Noon whistle to sound again

Oak Creek's whistle will blow every day, just like it did in the 1900s

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Oak Creek residents have their watches synchronized, and they know the moment it's time to eat lunch.

Just like it did for most of the 20th century, the "noon whistle" on the hill behind Old Town Hall once again blows every day, though some say the whistle wasn't always so reliable.

"I remember the old siren," said Oak Creek resident Marjory Widger Mack. "It was supposed to sound every day right at noon, but as I remember, it wasn't reliable enough to set our clocks by."

Then, the whistle required the pushing of a button. Now, the whistle operates on an automatic timer.

About six months ago, Oak Creek officials began talking about bringing the whistle back. Oak Creek Public Works Director Jim Photos can remember hearing the whistle when he was a child, and after hearing others in town say they would like to have it back, he went to Old Town Hall to investigate what it would take to fix the whistle.

He discovered the old control box on the wall. The whistle was constructed to be used as a warning if there was a fire or an accident in one of the mines. It later was blown at noon and at 9 p.m. as a curfew for the town's youths.

Photos contacted electrician Gene Fox of Yampa to assess the repairs it needed. Fox said the wiring, transformer and the entire system were "really, really old" and would need replacing.

Fox ordered the parts, including the automatic timer, and by May 25, the whistle was back. The only problem was, it sounded for the first time at midnight instead of noon. Fox fixed the time glitch the next day.

"It's an old tradition," Photos said. "People enjoy it, and a for a lot of the locals who grew up here, it brings back memories."

South Routt historian Mike Yurich remembers the old whistle well, and as he has done for many historical sites in Oak Creek, he researched when and how the whistle got its start.

Yurich spends most of his time near the control box in Old Town Hall, as the Historical Society of Oak Creek and Phippsburg leases a small room from the town. As a member of the society, Yurich spends several hours a day scouring through old records and photos. Yurich, 69, has been collecting historic South Routt photos for years. He dug up the old photos of the original fire/noon whistle and found the whistle was built sometime near the turn of the century at the Oak Creek Electric Plant at the end of West Oak Street near the Victor American Tipple Mine.

It was blown with different tones for each mine, letting miners know when the mines would be closed or if there was an accident. But, when Old Town Hall was built, the whistle was moved to the hill behind the building as a more central location, ensuring that it could be heard everywhere in town, Yurich said.

The whistle would let out two long bursts in the event of a fire, gathering all the town's volunteer firefighters. But the signals would be broken into more complex, Morse code sounds to let firefighters know where the fire was. During World War II, the whistle doubled as an attack alert, Yurich said, and the whistle originally began blowing at noon to be sure it was in working order.

In 1966, the current whistle was built next to the old, and later the old one was torn down, Yurich said. Even though the whistle had become an integral part of residents' lives, in the 1980s, the fire departments had increased communication capabilities and no longer needed to use the whistle or test it each day at noon.

So, after more than a decade of dormancy, the whistle is back.

"It will reactivate the noon hunger pangs in the stomach," Yurich said, "and remind us to check our watches."

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