Last New Years Eve, I had the pleasure of attending the annual steam-whistle-blow at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. The experience was loud, cold, soggy, and quite simply awesome. Steam pipes stretched across the campus lawn to power a large strip of whistles, in a variety of sizes. If you moved in close enough (and plugged your ears for protection) you could take a turn at triggering one of the powerful steam jets – an empowering experience. But even standing back a bit in the crowd one could feel the low frequencies of the larger whistles vibrate through the ribcage. These felt like the most ‘real’ sounds I’ve ever heard – thick and deep to high and tense. While anxiously waiting my turn at the MIDI driven calliope(!) I was able to thank the man responsible for this event – Conrad Milster.
Conrad has been running and maintaining Pratt’s steam power plant since the early 1960’s. The facility’s historic value was recognized by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and named a National Mechanical Engineering Landmark, and rightly so. Pratt boasts the oldest continuously-operating, privately-owned, steam-powered electrical generating plant in the country. The engine room is a beautiful site filled with hulking turbines, wall-mounted knife switches and antique voltage meters. Be sure to visit if you have the chance, even if it’s not on New Years.
- Visit the Engine room gallery @ Long Island Metal Workers Society – Link
- Midnight Steam Whistles on the Clinton Hill Blog – Link
- Flickr Search for Pratt Steam – Link
Green steam – Link
USS Midway – Giant steam powered aircraft carrier – Link