On my way into Manchester this morning - basking in the luxuary of a 142 ('Pacer') DMU - a mother and her twin, very excited, 4 year old daughters were making the same journey to visit MOSI. Every time they saw another train, all three mimed the act of pulling a whistle chain and loudly "Choo-Chooed". This, in itself, reminds us of the potency of the Steam Locomotive - but trains in Britain have not got "Choo Choo" since 1968 - but yet it remains the "classic sound" of a train. But... 'twas not always thus ...
Organ Pipes and Locomotives ...
The fictional Ivor the Engine (created by Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate), famously has organ pipes The very first railway locomotives such as 'Planet' had no "Means of Audible Warning" other than a instead of a traditional steam whistle; and sometimes the truth is far stranger than fiction.
The earliest locomotives had no "Means of Audible Warning", other than a bugle or hunting horn blown by the Fireman to warn of their approach. The steam whistle - that iconic sound of the age of steam - had not yet been invented.
How could an improved means of "Audible Warning" be developed and increase safety on the railways? The answer comes from an unlikely source - William Hill of London, a Pipe Organ Builder. Born in Lincolnshire in 1879 and by the 1830s was one of the leading Organ Builders in Britain having taken prestigious commissions for York Minster and the Royal Panopticon of the Sciences. His greatest triumph was Birmingham Town Hall (1834).
William Hill (1789-1870) in old age c.1865
Hill was instrumental (pun intended) in developing the "Steam Trumpet". The Musical World reported in 1837:
"Mr. Hill has designed, for the newly-formed Railroads in Birmingham ... an instrument, which ... the whole is of iron or brass... blown by steam ... the pipes brass... the power of the tone ... extremely penetrating."
Early depictions of this "Steam Trumpet" depict an inverted cone (i.e. ice cream cone shape) surmountined a short cylinder. Rather like a Trumpet Pipe from a pipe organ:
These experiments by Hill on the "Steam Trumpet" were promoted by a Mr Ledsom, a leading Birmingham Industrialist, who was active in promoting the construction of the 'Grand Junction Railway' which linked Birmingham to the pioneering 'Liverpool & Manchester Railway' via a junction at Warrington. Whether the "Steam Trumpet" was intended as a signalling device or as a "Means of Audible Warning" is not clear, but according to the local Press it produced "so Grand and Melodic a tone" that rather than running away from the sound, people ran towards it out of sheer curiosity.
Ever inventive, Hill put this new invention to good use in his mighty organ for Birmingham Town Hall
William Hill's mighty organ for Birmingham Town Hall built in 1834