"I want to make 55 years and we'll see what happens after that," said Whistle Master Donald Ryan. "I'm 66 years old and this has been part of my life for 55 years. That's my Christmas."
Ryan's tradition might come to an end because the Susquehanna Gateway Heritage Area can no longer afford to fund the event.
The problem: Since 2006, the nonprofit organization -- which works to preserve and highlight traditions in York and Lancaster counties -- has been raising money and arranging for in-kind services to pay for the Christmas concerts.
State funding cuts and the economy have taken a toll on Susquehanna Gateway's ability to fund its own programs, said Matt Platts, the organization's president.
"We've carried the baton for four years," he said. "We need to hand it off. We'll be happy to share how it's done and any money left over, we'll hand over. The community has a year's notice about the concert. There's time to plan for it."
Ryan's possible last concert begins at 12:15 a.m. Friday, Dec. 25, at the New York Wire Co., 441 E. Market St. in York City.
He'll play Christmas carols for 30 minutes, instead of the usual 15 minutes, as this might be the final time.
Never got paid: "Dad and I started doing this back in '55 when I was 11 years old," said Ryan, of Springettsbury Township.
When Ryan's father, Marlin Ryan, took over the steam whistle concerts in 1955, he was continuing a tradition started in the 1920s by York music teacher Karl Alex Smyser.
While the Ryans did the annual concerts for free, the event became costly because of boiler problems, which caused the concert to be canceled twice over a 54-year period. The 60-year-old boiler broke down in 2005.
The cost: Currently, the concert costs about $15,000 to present, with about $7,000 of that amount being used to rent and haul in a 46-tone portable boiler from New Jersey, he said.
The remaining $8,000 will be used to pay for services needed to hook up the boiler, Platts said.
Donations from local community organizations and businesses helped lower concert costs, he said.
Over the years, Susquehanna Gateway raised more than $60,000 to keep the concert going, according to Platts. The concert fund is down to its last $15,000, he added.
Platts, 49, said he hopes the community finds a way to keep the Steam Whistle Christmas tradition alive.
"It goes back to my childhood," he said. "It was part of our family tradition. We sat outside the house and listened to the concerts, or we rushed into York, downtown and sat outside."
About the concert
The Steam Whistle Christmas concert begins at 12:15 a.m. Friday, Dec. 25, at the New York Wire Co. at 441 E. Market St. in York City.
To help keep the concert tradition going, the public may send tax-deductible contributions to Steam Whistle Concert Fund, care of PeoplesBank, 48 E. Market St., York 17401.
Organizations interested in managing the concerts, can contact Mark Platts at 252-0229.
-- Reach Eyana Adah McMillan at 505-5438 or emcmillan@yorkdis patch.com.