Whistle advice?

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Re: Whistle advice?

Post by Dick_Morris » Wed Aug 29, 2018 8:26 pm

At Railfair in Sacramento around 1991 there was a 3" scale 15" gauge Shay (which used Andres Case traction engine cylinders) with an interesting chime whistle. It had chambers that doubled back on themselves on the outside of the whistle to get a lower tone. My recollection was that it sounded pretty good. I've never seen a drawing of this design published or even a photo.

Although there are a lot of four note whistles around, for the people who know about music, wouldn't the chord of three notes be desirable to four?

I've also wondered if a thicker bell than drain tubing would give a better tone? I'm guessing the drain tubing flexes pretty badly.

I've read that the material used in the bell of the whistle affected the tone. Something that wouldn't damp the ringing would sound differently than something that was dead. (However, both the original one note whistle and the chime whistle currently fitted on ARR 557 were cast iron.)

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Re: Whistle advice?

Post by reubenT » Thu Aug 30, 2018 10:36 am

Use as many tones as you like, as long as they are all tuned to harmonize. It's off harmony tones that clash. Like an orchestra playing hundreds of notes in harmony sounds wonderful, one instrument out of tune throws it all off. A trumpet has many doubled up pipes to get lower notes, with the keys connecting the air passage to different lengths of tubes to play a tune. The several tube lengths have slide pieces that adjust the length of tube to tune the instrument. I want a good low toned whistle to put on my steam truck. Not top priority but mystifying the inhabitants of the valley with what sounds like a steam loco somewhere in the region would be fun. Used to be a narrow gauge rail up the valley bout 5 miles away. Coal mining and logging company. It went out of service in the 30's.

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Re: Whistle advice?

Post by LVRR2095 » Thu Aug 30, 2018 10:39 am

Mitered organ pipes are sometimes used to fit a pipe that would otherwise be too tall to fit in limited space. Steam whistles are basically organ pipes.
I don’t think the thickness of the bell has that great of an affect on the tone. What does have an affect is the diameter of the chamber which does affect the timbre, while the length affects what musical note is sounded. On the number of notes.....I wonder if they are three notes, with the shortest chamber being an octave above the longest chamber?

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Re: Whistle advice?

Post by Greg_Lewis » Fri Aug 31, 2018 6:36 pm

I seem to recall reading somewhere that three or five notes are better than four. I don't remember why. A chart in the April 1976 issue of Live Steam (p. 12) lists the notes for ten loco whistles. Three are 3-note, five are 5-note, one is 1-note and one is 6-note. None are 4-note. Another chart in the November 1975 issue (p. 41) lists 13 whistles. Three are 3-note, eight are 5-note, and two are 6-note.

In the April 1976 issue, Deane Ellsworth wrote:
Flutes can be doubled over on themselves to make your whistles more compact....

There is also a magazine called Horn & Whistle (http://hornandwhistle.com/). In issue #23, March/April 1986, there is an article by Richard Weisenberger titled Mathematics for the Whistle Builder. Subheads include: Calculation of Circular Area of Flue, The Resonant Chamber, Factors Affecting The Frequency, Concerning Mouth Design, and Calculation of Air Flow, Acoustical Power Output and Efficiency. If you want to get into details of whistle design and you like math, this is a good place to start. Have your slide rule or calculator handy. You would need to contact the publisher at their website about a copy of the article. Issues #9 (p. 18), 10 (p. 12) and 19 (pp. 12 - 13) also contain articles about whistle design.

And my notes mention the DM&IR Yellowstone whistle is a C-minor triad, C, E flat and G. I don't have a source for this. Another source I have suggests C, D# and A#, which were supposedly used on Army locos in North Africa during WWII.

Here's another resource from my file: http://capewest.ca/steam_whistle_plans.html

And a final note in my folder quotes Jack Bodenmann as saying that the steam slit needs to be very narrow, on the order of .001, and that the valve needs a small orfice and long taper on the head or stem.
Greg Lewis, Prop.
Eyeball Engineering — Home of non-interchangeable parts.
Our motto: "That looks about right."
Celebrating 30 years of turning perfectly good metal into bits of useless scrap.

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Re: Whistle advice?

Post by 10KPete » Fri Aug 31, 2018 9:56 pm

Wow! Thanks for all the info Greg!

Just tryin'

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Re: Whistle advice?

Post by Dick_Morris » Fri Aug 31, 2018 10:08 pm

Another source I have suggests C, D# and A#, which were supposedly used on Army locos in North Africa during WWII.
I can verify that the USATC "S-160" Consolidations, which were used extensively in North Africa before being shipped to Europe, used a single chime whistle. References are the BLW and Lima drawing indexes and the Nathan drawing.

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Re: Whistle advice?

Post by dampfmann » Thu Sep 13, 2018 1:01 pm


I recently ordered a Mintz Whistle. The whistle arrived within THREE DAYS! Unfortunately, the whistle was damaged during transit. One of the tubes had a small dent/crease. I immediately emailed Mintz Whistles and included a picture of the damaged tube. Ron Mintz responded, apologized, and offered to send a replacement. No questions asked. Excellent communication and customer service... and the whistle sounds great, too!

Side note: has anyone ever attempted to shroud the whistle in a brass or aluminum tube? If so, please share your experience and construction details.



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