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WDM Steam Calliope

"The calliope was the hit of our parade. ...We had so many
positive comments that it is impossible to include them here."

Town of Simpson

Listen  |   FAQs  |  History

The steam calliope is a musical instrument that resembles a piano or organ, but produces sound by sending steam through whistles. When each key is pressed, it opens a valve that allows pressurized steam from the boiler to escape through a corresponding whistle, producing a specific tone. The WDM calliope is one of only two operating examples in all of Canada. It has performed in many Saskatchewan locations over the years, and was a summer-long attraction in Vancouver during Expo ‘86.

"WDM Calliope One of Last of its Kind" by Noelle Grosse, 1999.


Listen to the Calliope


Calliope in Dalmeny Parade

WDM Calliope at Dalmeny Parade, June 2017.
Ruth Bitner photo


WDM Calliope at Spiritwood Heritage Hoopla, June 2015
Ken Lorenz photo

WDM Stage Coach and Calliope at Swift Current, July 2014
Ken Lorenz photo

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FAQs about the Calliope

Q. How do you pronounce calliope?
A. ka-LIE-oh-pee.

Q. How many keys does the calliope have?
A. 32. A modern piano has 88.

Q. Why is it so loud?
A. Because of the great force with which the pressurized steam rushes through the whistles. The calliope does not have a volume control switch, lever, or pedal.

Q. How big is the calliope?
A. 8' wide, 25' long, 11.5' high.

Back of the WDM calliope boiler, with stack of wood at the readyQ. How much does the calliope weigh?
A. 13,000 lbs with full water.

Q. How old is the calliope's boiler?
A. The original boiler was built in the early 1900s. It was replaced by a modern boiler for the 2002 season.

Q. How much water does the calliope's boiler hold?
A. 250 litres.

Ken Lorenz adds wood to the Calliope's boilerQ. What fuels the calliope?
A. Wood is burned to heat the water inside the boiler. This creates steam, which builds inside the boiler until a key is pressed and it can be forced out through one of the whistles.

Q. How long does it take to 'fire up' the calliope before a performance?
A. Calliope driver/engineer Ken Lorenz spends about 2 hours carefully stoking the fire in the calliope's boiler until it has built up between 75 and 100 pounds of pressurized steam.

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History of the Calliope

The keyboard and whistle arrangement of the Western Development Museum calliope was constructed in 1955 by Mr. L. K. Wood of Utah and purchased by the WDM in 1959. The keyboard, the whistle arrangement, and a large boiler were then mounted on the chassis of an old Waterous fire engine. The exterior shell was constructed following traditional calliope design.

2002 - A New Boiler

The calliope made news, but for a reason other than its ability to attract attention from near and far. The calliope’s keyboard-operated whistles draw their steam from a self-contained vertical boiler, operating at pressures approaching 100 pounds per square inch. The calliope's boiler, having served the calliope faithfully for many decades, was manufactured in the early 1900s. Although still safely operable, the boiler had approached an age when a major overhaul would be required if the calliope were to continue its public performances.

Ever mindful of costs, a thorough assessment was conducted, comparing the expense of rebuilding the existing unit versus the expense of designing and constructing a completely new boiler. The cost difference, although not trivial, was also weighed against the technical advantages offered by a modern replica. Engineering regulations, construction techniques and materials have changed dramatically during the past 70 years. Taking this into account, it was decided that the best long-term investment, and the best insurance for safe operation, would be to acquire a new replacement.

We were fortunate to have, located within the province, Saskatoon Boiler Manufacturing Company, which supplies locally manufactured boilers and related equipment to customers across Canada, and around the world. Providing a boiler of the size and type required by the calliope is a rather modest undertaking for this company, and Ray Graves and his team did not disappoint.

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