This Glossary of Railroad Lingo is from:
Railroad Avenue, by Freeman H. Hubbard, 1945
* Designates Contributed by BW Allen...BNSF Locomotive Engineer
# Designates Contributed by FW Smoter...Web Master Johnstown Flood Page

AGE—Seniority, length of service

AIR MONKEY—Air-brake repairman

* ALL DARKIE, NO SPARKY—(Hi-Ball on a roll by)

ALLEY—Clear track in railroad yard

ANCHOR THEM—Set hand brakes on still cars; the opposite is release anchors

ARMSTRONG—Old-style equipment operated by muscular effort, such as hand-brakes, some turntables, engines without automatic stokers, etc.

ARTIST—Man who is particularly adept, usually with prefix such as brake, pin, speed, etc.

ASHCAT—Locomotive fireman

BACK TO THE FARM—Laid off on account of slack business. When a man is discharged he is given six months twice a year

BAD ORDER—Crippled car or locomotive, often called cripple. Must be marked at night by a blue light when men are working around it

BAIL IT IN—Feed the locomotive firebox

Locomotive fireman. Also called bell ringer, blackie, and many other names scattered throughout this glossary

BALING-WIRE MECHANIC—A man of little mechanical ability


BALLAST—Turkey or chicken dressing

BALLAST SCORCHER—Speedy engineer

BAND WAGON—Pay car or pay train from which wages were handed out to railroad employees

BANJO—Fireman's shovel; old-style banjo-shaped signal

BAREFOOT—Car or engine without brakes. (Many locomotives built in the 1860's and 1870's were not equipped with brakes except on the tank)

BARN—Locomotive roundhouse, so-called from the building in which streetcars are housed

BAT THE STACK OFF OF HER—Make fast time, work an engine at full stroke

BATTING 'EM OUT—Used generally by switchmen when a yard engine is switching a string of cars

BATTLESHIP—Large freight engine or interurban car, or a coal car. Also a formidable female, such as the landlady or a henpecked man's wife

BEANERY—Railroad eating house. Beanery queen is a waitress

BEANS—Meet orders; lunch period

BEAT 'ER ON THE BACK—Make fast time; work an engine at full stroke

BEEHIVE—Railroad yard office

BELL RINGER—Locomotive fireman

BEND THE IRON—Change the position of the rust a switch. Also called bend or bend the rail

BIG BOYS—Special trains for officials

BIG E—Engineer, so called from the large initial on membership buttons of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers

BIG FOUR—The four operating Brotherhoods: Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, Order of Railway Conductors, Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers

BIG HOLE—Emergency application of air-brake valve, causing a quick stop. Big-holing her, the same as wiping the clock, is making an emergency stop

BIG HOOK—Wrecking crane

BIG O—Conductor; so named from first initial in Order of Railway Conductors. Sometimes called big ox and less complimentary terms

BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAINS—Hobo's paradise, as described in song by Harry K. McClintock. (See Indian Valley Line)

BINDERS—Hand brakes

BINDLE STIFF or BLANKET STIFF—Hobo who totes a blanket and uses it wherever night finds him. (Bindle is a corruption of "bundle")

BIRD CAGE—Brakeman's or switchman's lantern

BLACK DIAMONDS—Company coal. Diamond cracker is a locomotive fireman


BLACK ONES—Railway Express refrigerator or boxcars having no interior illumination pressed into mail service during the Christmas rush

BLACK SNAKE—Solid train of loaded coal cars

BLACKBALLED—black-listed, boycotted

BLACKJACKS—Fifty-ton Santa Fe coal cars painted black

BLAZER—Hot journal with packings afire

BLEED—Drain air from. Bleeder is valve by which air is bled from auxiliary reservoir of a car

BLIND BAGGAGE—Hobo riding head end of baggage car next to tender, where no door is placed; commonly called riding the blinds

BLIZZARD LIGHTS—Originally the lights on either side of the headlight that served in emergency when the oil-burning headlight blew out. Now they indicate the train is nonschedule or extra

BLOOD—Old-time engine built by Manchester Locomotive Works. Mr. Aretas Blood being the builder's name

BLOW 'ER DOWN—Reduce water in a locomotive boiler when carrying too much


BLOW UP—Use the blower to increase draft on the fire and thereby raise the steam pressure in the boiler. Also quit a job suddenly

'BO—Hobo. 'Bo chaser is freight brakeman or railroad policeman

BOARD—Fixed signal regulating railroad traffic, usually referred to as slow board., order board., clear board (for clear tracks) or red board (stop). Do not confuse this with extra board or spare board, colloquially known as slow board or starvation list, usually containing names of qualified train or enginemen not in regular active service who are called to work in emergencies. These names are listed in order of seniority, the man hired most recently being the last one called to service

