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THE FIRE WHISTLE

The Sesquicentennial paper deals, quite extensively, with the life and times of Chet Shafer, and they have done a good job of it. I would, however, like to expand on Chet's story about the City Fire Whistle. The fire whistle was first at the Fairbanks Morse Power Plant but when much of their operation was moved to Beloit, Wisconsin, their Power Plant was shut down and the whistle was moved to the Eddy Paper Mill.

I was Harry Shivley's helper (Oiler), on the midnight shift, and I would, at times, get a chance to blow the whistle. The way that came about was that Harry would go to sleep, in his chair, almost immediately after he got to work, and if a call would come in, when I was near the outside phone, I would answer it. The operator would tell me what Ward the fire was in, and I would blow the whistle.

That whistle was quite a device. It was mounted above the roof of the Boiler Room and was connected to the operating floor of the Turbine Room by two small steel cables. One of these cables opened the steam valve and the other one pulled a plunger, down through the barrel of the whistle. The farther you pulled the plunger down, the higher the tone became. It was customary to run it up slowly, from the lowest to the highest pitch, three times, stop for a brief period, then give it one, two, three, or four long blasts at the low pitch, to indicate the Ward that the fire was in, then stop again, for a brief period.

By the time I went through the above sequence, most everyone in the City would be awake and I could feel that I had a pretty good listening audience. I would then run it up and down, to get all of the weird sounds that was possible, then stop on the highest pitch, that I could get. After another short pause, it was customary to blow the Ward identification, again. There was a running competition among the Operators and the Oilers, on the different shifts, to see who could come up with the wildest concerts.

Factories no longer have whistles and schools no longer have bells. Sad.

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