Air horns can be a source of fun, safety and pride.
Beam Air Horns
Buell Air Horns
Every child knows that a simple one-armed gesture often gets a responsive air horn blast from a trucker. Reckless four-wheelers can often get the same reaction, minus the accompanying smile. Equipping their trucks with good-looking horns gets feedback for owner-operators too – the admiration of those who appreciate the accent that horns add, especially to a classically styled truck.
Air horns can be a source of fun, safety and pride. If you’re thinking about upgrading your air horn or spec’ing a nice one on a new truck, you have a wide choice of shapes, sizes, materials, tones, decibel levels and colors.
Price, which runs to $300 and above, tends to reflect materials, length (about 1 foot to 3 feet) and special features, though there are models that are less than $100. Buell Air Horns offers a heavy-duty black plastic single trumpet horn for as low as $70, while Beam offers a polished stainless steel version for $80.
Horns that make unusual sounds are more expensive. A train sound is achieved by two or more horns blowing at once, so you’re paying for multiple trumpets to get that sound. Most train horns range between $150 and $300.
Darrell Caldwell, a regional driver for Frozen Foods Express in Texas, replaced his bland horn with a show-quality $275 train horn last year. “I had a pair of the black plastic ones, but I had always heard about the chrome ones,” he says.
He custom-installed the shiny accessory in hopes that it would put him in the winners’ circle at the Overdrive Pride & Polish competition at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas. The horn helped – Caldwell ended up taking 2nd place in the Conventional Bobtail 2000-Newer category.
Other drivers have replaced their horns for entirely different reasons. Jerry Osborn of El Paso, Texas, just wanted a louder sound for safety’s sake.
“I let them know I’m behind them,” the CalTrans driver says, “and I let them know not to be doing anything stupid.”
Buell manufactures horns in plastic, stainless steel and brass; all three resist corrosion. Hadley Products offers round and rectangular bells (the flared part of the trumpet) in single or dual configurations. Hadley horns are available with a matte black or chrome finish, or can be made of anodized aluminum.
Wolo Manufacturing horns are made of triple-plated chrome. Grover Products manufactures air horns with chrome or painted finishes. Beam Air Horns of Italy offers an entire line of stainless steel horns for less than $125.
Many drivers buy air horns based on their sounds or melodies. These sounds range from that of a resonating trombone to horns that play the “Dukes of Hazzard” theme. Wolo offers horns that produce animal sounds, as well as a jukebox horn that will play any of 34 tunes at the press of a button. Buell’s most popular model is a $300 train horn.
“The Locomotive Truck Horn kit is comprised of four black air horns made of a heavy-duty ABS plastic,” says Jeanine Schultz of Buell. “Each length produces a different pitch, or frequency, so that when they are combined, the four frequencies together sound like a train horn. They are extremely loud.” In horn specs, that’s 138 decibels at 1 meter.
Wolo’s train horn, the Cannon Ball Express, is made entirely of metal, with three triple-chrome-plated trumpets and a black enamel base. It’s priced from $280 to $310.
For drivers who want to preserve their aerodynamics or don’t have room for an exterior horn, Hadley Products offers an under-the-cab/hood model as a single horn or double-horn. Both models feature a black, powder-coat finish and offer stainless steel chrome-plated snap-on bell shields to protect bugs and debris from getting into the horn.
“Driving down the road, that thing gets full of bugs,” says Kerry Smith, a USF Glen Moore driver from Fort Walton Beach, Fla. “Once you pull that chain, it blows them out everywhere.”
Regardless of its shape, size or sound, a new horn can quickly add distinction to your truck’s image. CalTrans driver Osborn invested in train horns.
“It’s a lot of fun. I blow at the trains, and they blow back,” he says. “I’ve got to be careful where I use it, though, because I don’t want to scare people into having wrecks.”
MOUNTING A HORN
Horn installation can be relatively simple. Once you determine the location of the horn and the air valve, only the layout of the air line is required. Hooking up the air line shouldn’t be too difficult, since most horns include directions.
“They come with mounting hardware, which makes it easy to mount them individually wherever one wants them or has space,” says Jeanine Schulz of Buell Air Horns. “Or they may be mounted to a sturdy piece of acrylic, which is then mounted to the truck.”
Horns need to be mounted with nothing in front of the bell in order to get the optimum sound. Certain locations can increase the difficulty of mounting a horn.
That was the case for trucker Darrell Caldwell. “I custom-installed it, though, because I had to mount it on the catwalk,” he says.
The only other complications lie in the mechanism you choose for releasing air into a quarter-inch air hose to blow the horn. The traditional pull chain remains popular. You can also use a foot pedal valve or an electric push-button, which often cost $40 to $45.
Some horns have their own compressor and need no link to your truck’s air supply.