Friday, January 22, 2021

Locomotive Steam Whistles by Zina Abbott

Steam locomotives often have two types of sounding devises—bells and steam-powered whistles. Although newer locomotives have moved to air horns, the old engines of the 1800s relied on steam to power their whistles which generally located on the top of the steam boiler in front of the engineer’s cab. Railroad employees still use the term “whistle” to refer to signaling.


CLICK HERE to see and hear a steam-driven locomotive whistle.

The loud blasts served several purposes including signaling and warnings. Because trains are fixed-rail vehicles, this was necessary to avoid collisions and other problems.

If you wish to hear examples of different train whistles through the years, please CLICK HERE.

Whistles were almost always actuated with a pull cord, or sometimes a lever, that permitted proportional action, so that some form of "expression" could be put into the sound. Many locomotive operators had their own style of blowing the whistle. It was often apparent to other employees who was operating the locomotive by the sound of the whistle.

During the 1800s, different whistles and signaling patterns became popular as railroad technology developed and different whistles came into use.

Not all these codes are universal, but vary by nation. Other signals used in the past are obsolete. One signal that remains in use in North America is the one for approaching a crossing such as that used by vehicles or farm equipment. It is the Morse Code letter “Q”:

  - - . -

Why the letter “Q”? Railroad technology was developed in England before it made its way to North America. Even after the United States broke away from Britain—and that nation finally accepted that we were a separate nation no longer under their dominion—what took place in Britain still had a great influence on this nation.

Queen Victoria reigned for sixty-three years from 1837 until 1901. Train travel was the most efficient and comfortable mode of transportation at the time. When the queen traveled, for security, efficiency, and homage reasons, the train on which she rode was treated as a through train. All other trains were to clear the rails during the times her trains were expected to pass. Likewise, those on the ground crossings were to stay back and not impede her trains. The engineers started using the signal “Q” to announce that the queen was on board the train. Eventually, that became the signal for approaching a crossing.

1994-Santa Fe train before merger with Burlington-Northern under Bradley Overhead, Merced County.

Since I live close to two railroad lines—the Burlington-Northern & Santa Fe and the Southern Pacific—I plan my driving routes between my little town and the two neighboring communities around the railroad tracks. The BN&SF is not bad to wait for if it is the Amtrak coming through. I don’t enjoy waiting for the freight trains on either line, especially since one major crossing has the side track as well as the through track. Being blocked by one freight train waiting on another one to pass in the opposite direction is no fun. 

One of my friends once asked why I didn’t take a shorter route. I told her my game plan is to get across the tracks while the getting is good. I don’t like to take the chance the double tracks will still be clear on the “short” driving route. 

One thing I can tell you is, I’ve heard the above "approaching a crossing" signal many times. It sounds like this: CLICK HERE.

Here is a chart of some of the whistle codes used in North America.


As has been known to happen to me before, after I finished and published my latest book, Kate’s Railroad Chef, I realized there was in inconsistency in my story. I end with those at the Jubilee Springs railroad depot hearing the train signal it is approaching the station. However, the story starts with passengers waiting for the train to arrive. Did they hear the whistle? If not, why not?

So, dear reader, I rewrote the first chapter to include a few sentences about the train whistle. It will not change the overall story line for those who already bought the book or are reading it on Kindle Unlimited. However, I will publish the additions to Chapter One here (If you have not yet read the book description, please be aware my hero stutters.):

            As he left his office, Garland raised his hands and shook his head to ward off those waiting in the lobby as they surged toward him.

            The question coming from one man who stepped in front of him stopped Garland’s forward movement. “I was standing outside about an hour ago and heard a whistle. How come the train’s not here yet?”

            Garland focused his gaze on the man he did not recognize. “You heard a whistle? How long ago?”

            “At least an hour, maybe more. You know—toot-toot-toot, and then nothing.”

            “Thank you for t-telling me. I’m on my way to the maintenance shop now. I’ll ask.” Garland raised his voice to be heard as he pushed through the crowd. “I have no news. I’m going to s-s-send men to check.”

            Once he reached the door leading outside the depot, Garland finally broke free of the crowd. Gritting his teeth in frustration, he rushed toward the repair shop used for necessary track and equipment maintenance. After searching the premises, he finally spotted the foreman, Joe Hodges, walking towards him. He strode over to meet the man. “T-train’s been delayed.”

            “We noticed. What do you figure? They this side of Cotopaxi?”

            “Yes, Cotopaxi said the t-train is running an hour late, but it should have been here. I need a handcar loaded with t-tools. Can s-some of your men be p-prepared to go looking for it?”

            Hodges grimaced. He twisted his upper body to look at his crew of maintenance men huddled around a wood-burning heater toward one corner of the repair building, and then he turned back. “I suppose we could. Hate sending them out this late in the cold with the dark coming on, only to have the locomotive round a bend and plow into them.”

