Hi everyone,

One month ago the Strasburg Rail Road hosted the first night of their annual Steampunk events. What made this night unique was the fact that the SRC would be pulling trips at 6 pm, 8 pm, and 10 pm. Knowing this my friend and I ventured out to the SRC to witness night time steam action. Below is a recording of the 8 pm trip back to East Strasburg that I made. Dave Domitrovich is running and Richie Maggs is firing. (Make sure to turn up the volume because it is quite faint in the beginning. The picture in the video was taken by me that night as SRC #90 pulled into the station after the last trip. Its a 13 second exposure and if you look close you can see the little dipper in the night sky.)

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I have always been fascinated by the world of audio recording steam locomotives. Most likely due to my first time hearing O. Winston Link's recording at Rural Retreat on December 24th, 1957. There is something about the echo of the whistle, the bark of the exhaust, and the rumble of the train that really peaks the imagination and is completely different from normal railfan habits of taking pictures and video. 

As an added discussion point: What are your favorite recordings of steam locomotives? If you have some feel free to share!

Thanks for listening!

 

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Original Post

Nice work. I feel like the audio side of steam and rail preservation has taken a back seat in recent years because everything is so visual.

With that in mind, we created these pieces with the 765. The first is an excerpt from Listen for the Whistle: The Soundtrack. This project re-imagines the steam era using the guest whistles we've had on the 765 throughout the years.

This track - and the entire suite of recordings are available on our web site.

This next one is a favorite. With O Winston as inspiration, I borrowed a track recorded by one of our crew during a New River run and mixed in some wind and distant church chimes recorded during the holiday season...






We also have the classic "Symphony of Steam" CD featuring the work of Brad Miller and produced by Rich Melvin, available in our web store.

 

In my opinion, the "Symphony of Steam" CD offered by the FWRHS is the absolute BEST recording of a steam locomotive I have ever heard. I have often said that when it came to recording the sound of steam locomotives, there was Brad Miller and then there was everybody else. His work was absolutely perfect. Sadly he is no longer with us, but his legacy lives on in this work.

I first met Brad in 1988 in Huntington, West Virginia. The 765 was spotted in front of the old passenger station in downtown Huntington. Brad approached me and introduced himself. He told me he was going to be doing some audio recording over the weekend. He told me where he was going to set up for his first recording spot. He asked me to be sure to blow the whistle as I went by his twin microphones.

I thought he was nuts!

Every recording of a steam locomotive that I had heard up to that time where the mics were close to the track and the whistle was blowing were loaded with terrible distortion. However, the next morning as we approached his recording spot, I did what he asked and blew the whistle as I went by his mics.

A few days later a package arrived at my home. It was a CD with a note from Brad. He told me it was the cut from that first scene where his mics were track side. Now, I am serious about good audio. I have a $10,000 McIntosh stereo system in my living room, with a big McIntosh power amp 8-foot tall McIntosh speakers. I put this CD in the player, turned the volume up to what I knew would provide a realistic sound level and hit play. I prepared myself to hear a lot of distortion in the whistle as the 765 went by.

But...it didn't happen!

An NKP Berkshire roared through my living room and it sounded for all the world like I was track side! There was absolutely ZERO distortion on the whistle. The sonic impact of the recording was astounding! I could not believe it! But I had quickly become a believer in what Brad could do!

Brad spent several days with us over a couple of years in the late 80s, recording the sounds of the 765. In the 14-track "Symphony of Steam" CD I combined some cuts to set up audio "scenes" which are described in the 12-page booklet that comes with the CD. I know it is a CD you will treasure. Just be sure you don't set the volume too high when you listen to it!

