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MMD > Archives > July 1999 > 1999.07.03 > 09Prev  Next

Steam Calliope Design
By Tom Keenan

I'm a member of the Florida Live Steamers, which is primarily railroad
oriented but also contains people interested in traction engines and
stationary engines.  For a couple of years, I have been gathering up
what little information I could find on building a 32-whistle calliope
to take to our statewide meets and other events.

A friend of mine was recently able to find an article in the June 1977
issue of Live Steam magazine about a lot of the construction.  It gave
dimensions and building instructions on the keyboard, valves and
whistles.  The authors were a father and son team who had build a 10-
whistle model and installed it on their little steamboat.

They mentioned the ideal steam pressure was about 50 psi.  Since they
had a large boiler to supply propulsion steam, there wasn't any mention
of how big a boiler it would take to operate just a calliope.

None of my fellow live steam enthusiasts can figure out how to
calculate the number of pounds of steam a calliope would require
hourly.  The only formula I can find on steam generation is that about
one gallon of propane will evaporate one cubic foot of water in one
hour to generate one horsepower.  Can anyone help me with the answer
or with getting further in this search?

Also, in the article mentioned above, they gave the critical whistle
tubing length dimensions for 47 notes, as well as the diameters for
their ten whistles(C5 up to E above C6).  The instructions wandered off
into vagueness concerning the other 37 diameters.  They mentioned that
the frequency is determined solely by length and the volume by the
diameter.  Does anyone have any thoughts on this aspect of design?

If you would just like to talk about live steam, you can reach me at or by FAX at 850-643-4513.

Tom Keenan

 [ Editor's note:
 [ An advert in the MBSI News Bulletin, May/June 1999, offers a new
 [ CD entitled "The Steamboat Washington Calliope".  The text says:
 [ "Modeled after the 32-note calliope aboard the famous steamboat,
 [  the actual instrument was built by Dave Morecraft of Peru, Indiana,
 [  and has a range of two and one-half octaves.  It has been automated
 [  to use MIDI control and a manual keyboard.  It is powered by a 20
 [  horsepower boiler and is loud enough to be heard up to 5 miles
 [  away."
 [ Tom Grace wrote about this CD in MMD 990125, saying, "I have heard
 [ Dave's steam calliopes at MBS organ rallies, and they are a real
 [ thrill to see and hear in person."  The CD is sold for $15 by
 [ Small Parts, Inc., P.O Box 4650, Miami Lakes, FL 33014-0650, tel
 [ 1-800-220-4242, fax 1-800-423-9009, email <>
 [ The little calliope built by Tommy Thompson, and described in
 [ Live Steam magazine, consumed all the output from the small boiler
 [ of the steam launch.  The calliope on one of the excursion steamers
 [ operated by Delta Queen Steamboat Company consumed so much steam
 [ that it was prohibited from playing when the boat was maneuvering
 [ in close quarters.  The 25-note calliope built by Bart Hoebel, of
 [ Princeton, NJ, sounds under-powered with its 10 HP boiler.
 [ Years ago I calculated that a 30 HP boiler would be needed if a
 [ 43-note Tangley calliope were converted to steam operation at 3 psi.
 [ The bass notes demand the most steam flow, and each octave of
 [ whistles added to the bass end of the keyboard takes four times
 [ the flow of the octave above it.  (Roughly speaking, of course. ;)
 [ I guess the practical limit is reached when the steam pressure
 [ falls and you must play fewer notes!
 [ But a steam locomotive should be more than adequate to power a
 [ steam calliope, and the railroad fans would love it!  :)
 [ Someday I hope to present the 1977 article in Live Steam magazine
 [ at the MMD web site, when I settle the copyright matters with the
 [ author and publisher.  We plan to expand the list of dimensions
 [ to cover all the pipes one might construct.  Please visit
 [ -- Robbie

(Message sent Sun 4 Jul 1999, 00:41:41 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Calliope, Design, Steam

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