high-hoods

https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/haven-railroad-brass-crosby-1927161479

and this is very similar to one I've seen from an EP-2, so it may be characteristic of the New Haven 'three-chime' tuning.

Incidentally I have seen at least one report that indicates some of the New Haven Hancocks ran with one chamber 'blanked off', perhaps to get a louder and sharper sound from the available air.  

 

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Posted by NHTX on Sunday, July 11, 2021 2:23 AM

I seem to remember the whistles on some of the Budd RDCs having a sharper, less raspy sound.  On an RDC, which is a very quiet vehicle, compared to a locomotive hauled train, you want to make all the noise you can, for your own safety.

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Posted by DSO17 on Sunday, July 11, 2021 10:58 AM

cefinkjr
I had always thought air horns on steam engines were a West Coast affectation.  I know some SP classes, partiularly some GS and AC classes, had air horns.  Did any other roads put air horns on any steam locomotives?

The Reading had air horns on some of its 4-6-2's. 

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Posted by wjstix on Wednesday, July 14, 2021 9:54 AM

Although there may have been a cost savings to using horns, I was always under the impression it had more to do with speed. Airhorns are louder so could be heard much farther away, so a streamlined steam engine like a Milwaukee Road Hiawatha 4-4-2 going 90 MPH would do a better job warning drivers at a grade crossing with it's airhorn.

BTW the railroad running thru my hometown (Richfield MN) used Hancock Air Whistles on all it's diesels, including their last purchases, the SD-39s bought in 1968, so apparently they were still making them then.

Stix

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