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Last New Years Eve, I had the pleasure of attending the annual steam-whistle-blow at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. The experience was loud, cold, soggy, and quite simply awesome. Steam pipes stretched across the campus lawn to power a large strip of whistles, in a variety of sizes. If you moved in close enough (and plugged your ears for protection) you could take a turn at triggering one of the powerful steam jets – an empowering experience. But even standing back a bit in the crowd one could feel the low frequencies of the larger whistles vibrate through the ribcage. These felt like the most ‘real’ sounds I’ve ever heard – thick and deep to high and tense. While anxiously waiting my turn at the MIDI driven calliope(!) I was able to thank the man responsible for this event – Conrad Milster.

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Conrad has been running and maintaining Pratt’s steam power plant since the early 1960’s. The facility’s historic value was recognized by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and named a National Mechanical Engineering Landmark, and rightly so. Pratt boasts the oldest continuously-operating, privately-owned, steam-powered electrical generating plant in the country. The engine room is a beautiful site filled with hulking turbines, wall-mounted knife switches and antique voltage meters. Be sure to visit if you have the chance, even if it’s not on New Years.

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Related:

Green steam – Link

USS Midway – Giant steam powered aircraft carrier – Link