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Air Horns and Whistles

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Air Horns and Whistles
Posted by SeeYou190 on Sunday, January 21, 2018 4:28 PM

OK, steam locomotives have whistles, and diesel locomotives have air horns. We all know that, but why is it that way?

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In the era I model, 1954, and for a long time prior, all steam locomotives had air compressors. There is no reason why they could not have been equipped with air horns.

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And... lots of diesel locomotives had boilers, or steam generators, on board. Those equipped like that could have easily had steam whistles installed. Or, was the pressure from a steam generator too low to operate a whistle?

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Was this really a hard-and-fast rule? I have never seen a model steamer with an air horn or a model diesel with a whistle. Did the prototype ever mix these up a bit?

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-Kevin

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Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by doctorwayne on Sunday, January 21, 2018 4:41 PM

There were steam locomotives with air horns - some on the NYC, I think, Espee and C&NW and perhaps a few others.

Also, some diesels were equipped with whistles, especially the NYNH&H, which used Hancock air whistles on the FL9s, RDCs, and several other of their diesel models. 
I wouldn't be at all surprised if Rapido's version of the FL9 and RDCs, at least in New Haven paint, were likewise equipped.

Wayne

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Posted by 7j43k on Sunday, January 21, 2018 4:53 PM

doctorwayne

There were steam locomotives with air horns - some on the NYC, I think, Espee and C&NW and perhaps a few others.

Also, some diesels were equipped with whistles, especially the NYNH&H, which used Hancock air whistles on the FL9s, RDCs, and several other of their diesel models. 
I wouldn't be at all surprised if Rapido's version of the FL9 and RDCs, at least in New Haven paint, were likewise equipped.

Wayne

 

 

Yup.

I've got both an air horn and a whistle (both "working") on my Intermountain cab forward.

And my NH FL9 has that weird (but good, though) Hancock "sound emitter".

 

Ed

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Posted by gmpullman on Sunday, January 21, 2018 5:14 PM

SeeYou190
And... lots of diesel locomotives had boilers, or steam generators, on board. Those equipped like that could have easily had steam whistles installed.

Steam whistles used a LOT of steam. Passenger locomotives with steam generators had a limited supply of water. It would be pretty embarrassing to explain to passengers that we have no heat for the train because the engineer was being a little whistle happy.

Conversely, it would be quite a bit of a headache, not to mention a waste of fuel, to fire-up the steam-heat boiler simply to blow the whistle if the Diesels were dual-purpose and being used in freight service.

As noted above there were applications of air horns on steam locomotives. I believe the main reason was again, a savings in steam and to a lesser extent, it allowed the whistle (horn) to be moved closer to the front of the locomotive where it could do the most good. In cold weather, less escaping steam resulted in better visibility for the crew as well. (possibly a reason the steam whistle was "usually" mounted on the fireman's side.

Steam is fuel and fuel is money. I'm sure there were discussions about fuel savings in regards to application of air horns over steam whistles on locomotives.

Later "modern power" steam used a Voloco air operated relay valve for the steam whistle. Again so the whistle could be moved toward the front end and the control in the cab was a simple air valve instead of long, mechanical linkage. This took away some of the abilities of the engineer to use the whistle as an "art form" as the whistle was either "on-or-off" with no feathering capability.

Some NYC E units had Hancock air whistles. They simply weren't loud enough. At the same time Leslie was perfecting the "Supertyfon" air horn and developing a wider range of models.

The Leslie A-200-156 was the common horn on early steam applications, early Diesels and the PRR GG1.

My early run of BLI NYC Niagaras had both whistles and air horns, like the prototype. After I put the "upgrade" chip in them from QSI, I lost the air horn Super Angry. I'll have to see if the Leslie A-200 is included with Loksound* sound projects.

[edit] * I just looked at the Daylight FT sound file and there is the ability to have the air horn option (sound slot 21).

Good Luck, Ed

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Posted by NWP SWP on Sunday, January 21, 2018 5:43 PM

I know the SP equipped the Backup Mallets with air horns because the whistle was located further back on the locos and they figured the air horn up front would be more audible...

I the the SP had air horns on the GS Daylights but don't quote me on that...

Another good question would be why didn't they use air whistles in later years?

Steven

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Posted by gmpullman on Sunday, January 21, 2018 7:28 PM

NWP SWP
Another good question would be why didn't they use air whistles in later years?

