Bowsprite: A New York Harbor Sketchbook

happy new year: steam whistles & water worship

Posted in cibbows, coney island brighton beach by bowsprite on 2010/01/02

Happy New Year, Everyone! Happy, safe, blessed 2010!

Every new year’s eve at midnight, Conrad H. Milster, chief engineer of the Pratt Institute Power House, gives a steam whistle concert from the campus of Pratt Institute. 120 pounds of steam pressure release into the air, making the area resonate with a sound and power of a time now gone, and yet, preserved.

The engines are beautifully tended, “machinery that was built to be art.”

Milster was an engineer working on the ferries of NYHarbor in the ’50’s, and he has beautiful photographs of the old ferries. However, whistles are his passion. He has hours upon hours of recordings of whistles, and a collection of steam whistles of locomotives, factories, and ships–most notably, the whistle of la grande dame, the ocean liner S.S. Normandie.

“Here in the engine room, you see and hear motion, you smell the oil. The man who ran a steam engine saw how things worked. You were always adjusting the flow, checking the bearings, listening to the sound of the machine. To be a talented engineer, you have to emphathize with the machinery. If you have talent, the aesthetics of a good machine will grow on you.” Someone else waxed poetic on this very subject. (Quotes are from this article on Conrad.)

Here is a clip of the concert; the small whistles are controlled by a keyboard that anyone can plink on to let off steam, the larger whistles, by a rope to tug. DO bring ear plugs along with your champagne & glasses!

More clips! just a few hours later, these are from the Coney Island Polar Bear’s mad dash into the 39° waters:

This just in! for a lovely tribute to the midnight letting off of steam, see Rick’s video clip here. It was funny to run into my dear studiomates, Poul & Kayoko, friends Aki & Troy. Happy 2010 All!!!

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10 Responses

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  1. capeannpainter said, on 2010/01/02 at 18:06

    COOL STUFF! Thanks,
    Happy New Year!

  2. tugster said, on 2010/01/02 at 22:07

    oh . . . i wish i had been there, but yr post–as always–is ALMOST as good as having been both at pratt and at coney. brrr!

    besides, there was MUCH to be said fer savannah . . . http://tugster.wordpress.com/2010/01/01/savannah-watershed-2 bravo to maestro milster!!!

  3. Vagabonde said, on 2010/01/02 at 23:54

    Great whistles. I would love to hear the whistle for the Normandie though. I looked again at all your beautiful sketches – there are so many nice ones. I wish you a great 2010 and that it brings you much happiness and great inspiration for your art.

  4. tugster said, on 2010/01/03 at 07:21

    i smell the bowels now . . . the oil . .. while enjoying the art of power-making. and looking thru the coney clips . . . i start to shiver, uncontrollable. in fact, i’m headed for a HOT shower this minute! great documentation. i hope you do more of this in 2010… expand to sketchbook and clip joint, clip gallery, or harbor cinema??

  5. Mage B said, on 2010/01/03 at 11:49

    Oh, you would delight in G and I as we ooooohed and ahhhhhhed over Claire de Lune on steam horns then shreeked right along with all the crazys getting in the water. Thanks so much for the smilles. happy new decade.

  6. frank@nycgarden said, on 2010/01/04 at 12:52

    My father-in-law would love this as a steam engine lover and piano player! If he would ever come to NYC for the holidays, this is the first thing we’d do. Great post!

  7. tugster said, on 2010/01/06 at 07:05

    looking thru the clips again (yes, this is my THIRD comment here) i love the “concert.avi” clip on my desktop with good sound. watching it, i imagine myself treated to an undersea world mostly dark and where the steam is bubbles from geothermal vents, making their own sounds that mere terrestrial mortals are unable to hear. the bundled up folk milling merrily about, exotic fishes, including a toothy one that makes its appearance for only a second in the second half. the silent camera looking left right up down . . that’s our guide to this realm. the video has its own charm as pleasurable as being there. again merci. btw, was GMG there too?

  8. Maritime Monday 195 said, on 2010/01/06 at 08:15

    [...] The engines are beautifully tended, “machinery that was built to be art.” SEE THE VIDEO » [...]

  9. [...] of Conrad’s whistles and a quirky rendition of SS Normandie are here and here. Only Bowsprite knows whether she made an artistic decision to leave off the whistle OR [...]

  10. Frank Ostrander said, on 2010/07/21 at 20:53

    Cool place! I visited it on a field trip from Manhattan College in the 1980s when I was a student there. No steam concert, though. I’ve heard a steam calliope – one of the Lake George the Minnie-Ha-Ha has one. It truly is awesome! What a sound!


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