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Whistle While You Work

Engine No. 9 is turning 100! April 18, 2021 will mark the 100th anniversary of the locomotive’s arrival in Mill Valley. As part of our celebration, Friends of No. 9 has commissioned a recreation of the engine’s whistle. Veteran whistle maker Chris Rizzoli has been working on this project. Chris has been building steam whistles for 46 years.

Whistles are part of the enduring allure and legend of steam locomotives. Each one has its own unique sound, and when an engine has a full head of steam its whistle can be heard for miles.

No. 9’s new whistle will be its fourth. The first whistle, which was part of the original order for the engine, never made it to Mill Valley. It was stolen sometime during the cross-country trip from the Heisler factory in Erie, PA to California. When the locomotive arrived without a whistle, the Mt. Tamalpais Scenic Railway’s workshop quickly built a new one from parts that they had on hand. Whistles are important tools used for signaling train crews on board and those nearby about train movement. They also warn the public at railroad crossings. So, it would have been a problem for the train to remain without a working whistle. The whistle they created was a 4-chime “Casey Jones” style whistle.

The Casey Jones whistle on No. 9 in 1921

The third whistle was put on the locomotive in 1956 by the Pacific Lumber Company when it retired Engine No. 9 after its long working life hauling lumber and the engine was put on display in Scotia, California. Over time, probably as a result of “souvenir hunting,” key parts of the 1956 whistle disappeared or were damaged. When Friends of No. 9 acquired the locomotive, the whistle needed help.

The whistle before restoration, at Scotia

Chris Rizzoli took the remains of the 1956 whistle and cleaned them up. He found dangerously damaged parts, but has been able to create gleaming new replacements (where needed) and is now at work recreating the original Tamalpais 4-chime “Casey Jones” style whistle that is seen in every photo of No. 9 in Mill Valley or on Mt. Tam (and during the rest of its working life as a logging engine).

We sent Chris our best 1921 whistle photo for his recreation. He overlaid a grid on the photo and approximated the tube lengths he’d need. Then he made adjustable tubes so he could tune their pitch and find the richest harmony possible. Once he gets the right sound he’ll weld fixed-length steel tubes for the final whistle.

Restored base of the 1956 whistle

The new whistle under construction. Note the four adjustable steel tubes and the adjusters poking from the top of the tubes.

We expect to have the new whistle completed in time for our April 18 celebration. Many thanks to Chris for the extraordinary care and craftsmanship he has brought to this project.


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