Rich Melvin

My favorites are some "records"   (remember them? vinyl..), as follows:

Howard Fogg's "All Steamed up" (Colorado & Southern locomotives in their final 2 years - - - if you like steam locomotives late at night, you would love leased CB&Q 2-8-2 #5506 whistling for numerous crossings as he heads up Water Street, plus the sound of two big steam locomotives starting a heavy train -- 2-8-2 #807 and 2-10-2 #900, coupled)

Howard Fogg's "The Big Steam....Union Pacific".   (4-12-2 #9009, 4-8-4's #836+833 double heading 2nd #17, Extra 4011 - Big Boy)

Vinton L. Wright's fabulous field recordings: "Sounds of Steam Locomotives" (CB&Q 4-6-4 starting 80 cars, C&NW 4-6-0 and 2-8-2, UP 0-6-0, CB&Q O5 leaving Lincoln, NE yard)

"Sounds of Steam Locomotives, Vol 2" (2-8-2 #5504 making a frantic run for the hill with 44 cars of stone, but working to a complete stall, 4-8-2 #7000 and 2-8-2 #5347, coupled, working in and out of synch, numerous 2-8-2's switching, setting out cars, whistling with a range of whistle types)

"Stack Music Spectacular"  (CB&Q 2-10-4 #6324 starting 99 cars on the IL R grade out of Beardstown, IL,  UP 4-12-2 #9052)

If you should happen upon any of these recordings at a train show, snap them up !  You will not be disappointed. But you will need something the ancient ones called a "record player" !

 

My two favorites:

1) O. Winston Link's famous Christmas Ever recording at Rural Retreat with an N&W Class J making a station stop with church chimes in the background.

2) A night time recording of a UP 2-8-2 running at speed from far off, which then passes under a bridge where the recorder is set up, with a fantastic UP standard freight whistle. This sequence is on side 2 of the famous 331/3 LP "Big Boy".

The recording from Strasburg above is fantastic!  Thank you!  I remember the Steampunk weekend from last year as well, but I don't think they had the evening runs (as you mentioned).

The Strasburg is one of those railroads I love seeing at night.

As for favorite recordings, I remember having a whole collection of 33 1/3 vinyl, 7" records on the Semaphore Records label.  In fact, it was their Strasburg one (I think called "Road to Paradise") that had me memorizing the Conductor's intro before the train leaves even to this day!

They also had a recording of the Baldwin 60000 (being from Philadelphia, that one also had a special place in my heart because the engine is in the Franklin Institute).

Those are the two that stand out, but I had a lot of those, along with a couple 12" LPs that had Sounds of Steam (that may have been the series title!)

Now you have me wanting to get the Semaphore Records that are available on CD!

"Maybe someday, you'll be an Engineer for the Santa Fe!" - in a note to me sent with a P.R. package from the Santa Fe railroad.

mark s posted:

.....also Brad Miller's "Sunday Only", recordings of CB&Q fan trips. Best sequence:  2-10-4 #6315 and 4-8-4 #5632, coupled, clearing Mendota Tower, with dialogue from the DS and the tower operator.  Available on CD.

Actually, I believe that was 4960 and 5632 coupled.  I don't recall 6315 anywhere on the album.

Good album, though.

Rusty

Hot Water posted:

Rusty,

Just got my copy of the album "Sunday Only" out, and the double header in question is indeed #6315 and #5632, recorded on September 6, 1959. The first four tracks on side one, are of that double header.

Well, it has been over 40 years since I listened to Sunday Only, and that was on the long gone reel-to-reel tape I copied it to.  My copy of the album buried in my vinyl collection somewhere.

Something's the first to go, but I can't remember what it was...

Rusty

Thanks everyone for the compliments. I'm working on some other recordings I made of another steam locomotive here in Pennsylvania. Stay tuned! 

I honestly can't believe how luck I am to be able to make these recordings in the digital modern era. O. Winston Link in his few interviews spoke of how cumbersome the recorders were when he made his. Can't imagine having to lug a big contraption around while chasing a high speed steam locomotive like the 765 or 611. 

I have had Railroad recordings in several forms; vinyl records, cassette tapes in both prerecorded and self-recorded modes, and of course CDs.
My favorite though is this 7"-331/3 record with the Chessie song on one side, and a variety of steam recordings from the B&O, WM, and C&O on the other side, all done by a J. Prophet.
This sold for a dollar or two in the on-board gift shop, and I recently saw one on e-bay for $24.99.

