The Man Behind Georgia Tech’s Whistle

“Don’t ever touch that whistle.” These are the words that Harold Cash has lived by since he arrived at Georgia Tech about 18 years ago.     

“When I was hired to oversee the power plant on campus, I remember my supervisor telling me that the only thing I needed to remember was not to lay a finger on that whistle,” said Cash, manager of the Holland Power Plant. “And that’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received.”

Of course, he does regularly check the whistle’s clock against the time at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., to ensure that it blows at five minutes before every hour between 7:55 a.m. and 5:55 p.m., Monday through Friday.

And occasionally, the whistle needs to be repaired. For example, in 2002, the bell cracked during a football game. Unfortunately, Cash had to use his last spare part — and parts for steam whistles aren’t easy to come by.

Cash set out to find a backup whistle that could be used if something happened to the repaired version. One day, while taking a management class at the Alumni House, he noticed a battered Tech whistle from the 1900s on display.

“I thought, ‘You know, that is as close to the original Tech whistle as you can get,’” Cash said. “We don’t want to change the tradition or the sound or anything — we want to have a whistle people are used to.”

He teamed up with Dennis Brown, the now-retired manager of Georgia Tech Research Institute’s Machine Services Department, to create the replacement.

“Now, if something happens to our whistle, we are able to re-create an authentic replica — thanks to Dennis and his team,” Cash added.

Keeping Campus Comfortable

But ensuring that the whistle whistles on is only one part of Cash’s job, which also involves ensuring that buildings across campus stay warm or cool.

Before he arrived at Tech, Cash worked in heating and cooling at what is now the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel for 20 years, starting as a boiler operator and leaving as a chief engineer.

“I remember it was just before the Olympics, and the hotel was being sold again — I realized it was time to move on,” he said. “I was offered my job at Tech, and 18 years later, I’m still here.”

The Holland Plant began operating in 1917, and the boiler room was first upgraded in 1952. According to Cash, the number one and number two units in the room (installed in 1952) are still functioning.  

These days, most of his time is spent in the office taking care of the paperwork that accompanies managerial work. At the moment, the plant is undergoing a system equipment upgrade, which also requires a lot of attention. It’s the only other upgrade that has occurred other than the one in 1952 and one in the 1980s.

“It’s funny because a lot of people don’t know what the plant is for — people don’t think about heating and air until they don’t have it,” Cash said. “We have a really great team over here that stays busy keeping the buildings on campus comfortable.”

Simple Pleasures

During the week, Cash spends much of his time off campus getting to campus from his home, which is north of Cartersville.

“It’s about 53 miles each way, but I don’t mind,” he said. “It’s my quiet time for the day, and I enjoy it a lot.”

When he’s not at Tech, Cash can be found working with a Boy Scout troop at his church (which he’s assisted for 20 years), mowing grass at his home, or shooting skeet.

“I’m lucky to have a good job and a good life,” Cash said. “For that, I’m thankful.”

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Institute Communications