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January 6, 1996

Many longtime local residents remember when a shrill whistle emanating from the water and light plant in southeast Perry was the unofficial signal for the start of another workday, lunch time and quitting time. The old plant, though still standing as a reminder that we once generated our own electricity, has been closed for years but the whistle was silenced by mechanical problems long before that.

Vern Moore, now retired, and Art Deken, now a Ditch Witch employee, both worked at the plant and have reason to remember the whistle. It was also used each New Year's Eve to announce the arrival of a brand new year. Their recollection is that the last time it was blown for that purpose was on January 1, 1963, or 33 years ago. By 1968 all generating equipment at the plant had been shut down, but the whistle was silenced before that because of a problem in finding parts. Vern, Art and Charlie Bezdicek, retired Perry water and light department superintendent, all agree on that point.

The regular weekday schedule for the whistle was at 6 a.m., 8 a.m., 12 noon, 1 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Folks set their' clocks by it, and it was considered the official starting or quitting time for many businesses. Just how precisely correct it was might be questioned; the whistle was manually operated. Vern pushed the button to blow it many times. So did Dick Foster, Richard Witter, Bill Edwards and probably others through the years.

Our city power plant began operating in 1895. Vern went to work there in 1948, retired in 1974, but went back for part-time duty even after that.

The whistle was given to the city by General Mills when the historic old Perry Mill was closed. Orie Nida worked at the Perry Mill. He says the steam whistle there was sounded daily at 6 a.m., 7 a.m., 12 noon and 6 p.m. Orie also remembers when the mill's 100-foot tall brick smokestack was demolished with a single charge of dynamite on February 8, 1938. Other parts of the mill already had been torn down or removed. Orie believes General Mills gave the whistle to the city sometime before 1938.

Sam Schwieger, managing editor of The Perry Daily Journal in the 1930s when the city whistle was familiar to all residents, once wrote a whimsical piece in his daily column, Semi Serious, about how many strides he could take when the 8 a.m. whistle was blowing has he hustled to get to work on time. He walked to The Journal each morning from the home of Mrs. Estella Yahn, at 1102 Fir avenue, where he rented a sleeping room.

In addition to the time whistle at the Perry Mill and later at the water and light plant, our city has had another well-known signal. In December 1954 the Santa Fe Railroad Co. donated an air-driven whistle to the police station. It was used as a fire alarm signal, not a time signal. One of its primary functions was to notify members of the volunteer fire department that they were needed. Hearing the signal, volunteers would call the fire station for instructions. Problems frequently developed when other citizens, who knew the system, also would call the station just to learn where the fire was located.

This subject was suggested for a column by Verl Brorsen, relaying inquiries from Carol Schwartz and Sandy Hentges. All three had heard various references to the old whistle but they were curious about details. Thanks to them for bringing this up. The old time whistle was part of our routine in this city for many years.

A couple of former Perry residents are having major health problems right now, and I thought you'd want to know about them. Richard Eaton, who used to head up the data processing department at the Charles Machine Works, Inc., had most of his stomach removed by surgery the day after Christmas. Richard is now a Ditch Witch equipment dealer in South Carolina. His mailing address during recuperation is Room 801, Lexington Medical Center, 2720 Sunset Blvd., West Columbia, S.C., 29619. The other I wanted to mention is Milford Castrodale, former minister of the First Presbyterian church here. He recently suffered a major stroke at his home in North Carolina. Milford's mailing address is 8913 Hunting Trail, Raleigh, N.C. 27613.

The Pizza Hut out at Perry Plaza has reopened for business now after the completion of a serious expansion and renovation job which nearly doubled the size of the dining room. Judging from the number of pizza emporiums here, there's a lot of demand for Italian cuisine in this city. Most folks have their favorite place. Which one is yours?