Steam Locomotive Whistles

Whistle on SP 2355

The sound of the steam whistle (closely followed by the chuffing sound of steam) is one of the most memorable and thought-provoking sounds of the steam locomotive. Steam whistles were one of the more sought-after items from a locomotive being scrapped.

What is the difference between a whistle and horn? A whistle has no moving parts. There are many types of whistles. A multiple chime whistle has two or more resonant chambers that sound simultaneously. Both 3 and 5 chime whistles were popular.

A few well known American railroads were famous for their whistles:

  • Southern Pacific for their wonderful six-chimes.
  • Union Pacific for their Hancock "steamboat" chimes.
  • Norfolk & Western for their deep, plain "hooter" whistles of the A and Y class.
  • Reading Railroad for their unusual high-pitched passenger six-chimes.
  • CB&Q RR for their melodious five-chimes, and very unusual three-chimes.
  • B&O RR for their wonderful three-chime steptops and very different sounding six-chimes.
  • Grand Trunk for their pretty shop-made six-chimes (Nathan copies).
  • New York Central for their wonderful shop-made six-chimes.

The whistle on the Norfolk & Western 611 whistle is a Hancock long bell "steamboat" minor 3-chime whistle. It is not the original one but one like it. The original whistle is owned by Preston Claytor, whose family has been part of the railroad industry for years.

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Wes Barris