BOBTAIL—Switch engine

BOILER ASCENSION—Boiler explosion

BOILER HEADER—Man riding in engine cab

BOILER WASH—A high-water engineer

BOOK OF RULES—Examination based on facts in rulebook

BOOKKEEPER—Trainman who makes out reports; flagman

BOOTLEGGER—Train that runs over more than one railroad

BOOMER—Drifter who went from one railroad job to another, staying but a short time on each job or each road. This term dates back to pioneer days when men followed boom camps. The opposite is home guard. Boomers should not be confused with tramps, although they occasionally became tramps. Boomers were railroad workers often in big demand because of their wide experience, sometimes blackballed because their tenure of stay was uncertain. Their common practice was to follow the "rushes"-that is, to apply for seasonal jobs when and where they were most needed, when the movement of strawberry crops, watermelons, grain, etc., was making the railroads temporarily short-handed. There are virtually no boomers in North America today. When men are needed for seasonal jobs they are called from the extra board


BOWLING ALLEY—Hand-fired coal-burning locomotive. (A fireman throwing in the lumps of coal goes through motions that resemble bowling)


BRAIN PLATE—Trainman's cap or hat badge

BRAINS or THE BRAINS—Conductor; sometimes called brainless wonder, a term also applied to any train or engineman or official who does things his fellows consider queer

BRAKE CLUB—Three-foot hickory stick used by freight trainmen to tighten hand brakes. Sometimes called sap or staff of ignorance

BRASS—A babbitt-lined blank of bronze that forms the bearing upon which the car rests. To brass a car is to replace one of those bearings

BRASS BUTTONS—Passenger conductor on railroad or streetcar line

BRASS COLLAR or BRASS HAT—Railroad official. Term may have originated from gold-braided collar of conductor's uniform and brass plate on his cap

BRASS POUNDER—Telegraph operator

BREEZE—Service air

BRIDGE HOG—Bridge and building carpenter of the old school antedating steel and concrete

BROKEN KNUCKLES—Railroad sleeping quarters

BROWNIES—Demerits. This system is traced back to George R. Brown, general superintendent of the Fall Brook Railway (now part of the New York Central) in 1885. He thought the then current practice of suspending men for breaking rules was unfair to their families and substituted a system of demerit marks. Too many demerits in a given period resulted in dismissal. The Brown system, with many variations, has since been widely adopted by the railroad industry. A superintendent's private car is called brownie box or brownie wagon

BUCK THE BOARD—Working the extra board. (See board)

BUCKLE THE RUBBERS—Connect air, steam, or signal hose

BUG—Telegraph instrument or trainman's or switchman's light, which is also called bug torch. Bug may also be a three-wheeled electric truck that carries mail and baggage around terminals

BUG LINE—Telephone connection between engine house and yard or telegraph office

BUG SLINGER—Switchman or brakeman

BUGGY—Caboose; rarely applied to other cars

BULL—Railroad policeman. Also called flatfoot or gumshoe, but the distinctive railroad terms are cinder dick and 'bo chaser

BULL PEN—Crew room

BULLGINE—Steam locomotive

BULLNOSE—Front drawbar of a locomotive

BUMP—Obtain another man's position by exercising seniority. When a crew is deprived of its assignment, as when a train is removed from the timetable, its members select the jobs they wish from those held by others with less whiskers

BUMPER—Post at end of spur track, placed there to stop rolling stock from running onto the ground

BUNCH OF THIEVES—Wrecking crew

BUST UP A CUT—To separate the cars in a train, removing some that have reached their destination, assigning others to through trains, etc.

BUTTERFLY—Note thrown (or handed) from train by an official to a section foreman or other employee, so called because it may flutter along the track, although it is usually weighted down when thrown from a car


CABOOSE BOUNCE, CABOOSE HOP—Early term for a train composed only of an engine and caboose


CALLER—One whose duty is to summon train or engine crews or announce trains

CALLIOPE—Steam locomotive

CAMEL or CAMELBACK—Engine with control cab built over middle of boiler, suggesting camel's hump. Also called Mother Hubbard type

CAN—Tank car

CANNED—Taken out of service

CAPTAIN—Conductor; often called skipper. This title dates from Civil War days when some railroads were run by the Army and the conductor was in many cases a captain

CAR-CATCHER—Rear brakeman

CAR KNOCKER—Car inspector or car repairer-from the early custom of tapping the wheels to detect flaws. Also called car whacker; and car toad (because he squats while inspecting), car tink, and car tonk

CAR-SEAL HAWK—Railroad policeman

CARD—Credentials showing Brotherhood or Union membership

CARHOUSE CAR—Covered cement car

CARRY A WHITE FEATHER—Show a plume of steam over the safety valves of the engine

CARRYING GREEN—Train whose engine displays green flags by day or green lights by night to indicate that a second section is following closely. Carrying white in the same manner signifies an extra train

CARRYING THE BANNER—Flagging. Also wearing ostentatious Brotherhood emblems, frequently done by 'bos in working the main stem for a handout

CARRYING THE MAIL—Bringing train orders

CASEY JONES—Any locomotive engineer, especially a fast one. Name derived from John Luther (Casey) Jones

CATWALK—Plank walk on top of boxcars; sometimes called the deck from which comes the word deckorate

CHAIN GANG—Crew assigned to pool service, working first in, first out

CHAMBERMAID—Machinist in roundhouse

CHARIOT—Caboose, or general manager's car

CHASING THE RED—Flagman going back with red flag or light to protect his train

CHECKER—A company spy, particularly one checking up on loss of materials or of the receipts of an agent or conductor