            As he glared at the man, Garland clamped his lips tight. Everyone worried about getting hit by the train, but no one seemed concerned that the engineer and passengers might have run into trouble. True, Martin Underwood left him in charge, but there was a limit to how much he could order around Joe, who had as much authority in his realm as he did in his. “A man waiting in the depot s-said he was s-standing outside about an hour ago and heard a whistle. No one in here heard anything like that?”

            Hodges shook his head and waved his hand as if to brush away the question. “Awhile back, one of my men said he thought he heard a couple of short blasts. They were so faint, though, he decided he was just hearing things. All the engineers who run this line blow a very distinct whistle after they round that last point on Longfellow Gulch to signal they are approaching the station. We know that sound like we do our own mothers’ voices. No one’s heard anything like that tonight.”

            As he leaned his head forward, Garland worked his jaw. Does he think I’m an idiot? I’m well aware there is a list of whistles a train engineer uses to signal different situations. “I’m aware there is a s-special Morse Code s-signal used strictly for approaching the s-station. The whistles that your man did hear, were they a s-series of short blips, like the s-signal used for an emergency?”

            As Joe Hodges gaze met that of Garland’s, his eyes widened, and he swallowed. “I don’t know. I’ll ask.” He shook his head. “That whistle is pretty loud, and it’s not like we’re in the middle of a big storm right now like we were yesterday. You’d think if the engineer did blow his whistle, we all would have heard it.”

             Garland shook his head. Simple physics. “Not if the t-train ran into t-trouble in the middle of the gulch. With the way the walls are s-steep and shaped like an amphitheater, the gulch would p-project any s-sound the t-train whistle makes toward the s-southeast, the direction it faces, which is away from Jubilee S-Springs.”

            Hodges cursed as he turned his face away and shook it. “Makes sense, now you point it out. I’ve even had one engineer tell me that’s why they wait until the locomotive rounds that last bend before they blow the signal that they’re approaching the station.”

              “Mr. Hodges, we need to do s-something. Because Mr. Underwood is gone, I must s-stay at the s-station.” 

            Heaving a sigh, Hodges used his fingertips and thumb to rub each side of his forehead. “I’ll send some men—”

            “Hey, boss! We got someone here from the incoming train needs to talk to you.” 

Kate's Railroad Chef, the third book in the Train Wreck in Jubilee Springs series, is currently available both for purchase and for no additional charge using your Kindle Unlimited subscription. To find the book description, please CLICK HERE.



The link for the Train Wreck in Jubilee Springs series may be found by CLICKING HERE. (Amazon is being shy about putting it on its own series page since these books are also part of the Sweethearts of Jubilee Springs series.)



Steam Locomotive Components from Wikipedia

Train Whistle from Wikipedia


Photo of train whistle courtesy of the blog post,  by Jim Loomis, author of “All Aboard! The Complete North American Train Travel Guide ” (Chicago Review Press)

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

JUDGING A BOOK BY ITS COVER By Kathleen Lawless @kathleenlawless

 If you’re like many people I know, the new year means decluttering and redecorating their homes, an activity I admire but never seem to get around to.  In my defense, I live in a small cottage without a lot of options to move things around and change up the space.  

 But books! There’s an entirely different matter.   Authors are always second guessing everything in this business, including their covers.  Earlier this month, as I prepared to launch a new series, I got really excited by what my designer was creating and decided to revamp some older covers, in hopes that the investment would lead to more reader interest and discoverability.  I call that my version of redecorating. 

 Between the two of us, it took a while studying other covers, images, fonts and layouts, as I decided what I liked, what I didn’t, and what elements would, I hoped, give my books an eye-catching, up-to-the-minute look.  Cover trends are constantly changing and various theories abound regarding covers with scenery only, a romantic couple, or the hero or heroine on their own. 

It’s early days, but I’m pretty pleased with the results.  The true test will be what the readers think and if they find my new covers intriguing enough to catch their eye so they read the blurb or an excerpt.  How important is the cover in your decision to purchase a book?  As a reader, what draws you in?     


Kathleen Lawless blames a misspent youth watching Rawhide, Maverick and Bonanza for her fascination with cowboys, which doesn’t stop her from creating a wide variety of interests and occupations for her many alpha male heroes.   

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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

 How Stress Effects Creativity         

...And Why Some Thrive While others Falter Under Pressure?

by Rhonda Frankhouser

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Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

A Letter to My Writer’s Soul

RE: Your Long Absence

My dearest, darling muse,

It’s been nearly a year since you left me. I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve missed your snark and light-hearted wit. The freedom and adventure you once instilled in me has withered, leaving my soul collapsed around sadness and fear.

I pray each day that the stress radiating from every avenue of life will subside and give you a fighting chance to break through, but this world we now live in is not the same world of my youth. The hate, anger, blame, sickness, and division is beyond repressive. It’s downright destructive, and I’ll never forgive that it keeps you a severed arms’ distance from me.

Until such time as you are freed to grace my mind again, I promise to do my part. I will gather adventures for fodder; transform angst into character; become a barrier to negativity, and remember my many blessings amid the devastation.

