Along with the hoot of the trolley whistle, the voice of
New York Museum of Transportation, near Rochester, N.Y.,
is its calliope. Donated to NYMT in the 1990s after a career
as a favorite in Rochester-area parades, the calliope had been
silent for several years before repairs were made in early 2009.
Calliopes date from the mid-1800s. Whistles fed with
steam and operated from a keyboard produced a loud, almost
deafening sound when heard close-up. When circuses began
traveling to towns by railroad after the Civil War, the calliope was
the perfect instrument to draw townspeople to the performances.
NYMT’s calliope is a CA-43 calliope built about 1920 by
the Tangley Company of Muscatine, Iowa. Electricity is used to
power several motors. One runs a compressor which supplies
low-pressure air to the whistles. Another motor drives a vacuum
system for the paper roll reader. Two more motors, one for forward
and another for rewind, moves the punched paper roll past a reader
bar. The paper roll system is similar to those used on player pianos
and band organs. Paper rolls with punched slots are drawn past a
stationary bar with a series of vacuum hoses, one for each whistle.
When a hole in the paper appears, the inrush of air actuates a valve
which in turn admits compressed air into its whistle. On NYMT’s
calliope, a total of 43 whistle sounds are actuated by 43 lines of
punched holes; a 44th slot is for actuating the rewind mechanism.
By careful arrangement of the punched holes, the whistles are
sounded in sequence to form the fascinating songs you will hear
on this disc. NYMT’s calliope can also be played from a keyboard.
These recordings were made during the summer of 2009
in the former hay barn which now forms the main exhibit hall of NYMT.
The calliope was set in an open area between a Philadelphia snow
sweeper and an elegant Texas interurban parlor car, and a system
of two microphones used to feed signals into a digitizer.
The electronic files so formed were then edited and arranged
Since NYMT’s calliope is only operated for a very few special
events, this two-volume set of selected songs is a rare opportunity
to hear the voice of NYMT.