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MNCW posted:

I have O Winston Link's which is great, but I think I still like Steel Rails Under Thundering Skys the best.

Tom 

Yes, that was one of Brad Miller's good ones. However, you haven't heard the best until you have played one of Mr. Miller's DTS 5.1 surround sound CDs (Sonic Booms series) through a surround sound system at elevated volume.

I too am  fan of Brad Miller and his recordings. We sold them for years in our gift shop, and when he was getting out of the album business I bought everything he had left to sell in our gift shop. I like "Highball", Sunday Only; and his Twilight of Steam series, but I have all of them except Mr. D's Machine; but my absolute favorite is his two record set of recordings done in Mexico, "Valle Del Locomotora De Vapor, or the "Valley of the steam locomotives" An excellent two record set, now available on CD from the Trolley Dodger, whom I have started selling his product in our shop this year!

Good evening, How about the Pennsy recordings, "On Time" which is mostly Pennsy K4S steam engine in the New Jersey Area, and

John L Wise recordings "Sounds of Altoona".

The Sounds of Altoona recording has a bit of everything  L1, K4 M1, including a M1 running backwards out on the four track main below Tyrone PA ,I1 J1, and a couple short recording of early diesels as pushers.

Listen to both of these occasionally while working on my layout just picturing in my mind these great Pennsy engines roaring by.

Born 15 years to late to see them all in action !!!!!!

Mark Strittmatter

TCA#14-69917

Indiana, PA 

Steam sound recording was a huge thing back when people didn't have video. You couldn't go to an old steam excursion without seeing people trying to mount tape recorders to the outsides of cars and places like that. Beats me what they ever did with the recordings because I never heard anyone ever playing the things anywhere afterward.

Over the years, I've bought a couple of railroad sound CDs but never listened to them more than once or twice. I'm rarely ever in a place that I have the time to listen to something like that where something else is taking up the silence...

It's true that, with the exception of die hard railfans, most people don't play steam locomotive sound recordings in their cars or just for leisure around the house. But I must say again that IMO sound recordings are more imaginative and capture the essence of a steam locomotive than video ever will. I can watch a video I make and then I'll isolate the audio and listen to it again (same clip) and it sounds so much better and really puts the person trackside.

Video is great because of its ability to allow you to see where the train is going and what the valve gear is doing etc. but audio lets the person imagine what it must have been like sitting there listening to the engineer wail on the whistle and watching the locomotive roar by, almost slightly nostalgic if you understand my point of view. 

Roving Sign posted:

Just found this thread after posting about train recording this morning...good read!

Curious what kind of gear the original poster used to make the Strasburg recording?

Sounds nice!

My cell phone! I used an audio recording application on my Samsung S6 edge plus. The mic on my cell phone records in stereo and does not clip very easily if positioned correctly to the oncoming train. 

Mark S, I agree with you. Being a Burlington guy, there are no better sounds than that of ANY CB&Q steam engine. My all time favorite is the RALBAR productions of 5632 in 1961 of the NRHA Convention Special. The small size 33rpm record was distributed by AHM.

And then there is the CB&Q record #15 of the Railroad Record Club of Hawkins Wisc from 1959 that has sounds from engines 5144, 4966, 4983 and 5632.

But I will admit, ANY STEAM WHISTLE to me is sheer music to my ears. Be it N&W 611, SP 4449, SP&S 700, UP 4-6-6-4, and even a Shay pushing up the 4%+ grades at Roaring Camp. Love 'em all.

Ray

Ray:  I will have to keep an eye open for RRCHW #15.......sounds quite interesting.  They put out quite a few obscure recordings; I have one of Wabash Mogul 573 on the Bluffs-Keokuk line.