 

gmpullman
Some NYC E units had Hancock air whistles. They simply weren't loud enough.

 

My guess is they weren't loud enough.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hancock_air_whistle

 

Happy Modeling, Ed

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Posted by NHTX on Sunday, January 21, 2018 9:49 PM

   The New Haven's Alco HH-660, S-1 and S-2 switchers all had actual. air operated whistles, not the Hancock Model 4700 air whistles as used on the FL-9, GP-9, RS-11, late FM H-16-44 etc.  Some sources claim the whistles on the Alcos were removed from from retired electrics.

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Posted by gmpullman on Sunday, January 21, 2018 10:17 PM

True,

Some of the New York Central switchers had "Interurban" style air whistles, too.

http://www.rr-fallenflags.org/nyc/nyc641s.jpg

Regards, Ed

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Posted by dehusman on Sunday, January 21, 2018 11:10 PM

Its really pretty simple ALL steam engines have steam to run a whistle, but not all steam engines have an air compressor.

If you think about it, air brakes weren't required until 1906.  Steam engines for the first 60-70 years didn't have an air compressor.  No air brakes, no need for a compressor.  Therefore the whistle was a piece of "standard" equipment on a steam engine.

Dave H. Painted side goes up. My website : wnbranch.com

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, January 22, 2018 1:17 AM

Perhaps timely for this subject, I was able to confirm yesterday night that not only was at least one early DL&W 4-8-4 (1603) delivered from the factory with a chime horn, there are sound clips of it in action.  (Regrettably this was 1929, and some of the pitches may be distorted by changes in mechanical camera speed, but it should be possible to cross-check with pictures of these horns' physical dimensions to get a good idea of the true pitches).

Why the subsequent Hudsons only got single-note instead of chime horns, I'm not sure.  The pictures of these horns that I have seen are interesting in that the bells are much smaller than those on "postwar" diesel chime horns - almost dainty, and they have a somewhat car-like timbre.

There are discussions in NYC literature about why the air horns were fitted (in 1947).  These all boil down to operational efficiencies.  I always thought of the ones on the Daylight GS4s (4449 has one and uses it) as being an attempt to get that Modern Streamliner Sound rather than as a more commanding and 'carrying' sound for grade crossings, and the ones visible in the center cab panels on later cab-forwards as reflecting easy valve connection and short piping to brake air to get sound projected forward from the 'front' of the locomotive ... you might still better use the whistle to communicate with your rear crew, though.

If I remember correctly the pathetic little air whistles on PRR MP54s were carried over onto the main line electric power in the early years, and in fact the lack of meaningful warning at P5 speeds contributed to grade-crossing problems - thence the A220 as a pretty good solution.  I can't recall a practical air whistle anywhere near as loud as a diaphragm horn on the same pressure and flow volume...

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Posted by rrinker on Monday, January 22, 2018 7:20 AM

 Whistles were also reused - the whistles off old locos being removed from service often went to the newer locos replacing them. Railroads even did this with horns. Because horns and whistles were not cheap.

 I doubt fuel economy came into play with putting a whistle rather than an air horn on a steam loco - the whistle would win every time. You need to put X energy in to get Y energy out, but if you are going to use an air horn, you now have the losses in the air compressor to add to the equation. 

                       --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Monday, January 22, 2018 12:38 PM

Might be ralated to the air whistle usage...

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On every piece of heavy equipment that I have worked on that was equipped with an air whistle, the whistle always was supplied by its own air tank that needed to have an isolation valve on the tank inlet plumbing. This was so you could not drain the air system dry with the whistle.

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These whistles, even small ones, did require a lot of volume of air to make them work.

.

-Kevin

.

Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by gmpullman on Monday, January 22, 2018 2:34 PM

rrinker
 I doubt fuel economy came into play with putting a whistle rather than an air horn on a steam loco - the whistle would win every time.

Well, I guess I'm wrong, then.

The New York central Historical Society has quite a few articles about steam economy for the "new" Niagara locomotives. The NYC was always looking at comparisons to Diesel performance at the time and if it came down to squeezing another half-cent per mile of operating cost out of a locomotive then it was worth investing in. The first EMD E7s were delivered within months of the first Niagara.

During dynamometer testing every scoop of coal was weighed and counted. Fuel economy was paramount to the railroads.

One of the articles mentioned a "Bulletin Order" issued to engineers encouraging the use of the air horn on locomotives so equipped. 