CHERRY PICKER—Switchman, so called because of red lights on switch stands. Also any railroad man who is always figuring on the best jobs and sidestepping undesirable ones (based on the old allusion, "Life is a bowl of cherries")

CHEW CINDERS—Engines do this when reversed while running and while working quite a bit of steam

CHIP PIES—Narrow-gauge cars

CINDER CRUNCHER—Switchman or flagman. Cinder skipper is yard clerk

CINDER DICK—Railroad policeman or detective

CINDER SNAPPER—Passenger who rides open platforms on observation car


CLAW—Clinker hook used by fireman

CLEARANCE CARD—Authority to use main line

CLOCK—Steam gauge. (See wiping the clock; don't confuse with Dutch clock). Also fare register

CLOWN—Switchman or yard brakeman. Clown wagon is caboose

CLUB—Same as brake club. Club winder is switchman or brakeman. A brakeman's club was usually his only weapon of defense against hoboes

COAL HEAVER—Fireman, sometimes called stoker

COCK-LOFT—Cupola of a caboose. Also called crow's nest

COFFEE—Respite period enjoyed by baggagemen while awaiting arrival of the next train. Also called spot

COFFEEPOT—Little, old, steam locomotive

COLLAR AND ELBOW JOINT—Boardinghouse. (There isn't too much room at dinner table)

COLOR-BLIND—Employee who can't distinguish between his own money and the company's

COMPANY BIBLE—Book of rules

COMPANY JEWELRY—Trainman's hat, badge, and switch keys

COMPANY NOTCH or WALL STREET NOTCH—Forward corner of the reverse gear quadrant. It is called the company notch because an engine exerts full pulling power when worked with a full stroke


CONSIST—Contents or equipment of a train. Report form sent ahead so yardmaster can make plans for switching the train. The report is usually dropped off to an operator; this is dropping the consist

COOL A SPINDLE—Cool a hotbox by replacing the brass or putting water on the bearing


CORNERED—When a car, not in the clear on a siding, is struck by a train or engine

CORNFIELD MEET—Head-on collision or one that is narrowly averted

COULDN'T PULL A SETTING HEN OFF HER NEST—Derogatory description of old-fashioned locomotive

COUNTING THE TIES—Reducing speed

COW CAGE—Stock car. Also called cow crate

COWCATCHER—Pilot. The old term was discarded by railroad officials, probably because it was a butt for jokesters. You've often heard about the passenger on a slow local train complaining to the conductor, "I don't understand why you have the cowcatcher on the front of the engine. This train can never overtake a cow. But if you'd attach it to the rear of the train it might at least discourage cows from climbing into the last car and annoying the passengers"

CRADLE—Gondola or other open-top car


CRIPPLE—See bad order

CROAKER—Company doctor

CROWNING HIM—Coupling a caboose on a freight train when it is made up

CRUMB BOSS—Man in charge of camp cars

CRUMMY—Caboose. Also called crum box, crib and many other names. Innumerable poems have been written about "the little red caboose behind the train"

CUPOLA—Observation tower on caboose

CUSHIONS—Passenger cars. Cushion rider may be either a passenger or member of passenger-train crew. (See varnished cars)

CUT—Several cars attached to an engine or coupled together by themselves. Also that part of the right-of-way which is excavated out of a hill or mountain instead of running up over it or being tunneled through it

CUT THE BOARD—Lay off the most recently hired men on the extra list. (See board)

DANCING ON THE CARPET—Called to an official's office for investigation or discipline

DEADBEAT— is defined by Webster as "one who persistently fails to pay his debts or way." The word was coined in the late 1800's when railroad workers noticed that loaded freight cars made a different beat over the track-joints than cars that weren't carrying a load. The empty cars made a "dead beat" which meant they weren't paying their way. By the beginning of the 20th century "deadbeat" came to encompassed people who failed to carry their share of the load also.

DEAD IRON and LIVE IRON—The two sets of tracks on a scale

DEAD MAN'S HOLE—Method of righting an overturned engine or car. A six-foot hole is dug about forty feet from the engine or car, long enough to hold a large solid-oak plank. A trench is then dug up to the engine and heavy ropes laid in it, with a four-sheave block, or pulley, at the lower end of the engine and a three-sheave block at the top of the boiler. Chains are fastened to the underside of the engine and hooked to the three-sheave block. The free end of the rope is then hooked to the drawbar of a road engine. The hole is filled-packed hard to hold the "dead man" down against the coming pull. When the engine moves up the track she pulls ropes over the top of the boiler of the overturned locomotive on the chains that are fastened to the lower part, rolling the engine over sidewise and onto her wheels again

DEAD MAN'S THROTTLE—Throttle that requires pressure of operator's hand or foot to prevent power shut-off and application of brakes. An engine so equipped would stop instantly if the operator fell dead. Also called dead man's button

DEADHEAD—Employee riding on a pass; any nonpaying passenger. Also fireman's derisive term for head brakeman who rides engine cab. Also a locomotive being hauled "dead" on a train

