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Archive for Saturday, August 16, 2003

Whistle a happy tune

Private funds help resurrect campus landmark

August 16, 2003

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A 104-year-old Kansas University tradition is alive and well once again.

The steam whistle atop the power plant that marks the end of classes blew up in January under 175 pounds per inch of steam at 377 degrees. After months of silence, a new whistle was crafted and installed on the building in April.

"I was inundated by phone calls and e-mails from people who wanted the whistle back," said George Cone, assistant director of mechanical systems. "People wanted to donate money or donate whistles, most of them way too small. I was shocked. I really was."

Among them was Neal Lintecum, a Lawrence surgeon who graduated from the KU School of Medicine in 1990. He donated $4,000 in memory of his father to cover the cost of the whistle.

Funeral services for Lintecum's father, Dean Lintecum of Prairie Village, were Jan. 22, the same day the previous whistle -- nicknamed "Big Tooter" -- gave its own farewell. Dean Lintecum, a 1955 KU graduate in architecture, was an avid KU football fan, missing only two home games in the last 35 years.

"He had a great love for KU, and he'd appreciate any gift for KU," Neal Lintecum said. "I just think it's a nice tradition to have that marker for time in Lawrence."

Even with funding in hand, the whistle project wasn't easy. Whistles are a rare commodity, considering they're not produced en masse and there are only six operating steamships left in the United States. Most steam whistles in industrial use are found in prisons.

So KU officials turned to Aaron Richardson, a Cincinnati resident and owner of Richardson's Landing, which casts steam and air whistles. The company grew out of Richardson's love of steamboats, but he hasn't been too busy -- he has cast only 12 whistles in the company's four years of operation.

Richardson modeled KU's whistle after the whistle on the 1920s-era George M. Verity steamboat, which now serves as a museum in Keokuk, Iowa. It's a "plain bell whistle," meaning it has four whistles that each sounds its own note; together they form a chord. The 250-pound whistle, made of bronze and steel, looks something like a candelabra.

The previous whistle, a "chime whistle," had a single unit with three chambers, which produced a three-note chord.

Richardson said the whistle was the highest-profile project he had worked on.

"I think the fact it's such a long-running tradition is why so many people seem interested in it," Richardson said. "It's pretty exciting. Countless numbers of people will hear this."

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