Archive for Thursday, April 14, 2011

Heard on the Hill: Steam whistle goes silent — but just for a little while; Army ROTC cadets place first in national competition; U.S. Air Force general to return to KU

April 14, 2011


Your daily dose of news, notes and links from around Kansas University.

• An astute Heard on the Hill commenter noticed that KU’s power plant steam whistle that has signaled the end of classes since time immemorial wasn't sounding this week.

And, as it turns out, good old Tooty Toot has indeed been silenced — but only temporarily.

Jill Jess, a university spokeswoman, told me the whistle will likely be quiet until early or mid May. It will be down while some masonry work is done on the outside of the power plant, which is near Stauffer-Flint Hall.

The whistle could have physically continued to blow during the work, Jess said. But given that workers would be standing on scaffolding and the whistle creates a loud noise that can startle folks or create vibrations, it didn’t seem like a very good idea to operate it while the work was going on.

So for the workers’ safety and comfort, no whistle for now.

People are understandably concerned after the tradition dating back to 1912 suddenly stopped one day in 2008 after the powers that be (at the time) decided that $3,000 was too much to spend on keeping the tradition alive.

And now that we’re removed from that whole mess, I think it’s time to ask this question. Can’t we get the full whistle back that I and a lot of other folks probably remember? You know, the 5-second version, instead of the current 3.5-second toot?

That said, I bet it’s been so long people (especially students) are used to the new duration, and would get upset if that changed, too…

• The University Daily Kansan has a nice wrap-up and photo gallery featuring two U.S. Army ROTC cadets’ victory at the Ranger Buddy Competition on April 2.

You can catch some video of the event at the KU Army ROTC’s YouTube channel.

The student paper reported that Josh Bergman, a Lawrence junior, and Stuart McConnell, a freshman from Newton, won the all-male division.

The competition involved more than 200 cadets from 21 universities, and tested all kinds of skills that the cadets pick up in ROTC training.

Congrats to the winners.

• And speaking of ROTC programs, a U.S. Air Force general is scheduled to return to KU for an upcoming U.S. Air Force ROTC alumni weekend April 29-30.

Brig. Gen. Dave C. Howe is the the Director of Installations and Mission Support, Headquarters Air Combat Command, Langley Air Force Base, Va.

He’ll be coming back to his alma mater. He graduated from the KU ROTC program and left the university with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.

He will inspect KU’s cadets during a military-style parade on the morning of April 30 at the Lawrence High School football field.

• Don’t be greedy with your tips for Heard on the Hill. Share them with me, too, at


laika 7 years ago

The shorter duration still throws me when walking on campus, so count me as one student who does remember. Was their any reason to compromise on a shorter whistle besides making the administrator who thought of this feel less like a bonehead for trying to eliminate a great tradition? Perhaps the shortened whistle saves fuel costs, but I'd like to see those numbers.

Jonathan Kealing 7 years ago

They did say there were financial savings when they shortened the duration of the whistle.

sallyone 7 years ago

I say do away completely with that annoying whistle!

yourworstnightmare 7 years ago

Silence the whistle permanently. It is an annoying anachronism.

wagenseil 7 years ago

The whistle originally went silent because it self-destructed (metal items subjected to pressurized steam for a century or so will do that). Rather than letting nature take its course, and just creating a nice metal sign memorializing the whistle tradition, some alum funded a replacement. As I recall, this was rather costly (there's a sign explaining it all in the ground floor of the Union), money probably better spent hiring an outside auditor for the ticket office.

The shortened duration was a separate incident.

The whistle is a wonderful bit of nostalgia for people who come to campus five times during the year. For those who work there, it is exceedingly annoying.

ahyland 7 years ago

Here's a story from 2003 with a few more details on the installation of the new steam whistle that you're talking about.

Thanks to all for the feedback. I've always known there were definite pro-whistle people and anti-whistle people, but usually the pro-whistle people seem to overwhelm the anti-whistle crowd. Not today, it seems!

Andy Hyland

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