All day event on Saturday, Sept. 25
By Barb Pert Templeton
They’re large and they’re loud but oh what a sight it is to see nearly two dozen steam whistles and horns lined up in Palmer Park just off the St. Clair River on a fall Saturday. And not to worry, ear plugs and ear muffs are provided for those who’d prefer to lessen the sounds.
Brought to the community by the City of St. Clair, Whistles on the Water is a steam whistle event which celebrates the Blue Water Area’s steamship history. Organizers use a portable boiler to provide steam to blow steam whistles, allowing you to hear the whistles as they were used on the Great Lakes.
The 2021 Whistles on the Water event will be held on Saturday, Sept. 25 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Palmer Park in St. Clair. In addition to the live setup at the park, due to the increase in the coronavirus infection rate, the Whistles on the Water committee will be broadcasting the whistle commentary during the event on 1620 AM. The radio broadcast has a 5-to-6-mile reach from St Palmer Park. No bleacher seating this year bring your own chair.
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Having the whistles brought to the park is an exciting annual event for those who are fans of ships that used to sail the Great Lakes. Event coordinator Eric Cameron, of St. Clair, said every captain of a ship in the late 1800’s and into the 1900’s would have a whistle with its own unique sound and when they used it nearby vessels knew which ship was coming. Different sounds from the whistles also dictated what a ship was about to do, be it turn left or right or even turn around.
“Steam whistles are still used by most U.S. steel boats on the water today,” Cameron said.
He got involved with Whistles on the Water a decade ago because he had some familiarity with the steam boilers used to produce the sound. He said his employment at a Troy based firm that works with industrial boilers made him an ideal candidate to manage the event.
Bringing the whistles to Palmer Park takes months to plan including getting insurance and licensing from the state in place. He said his main goal is making sure things are safe at the site the day of the event.
In all, there will be 20 whistles and horns set up with each one anywhere from four to six feet tall and most weighing more than 100 pounds.
The program will begin at 9 a.m. and then they will change some things up at noon so children can step up and try them out. Cameron said people must remain at least 20 feet away as the steam pressure produced ranges from 70 to 250 pounds.
Palmer Park is located at N. Riverside Avenue in St. Clair.
Five Fun Steam Whistle Facts:
- The installation of the first steam whistle on a ship was in 1844 to help ensure maritime safety. Inventor Martha Coston’s 1871 patent for maritime flares, a device to signal at sea, helped safety issues on the water too.
- The steam whistles for the Titanic, that sailed in 1912, were the largest ever made at the time and could be heard for over a distance of 11 miles.
- To understand how a steam engine works to run ships and trains think of a teapot. When it’s water boils lots of steam comes out and pretty soon you will hear a whistle.
- 19th Century boat captains on the Great Lakes utilized the steam whistle to identify ships in poor visibility before radios were installed on the ships.
- The variable pitch steam whistle at the New York Wire Company in York, Pennsylvania, was entered in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2002 as the loudest steam whistle on record at 124.