Question about the N&W freight "hooter" whistle

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at
Mon Sep 22 18:53:21 EDT 2008

Steve -

The main difference is about 4 inches, as you noted! The length of the whistle's "bell" determines the pitch - the 8" whistle will sound higher than the 12". As to why 1218's whistle was so loud - can't say. I hope someone else here may have some ideas. It may have something to do with the 300 psi steam pressure. It was the loudest whistle I've ever heard.

611's whistle was hidden by the skyline casing, so that tended to make it sound more muffled than 1218, plus the fact that it had three notes instead of one. Perhaps if it were mounted out in the open, it would be louder, although I doubt it would match 1218.

UP 3985 has the same whistle as 611, but it does sound a bit different, probably due to its exposed location.

Dave Stephenson

--- On Mon, 9/22/08, NW Mailing List <nw-mailing-list at> wrote:

> From: NW Mailing List <nw-mailing-list at>

> Subject: Question about the N&W freight "hooter" whistle

> To: nw-mailing-list at

> Date: Monday, September 22, 2008, 1:12 PM

> 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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