Titanic's Fog Horn


Tim Aldrich

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Horns get their sound from a vibrating diaphragm that, basically, has a megaphone attached. Whistles have no diaphragm. The next time I change an air horn on a truck I'll take it apart and get some photos up here. If I remember to do it that is ;) The electric horn on your cars is the same principle as an air horn.
 
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Dec 4, 2000
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Tim is correct regarding the mechanism. In truth, I've made thousands of whistle signals (as described by the Rules) but never once sounded a true steam whistle. But, when it comes to laws, the legal definition does not always match the physical objects being described. Confusing?

The last large vessel in which I served had a fine chime of Khalenberg air horns. What a joy to hear them echo back from around the harbor, especially at night. However, no matter what the company says about their products, they were whistles for navigation signals. Kalenberg, but the way had the task of refurbishing at least one of Titanic's actual whistles and built a replica or two.

Real steam whistles had quirks. For one, in freezing or sub-freezing weather you had to "warm the bell" (that's the dome-like structure that helps make the sound) before hitting it with full boiler steam. If you didn't the bell would like as not crack and you'd sound like a old lady singing tenor off key. Prior to the electric operated steam whistles you had a whistle pull in the pilot house. Those I've seen consisted of a lever and pedestal nearly 5 feet high. The lever gave you enough power to pull a cable that ran from pilothouse under the deck to the funnel and then up to the actual whistle. Those I've examined had a built-in detent to tell you where to stop pulling the lever when warming the bell of the chime.

-- David G. Brown
 
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Mike Spooner

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Dave,
You certainty got a good way with words like the three bears and you're pulling alligators off your backside! (Which I do approve of.)
Thinking of whistle's and fog horns. Wouldn't most ships of the past or even to-day have more than one type? Then there is the case how hard you pull on the lever or chain from a light to a heavy tug pull.
As the case on the steam ship SS Shieldhall. She has two horns. One as a low base tone, which I have to say is no match against to the might of what Queen Mary 2 has!
Then the second horn or whistle is a high pitch tone sound like there is something spinning around inside.
Thinking back to the old days when the old Queen Mary docking in at New York with a assistant of 8 tugs. 4 at the front and 4 at the back. The control of all 8 tugs was under one tug by the command of when to push or back off by via a very short blast of a whistle and not a fog horn. It worked very well. But there again they have years experience to prefect to a tee. Did those poor souls on Titanic ever get a chance to practice blowing whistles or fog horns on a sinking ship?
 
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The number of "horns" in an air horn array can vary with the size of the individual sounders producing notes calculated to produce a pleasant final tone. However, if six air diaphragms are set in motion by the same action and used to produce the same signal, they would collectively be treated as the same "whistle" under the Rules.

If a ship is equipped with more than one "whistle" to sound an exchange of maneuvering signals, then all of the sounds must come from the same sound producing apparatus. This is to avoid any differences in the tones of any two whistles on a single ship (such as those mounted in Titanic) from being confused as more than one vessel.

In Titanic's day, sounding the whistle also emitted a plume of white steam. You could tell who was signalling by which ship was under that steam cloud. Air horns don't put out steam. So, the Rules now allow mounting of a white all-round light which lights while the whistle is sounding.

I find the description of a sailboat spotted by the SS Mount Temple continuously blowing is fog horn. Sailing vessels did have devices to signal their presence during a fog. However, these were all powered by "Swedish steam" -- human muscle -- and not hot boiler steam. (Swedish sailors in those days being noted for the strength.)

And, the chorus "blow the man down" has nothing to do with whistles. It's about bare knuckle fisticuffs in which blows of the nuckles did the dirty work.

-- Davide G. Brown
 
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Mike Spooner

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I see the topic of whistles and horns come up before in 2015.
Titanic had three different tone chime whistles. 9" 12" and 15" inches diameter up to 4' 2"1/2 foot long. Two sets on the first two funnels.
As in the US inquiry third officer Pitman thought no more than 5 miles to be heard. But he though the venting of boiler steam for about 45 minutes, that could be heard at less 10 miles away in the dead of night! So much for Lord Mersey statement the Californian was only 5-6 miles away as nobody on the ship heard it!
On the website there is American Jake Schoeder who has made a model of the Titanic Whistle in 1999, and demonstrated in St Paul MN Depot the noise, by blasting steam through to a great reception of the general spectators. The only problem as all three were blasted together you cannot get an individual tones of each one.
 

Mike Spooner

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Add to the whistles officers had them too. Looking on the website they are for sale of the two types. Acme Brass Thundered and Mandy Brass Pocket whistles. Does anybody know which type the officers used? Or were any of them ever found from the wreck?
 

Alex Clark

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I see the topic of whistles and horns come up before in 2015.
Titanic had three different tone chime whistles. 9" 12" and 15" inches diameter up to 4' 2"1/2 foot long. Two sets on the first two funnels.
As in the US inquiry third officer Pitman thought no more than 5 miles to be heard. But he though the venting of boiler steam for about 45 minutes, that could be heard at less 10 miles away in the dead of night! So much for Lord Mersey statement the Californian was only 5-6 miles away as nobody on the ship heard it!
On the website there is American Jake Schoeder who has made a model of the Titanic Whistle in 1999, and demonstrated in St Paul MN Depot the noise, by blasting steam through to a great reception of the general spectators. The only problem as all three were blasted together you cannot get an individual tones of each one.
Would it be possible on the ship to blast them individually? Like train horns, which can make different sounds. The comments section on the YouTube video mentions them being originals. Were they modelled as well?
 

Bob_Read

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That 1999 sounding was done with compressed air at reduced pressure. If you really want to hear what the whistles sounded like, here’s a sound recording from 1934. Go to the 1:00 minute mark and prepare to be surprised.
 
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Jun 15, 2018
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Titanic did not had a fog horn. She had whistles. The whistles need steam (dry steam) which they got directly from the boiler rooms. With no steam there was no way to blow them. (Only the whistles on the forward 2 funnels were functional, the others were dummies.)
dont't be a rivet counter, foghorn/whistle. pedantic. ships foghorns/whistles were for use mainly in fog or low visibility. ergo foghorn. one other question, how is steam dry? steam is hot evaporating water, water ain't dry.
 
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Alex Clark

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That’s an excellent video. The background sounds are interesting too, assuming they were recorded in situ and not afterwards as is sometimes the case. It’s not often such ordinary chatter etc is captured in film of this period. It’s also interesting to see just how close people on the pier could get to the ship’s side as she moved off.
 
Jun 3, 2020
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dont't be a rivet counter, foghorn/whistle. pedantic. ships foghorns/whistles were for use mainly in fog or low visibility. ergo foghorn. one other question, how is steam dry? steam is hot evaporating water, water ain't dry.
what’s wrong with being a rivet-counter? Sorry if we want to get things right...
 

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