Friday, September 29, 2006

The One O'Clock Whistle


When I was growing up in my little-bitty home town (Goliad, Texas, pop. 1,700) my grandparents owned and operating the local dry-cleaning establishment on the town square. (I'm including a recent pic of the town) My grandfather had bought the place in 1945 right after the war.

I would often hang out there as a kid, doing odd jobs, mainly just bored. By the time I was in fifth grade, my grandmother put me to work after school.

The first job for which I was trained was to place the cardboard guards on wire coat hangers which was excruiciatingly boring. The task was to fill up this three-foot rack with cardboard-guarded hangers. I'd space them out so that the rack would look full and expect my 50 cents as payment. My grandmother would inspect my handiwork and, scruuuunch! push all my coat hangers to one end of the rack and have me fill it up properly. I later graduated to more responsible tasks. By the time I was thirteen, I was waiting on the customers, running the dry-cleaning equipment, steam-pressing the clothes and making the bank deposit at the end of the day. It was really huge, old machinery and its a wonder I didn't get killed.

Anyway, my grandfather was a very punctual man, very much "by the book." The place wasn't air-conditioned, so all the steam-pressing was done in the early morning hours while it was coolest. By lunch time, all the clothes had been pressed and the big boiler behind the shop could be emptied.

My grandfather kept to such a consistent schedule that he ended up empying the boiler at 1:00 pm every day. It would make a very loud whooosh! which could be heard all over the town square. Soon, the locals would know that it was one o'clock when they'd hear him empty the boiler. They'd often comment that they could set their clocks by the sound of the steam being released.

So, my grandfather obtained a real train whistle and attached it to the end of the pipe where the steam would come out. That thing could be heard all over the town. Of course, he'd make sure it was exactly 1:00 pm when he'd sound it off and it soon became the official one o'clock whistle by which everyone could set their clocks.

If I was there on a Saturday, he'd let me release the steam and sound the whistle. I remember being about nine or ten years old and watching the second-hand on his official clock. Then, fifteen seconds before 1:00, I'd crank-and-crank-and-crank the big valve with all my might to sound the whistle and thus herald one o'clock in Goliad, Texas. If several of us grandchildren were there, we'd dart in and out of the huge cloud of steam in the back alley until we'd be soaking wet.

Gosh, that was exciting!

Isn't that a poignant story?

6 Comments:

At 11:43 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

In our little town (but much, much bigger than yours) in West Texas, the siren on the water tower went off every day at noon. In retrospect, I am not quite sure why they did that unless it was sort like a test of the siren because any time it went off except noon was to call the volunteer firemen when there was a fire.

 
At 11:52 AM , Blogger Iwanski said...

That's actually a pretty great story. American. Folksy.

 
At 11:58 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved that story, poignant or not.

 
At 2:44 PM , Blogger Lorraine said...

I like that story a lot. Very Norman Rockwell.

 
At 11:47 PM , Anonymous The Hag :) said...

I also heard a noon whistle every day in my home town. Just a normal part of growing up in a small town. :)

Love,

Poodle :)

 
At 4:22 PM , Blogger pfenny65 said...

I'm from Goliad, and I definitely remember that whistle. It's great to now know the history of it. Thanks!

 

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