Fuel economy was not a single benefit but it was a secondary benefit in the use of air horns on steam locomotives. 

I should have done my research before posting the above inaccurate statements...

Here's the best solution to the whole mess...

http://www.honkfestwest.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/honk-train.jpg

 

Happy Modeling, Ed

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Posted by JWhite on Monday, January 22, 2018 2:45 PM

IC 1146 a 4-6-2 that pulled the City of New Orleans connecting train from Louisville, KY to Fulton, KY until it was wrecked in 1951 had an air horn like the E units that pulled the City.  It was also the only semi streamlined steam locomotive the IC ever owned. Photos of it show the Nathan air horn on the engineers side of the smoke box next to the stack.

Jeff White

Alma, IL

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Posted by OT Dean on Tuesday, January 23, 2018 12:33 AM

gmpullman
  My brother worked for the Milwaukee Road in the mid-'50s and was aware that the road used air horns on their big steamers, such as their S-series Northerns and fast 4-6-4 "Baltics (MILW was one of the roads who disdained the "Hudson" designation)."  We saw an air horn on an excellent HO brass S3 at Gene Wiesflog's Hobby Hut, in Wauwatosa, and my Bro said someone had figured out that it cost the company 17 cents every time they blew a steam whistle.  There are a whale of a lot of grade crossings between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities---not to mention the state of Washington!

Deano

 

 
SeeYou190
And... lots of diesel locomotives had boilers, or steam generators, on board. Those equipped like that could have easily had steam whistles installed.

 

Steam whistles used a LOT of steam. Passenger locomotives with steam generators had a limited supply of water. It would be pretty embarrassing to explain to passengers that we have no heat for the train because the engineer was being a little whistle happy.

Conversely, it would be quite a bit of a headache, not to mention a waste of fuel, to fire-up the steam-heat boiler simply to blow the whistle if the Diesels were dual-purpose and being used in freight service.

As noted above there were applications of air horns on steam locomotives. I believe the main reason was again, a savings in steam and to a lesser extent, it allowed the whistle (horn) to be moved closer to the front of the locomotive where it could do the most good. In cold weather, less escaping steam resulted in better visibility for the crew as well. (possibly a reason the steam whistle was "usually" mounted on the fireman's side.

Steam is fuel and fuel is money. I'm sure there were discussions about fuel savings in regards to application of air horns over steam whistles on locomotives.

Later "modern power" steam used a Voloco air operated relay valve for the steam whistle. Again so the whistle could be moved toward the front end and the control in the cab was a simple air valve instead of long, mechanical linkage. This took away some of the abilities of the engineer to use the whistle as an "art form" as the whistle was either "on-or-off" with no feathering capability.

Some NYC E units had Hancock air whistles. They simply weren't loud enough. At the same time Leslie was perfecting the "Supertyfon" air horn and developing a wider range of models.

The Leslie A-200-156 was the common horn on early steam applications, early Diesels and the PRR GG1.

My early run of BLI NYC Niagaras had both whistles and air horns, like the prototype. After I put the "upgrade" chip in them from QSI, I lost the air horn Super Angry. I'll have to see if the Leslie A-200 is included with Loksound* sound projects.

[edit] * I just looked at the Daylight FT sound file and there is the ability to have the air horn option (sound slot 21).

Good Luck, Ed

 

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Posted by wjstix on Tuesday, January 23, 2018 10:55 AM

Steam locomotives started to be equipped with air horns when streamlined steam started to become fashionable in the 1930's. The feeling was that with trains running 90-100 MPH that an air horn's sound carried a lot farther than a steam whistle, so air horns were attached to high-speed steam engines. Milwaukee Road's Hiawatha 4-4-2 and 4-6-4 engines had air horns, as did C&NW's non-streamlined Pacifics used on the original "400" for example.

As noted in earlier posts, you don't need steam for a whistle. Hancock air whistles sound like a pleasant steam whistle, but use air the same as an air horn. The railroad I grew up near, the Minneapolis Northfield and Southern, used Hancock air whistles. When the Soo took over in the early eighties, it was quite a shock to hear those loud "blat" air horns on their GP-9s instead of the soft air whistle sound.

BTW Tsunami sound decoders have the Hancock air whistle, but it's about an octave lower in pitch than the MN&S ones, not sure how it compares to other railroad's air whistles.

