Copyright 2000  T. Sheil & A. Sheil  All Rights Reserved

Learn to use real railroad

Whistle and Horn Talk

On the railroad, there are many ways to send a message.  Back in the old days, before radio, the train crews and railroad yard workers needed a way to "talk" at a distance.  They used lights, flags and sounds.

The railroad used bells to let others know that the train was moving nearby.  Trains ring their bells whenever they enter or leave a station, and whenever they pass a place where people are standing near the tracks.  If a train had to be stopped, workers would place "torpedoes" on the tracks.  They would be placed far enough away, so that the train could stop in time.  Torpedoes were like fireworks.  They popped as the train rolled over them.  Hearing them, the engineer knew he had to stop.

Whistles and horns allowed the men in the locomotive to tell others how the train was going to move. They used long and short toots.  Here you can learn how to use the same whistle talk as real train crews.

The first chart has signals from the locomotive to the train men and workers alongside the tracks.  In our chart below, an O stands for a short toot, and - stands for a long one

Sound with Whistle or Horn What it means
O Stop.  
- - Go
- OOO Flagman go to back of train.
- - - - Flagman return from south or west.
- - - - O Flagman return from north or east.
- - - When running, train parted ( that means some cars came unhooked)  "The train came apart!"
O O Answer to signals - this is tooted to say that you received the signal, and is like saying 'Yes, I heard you!'
O O O When given a signal to back up, toot before going back.
OOOO Call for signals "What am I supposed to do?"
- - O - Do this when you are coming to a "grade crossing". A grade crossing is where a road crosses the railroad tracks. 
OOOO - Fire alarm, to let workers near the tracks of a fire
Many short toots To warn people, cattle and others to get off the tracks.
______ Big long blasts, when getting near stations, junctions and railroad crossings.  A railroad crossing is where tracks cross one another.

Here are signals the conductor uses to talk with the engineer.  The conductor rode at the back of the train, in the caboose.  He used an air whistle or bell ringer to send messages to the engine.  All of these sounds are short toots.  You might notice that the same number of toots can have different meanings, if the train is running or standing still.

Sounds What they mean
OO If the train is standing, GO
OO If the train is moving, STOP
OOO If train is standing, GO BACK
OOO If train is moving, stop at next station
OOOO When train is standing, apply or release brakes
OOOO When train is running, slow down
OOOOO When train is standing, call in a flagman
OOOOO When train is running, go faster!!!!
OOOOOO When train is running, turn up the heat (the engine also heated the cars which people rode.)

Now you know how to use horns and whistles to "talk," just like the railroad.  When you play with your trains, think of how much fun it will be to use real horn and whistle talk.

Click here to go to The All Gauge Page for more fun, trains, free paper & card kits and model railroad fun.