While Nathan/AirChime and Leslie tend to be the two big names in railroad air horns, they are by far not the only manufacturers! Westinghouse Air Brake Company, one of the oldest names in railroad supplies which is still in business, has had a full line of offerings, with many unique offerings. Wabco, as they tend to be referred as, offered horns even earlier than Leslie, and still produces horns to this day. While never as big as Leslie or AirChime, Wabco always had something to offer, and has consistently been able to push their product line.
- jump to the Wabco section
The Prime Manufacturing Corporation is also a big name in the railroad supply industry. Prime started manufacturing horns in the early 1970s. Their horns, while similar to Leslie SuperTyfon series horns, have many differences. Some features that they used in their horns mark them as very unique when compared to the SuperTyfon line. In then end, they were a large competitor for many years, and many of their horns are still out in service. Unfortunately, Prime discontinued its horn line in 2000.
Hancock, also a well-known name in the railroad world, tried to make a go at signaling devices for diesels as well. In an effort to revive the sound of a steam locomotive, they developed an air whistle for use on a diesel locomotive. While not as successful as some of the other manufacturers, their products did achieve some penetration, and a few of their whistles are still in service to this day!
There were and are other manufacturers still beyond Prime, Wabco, and Hancock, though they were not all that successful, and so will not be covered in great detail. Buell was somewhat common in the early days of dieselization when the only major competitors in the horn market were Wabco and Leslie. However, they tended to move towards truck or boat horns and other devices of this nature very early on. Interestingly enough, Buell has very recently released a new line of train horns marketed again at the railroads. The horns are offered in a one, three, or five bell combination, using individual bells/chambers bolted to a common manifold, similar to Nathan K and P horns. The horns are not as strongly built (i.e. "railroad tough") as their competitors, which may be detrimental to their success. This is unfortunate, as the horns meet FRA decibel requirements, are inexpensive, and are very pleasing to the ear. While not very prolific at this point in time, at least a few roads have purchased Buell horns, such as Virginia Railway Express for their cab cars.
Another early competitor was Kahlenberg. While they advertised horns specifically for railroad use, they unfortunately never sold any of these horns. It's ironic then that Kahlenberg purchased AirChime back in 2008 (though Micro Precision is the outlet for AirChime products). Strombos also produced railroad-application horns in the first half of the 20th century, again before real chime horns became the new "standard". While not terribly successful, they did sell quite a few horns. A third competitor in the early part of the 20th century was Gustin Bacon (at least into 1935). Very little is known of these horns' history, though they did see some railroad service, notably on at least a few Frisco doodlebug gas-electric and/or diesel-electric cars, and even some steam locomotives! There are others still, but alas, no real success stories.
|the insides of a salvaged Gustin-Bacon air horn (© 2005, 2011 Ron Chamberlain, used with permission)
|and this is what it sounds like (© 2005, 2011 Ron Chamberlain, used with permission)
|a prototype Buell 5-chime railroad horn, produced new in 2006, blown in Altoona, PA
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