- Historic Sites
Don’t Boil The Calliope Player, Or, Good News For Music Lovers
August 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 5
The heart of Quinby’s invention is a remote keyboard. Set at a safe distance from the steam whistles, now arranged in a straight line, ivory keys furnished with mercury contacts activate the whistles by electricity. Solenoid valves open and shut the passages that send the steam whooping atop the steamboat. The operator is cool and dry. He can employ a brisk, staccato technique when he wants to, and it he gets drunk, one may look ior the cause to Sigmund Freud rather than Joshua C. Stoddard.
There are still other Quinby refinements, including a handy steam-pressure gauge and a Toot pedal with which to increase or lower the amount of steam admitted to the instrument, a tool which gives the performer the illusion that he is seated at the organ—and not a bit weary or ill at ease. Finally, the inventor has licked the night-time problem of the calliopist. Back in the bad old days, no one could see him, blowing away out there in the dark. Consequently Quinby has added the “Aurora Fffect,” a series of hidden lights, installed under the whistles, which illumine all the plumes of trailing steam with different colors. They can be seen at almost as gratilyingly great a distance as the noise, or music, can be heard.
The success of his steamboat calliope, now a brassy feature all up and down the Ohio, Mississippi, Cumberland, and Tennessee rivers where the Delta Queen makes her excursions, has only fortified Quinby for fresh exertions. He has designed and is building a kindred device for the electric open streetcar, a kind of “trolleyope,” which will use compressed air from the brake pump (the panting organ under the floor that used to go thump-thump thump when the cars paused) to play airs on various trolley bells, horns, and whistles. Once again the inventor is meeting the need of the hour, albeit an hour that occurred in about 1930, when the street railway commenced to vanish in America. Only a handful of trolleys—practically none of them open—still run, to state the unvarnished if regrettable truth. But no matter. Quinby will make their last trips unforgettable.
So much for our report on scientific advances in the music world up until August, iyGo. The calliopists, such as they are, are enjoying themselves, and the colored lights arc playing at Memphis, Vicksburg, and St. Louis, Louis. And, just as Eratosthenes at long last was rewarded by the appearance of Bowditch, Stoddard has found his Ouinby.