DECK—Front part of engine cab. Also catwalk on roofs of boxcars

DECKORATE—Get out on top of freight cars to set hand brakes or receive or transmit signals. Derived from deck

DEHORNED—Demoted or discharged

DETAINER or DELAYER—Train dispatcher

DIAMOND—Railroad crossover. Black diamonds is coal



DIE GAME—Stall on a hill

DING-DONG—Gas or gas-electric coach, usually used on small roads or branch lines not important enough to support regular trains; name derived from sound of its bell. Sometimes called doodlebug

DINGER—Conductor (man who rings the bell)

DINKY—Switch engine without tender, used around back shop and roundhouse, or any small locomotive. Alsoa four-wheel trolleycar

DIPLOMA—Clearance or service letter; fake service letter

DIRTY CAR—Storage car containing a varied assortment of mail and parcels that demand extra work in separating

DISHWASHERS—Engine wipers at roundhouse

DITCH—That part of the right-of-way that is lower than the roadbed. A derailed train is "in the ditch"

DOGCATCHERS—Crew sent out to relieve another that has been outlawed-that is, overtaken on the road by the sixteen-hour law, which is variously known as dog law, hog law, and pure-food law

DOGHOUSE—Caboose or its cupola

DONEGAN—Old car, with wheels removed, used as residence or office. Originated about 1900, when a Jersey Central carpenter and two foremen, all named Donegan, occupied three shacks in the same vicinity. People were directed to the Donegans so often that the shacks themselves came to be known by that name. The name stuck, even after the men had passed on and the shacks had been replaced by converted old cars

DONKEY—Derisive term for section man; small auxiliary engine

DOODLEBUG—Rail motorcar used by section men, linemen, etc. Also called ding dong

DOPE—Order, official instructions, explanation. Also a composition for cooling hot journals

DOPE IT—Use compound in the water to keep it from boiling when working an engine hard

DOPE MONKEY—Car inspector

DOUBLE—In going up a hill, to cut the train in half and take each section up separately

DOUBLE-HEADER—Train hauled by two engines

DOUSE THE GLIM—Extinguish a lantern, especially by a sudden upward movement

DRAG—Heavy train of "dead" freight; any slow freight train, as contrasted with manifest or hotshot

DRAWBAR FLAGGING—Flagman leaning against the drawbar on the caboose, or standing near the caboose, to protect the rear end of his train, instead of going back "a sufficient distance" as rules require. Such a man is taking a chance, due maybe to laziness, exhaustion, severe cold, fear of the train leaving without him, etc.

DRIFTING THROTTLE—Running with steam throttle cracked open to keep air and dust from being sucked into steam cylinders

DRILL CREW—Yard crew. (See yard)

DRINK—Water for locomotive

DRONE CAGE—Private car

DROP—Switching movement in which cars are cut off from an engine and allowed to coast to their places. (See hump)


DROP 'ER DOWN—Pull reverse lever forward. Drop 'er in the corner means to make fast time, figuratively dropping the Johnson bar in one corner of the cab

DROPPER—Switchman riding a car on a hump

DROWNING IT OUT—Cooling an overheated journal

DRUMMER—Yard conductor

DRUNKARD—Late Saturday-night passenger train

DUCATS—Passenger conductor's hat checks

DUDE—Passenger conductor

DUDE WRANGLER—Passenger brakeman

DUMMY—Employees' train. Dummy locomotive is a switcher type having the boiler and running gear entirely housed, used occasionally for service in public streets

DUST-RAISER—Fireman (shoveling coal into firebox)

DUSTING HER OUT—Putting sand through the firedoor of an oil burner while working the engine hard; this cuts out the soot in the flues and makes the locomotive steam. Also known as giving the old girl a dose of salts

DUTCH CLOCK—Speed recorder

DUTCH DROP—Rarely used method of bringing a car onto the main line from a spur. The engine heads into the spur, couples head-on to the car, and backs out. When the car is moving fast enough the engine is cut off, speeds up to get back on the main line before the car, then moves forward ahead of the junction between the main line and the spur so the car rolls out behind the engine

DYNAMITER—Car on which defective mechanism sends the brakes into full emergency when only a service application is made by the engineer. Also, a quick-action triple valve

EAGLE-EYE—Locomotive engineer

EASY SIGN—Signal indicating the train is to move slowly

END MAN—Rear brakeman on freight train

ELECTRIC OWL—Night operator

ELEPHANT CAR—Special car coupled behind locomotive to accommodate head brakeman


EYE—Trackside signal

FAMILY DISTURBER—Pay car or pay train

FAN—Blower on a locomotive boiler

FIELD—Classification yard

FIELDER or FIELD MAN—Yard brakeman


FIRE BOY—Locomotive fireman

FIRST READER—Conductor's train book

FISH WAGON—Gas-electric car or other motorcar equipped with an air horn (which sounds like a fishmonger's horn)

