Backup whistle

 photo 7176-CommSignal-02_zpse02e0eac.jpg

The mixed train to Port Rowan also served Port Dover – and the trip from Simcoe to Port Dover was fairly short, so it was done in reverse. To do so and still obey all the rules, I imagine the last car in the train (in this case, the combine) would have been equipped with a small air whistle, tied into the train line. A crew member – standing in the vestibule – would use this whistle to blow for any level crossings.

Even though I don’t need to operate the mixed train in reverse on the run to and from Port Rowan, I thought it would be fun to model this feature. And my recent upgrade of the decoders in my 4-6-0s meant I had a pair of Tsunami Light Steam decoders kicking about – perfect for the job!

Back when I installed the compensated subframes on my passenger cars, I did so on Combine CNR 7184 and Baggage-Mail CNR 7792. I then got into testing these cars in operating sessions – and while I’d built the new trucks, I never got around to doing the body bolster work to retrofit Combine CNR 7176. Yesterday, I decided it was time to address that.

While prepping the car for its new trucks, I also drilled two holes in the floor (labelled “hole” in the lead photo). I threaded pick-up wires through these holes. I then found a suitable speaker with enclosure and installed speaker and decoder in the baggage section using double-sided foam tape.

Under the car, I installed pick-up wipers bent from 0.015″ phosphor bronze wire. These went into holes drilled in the subframe and wipe on the backs of the non-floating wheels on each truck. The wires were simply secured in the holes with CA.
 photo 7176-CommSignal-01_zpsc0564c91.jpg

The car only has four-wheel pick-up – which would be a problem if I was trying to run a motor and continuous sounds. But I’m not: I turned off the volume on all sounds except the whistle. I set the whistle volume low, and picked one of the “peanut” styles out of the whistle list. The keep-alive capacitor on the Tsunami seems to do just fine keeping enough juice on hand to power the whistle when needed. Plenty of audio exits through gaps in the vestibule doors.

Since I have a second spare decoder, I’ll do the same upgrade to Combine CNR 7184 in due course.

This installation offers up another opportunity for enhancing operations. My CNR rule book includes a section – Rule 16 – listing various Air Communicating Signals. These were signals communicated from the back of the train to the engine. The conductor could direct the engineer to start the train… to back up… to reduce speed… to stop at the next station… and so on.

These were normally communicated through the signal line to a whistle in the cab. Since only passenger cars are equipped with signal lines, a cab whistle wouldn’t be in use on my mixed train or on a freight extra. So using such signals would not be prototypical on my layout.

But I think using the combine whistle to pass air communicating signals would be a lot of fun. So if someone wants to try it, I’m perfectly willing to play along…

UPDATE: May 29, 2014 – I’ve now done the same installation on my other combine, CNR 7184. And I’ve enabled the “steam release” sound, at a low volume, so that conductors can use a drop in the train line air pressure to communicate with the engine if they so desire. It’s not as elegant as the whistle – the hiss takes a while to build, so it’s more difficult to do “short” and “long” codes than it is with the whistles, which come from the factory with “short” and “long” on separate functions. But it’s there.

I should’ve mentioned in this post that I have left the lighting wires (blue, white, yellow) full-length on these decoders and curled them into the baggage area so that at some point, if desired, I can add lighting effects such as marker lamps that I can turn on and off as needed.

I have a couple of unbuilt resin kits for CNR vans (cabooses). At some point, I’ll ship those to my friend Pierre Oliver at Elgin Car Shops to put together. (Pierre has done my other vans, and I like his work so I’ll get him to build these as well for consistency’s sake.)

But before I do that, I’ll modify the kits so that I can fit a speaker, markers and a decoder into them after Pierre has assembled them for me. That’ll give freight extras the same operations tools as the Mixed Train.

14 thoughts on “Backup whistle

  1. On most railways the traincrew had a device they could connect to the brake line with which the crewman could use as a whistle or to apply the brakes. I suspect this is the hardware you are modeling. Great concept and I suspect it is going to be enjoyed by your operators when you attempt the first prototype backup move. You realize that you might have provided yourself with another tool to follow the prototype. Have fun!

