York Town Square

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Unusual valve gave steam whistle prominence in World War II

Reed Quickel of York Township enjoys Christmas carols played by the steam whistle at the New York Wire Co. in 2004. The songs came from the customary daytime practice session prior to the early Christmas Day factory steam whistle concert. As a point of interest, notice that the famed whistle is not located on the highest tower at the company. Background posts: A-Bomb: ‘We must guard its secret wisely,’ and Musical factory whistle drowns out N.Y. Wire’s WWII feats.
The New York Wire Co. steam whistle, enjoyed by so many each year providing a concert of Christmas carols in York, had an important function in World War II.
The sliding valve that enables the factory whistle to play carols also gave it a place at the head of the line during defense drills… .

According to “In the thick of the fight,” City Civilian Defense officials developed a series of signals in case of an attack or other enemy threat. The New York Wire Co. whistle, equipped with a valve that allowed it to play varying tones, was deployed to make the first call. Whistles at a dozen manufacturing plants would follow.
No one whistle was loud enough to be heard consistently throughout the city, so Civilian Defense officials improvised.
Not all Yorkers are able to improvise when it comes to the annual whistle concert.
I wrote earlier that people enjoy the concert every year. Well, not everybody.
After this year’s concert, as in past years, some people indicated that they don’t like the 12:15 a.m. sleep interruption, as outlined in the following York Daily Record/Sunday News editorial (12/31/07):

The other night, crowds gathered along East Market and Philadelphia streets and their connectors for a concert, vehicles parked in every conceivable free space in that blue-collar part of town.
It was cold, but people brought along blankets. They came as families, little ones mingling on the sidewalks.
Those with the front row seat stood in front of Cheers, the East Market Street bar. Some sat in the warmth of the bar.
At 12:15 a.m. Christmas morning.
OK, it was a free concert, and everyone knows how York countians react to free anything.
But it was no typical music fest.
It was New York Wire Co.’s annual steam whistle concert.
Those watching could see the considerable steam spewing from the old factory whistle.
Many marveled that anyone could play Christmas carols from such an unwieldy machine, billed as the “the world’s loudest music without amplification from a non-musical instrument.”
Some onlookers competed over who could be the first one to make out which carol the whistle was playing.
When each piece ended, motorists blew their horns, and spectators cheered.
The whistle concert is a one-of-a-kind Christmas celebration. The whistle, built to signal the start and end of shifts and to mark breaks for factory workers, is also a tribute to the working man and his way of life.
So, who could object?
Some do, every year.
This year, one e-mailer expressed concern for firefighters, police officers, nurses and others needing their sleep.
Just schedule it Christmas Day, he suggested, at 12:15 p.m.
Well, the early morning tradition is something York countians should be proud of. The concert helps define the holiday season in York and highlights the city’s one-time industrial might.
The concert would no more work during the day than New Year’s Revolution would work at noon or the Glen Rock Carolers would consider strolling the streets of that borough during daylight.
Few would come out, and that sound – that haunting, eerie so-very-memorable music – would just not be the same.
The factory whistle should sound a long booooo! to its naysayers, however well intended their criticism.
Don’t press snooze: A recent Associated Press story on roadside attractions along Route 30 piqued the interest of news readers statewide.
Vo-Tech students in four Pennsylvania counties will design and build large displays along a 200-mile stretch of the Lincoln Highway.
Will the York County School of Technology be included in that select group?
The short answer is no.
The Lincoln Highway ran through the heart of York County. It entered just east of Abbottstown, passed through York’s Continental Square and exited at Veterans Memorial Bridge in Wrightsville.
Today, it’s Route 30 in western York County before turning into Route 462 in the York area and the eastern part of the county.
But the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor, where these large attractions will be displayed, runs from Pittsburgh to Abbottstown, where it dead-ends. It’s more like a Lincoln Highway Heritage Box Canyon than a corridor.
York County’s state legislative delegation has been asleep on this one all along and remains snoozing in gridlock. It needs to wake up to this promotional opportunity.
Perhaps someone should blast the steam whistle’s CD (yes, there is such a thing) outside their bedroom windows so they’ll stop snoring and hear the advantages of cultural tourism.