Question about the N&W freight "hooter" whistle

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at
Mon Sep 22 13:12:59 EDT 2008

I have a question regarding the N&W's hooter whistle as featured on the N&W
1218 as well as the Y classes and other freight power. While I am a big fan
of steam, I don't fully understand the mechanics of whistles. When I was
younger, I remember being terrified of 1218's whistle as I was riding in the
car with my parents. We were pacing the 1218 around Arcadia, South Carolina
on it's ferry move north in April 1987 on it's way to Roanoke for it's debut
excursion trips. While my memory is vague, I do remember that my dad had the
windows in his AMC Spirit rolled down and when the 1218 blew it's whistle
for a grade crossing, I jumped from the front seat into the rear floorboard.

In the years since the end of the NS steam program and since 1218 last ran,
I have come to appreciate and miss the A, but memories of that whistle still
rattle me to the core. My impression was that 1218's whistle was louder than
the 611's, but maybe I'm wrong. For those with steam experience, what
controls the volume of the whistle? I thought that the size of the
locomotive possibly had something to do or maybe the boiler pressure.
However, I was just watching a video of C&O 614 on an excursion from
Hoboken, NJ to Port Jervis, NY back in the late 90's carrying a N&W hooter
and the whistle sounded the same as on the 1218, although to be fair it's
hard to judge fairly on a YouTube video. Also, while I have not seen this
locomotive in person, footage I've seen of the UP 3985 suggest that it's
whistle is not as loud as the 1218's and sounds similar but not identical to
the 611's.

I have also watched clips of the Strasburg's ex N&W M 4-8-0 475 and I must
say I like the hooter whistle it carries better, which I believe is the
8-inch version. I am curious what are the main differences were between the
8-inch and 12-inch hooter whistles?

Steven Ashley
Spartanburg, SC
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