Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From small town Minnesota: Should Gaylord keep its noon & 6 p.m. whistles? March 2, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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I photographed this aged water tower, which looks a lot like the 1917 one in Gaylord, several years ago. It stands in Freeport, Minnesota, along Interstate 94.

I photographed this aged water tower, which looks a lot like the 1917 one in Gaylord, several years ago. It stands in Freeport, Minnesota, along Interstate 94.

WHAT IS THE PRICE of history, of nostalgia, of tradition in a small town?

Folks in Gaylord, a county seat community of some 2,300 in southern Minnesota, are grappling with that question as the city replaces its aging water tower with a new one.

Should the city spend several thousand dollars annually for inspections and $100,000 every 10 years for upkeep of the 1917 tower? Or should the tower be torn down? And, if so, what happens to the siren attached to it?

The issue isn’t simply one of economics. That’s clear in Facebook comments on the City of Gaylord Facebook page. Residents and former residents are discussing not only whether to keep the tower, but whether to continue with the tradition of blowing the noon and 6 p.m. whistles. A siren on the old water tower blares twice daily as it has for decades. The whistle has become a hot topic of discussion.

Wabasso's water tower, painted in the school colors and adorned with a white rabbit, the school mascot.

This aged water tower stands in Wabasso, Minnesota, where I attended high school. Wabasso means “white rabbit” and is the school’s mascot. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I understand the small town nostalgia bit. I grew up on a farm near Vesta, a town of several hundred with an old water tower (long gone) and those roaring daily sirens. I also lived in Gaylord where I worked as a newspaper reporter for two years fresh out of college.

The noon and 6 p.m. whistles (and if I remember correctly, even a 9 p.m. whistle) in Vesta alerted residents to the time of day. Time for dinner. Time for supper. Time to get home and prepare for bed.

This water tower stands in Canton, Minnesota, near the Iowa border. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

This water tower stands in Canton, Minnesota, near the Iowa border. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Do those whistles still hold importance in 2016? Are they necessary? Are they welcome?

In perusing comments from Gaylord, I read of overwhelming support for keeping the whistles.

Folks write of the whistle in terms of small town charm and values, nostalgia, memories, historical importance, uniqueness and more.

One Gaylord native says of the siren:

It was the singular mechanical device that, by itself, taught us Gaylord kids what responsibility meant. If I and my siblings weren’t walking in the door at noon and six, there was hell to pay. It is a legacy.

Another commenter surmises:

I have continued the tradition and taught my children to listen for the whistle. A watch just isn’t enough when you are talking about kids. They need an audible reminder of the progression of time. The noon whistle is a blatant reminder of the time of day, as is the 6:00 whistle. I think it is an important tool for responsibility as we raise the next generations. The matter of $5,000 – $10,000 is actually a small price to pay when averaged out for a big payout. Besides, what is more monumental in a small town than a noon and/or 6:00 whistle. Can’t get that in the “big city”.

The City Council will decide on the 1917 tower and the whistle in several months. For now, they’ve taken this stand:

The council has determined taking it (the old water tower) down makes the most sense in the long run. The City is looking into keeping the whistle in some capacity…An alternative whistle is being explored; an unused severe weather siren (behind the Prairie House), is proposed to be relocated to the old water tower site.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS on keeping the aged tower and/or daily whistles? Let’s hear.

FYI: Click here to reach the City of Gaylord Facebook page. Read the comments and even listen to the siren.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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24 Responses to “From small town Minnesota: Should Gaylord keep its noon & 6 p.m. whistles?”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    I guess even small towns have big decisions to make, right?

  2. Jackie Says:

    Rick and I spent the first 5 years of married life in Kasson which also had the “whistle” It blew at 12 noon, 5pm and 10pm. I thought it was the neatest thing ever and it reminded me daily that I lived in a small town, small enough that everyone could hear the whistle. I also love the water tower but understand sad as it is, that at some point the costs of up keep exceed the nostalgia.