I want you to know that I am ever thankful for our past together — and ever hopeful for a blissful reunion one day soon. But mostly, I want you to know that I forgive you for disappearing. Sometimes, I wish I could do the same.



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Photo by Ryan Snaadt on Unsplash

So, let’s talk about this very touchy subject. How does stress effect the Creative — and why is it different for every person?

Recently, I had a conversation with an esteemed writer about the effect stress has on creative individuals. It baffled us both how some thrive while others falter under various types of pressure. As you can probably tell by reading my letter above, I’m definitely a member the latter group under stress that relates to family, livelihood, and health, while stress derived from competition ignites an engine of creativity inside of me.

After our conversation, I did a little research into this phenomenon. I spent a half hour of my life — which at the time I felt I truly did not have to spare, watching the YouTube Video by Dr. Joe Dispenza, entitled Living in SURVIVAL vs. Living in CREATION.

Survival vs. Creation — It’s worth the time to watch!

In that blessed half hour, I learned exactly how devastating unmanaged stress can be on our mind, body, and soul. I never realized allowing these emotions to rule your inner world could create disorganized thought and even physical illness.

According to Dr. Dispenza, when we enter Survival state or Animal state, stress hormones throw us into an incoherent, emergency mode — seeking shelter from the onslaught of negativity and damaging stress hormones. In this environment, we become more matter than energy, and creation takes a back seat to survival.
The good news is, with a conscious effort to attend to your own self care and positive mindfulness, you can develop the ability to believe in a brighter future, rather than dwelling on the dismal past. He termed this the Divine state or Creative state, which broadens our focus and opens awareness.
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Photo by Erik Brolin on Unsplash

I never knew a short walk, or a few, mindful moments of silence, could redirect mismanaged stress, stifling the physical and emotional consequences of overactive stress hormones.

Who knew we had that much control, controlling the uncontrollable? So, is that the difference why some creatives thrive in the Divine state while others, like me, are stuck just trying to Survive.

Listening to Dr. Dispenza’s explanation made me understand a whole lot more about the phenomenon called STRESS, but I still read on. Because that’s what writers do…

Daniel Kunitz, in his article Why Creative People Need Stress in their Lives, states that stress is just another type of stimuli for our psyche to manage. Not all stress should be thought of as negative. It can be a driving force for success or a weight that drags you down, depending on how it’s buffered or perceived.

He further relays how different levels of stress effect the creative.

1. Extreme levels — undermines all creativity. It’s best to give yourself permission to relax until it passes.

2. Moderate levels — can either bring on inspiration or procrastination depending on how a person handles it. Most productive creatives operate best in the moderate level.

3. Low levels — finds most creatives feeling stagnant and uninspired.

Personally, I’d never thought of stress in those terms. It’s always been this repressive energy created from my lack of control, or sadness over a situation, that holds me down until I can’t focus on anything other than the negativity.

Much like Dr. Dispenza, Kunitz’ view of stress levels has given me permission, for the first time ever, to be still and quiet when there are too many sources of negativity working against me. When life gets overwhelming, it’s okay to disconnect and find a happy place. Take a walk, go for a coffee, and expect nothing from myself but to breathe.

Like most creatives, I have a built-in guilt mechanism that kicks in when I’m not being productive — which of course, creates its own source of stress. Grasping the meaning of the stress levels, and understanding my own limits, has helped me cope with this guilt.


hypothesis also encouraged me to gently push myself toward the laptop, (which I am doing right now, btw). If I’m gracious with my trepidation and just allow my fingers to hover over the keys — maybe the door will wiggle open for my fun-loving writer’s soul to peek through? Maybe writing is the cure to repelling the sinister effects of anxiety? My own therapy, perhaps?

Here’s my short list of stressors to avoid in today’s bizarre environment.

· No more scroll hole on social media for hours on end

· No more news that show only negative stories

· No more political commercials which tell us nothing of how problems will be solved

I know, I know, everyone needs to be informed and be a part of the solution, but maybe we should all find a way to make things better by doing better things? Write something beautiful that gives readers hope for a brighter tomorrow. Paint, cook, draw to create lightness. If you have no energy to create, listen to music, read, breathe, but please, don’t dedicate hours of time you’ll never get back to things that are geared to cause upheaval.

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Photo by Brian Wertheim on Unsplash


But I digress. After all my research on stress as it relates to creativity, I’ve given myself permission to think of stress as another method of motivation. Life’s pressures force action, which require healing, and finally adaptation. Just as physical exercise is designed to break your muscles down, so you can rebuild into an even stronger being, maybe using stress as a positive can allow us to manipulate it into useful energy for change?

With a little direction and mindfulness, human beings can be amazing, adaptable creatures with the ability to transition through life, bouncing from one obstacle to another, to finally evolve into stronger, smarter, calmer versions of ourselves. After all that 2020 has put us through, I have no doubt our next evolution will be one for the ages.

Thanks for listening,

Rhonda Frankhouser

Award-Winning Author

Previously published on Kristine Raymond's blog and, but I wanted to share with my Cowboy Kisses family. So sorry for the huge photos :-(

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