FISHTAIL—Semaphore blade, so called from its peculiar shape

FIST—Telegraph operator's handwriting. This script, in the days before telephones, typewriters, and teletypes, was characterized by its swiftness, its bold flowing curves which connected one word with another, and its legibility. Ops were proud of their penmanship

FIXED MAN—Switchman in a hump yard assigned to one certain post from which he rides cars being humped

FIXED SIGNAL—Derisive term for a student brakeman standing on a boxcar with his lamp out and a cinder in his eye

FLAG—Assumed name. Many a boomer worked under a flag when his own name was black-listed

FLAT—Flatcar. Also called car with the top blowed off

FLAT WHEEL—Car wheel that has flat spots on the tread. Also applied to an employee who limps

FLIMSY—Train order. (Standard practice is to issue these on tissue paper to facilitate the making of carbon copies)

FLIP—To board a moving train. The word accurately suggests the motion used

FLOATER—Same as boomer

FLY LIGHT—Miss a meal. Boomers often did that; hoboes still do

FLYING SWITCH—Switching technique in which the engine pulls away from a car or cars she has started rolling, permitting them to be switched onto a track other than that taken by the engine. The switch is thrown instantly after the engine has passed it and just before the cars reach it. This procedure, common in bygone days, is now frowned upon by officials


FOOTBOARD—The step on the rear and front ends of switch or freight engines. Many casualties were caused in the "good old days" by switchmen missing these steps on dark slippery nights

FOOTBOARD YARD MASTER—Conductor who acts as yardmaster in a small yard

FOREIGN CAR—Car running over any railroad other than one that owns it

FOUNTAIN—That part of a locomotive where steam issues from the boiler and flows into pipes for lubrication, injection, etc.

FREEZE A HOB or A BLAZER—Cool a heated journal

FREEZER—Refrigerator car. Also reefer or riff

FROG—Implement for rerailing cars or engines. Also an X-shaped plate where two tracks cross

FUSEE—Red flare used for flagging purposes. Its sharp point is driven into the right-of-way and no following train may pass as long as it is burning, although on some roads it is permissible to stop, extinguish the fusee, and proceed with caution in automatic block-signal limits

GALLOPER—Locomotive, the iron horse

GALLOPING GOOSE—A shaky section car

GALVANIZER—Car inspector

GANDY DANCER—Track laborer. Name may have originated from the gander-like tremulations of a man tamping ties, or from the old Gandy Manufacturing Company of Chicago, which made tamping bars, claw bars, picks, and shovels

GANGWAY—Space between the rear cab post of a locomotive and her tender

GARDEN—See yard

GAS HOUSE—Yard office


GAY CAT—Tramp held in contempt by fellow vagrants because he is willing to work if a job comes along

GENERAL—Yardmaster, abbreviated Y.M.

GET THE ROCKING CHAIR—Retire on a pension

GET YOUR HEAD CUT IN—Boomer slang for "wise up"

GIRL or OLD GIRL—Affectionate term for steam engine. The locomotive, like the sailing ship, is often called "she" instead of "it"


GLASS CARS—Passenger cars

GLIM—Switchman's or trainman's lantern

GLIMMER—Locomotive headlight

GLORY—String of empty cars. Also death, especially by accident

GLORY HUNTER—Reckless, fast-running engineer

GLORY ROAD—Sentimental term for railroad

GOAT—Yard engine. (See yard)

GOAT FEEDER—Yard fireman

GO HIGH—Same as deckorate

G.M. —General manager. G.Y.M. is general yardmaster

GODS OF IRON—Huge, powerful locomotives

GON—Gondola, or steel-sided, flat-bottom coal car


GOO-GOO EYE—Locomotive with two firedoors

GOOSE—To make an emergency stop

GOOSE HER—Reverse a locomotive that is under headway

GO-TO-HELL SIGNAL—Signal given with violent motion of hand or lantern

GRAB IRON—Steel bar attached to cars and engines as a hand bold

GRABBER—Conductor of a passenger train. (He grabs tickets)

GRAMOPHONE—Obsolete term for telephone

GRASS WAGON—Tourist car. (Tourists like scenery)

GRASSHOPPER—Old type of locomotive with vertical boiler and cylinders

GRAVE-DIGGER—Section man

GRAVEYARD—Siding occupied by obsolete and disused engines and cars; scrap pile

GRAVEYARD WATCH—12.01 A.M. to 8 A.M., or any midnight shift, so called because that shift includes the quietest hours of the day



GREASE THE PIG—Oil the engine. (See hog)

GREASY SPOON—Railroad eating house. Bill of fare is colloquially known as switch list, fork is hook, butter is grease pot, hotcakes are blind gaskets, and beans are torpedoes

GREENBACKS—Frogs for rerailing engines or cars

GREENBALL FREIGHT—Fruit or vegetables

GREEN EYE—Clear signal. (At the time Cy Warman wrote his celebrated poem, "I Hope the Lights Are White," the clear signal was white and green meant caution. This was changed years ago because of the fact that when a red or green signal lens broke or fell out it exposed a white, thus giving a clear board to engineers even though the signal itself was set to stop or go slow)

GREETINGS FROM THE DS—Train orders from the dispatcher

GRIEVER—Spokesman on grievance committee; Brotherhood or Union representative at an official investigation

