The “Educated” Whistle Post
Written by Richard
Over the past five years or so, I’ve been fortunate to work
on a friend’s railroad, here in eastern Maine. I help with track maintenance,
replace ties, shovel ballast, and in exchange, get to run the locomotives and a
bunch of knowledge from experiential learning. I wanted to make my own mark on
the layout, and try to add something of value, with a bit of distinction. With
a little effort and the help of the shop teacher at the high school where I
work, I came up with this.
My Dad was a Long Island Rail Road man, and the Long Island was a step-child
of the Pennsy. The Long Island retained its Pennsy style keystone whistle posts
from the close of steam up until around 1966, when they were replaced with
less-colorful, reflective signs. Fortunately, I was able to secure one (below),
and with it as a model, I fashioned a scaled down version in wood, to use as a
model. If you do not have an actual keystone whistle post from which to work,
this and other Pennsy style sign diagrams are available from a great (free)
resource online in PDF format at "Rob’s Pennsylvania Railroad Page" (
http://prr.railfan.net/ ). In honesty, my
models are not 1.5" scale, but they are a usable size, easy to handle
and easy to see.
Getting the whistle posts cast was my next move.
Our high school teaches smelting and casting in aluminum. I provided scrap
aluminum in the form of discarded lawn mower engine blocks. Damaged, cracked,
or burned out, engines are easy to obtain and provide plenty of metal. Any
engine parts of value get recycled into the small engine repair program, so it
helps two aspects of the school program, takes nothing from the budget, teaches
kids a series of skills, and provides a useful product for the railroad!
The wooden model is set in casting sand, along with two or three vent
passages. The blank is removed, and the molten aluminum is poured into the
form. It doesn’t take long for the newly formed whistle post to harden and cool
down for handling. The venting passages are now filled with hardened metal,
which is removed with a hacksaw and recycled. A file and grinder removes the
flash and rough edges.
I use black and white acrylic paints
to cover the aluminum, and then drill and tap holes from the back, attaching
the keystone to scrap conduit pipe. I put and anchor bolt through he bottom of
the mounting post, then set it in Sakrete, 24" away from the outside edge of
I’d like to suggest large scale modelers check in with the local high school
to see if they offer the opportunity to teach kids metallurgy skills. Not only
do the kids get to do something positive that is noticeable, they give
something back to the community. Inviting the class to set the posts and
perhaps come out for an operations day makes the kids feel appreciated and sows
the seeds of citizenship. You might even get new interest in the hobby from
both girls and boys who never knew it existed.
Once they are set, it only takes a single train to go by and test the
whistle posts to see if they work!
Written by Richard
Live Steam "Wannabe"
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