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Bob Reynolds 07-15-2007 11:04 AM

Here's a question for either Dave Tschiggfrie, Travis Vasconselos or both: Where did the JULIA BELLE SWAIN's calliope come from? Was it built new for the boat, or did Denny get used somewhere else? I can't recall ever seeing or hearing anything about this.

inactive user 02 07-15-2007 03:55 PM


I don't know much about it other than most of the whistles are Thomas J Nichol vintage stuff. Some of them were manufactured to complete the set by the same person who built to steam whistles (operated on compressed air) on the COPY CAT and the BORDER STAR. They are made of aluminium and this is why the rest of the set were have symetry in the set.

The Thomas J Nichol whistles I am told came from a private collector. The builder of the fill-ins was a guy out of Evansville, IN (his name escapes me...however every steam whistle he ever made has the inlet off to one side instead of the traditional in the center). I have never had one of these whistles apart to see why this is done. I assume this is for some form of increased flow...but, don't quote me on it since I really don't know.

It seems to me some while back David Morecraft told me Fred Dahlinger at the Baraboo Circus World Museum was involved in the creation of this one.

Originally the calliope used Gould electronic diaphragm selonoid valves. Because of the neoprene diaphragms they had a horrible propensity to flutter when the key was released, they also were rather slow to respond to the keyboard.

Later they were replaced with Magnatrol brand valves like we have on the DELTA QUEEN , BELLE OF LOUISVILLE, and NATCHEZ. These are much more accurate, reliable, and servicable...a wise choice in my book!

The one time I have played the thing was at St. Paul at the end of the 2004 Grand Excursion. it was very accurate to play, a little sapped for steam, but perforrmed rather well. The manifold is rather small for 32 is about 6 feet long, 2" diameter with whistles sprouting off both sides in a diatonic arrangement. The service line appears to be 1 1/2" perhaps smaller. It would be nice to see a 2" service line coming to the manifold and I suspect this would cure the lethargic problems of it.

Here is a video of it posted online for you to look at


I will ask around and see what further info I can dredge up on it. I am sure there is more floating around out there!


David Tschiggfrie 07-15-2007 04:23 PM


Travis' reply provides much more info than I could. He's this board's main "calliope man." I'm hoping to tape an interview with Capt. Trone sometime this year, and will ask him for specifics about the JBS calliope. As for Travis' comment about the delayed action on that instrument in her early days, I can attest to that fact. I played the thing back in the 70s and was completely defeated by the lag time between depressing the key and hearing the whistle sound. As someone who literally "plays by ear," unless I can hear the notes immediately, I get screwed up big time and very embarrassing sounds issued from the instrument at my hand. I never attempted to play the thing after that first fiasco until the boat was sold to Kalhagen in La Crosse. In 1995 I reluctantly tried my hand again, and to my surprise and delight, the problem was fixed. According to Travis, that was because of the changes made with the solenoids. How Libby Trone managed to play the thing, and very well, too, is beyond me. She deserves some sort of Calliope Certificate of Merit for her amazing facility on that thing all those years she ran at Peoria and Chattanooga. In my audio files, I have a recording of her calliope being played by Libby on the day of her very first public trips at Peoria in 1971. No offense (or blame) to the calliopist, but it really is a rather painful thing to listen to! Played a departure concert on the TWILIGHT's air calliophone last week when the DQ was in port here in town, and the middle C is inoperable. In those chords, there is distinct vacant wheezing where the C should be! They have no one aboard who can play it any longer, and Kevin Stier offered me the job anytime I care to show up. If they also threw in duties as a popcorn popper, I might consider it! : - )

Bob Reynolds 07-15-2007 06:16 PM

Thanks to both of you! And Travis, I'm sorry I spelled your last name wrong!

I rode the JBS from Chattanooga to Louisville in 1977 during my time off from Watchman duties on the DQ. When Capt. Trone found out I could manage to get a few tunes out of a calliope, he had me playing it several times during that trip. Since I too play by ear, it was frustrating to me at the very first, but soemhow I managed to do pretty well with it once I saw what the deal was. I attribute that to playing around with a big Wurlitzer theatre organ at the Orpheum in Memphis when I was in high school...that thing had about a 3 second delay from the time the key was pressed/released and you heard the result from those chambers buried deep about 1/2 mile away!

Thanks again to both you guys.

Jon Tschiggfrie 07-15-2007 07:09 PM

1 Attachment(s)
The last I knew, the JBS' calliope was out of commission. Bear in mind the last time we saw her was the end of June, but here is the photo to prove it.

This line is the steam supply to the calliope that runs up the stern bulkhead from the engine room. The missing segment is where the steam pressure regulator normally resides. Apparently some sort of malfunction (of what nature I'm unsure) damaged the regulator and a new one had to be sent away for.

Beats me as to whether they have the new part installed or even on hand. Can anyone speak to that effect?

Bruno Krause 07-15-2007 07:13 PM

Ok. I have a question, strictly as an HVAC, I "know all about steam", engineer..bear with me, steam is HEAT only, in my profession...I am still struggling with steam as power and steam as music...

When the note is played there seems to be a small amount of steam that seems to be blown straight downward at an angle away from the whistle, it sometimes appears to me to be a leak between the whistle and the steam supply piping, but I know this is there a hole in the bottom "bucket" of the whistle to allow steam condensate to drip away from the whistle to allow it to be "dry" any time it is warmed up and played? It appears that every calliope that I've ever seen playing has this small stream of steam that shoots down, at an angle, and to the outside everytime a note is played...

Ok, it's a little scary that I noticed I love calliopes, or what?

Bob Reynolds 07-15-2007 07:23 PM

Bruno, I will defer to Richard or Travis on this one, but here is what I THINK: I ,too, have noticed the phenomenon of which you speak. I think it is steam being forcefully ejected from the whistle bell that is ejected downward due to its having to make a "U-turn" in the bell. I know of no drain holes in the bowls of any steam whistles; in fact, a calliope must be "blown out", or cleared of condensate, before the whistles will speak properly. The downward-blowing steam we see seems to be more evident on some calliopes than others - I'm guessing this has to do with differences in pressures, volumes and whistle and supply line scales. I know Richard will straighten us out on this!

Bruno Krause 07-15-2007 07:44 PM

You know, one of these days I gotta play the DQ's calliope. It used to be the only things I had never done on the DQ to become a full fledged "member" was to fly a kite and get my "Vox Calliopus" certificate.

Thank you my good bud David, in May for satisfying the former. Ginnie Rhynders pictures of me sitting on the Cabin Deck in pure bliss with a legitamately flying kite are priceless. And everybody screaming at me to get the kite down..."there are power lines coming...!!!", what a memory.

But can I learn the keys to "Louis, Louis" or better yet "Kingdom Coming" soon? Or am I doomed to being an also ran?

Jon Tschiggfrie 07-15-2007 08:16 PM

1 Attachment(s)
The glorious console of the M/V Twilight's calliophone, replete with middle C sputtering.

Judy Patsch 07-15-2007 08:26 PM

Didn't the JBS calliope console come from a church and get modified for less holy work???

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