Steamboat’s new noon whistle to be christened today during ceremony
November 24, 2010
FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Five years ago, Fairmont, W.Va., resident Mike Daugherty started MD Whistles out of the machine shop his family has been running for about three decades.
Numerous people told the self-proclaimed "train nut" that his company, which manufactures steam whistles like those used on old-fashioned train locomotives, never would get off the ground.
Nearly half a decade later, they are eating their words.
MD Whistles has sold 748 models to customers in areas ranging from the Yukon in Alaska to England and other parts of Europe. Among those models: The new noon whistle that will be christened today during a ceremony in downtown Steamboat Springs.
"I thought I would be lucky if I sold 30 whistles," said the 40-year-old Daugherty.
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He was not the only one surprised by his success. His father, Leonard "Bud" Daugherty, 75, also did not think the business would take off.
"I didn't pay much attention to it when he first started," Leonard Daugherty said.
The father is owner of the machine shop D&M Inc., where the whistles are made.
Mike Daugherty began making steam whistles after a trip to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., about eight years ago. He talked to a friend who was a train engineer at the resort.
"He told me I should be selling train whistles and that people would buy them," he said.
Daugherty came back to West Virginia and made two of what he called "primitive" whistles. He took them to Dollywood, left them there and returned home.
"And when I got back, there was a check in the mail," Daugherty said. "They sold instantly."
Daugherty has been making whistles since.
They sell for $390 to $2,900 apiece, he said.
He has sold whistles to universities in Idaho and Missouri, as well as companies such as Allegheny Power, he said.
Some of his whistles can be heard on the Cass Scenic Railroad and other rail companies that still run steam locomotives.
The whistle he made for Steamboat is a cast, stainless steel, three-chime model, Daugherty said. The noise it makes will be at the 100-decibel level.
Companies and colleges aren't the only ones buying Daugherty's whistles.
Some people are purchasing them to place in their homes as collectibles or use in their shops and garages.
"People buy them and put them on their air compressors at home just for fun," he said. "I have one collector in Ohio that's bought 29 of my whistles."
The whistles can be run on steam and air, he said.
After his first two whistles sold at Dollywood, word began to spread that the product was available. Mike said there are no companies mass-producing steam whistles in the country. In fact, he thinks he is the largest manufacturer in the world.
"There are a few people out there making them as a hobby," he said.
The Steamboat whistle became Daugherty's fall priority. But once he finished the approximately 60-pound whistle, his work began on a six-chime whistle in the style used by the Baltimore and Ohio railroads many years ago.
A whistle's chime is determined by the number of cylinders inside the body: A six-chime whistle has six cylinders inside the body. The concept is similar to a pipe organ, Daugherty said.
Whistles and trains are in Daugherty's blood, and it is no surprise that he has been enamored of both throughout his life. Fairmont historically has been a railroad center, and his dad worked on the B&O Railroad for many years.
"And my wife's father worked on the B&O in Grafton," he said. "He loved the railroad, and I think it infected me."
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