Burlington 4-8-4 #5632 had absolutely the most soul-satisfying whistle in the early '60's. It can be heard on a couple of the cuts on "Sunday Only".  Think it was the regularly assigned whistle on the '32, from regular service days, as the Vinton L. Wright recording of another CB&Q 4-8-4, #5629, leaving Hobson Yard in Lincoln, NE, sounded similar, from 1952.

Mark,

You might look for one of the Brad S.Miller CDs that includes an on-board digital recording of SP 4449 using an "on loan" CB&Q whistle from an M-4 2-10-4. The particular cut is westbound accelerating out of Davis, California hauling the Philip Anchuts (sp) Sacrament Jazz Train returning back to Oakland. I monitored Brad's big Colossus recording machine back in the crew car, while Brad made a track-side recording. Apparently the on-board recording was the best, so that is what was included on the CD.

Although the Burlington whistle was being blown using superheated, 300psi steam, it sure sounded fantastic as Fireman Bob Slover played the whistle beautifully. 

HW:  Might you recall the name of the Miller album - - - I did a quick Youtube search, and couldn't find it, by topic.  Youtube is loaded with all kinds of recordings.  

Guess  we're seeing a lot of whistle swapping these days;  Milw 261, I understand, is carryimg a Santa Fe 2900 whistle. I really liked the original Milw whistle, which sounded like  a crazy woman, but the SF whistle probably scares the "rubes" off the tracks.

In stumbling around Youtube, bumped into this piece, with marvelous photos and a sampling of sound recordings, from a fellow named Wm. Spicer, of B&O, NYC and Pennsy steam.  Neat autos, too!   Take a peak!     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYj-6fKUGFM

mark s posted:

HW:  Might you recall the name of the Miller album - - - I did a quick Youtube search, and couldn't find it, by topic.  Youtube is loaded with all kinds of recordings. 

Yes, you can find all kinds of recordings on YouTube, but they are not high quality, uncompressed digital recordings like the Brad Miller works. They are highly compressed audio files that sound pretty bad when compared to a truly GOOD digital recording.

Rich Melvin

OGR Webmaster posted:
mark s posted:

HW:  Might you recall the name of the Miller album - - - I did a quick Youtube search, and couldn't find it, by topic.  Youtube is loaded with all kinds of recordings. 

Yes, you can find all kinds of recordings on YouTube, but they are not high quality, uncompressed digital recordings like the Brad Miller works. They are highly compressed audio files that sound pretty bad when compared to a truly GOOD digital recording.

That's the problem with the internet. People are so happy with streaming and such ways to transmit video and sounds, they're (for the most part) easily pleased with so-so quality anymore.

You trade off availability for quality. Most are okay with it, but it's the primary reason I don't watch movies or TV shows on the internet...

I agree with you P51. If someone has never heard a truly CLEAN digital recording, they really don't know what they are missing.

I have recordings on vinyl LP discs, some old "AAD" (Analog recording to Analog mix to Digital release) CDs and some chrome cassettes from years ago that sound OK when you first listen to them. They all have some distortion in them that you don't consciously hear, but subconsciously your brain knows it's there.

Listening to a Brad Miller CD is a completely different experience. Totally clean audio with ZERO audible distortion. But...you have to hear the difference to fully understand and appreciate it.

Rich Melvin

To add to what Rich just posted, above, anyone interested in "high-end surround sound" should really find and listen to some of Brad Miller's DTS 5.1 audio CDs covering steam locomotives. It is just like being there, but be careful of the volume level, as if you have a very good system capable of sub-base frequencies, you could possibly do damage to your home.

I remember asking Brad, after he had recorded a NASA Space Shuttle launch the first time, if he would ask the U.S. Navy about recording the firing of the 16" guns on an Iowa Class Battleship. Some time later, Brad informed me that even with the Navy's support & permission, it would be impossible to record the firing of those 16" guns. Apparently the sound pressure levels are so great, and the frequency so low (virtually direct DC), there would be no way for hime to make an acceptable digital recording. Darn!

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