    • Hi Tom:
      That’s exactly the device. And you’re right – it’s another tool from the prototype that will add to the enjoyment of the layout.
      Like all of these tools, its use on the layout is optional. I’m not going to force anybody to use these operations aids. But if they want to try them out, they’re there. I’ll certainly try to use all of them when I’m on the crew.

  2. I wonder if there’s a way to have the whistle automatically play from the proper end of the train, depending on direction? Does consisting do this like it does for a headlight? It would be neat and handy if it did, or could be made to somehow.

    • Hi Kenneth:

      It’s a good question and I’m sure someone with more DCC experience than I could answer it.

      Most of my DCC adventures have been with narrow gauge or branch line prototypes, where I’ve never had to consist locomotives. (In steam, it would not be prototypical to do so in any case.)

      That said, this is really a device for the conductor to use, so I doubt I’ll try to link it to the engineer’s throttle. That’s a personal choice on my part, informed by my decision to model “jobs” on my layout.

      Hmm… modelling “jobs”. I don’t think I’ve explored that on this blog. I feel another post coming on…


  3. Hi Trevor,
    Hate to rain on the parade but the mixed was turned at Simcoe to go to Pt.Dover or when that turntable was removed pulled its train to Pt. Dover with two brakeman riding the tender as there were a lot of “blind” crossings enroute.
    Monte Reeves

    • Interesting, Monte. I have photos of the mixed at the water rank in the Lynn Valley with cars on both ends of the locomotive: the passenger cars and one boxcar (presumably the LCL car) on the Port Dover end of the engine and additional freight on the Simcoe end. I’m sure I read somewhere that the move was done backing up. Not that reading it makes it so, but the photos seem to support it.
      Thanks for the different take in this: I’ll do some more research.

      • Hi again, Monte:
        Further to yesterday’s exchange, I’ve now found three examples of a 2-6-0 in the middle of its train on the way to Port Dover. One on page 159, and two on page 161 of Steam Echoes of Hamilton by Ian Wilson. The photo on page 159 was taken in December 1953. The first photo on 161 was shot in August 1956. And the caption for the second photo on 161 reads, “With a Southern Pacific boxcar serving as the peddler, Mogul 80 takes water while backing to Port Dover with the mixed in September 1955”.

  4. The backup whistle was used as a warning to people or autos ….. not heard in the engine cab unless right next to the engine. It would be hand signals, or ….. one of the Milwaukee Road locals here in Washington had to switch around curves at one of the mill towns; the crew would open the angle cock on the last car just enough to let a bit of air out, and signal the engine, using the whistle code. A drop in train line pressure creates a loud hiss in the cab and was used to pass signals. One = stop, two = go, three = back up.


    • Hi Skip:


      My challenge on the layout is to give the conductor a method of communicating with the engineer that’s under the conductor’s control.

      Since the easiest way to represent the use of the “train line air pressure technique” is to use the whistle function (which features long and short whistles, or “—” and “o”), I’ll have the whistle do double-duty.

      The whistle – in its role as “whistle” – is available to warn of back-up moves (could be useful when backing to the station after turning the train at Port Rowan). In its role as “air communicating signal”, the whistle is also available to pass signals to the engineer without the layout operators having an un-prototypical conversation.

      A number of operators do already direct engineers using hand signals…
       photo RailwayHandSignals_zps1cff3f08.jpg

      … so providing a means to represent air communicating signals – even if not entirely accurate, as the limits of DCC force me to use the whistle function – isn’t that much of a stretch for them.


  5. I saw your back-up whistle note and I was looking in my 1962 Uniform Code for whether there was a rule or not. I could not find it but I do offer a few points for you:

    – from a 1950 “Canadian Pacific, Air and Dynamic Brake and Air Train Signal Systems Rules and Instructions”, the following:
    “Rule 29: Before starting a train from any point where the train is to be controlled by the use of a back-uphose or valve at the rear of the train, a test of the train brakes shall be made by using the back-up hose or valve to apply the brakes. When the engineman feels the brakes applying he shall place the brrake valve handle on lap position until the proper signal is received to release the brakes. Trainmen will see that the rear brake applies and releases properly.”