GRIND—Shay-geared engine

GROUNDHOG—Brakeman, yardmaster, or switch engine

GRUNT—Locomotive engineer. Traveling grunt is road foreman of engines (hogs). Grunt may also be a lineman's ground helper; grunting is working as a lineman's helper

GUN—Torpedo, part of trainman's equipment; it is placed on the track as a signal to the engineer. Also the injector on the locomotive that forces water from tank to boiler. To gun means to control air-brake system from rear of train

GUNBOAT—Large steel car

GUT—Air hose. Guts is drawbar


HALF—Period of two weeks

HAM—Poor telegrapher or student

HAND BOMBER or HAND GRENADE—Engine without automatic stoker, which is hand-fired

HAND-ON—Train order or company mail caught with the hoop or without stopping

HANGING UP THE CLOCK—Boomer term that meant hocking your railroad watch

HARNESS—Passenger trainman's uniform

HASH HOUSE—Railroad restaurant or lunch stand

HAT—Ineffectual railroad man. (All he uses his head for is a hat rack)

HAY—Sleep on the job; any kind of sleep. Caboose was sometimes called hay wagon

HAY BURNER—Hand oil lantern, inspection torch. Also a horse used in railroad or streetcar service

HEAD-END REVENUE—Money which railroads receive for hauling mail, express, baggage, newspapers, and milk in cans, usually transported in cars nearest the locomotive, these commodities or shipments being known as head-end traffic

HEAD IN—Take a sidetrack when meeting an opposing train

HEAD MAN—Front brakeman on a freight train who rides the engine cab. Also called head pin


HEEL—Cars on end of tracks with brakes applied

HERDER—Man who couples engines and takes them off upon arrival and departure of trains

HIGHBALL—Signal made by waving hand or lamp in a high, wide semicircle, meaning "Come ahead" or "Leave town" or "Pick up full speed." Verb highball or phrase 'ball the jack means to make a fast run. Word highball originated from old-time ball signal on post, raised aloft by pulley when track was clear. A very few of these are still in service, in New England and elsewhere

HIGHBALL ARTIST—A locomotive engineer known for fast running

HIGH-DADDY—Flying switch

HIGH IRON—Main line or high-speed track (which is laid with heavier rail than that used on unimportant branches or spurs)

HIGH LINER—Main-line fast passenger train

HIGH-WHEELER—Passenger engine or fast passenger train. Also highball artist

HIKER—A lineman who "hikes sticks" instead of prosaically climbing poles

HIT 'ER—Work an engine harder. (Probably a variation of "hit the ball," which means "Get busy-no more fooling!")

HIT THE GRIT or GRAVEL—Fall off a car or locomotive or get kicked off

HOBO—Tramp. Term is said to have originated on Burlington Route as a corruption of "Hello, boy!" which construction workers used in greeting one another

HOG—Any large locomotive, usually freight. An engineer may be called a hogger, hoghead, hogmaster, hoggineer, hog jockey, hog eye, grunt, pig-mauler, etc. Some few engineers object to such designations as disrespectful, which they rarely are. For meaning of hog law see dogcatchers. Hoghead is said to have originated on the Denver & Rio Grande in 1887, being used to label a brakeman's caricature of an engineer

HOLDING HER AGAINST THE BRASS—Running electric car at full speed

HOLE—Passing track where one train pulls in to meet another

HOME GUARD—Employee who stays with one railroad, as contrasted with boomer. A homesteader is a boomer who gets married and settles down

HOOK—Wrecking crane or auxiliary

HOOK 'ER UP AND PULL HER TAIL—To set the reverse lever up on the quadrant and pull the throttle well out for high speed

HOPPER—Steel-sided car with a bottom that opens to allow unloading of coal, gravel, etc.


HORSE 'ER OVER—Reverse the engine. This is done by compressed air on modern locomotives, but in early days, manually operated reversing equipment required considerable jockeying to reverse an engine while in motion

HOSE COUPLER—Brakeman who handles trains by himself with the road engine around a big passenger terminal

HOSTLER—Any employee (usually a fireman) who services engines, especially at division points and terminals. Also called ashpit engineer

HOT—Having plenty of steam pressure (applied to locomotives)

HOT-FOOTER—Engineer or conductor in switching service who is always in a hurry

HOT JEWEL—Same as hotbox

HOT-WATER BOTTLE—Elesco feed water heater

HOT WORKER—Boilermaker who repairs leaks in the firebox or flue sheet while there is pressure in the boiler

HOTBOX—Overheated journal or bearing. Also called hub. This was a frequent cause of delay in the old days but is virtually nonexistent on trains that are completely equipped with ball-bearings. Trainmen are sometimes called hotbox detectors

HOTSHOT—Fast train; frequently a freight made up of merchandise and perishables. Often called a manifest or redball run

HOW MANY EMS HAVE YOU GOT? —How many thousand pounds of tonnage is your engine pulling? (M stands for 1,000)

