Pentwater’s cherished noon whistle returns to ring in new year

December 22, 2023

Installation of the siren

Pentwater’s cherished noon whistle returns to ring in new year

By Ron Beeber, Contributing Writer

 PENTWATER — The Pentwater Artisan Learning Center’s 275 members are a mix of both skilled folks who enjoy creating things and teaching others, and neophytes wanting to learn.  

One of the PALC’s experienced members is Harry Brodbeck of Pentwater. He was a welder as a kid, and then went to engineering school. He worked primarily for Ford Motor, and he’s been tinkering with cars since the age of 15. 

Harry Brodbeck

Brodbeck was one of many who missed hearing Pentwater’s “noon whistle” after it stopped working several years ago. It was actually a siren that was installed atop the community hall many years ago to summon Pentwater’s volunteer firefighters to an emergency call. It was tested daily at noon, and even after firefighters began carrying pagers and cell phones, the siren still sounded daily. 

The siren

“When the old siren just stopped working, everyone quickly missed it,” said Village Manager Chris Brown.  “Then one day, Harry asked if he could go up on the roof and take a look.”  

 “In April of 2022, I got Chris’ okay to check it out,” said Brodbeck. I found that the siren had toppled onto its side, and knew it would never operate again without some work.  Using heavy rope and old school muscle, Dean Lydey, Darryl Massa and I lowered it down by hand. We took it to the artisan center, where I disassembled it and found the problem. I then took it to Vandervest Electric Motor and Fabricating in Ludington to be repaired. 

“But there was more to be done,” he continued. “The wood shroud that protected the siren from harsh weather was in bad shape. The artisan center has a well-equipped metal shop area where I could make a new shroud out of stainless steel. It took me a few months because I first had to make different prototypes before I finalized the design. I made various templates out of paper, cardboard and wood. I also needed some stainless mesh screening that would keep out nesting birds.” 

Once he had all the stainless pieces, Brodbeck either welded them together, or joined them with stainless fasteners, rivets and custom fabricated brackets. 

 “We wanted to give it a professional ‘fire engine red’ paint job that would last a long time,” added Brodbeck. “Luckily, I knew fellow PALC member Cameron Wroble. He’s an excellent artist, and owns a custom painting and epoxy floor design business. He converted a trailer into a rolling paint booth, so I hired him to do the painting in the artisan center parking lot, using very high-quality automotive paint.”    

 Brodbeck took things a step even further. Curious about the siren’s origin, he posted a photo of it on an air raid siren website, airraidsirens.net, hoping someone could identify it. Several did, saying it was produced in about 1933 by the W.S. Darley Corporation of Chicago, which is still in business. It’s believed that the siren was installed on the roof of the community hall later in that decade, making it about 90 years old. 

Well, there was one more challenge that Brodbeck had to confront. A new location for the siren had to be found because the vacated, two-story community hall was no longer an option, and the new village hall is one-story.      

 “One day, I spotted a 70-foot-long electric pole lying on the grounds of Ken Adams & Sons Excavating,” he continued.  “It was perfect. Kenny came up huge!  He’s an old softy when it comes to the community and helping with stuff like this. I next figured out how to mount the siren to the pole.  And a structural engineer-friend advised how best to erect it — in a 4-foot culvert that’s in a 10-foot-deep hole filled with 4 yards of concrete. Josh Adams and his Adams Marine Construction crew did the job on Nov. 14. Big kudos to Ken, and to Josh and his team!” The siren is powered by a 220-volt line that runs from village hall.

The stainless steel shroud

 Reflecting on the 18-month effort, Brodbeck said, “I made several new contacts and leaned on a few friends to pull it off. It sure took a lot more than me to make it all come together.”

The volunteer project has cost him about $5,000 out of his own pocket — $500 here and $1,000 there, Brodbeck joked. To keep costs down, he reached out to a close friend who works at Alro Steel in Cadillac, and the community-minded firm provided most of the stainless steel at a good discount. Other stainless pieces were furnished by Tri-Berry, Inc., a manufacturing firm in Hart. It also provided some key fabrication, because its plate rolling machine was bigger than the one at the artisan center, and was able to roll the shroud’s large cylinder piece. Brodbeck is also thankful that a few individuals have voluntarily chipped in to help cover some of the costs after becoming aware of his ambitious project.

 No one knows for sure where the tradition of a “noon whistle” got started. One posting on the Internet says the practice began in a small town in central Wisconsin that sounded a daily noon whistle to tell everyone that it was time to crack open the first beer of the day! This story might be far-fetched.

 But one thing is for certain in Pentwater. Thanks to Harry Brodbeck, with the help of a few others, the noon whistle will continue in Pentwater for many years to come. On New Year’s Eve, he’ll be sitting next to the siren’s control box in the Police Department and, at the stroke of midnight, will manually sound the siren. And then he’ll set the siren to sound every day at noon — beginning New Year’s Day.    

“After working on this for about 18 months, I’m really geeked to flip that switch in a few days, for the citizens of Pentwater to enjoy,” says Brodbeck. “It will surely bring a smile to my face every time I hear it.”

 Correction, Harry. It will put a smile on EVERYONE’S faces as they are again reminded that it’s lunchtime.    

A bat in the belfry

Harry Brodbeck added this footnote to his account: “Since (Pentwater Village Police) Chief (Laude) Hartrum had a key to the second floor of the community hall and access to the roof, (Village Manager) Chris Brown said he could take me up to see what was wrong with the siren. As the chief opened the hatch to the roof, he was bitten by a bat.  It fell to my feet, and I threw a chunk of wood on it. Big bat, maybe 12 inches across, still alive and mad as hell. Had pretty big fangs as I recall. Laude had scratches from the bat’s bottom teeth — and two dang bites from the top teeth.  We stuck the live bat in a coffee can, and Laude took it with him to the Ludington hospital. The ER staff gave him the first rabies shot, and then asked if he had the bat?  Laude said yes, right there in the coffee can. The doctor went to open it up, and had the whole ER in an uproar when he realized the bat was alive. He gave Laude hell for bringing it inside, and told him that the county health department does the testing. But — the doctor added — PLEASE kill the bat before you get over there. We were pretty proud of catching it, let alone alive. I’m told Laude returned to work the next morning to find the office decorated in a Batman theme.”   

The siren ad

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