Great American Horn Machine

Great American Horn Machine

Maker Faire Detroit is coming right up next weekend, July 28 and 29, at The Henry Ford, and Motor City’s finest creative minds, tinkerers, and innovators will be there to show off their creations and inspire. Lifelong maker Dana Dolfi is bringing something that’s guaranteed to get your attention, and we’re not just tootin his horn when we say that. His Great American Horn Machine, touted as “the world’s loudest mobile musical instrument,” is a 3-ton collection of truck, train, and ships air horns, and steam whistles, all mounted on a tandem-axle car trailer. Most of the single horns have a manufacturer’s rated output of over 100dB at 100ft, and the largest horn, originally from a U.S. Navy ship, is audible for 7 miles at sea. Controlled by 12V DC solenoid valves, via a Highly Liquid MIDI decoder, the Horn Machine can be played via laptop computer, keyboard, or any MIDI output device, and is powered by a 65HP, 4-cylinder gasoline-driven compressor, supplying a 620-gallon air receiver tank at 100psi. What does all this mean? This bad boy is LOUD! We caught up with Dana to get some insight.

1. What inspired you to make the Great American Horn Machine and how long did it take to build?
It’s an evolution. It started out as a display rig for my steam whistle and horn collection. This question kinda makes me laugh because you’re assuming I’m done building it. Heck, it’s just getting started.

2. How did you get interested in collecting and working with horns?
When I was a kid I always looked forward to visiting my grandparents, who lived on the banks of the Monongahela River. I just couldn’t wait till a towboat came by so I could give the “blow your horn” signal. Much later in life I came to own a large houseboat. Then I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be really cool to have a really big horn, like the towboats? So I found a horn on eBay, then I found a bigger horn on eBay, then another, then another. Then I came to the realization, “Hey I’m a horn collector.”

3. How has the vibrant community at the Horn & Whistle Board helped encourage and shape your build?
Once I came to the revelation that I was a horn collector, I was drawn to the Horn & Whistle Board and discovered I wasn’t alone in the universe anymore.

4. What types of events have you taken the Horn Machine to and what are some of your favorite reactions?
The only real events I’ve been to are the Maker Faires: Detroit 2010 and Pittsburgh 2011. There are not a whole lot of other venues where I truly fit in.

5. Tell us about yourself. How did you get started making things and who are your inspirations?
I work construction for a living. I’ve been building stuff since I can remember.

6. What’s your favorite tool?
A pair of tools actually: welding machine and grinder. With those two tools and some inspiration you can do amazing things.

Great American Horn Machine

7. What advice would you give to the young makers out there just getting started?
YES YOU CAN!! Forget what the world tells you — if you want it, you can do it.

8. What do you love most about Detroit?
The Henry Ford Museum is my favorite place in the country. Being a collector of industrial antiques myself, this place is AWESOME!!

Great American Horn Machine

Show your Midwest maker pride and come out to the Faire. You’re sure to make new friends and leave with a smile on your face. All the info you need to attend is over on the Maker Faire Detroit website.


I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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