HUMP—Artificial knoll at end of classification yard over which cars are pushed so that they can roll on their own momentum to separate tracks. (See drop.) Also the summit of a hill division or the top of a prominent grade. Boomers generally referred to the Continental Divide as the Hump

HUMPBACK JOB—Local freight run. (Conductor spends much time in caboose bending over his wheel reports)

HUT—Brakeman's shelter just back of the coal bunkers on the tender tank of engines operating through Moffat Tunnel. May also refer to caboose, locomotive cab, switchman's shanty, or crossing watchman's shelter

IDLER—An unloaded flatcar placed before or after a car from which oversize machinery, pipe, or other material projects

IN—A trainman who is at the home terminal and off duty is in

IN THE CLEAR—A train is in the clear when it has passed over a switch and frog so far that another train can pass without damage

IN THE COLOR—Train standing in the signal block waiting for a clear board

IN THE DITCH—Wrecked or derailed

IN THE HOLE—On a siding. (See hole.) Also in the lower berth of a Pullman, as contrasted with on the tot, in the upper berth

INDIAN VALLEY LINE—An imaginary railroad "at the end of the rainbow," on which you could always find a good job and ideal working conditions. (Does not refer to the former twenty-one-mile railroad of that name between Paxton and Engels, Calif.) Boomers resigning or being fired would say they were going to the Indian Valley. The term is sometimes used to mean death or the railroader's Heaven. (See Big Rock Candy Mountains)

IND ICATORS—Illuminated signs on the engine and caboose that display the number of the train

IRON or RAIL—Track. Single iron means single track

Academic slang for locomotive

IRON SKULL—Boilermaker. (Jim Jeffries, one-time champion prize fighter, worked as an iron skull for years)

JACK—Locomotive. (A term often confused with the lifting device, hence seldom used)

JACKPOT—Miscellaneous assortment of mail and parcels piled in the aisle of a baggage car and requiring removal before the mail in the stalls can be "worked"

JAILHOUSE SPUDS—Waffled potatoes

JAM BUSTER—Assistant yardmaster

JAM NUTS—Doughnuts

JANNEY—To couple; derived from the Janney automatic coupler

JAWBONE SHACK—Switch shanty

JAY ROD—Clinker hook

JERK A DRINK—Take water from track pan without stopping train. From this came the word jerkwater, which usually means a locality serving only to supply water to the engines of passing trains; a Place other than a regular stop, hence of minor importance as jerkwater town, jerkwater college, etc.

JERK-BY—See flying switch

JERK SOUP—Same as jerk a drink

JERRY—Section worker; sometimes applied to other laborers

JEWEL—Journal brass

JIGGER—Full tonnage of "dead" freight

JIMMIES—Four-wheel coal or ore cars

JITNEY—Four-wheel electric truck that carries baggage around inside a terminal. Also unregulated private automobile that carried passengers on public highways for 5-cent fare in direct competition with trolley cars

JOHNSON BAR—Reverse lever on a locomotive. (See drop 'er down)

JOIN THE BIRDS—Jump from moving engine or car, usually when a wreck is imminent

JOINT—A length of rail, generally 33 or 39 feet. Riding to a joint is bringing cars together so that they couple

JOKER—In dependent or locomotive brake, part of E-T (engine-train) equipment

JUGGLER—Member of way-freight crew who loads and unloads LCL freight at station stops

JUGGLING THE CIRCLE—Missing a train-order hoop

JUICE—Electricity. Juice fan is one who makes a hobby out of electric railways (juice lines)

JUNK PILE—Old worn-out locomotive that is still in service.

KANGAROO COURT—An official hearing or investigation, so named because it may be held wherever most convenient, anywhere along the road, jumping around like a kangaroo, to act on main-line mixups or other urgent problems

KEELEY—Water can for hot journals or bearings. Nickname derived from "Keeley cure" for liquor habit

KETTLE—Any small locomotive, especially an old, leaky one. Also called teakettle and coffeepot

KEY—Telegraph instrument

KICK—See drop

KICKER—Triple valve in defective order, which throws air brakes into emergency when only a service application is intended, or sometimes by a bump of the train

KING—Freight conductor or yardmaster. King snipe is foreman of track gang. King pin is conductor

KITCHEN—Caboose; engine cab. Firebox is kitchen stove


KNOCKOUT—Same as bump

KNOWLEDGE BOX—Yardmaster's office; president of the road

LADDER—Main track of yard from which individual tracks lead off. Also called a lead. (See yard)

LAPLANDER—Passenger jostled into someone else's lap in crowded car


LAY-BY—Passing track, sidetrack. Layed out is delayed

LAY OVER—Time spent waiting for connection with other train

LCL—Less than carload lots of freight

LETTERS—Service letters given to men who resign or are discharged. Applicants for railroad jobs are usually asked to present letters proving previous employment. In the old days, when these were too unfavorable, many boomers used faked letters or would work under a flag on somebody else's certificates

LEVER JERKER—Interlocker lever man

LIBRARY—Cupola of caboose. Trainman occupying it was sometimes known as a librarian


LIGHT ENGINE—An engine moving outside the yard without cars attached

LIGHTNING SLINGER—Telegraph operator

LINER—Passenger train

LINK AND PIN—Old-time type of coupler; used to denote oldfashioned methods of railroading

