12 O’clock whistle blows again in Mayberry

Published 9:23 pm Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Residents of Brundidge don’t mind one bit if folks refer to their town as Mayberry USA.

In fact, that’s kind of a compliment, said Mayor Jimmy Ramage.

“Don’t most people wish they could live in a simpler time – in Mayberry?” Ramage said. “We still have our roots. We are who we are. And, I’m glad to see us hold on to some of the things that are part of our roots.”

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Ramage was speaking of the whistle that sounds the noon hour in his hometown once again.

The city recently installed the old “fire whistle” that signaled the noon hour for many years until November 1992 when fire destroyed the City Hall and the whistle came lummbering down.

“We had talked about repairing the fire whistle and getting it back working but the idea just kept getting pushed back,” said Britt Thomas, Brundidge city manager. “In the last year, Wallace Mobley took a keen interest in the whistle and took some of his own time getting it back in working order.”

Thomas said the main problem was with the electric motor that drives the whistle.

Mobley is an electrician and was able to use his skills to get the whistle blowing again.

After several months of “on again, off again” attention to the task, the whistle was finally mounted atop a 45-foot pole in back of the Brundidge Police Station and began to once again signal the noon hour in Brundidge.

“That’s really the only use for the whistle now,” Thomas said. “It’s just nostalgic. It takes us back in time. But we will, in no way, compete with the EMA. In the event of severe weather, we will defer to the EMA people.”

But there was a time when the whistle did more than blow at dinnertime.

J.E. “Pid” Steed was a member of the Brundidge Volunteer Fire Department during the 1950s and remembers the role the fire whistle played in keeping the town safe.

“I’m not sure how far back the whistle goes but I know it was there before 1956,” Steed said. “City Hall was built in 1940, but I don’t think it was put on top of that building until later. I remember the fire whistle being at what was the old electric plant across the railroad tracks on Clio Street. The plant generated the current for the City of Brundidge.”

Steed said the original purpose for the whistle was to alert the volunteer firemen.

“Back then, we didn’t have radios or any other code to alert our firemen except by the whistle,” he said. “When it blew, that was the signal for us to get to the fire station and we’d go out from there.”

The whistle was also blown at noon so townspeople would know when it was dinnertime. But before long, modern technology replaced the need for a “fire” whistle but the whistle continued to blow at 12 o’clock to let folks know it was time to go to dinner.

Some merchants would lock their doors and go home, eat dinner, take a short nap — naps were in vogue back then – and open back up in about an hour.

“We all went by the 12 o’clock whistle,” Ramage said. “In the summer when it blew, we knew that it was time to get out of the pool and go home for dinner. As soon as the whistle blew, the lifeguards would start yelling for us to get out of the pool. The pool closed from 12 until 1 o’clock so they wanted us out in a hurry.”

The 12 o’clock whistle has long been a part of downtown Brundidge and the older residents are proud to hear it back in operation. It brings back fond memories.

And, the younger generations are now connected to their community by a blast from the past.