Whistles from locomotives are certainly the loudest category in railroadiana. The sound of a train whistle is one of the most recognizable parts of the railroad experience for many people and collectors have a great affection for adding these whistles to their collections. Very early on in the development of the railroads it became apparent that since trains could not stop quickly to avoid accidents they needed a warning signal to alert people and animals that a train was coming and to clear the tracks. The first whistles were known as “steam-trumpets” but the whistle evolved into more or less what we remember as the classic train whistle. Early whistles were attached to the pressurized steam of the locomotive and an operator could pull a rope to release steam through the whistle, producing a loud noise. By pulling the rope all the way open, partially open, or in short or fast bursts, operators could use whistle blasts to communicate in railyards, and many operators could be identified simply by the sound of their whistles. Newer train whistles are button operated and do not have this feature however.
Locomotive whistles are unique artifacts and most of them are still operable with a source of steam although most people wouldn’t think of using them. Values for whistles vary based on size and what type of locomotive or company they came from. Many whistle designs are specific to the company who used them because railroads wanted their trains to have a distinct sound that people would know.