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Industry Achievement
Airchime (2004)
Still Whistling over 50 Years Later

Robert SwansonThe 2004 inductee into the Railway Hall of Fame in the Technology category is Airchime, based in Langley, B.C. The company — which has been developing, manufacturing and marketing railway locomotive signal products since 1929 — invented and patented the first air horn that duplicated the sound of traditional steam whistles.

Bob Swanson (Robert Eugene Swanson), Don Challenger (Donald Moss Challenger), and Bill Piercy (George Wilber Piercy) founded the company in 1948, when they patented the Model M five-chime air horn.

Robert Swanson - Air HornSwanson was researcher and developer and is credited with the invention of the first six- and five-chime air horn. Swanson had worked as the chief engineer of a company called Victoria Lumber Manufacturing in the 1920s, when he developed a hobby for making steam whistles for locomotives. Eventually, Swanson designed and built a large steam whistle for the mill where he worked.

Robert Swanson - Air HornLater, Swanson would go on to work as the chief inspector of railroads for the Province of British Columbia. It was here he met his future partner, Don Challenger, who operated a logging company. The two knew each other through the logging industry, which relied heavily on rail transportation in those days.

LocomotivePiercy worked for a contract machining company, and took a great interest in the whistle manufacturing, having been a draftsman during World War II.

“They all died still employed; none of them ever retired. They loved their work, making whistles is fun,” says Bill Challenger, Don Challenger’s nephew, and current president of Airchime. “I hope it’s a recipe for a long life.”

Whistle FarmMany Airchime whistles have been in constant service on the railroads for over 30 years. The company has been servicing industrial, railroad, and marine sectors all over the globe with their sound-signal equipment after first focusing principally on manufacturing steam whistles for locomotives, ships, and factories.

Incorporated in 1954, Airchime’s products are also manufactured in the United States and Great Britain. The company’s 1338-square-metre facility in Langley, B.C. includes one of the largest anechoic test facilities in the world, employing state-of-the-art acoustical test equipment and instrumentation.

The different whistle models include the: Classic Railroad Whistle, Model KSV Vertical Mounting Series, Model CS Rapid Transit Series and Small Air Steam Whistles.

Timber News Article (PDF 701 KB)
Alcan Article (PDF 779 KB)
Sun Article (JPG 339 KB)

Photos: Airchime Manufacturing

    © 2006 The Canadian Railway Hall of Fame. All registered trademarks are the property of their respective owners.