Stix
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Posted by dknelson on Tuesday, January 23, 2018 11:38 AM

Yes the Milwaukee Road 4-8-4s had air horns and I have been told that that was the preferred thing for grade crossings and other routine uses.  They had a steam whistle as well, in fact at least some of them had two with one a reserve "emergency" whistle.  A few years ago I was following the preserved Milwaukee Road 261 4-8-4 on an excursion and of course for that everyone wants to hear the steam whistle and they are lavish with it.  But the whistle malfunctioned at some point and they started to use the hair horn.  Fans were disappointed of course, except for a few Milwaukee Road diehards for whom this was a rare chance to hear the class S3's air horn.

The air horn on the SP Daylight 4-8-4s is pretty evident from most head end photos.  When 4449 powered the Freedom Train in the 1970s for the bicentennial I followed them out of Madison WI.  They left Madison WI after midnight and used the airhorn to minimize the noise for sleeping neighbors at grade crossings. But out in the countryside they'd use the whistle again just because they liked it.

The CP Royal Hudson that toured the US around 1970-80 had steam whistles but also an air horn, and a special air horn that played the opening four notes in correct rhythm of "O Canada!"*

Most of these steam era airhorns, as with early diesels, was a single note "blatttt" not the harmonious multichime airhorns you hear today.

Dave Nelson  

*amended post.  "Selector" (see below) is right -- the rhythm of O Canada is the two longs, a short, and a long for grade crossings, and that is what they used that air horn for when they left Waukesha WI for Stevens Point on the old Soo Line, circa 1978 or 79, and my friend and I were out in the boonies after midnight, total darkness, hearing that horn approach us at country crossing after country crossing.    

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Posted by selector on Tuesday, January 23, 2018 1:33 PM

dknelson

...

The CP Royal Hudson that toured the US around 1970-80 had steam whistles but also an air horn, and a special air horn that played the opening four notes in correct rhythm of "O Canada!"

 

Dave Nelson  

 

I believe this tune was allowed because it conformed to the 14L crossing code for train whistles.  Oooooh Caaaaaaaaaa na Daaaaaaa  (long, long, short, long).

Cool

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Posted by wjstix on Tuesday, January 23, 2018 2:54 PM

FWIW the DM&IR (Missabe Road) used Hancock air whistles for a short time in the 1950's, as their management didn't like the BLAT airhorn the diesels came with. However, they decided the whistle wasn't loud enough so quit using them, but did find a pleasing five-chime horn they used from then on.

Stix
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Posted by ATSFGuy on Friday, January 26, 2018 1:41 PM

Every time I come across a certain railroad promotional film on YouTube, the F-Units and E-Units have unique sounding air horns.

Were air horns popular on the railroads during the late 1940's/early 1950's?   The horn sounded like it came off a 1953 Kenworth Truck.

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Posted by Overmod on Saturday, January 27, 2018 9:23 AM

ATSFGuy
Were air horns popular on the railroads during the late 1940's/early 1950's?   The horn sounded like it came off a 1953 Kenworth Truck.

See the earlier discussions about air horns applied to early diesels, and the relatively short-lived association of loud single-note horns with high-speed trains.  Many early locomotives came with one single-note horn facing forward and one facing back; on Jersey Central in 1961 these were blown via separate valves and cords, had different notes, and were used for different purposes.

The modern chime horn is essentially Canadian, and you might research its history to see why and how it supplanted the 'honkers'.  In my childhood I was mainly exposed to EL switchers and RS3s and the occasional wild chord from the West Shore, which might as well have been on the moon for a six-year-old, promised a far higher level of railroading.  In those pre-media days kids had little idea what most railroads actually sounded like; even the provision of those snazzy printed vinyl sheet records bound into magazines was a decade in the future.  It has taken literally this long for me to hear what a '20s Lackawanna chime horn actually sounded like.

Now, one interesting detail of steam chime whistles is that very little of what actually vibrates in there to emit sound is steam.  It is difficult to measure, for reasons that will likely suggest themselves to you, but the actual steam mass in one of those Nathan long-bells blown on superheated steam is something like 7% - all the rest is air.  Some people learning this wonder why adapting this to blow on straight air was not used -- the answer being provided in discussions of development of the modern diaphragm air horns.  Think of the size and duty-cycle increase of air-compressor usage, even in things like Alcos with crank-driven radial units, for the volume needed to blow.  With all that air likely having to be dehumidified and filtered.

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