    Now, for something more contemporary which is the “Canadian National Railways, General Instructions, Governing Train, Engine, Yared and other Operating Employees connected with the movement of Trains, Locomotives and Cars. Revision of 1962.” Here is No. 11, “Back up air hose, equipped with air whistle, must be in service on rear of all passenger trains moving backwards and whistle sounded as prescribed in Rule 14 (l) and (p) of the Uniform Code of Operating Rules, Revision of 1962.”

    Then in Rule A-218, “The back up hose and valve must be used only in back up movements and are not intended to supersede the use of the emergency valve.”

    Hope that this is of use to you.

    • Hi Philip:
      Thanks for the additional information. Yes, it does help. I have some rules about the use of a back-up whistle in my copy of the CNR/GTR/DWP/CV Operating Rules from 1929. Your notes here actually build on that and help explain some of the procedures.

  6. Interesting to see your reference to the 1929 CN/GTW/DWP/CV Rules. I have the June 1, 1952 edition and I can find nothing about the back-up hose or I would have sent the text to you. What this document does have is some great notes about working around coaling stages, watering locomotives, handling steam lines on passenger trains. I was never a professional railroader but I have been involved with the Canada Science and Technology Museum as a volunteer on their train program for over 30-years so I have fired as well as been involved in train make up, coupling steam and air and signal lines, etc. so the rules are quite useful and can add to the time involved in working a train, even in your “simple” operation. I also have a January 1, 1959 document from the Railway Association of Canada, “Rules for the Operation, Maintenance, Inspection and Testing of Air Brake and Communicating Signal Equipment on Motive Power, Cars and Work Equipment”, to whit:
    “9. Before starting a train from any point where the train is to be controlled by the use of a back-up hose or valve at the rear of the train, a test of the train brakes shall be made up by using the back-up hose or valve to apply the brakes. When the engineman feels the brakes applying, he shall place the brake valve handle in lap positoin until the signal is received to release the brake. Trainman will see that the rear brake applies and releases promptly.”

    By now you must be “over whelmed” with information but I must confess that this is the first time that I have seen a modeller get into something such as a back-up hose. A lot more to that than meets the eye so kudos to you for getting me to get some books off the shelf and do some digging.

    I very much enjoy your posts and the quality of your modelling. I do an HO CP branch in eastern Ontario but, as noted earlier, I also follow any information about CN’s former Westport Subdivision which began as the Brockville, Westport and Sault Ste. Marie Railway.

    • Hi Philip:
      Not overwhelmed at all – I love collecting this information. It’s all good.
      I don’t know that I’ve encountered a combine equipped with a working back-up hose before, either. Someone must’ve done it – and I’m sure by posting this comment the citations will come out of the woodwork.
      Thanks for the kind words.

      • The back up hose would be on whatever car is on the tail end – could be the combine, could be the van, could be a coach, if there was one. Suppose that there is a business car in the consist. It will be on the rear so that the “Super” can observe conditions and the back up hose will be hanging off the rear platform. I think that the only place that you would not see a back up hose would be if you were trailing a freight car but one never knows. I am aware of CN vans with permanent back up hoses on the platform end rails, adjacent to the hand brake. This was probably a late era retrofit. I never saw this on the wooden CP vans but can’t remember what if anything was on the modern ones. There are back up hoses on LRC equipment, etc., just in case. BTW, you also have different styles of hose. A CP one relies on you to use your hand over a hole like a flute to make the whistle sound and you had to crack open the valve while at the Science Musem, we use one off the ONR which has a push button on it so you are assured of actually getting a whistling sound without risking opening the valve too much and throwing the train into emergency. Quite the tutorial on back up hoses, eh?

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