  3. Littlesundog Says:

    I grew up with a whistle at noon only. Here, the whistle blows at noon on Mondays in order to do a weekly test on the “alert” system for tornado warnings. Since I like living quietly, I do not appreciate the noon whistle, nor do I like the clanging church bell tunes that play daily here. Recently at the nearby park, a blues band was playing for a little festival of some kind, and could be heard for many blocks. A neighbor was complaining about the type of music. I chimed up that it was no different than an entire community being subjected to the many church chimes that are allowed to play daily. It’s all about perspective… and everyone has one!! 😀

  4. Carol King Says:

    In my heart, I’m with those who’d like to keep it. Yet, we all understand the economics. Maybe a solution would be to build a small (but not too small!) replica of the tower and attach the siren to that. They would still have their siren and a tangible reminder of the tower, something to show to future generations. Sometimes we have to be content with small keepsakes.

  5. Gunny Says:

    I would offer that while I consider it a loss, it is up to the community to make the decision. At least two of your images show that these water towers are doing a lot more than just holding water (and creating water pressure). Church bells, I love them! Sounds of the eight screaming engines on a B-52 were often my lullabies! Later on bugle calls, screaming F-4, Harrier, helicopter aircraft, would be a common to me as conversations with friends. I remember (fondly I might add) the soft peeling of church bells on cold winter walks through a light snowfall of big puffy white flakes of snow. Far better that than the fall of ash out of a dark weird overcast sky of Southern California during one of their wildfires. Most of the noise generators are there for a purpose. Don’t like the noise, don’t move there! Living near a military base, I often heard the gun fire. When we made our last move, I moved next to a military base which I can not see. However, my wife frequently finds me (in the morning) taking my coffee on the front porch wher I can hear the pop-pop-pop of the gunfire from the nearby base. Tried as I might, I still managed to move directly under the flight path of commercial aircraft. Luckily these aircraft are not to low for my comfort zone – better yet, for my wife;s comfort zone.

    • I could not live with aircraft flying too low overheard. For awhile my eldest lived under a flight path in south Minneapolis. I could not stand the noise or sight of the commercial aircraft. I swear they were low enough to touch.

      We each have different sounds we like and don’t like. I don’t like the ambulance sirens that wail past my house at all hours.

  6. randy Says:

    I do not recall a whistle or siren in Buckman, but the church bell would be rung daily at 12:00 noon. As every good catholic should stop and pray the “angelus”.

  7. That is the problem with America today, too many “progressives” seeking to change what were once traditions which held true meaning, most likely to the working populace, which then subsequently went on to serve other everyday worthwhile purposes, under the guise of saving a few dollars here and there, which they will likely squander on some ambient flower pots or colored signs that tell the residents the names of the streets they already know full well, or even a fancy “Welcoming To” sign aimed at passers-by that will probably not stop into nor spend a single nickel inside.. Keep the water tower, the sirens and the last few vestiges of Americana that remind you of a simpler and more gentile time in your proud Minnesotan history. From an outsider who has seen the same kind of “progress” in his home town in Massachusetts..

    • It’s interesting to read your perspective as a Massachusetts resident. Interestingly enough, my community of Faribault is currently discussing installation of new signs in the downtown to help visitors navigate to places of interest. I’m OK with signs as long as they are not excessive and are tastefully done. They can actually be works of art. I am deviating from the siren issue here. But since you started the discussion on signs, I’m addressed that. My post today also focuses on signs.

      I think for small town Gaylord, whether to keep the water tower will come down to one of finances.

  8. I remember summers spent on my Grandparents farm. It was close enough to town to hear the whistles blow at meal times. I imagine that people will either be nostalgic about it or they will be annoyed by it. I can understand looking for a water tower that might be more economically efficient thou

  9. Thread crazy Says:

    I think you should attend the March 17 meeting and provide us with the decision.


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