LIZARD SCORCHER—Dining-car chef

LOADS—Loaded freight cars

LOCAL LOAD—A truckload of mail in sacks and parcels sent from the storage car direct to a car on a local train, containing mail for towns along the route of the train


LUNAR WHITE—The color of white used on all switches except on main line

LUNCH HOOKS—Your two hands

LUNG—Drawbar or air hose

LUNG DOCTOR—Locomotive engineer who pulls out drawbars. Also lung specialist

MADHOUSE—Engine foreman; scene of unusual activity or confusion MAIN IRON-Main track. Also called main stem MAIN PIN-An official MAKE A JOINT-Couple cars MANIFEST-Same as hotshot MARKERS-Signals on rear of train, flags by day and lamps by night MASTER MANIAC-Master mechanic, often abbreviated M.M. Oil is called master mechanic's blood

MASTER MIND—An official

MATCHING DIALS—Comparing time

MAUL—Work an 'engine with full stroke and full throttle

MEAT RUN—Fast run of perishable freight, hotshot

MEET ORDER—Train order specifying a definite location where two or more trains will meet on a single track, one on a siding, the others on the high iron


MIDDLE MAN, MIDDLE SWING—Second brakeman on freight train

MIKE—Mikado-type engine (2-8-2), so named because first of this type were built for Imperial Railways of Japan. (Because of the war with Japan, some railroads rechristened this type MacArthur)

MILEAGE HOG—Engineer or conductor, paid on mileage basis, who uses his seniority to the limit in getting good runs, which younger men resent

MILK TRUCK—Large hand truck with high cast-iron wheels used to transfer milk cans around in a terminal

MILL—Steam locomotive, or typewriter

MIXED LOAD—Truckload of mail sacks and parcels for many destinations sent from storage car to the yard (an outside platform) for further separation before forwarding

MONKEY—When a crew has been on duty sixteen hours and is caught out on the road, the monkey gets them and they are required by ICC rules to tie -up until a new crew comes. (See dogcatchers)

MONKEY MONEY—The pass of a passenger who is riding free

MONKEY MOTION—Walschaert or Baker valve gear on locomotive. Monkey house is caboose. Monkey suit is passenger trainman's uniform or any other smart-looking uniform. Monkey tail is back-up hose

MOONLIGHT MECHANIC—Night roundhouse foreman

MOPPING OFF—Refers to escaping steam


MOTOR—Electric locomotive


MOVING DIRT—Fireman shoveling coal into firebox

MOVING SPIRIT—Train dispatcher, more often called DS

MTYS—Empty cars

MUCKERS—Excavators in construction work

MUD CHICKENS—Surveyor. Mudhop is yard clerk, mudshop his office

MUD SUCKER—A nonlifting injector

MUDHEN—A saturated locomotive, one that is not superheated

MULE SKINNER—Driver of mule cart


MUTT AND JEFF PUMP—Denver & Rio Grande locomotive with big air pump on right and small one on left

MUZZLE LOADER—Hand-fired locomotive

NEWS BUTCHER—Peddler who sells magazines, candy, fruit, 'etc., in trains. Usually employed nowadays by Union News Co. Thomas A. Edison, the inventor, was a news butcher in his youth and became deaf when a conductor boxed his ears for accidentally starting a fire while experimenting in a baggage car near Smith Creek, Mich.

NICKEL GRABBER—Streetcar conductor

NIGGERHEAD—Turret at top of locomotive boiler, over crown sheet, from which saturated steam is taken for operation of pumps, stoker, injectors, and headlight turbine

19 ORDER—Train order that does not have to be signed for. Operator can hand it on a hoop or delivery fork as the train slows down. (See 31 order)

99—Failure to protect your train or to flag it

NO-BILL—Nonunion or nonbrotherhood railroad worker. Also called nonair

NOSE ON—Couple on with head end of engine

NOSEBAG—Lunch carried to work. Put on the nosebag means to eat a meal

NUMBER DUMMY—Yard clerk or car clerk; also called number grabber


OILCAN—Tank car

OLD GIRL—Affectionate term for steam engine

OLD HAND—Experienced railroader. Also called old head

* OLD HEAD—Lots of Seniority

OLD MAN—Superintendent or general manager

OLE HOSS—Salvage warehouse, or freight on hand

ON THE ADVERTISED—According to schedule; right on time. Often called on the card (timecard) and sometimes on the cat hop

ON THE CARPET—Commoner version of dancing on the carpet

ON THE GROUND—On the ties, as a derailed train

ON THE SPOT—See spot

OP—Telegraph operator

OPEN-AIR NAVIGATOR—Hobo riding freight on top

OPEN THE GATE—Switch a train onto or off a siding. Close the gate means to close the switch after the train has passed it

O.R.C. —Conductor. (See big O)


OS—On (train) sheet; to report a train by to dispatcher

OUT—When a trainman is at a point other than his home terminal, either on or off duty, he is out

OUTLAWED—See dogcatchers

OVER THE KNOLL—Getting up the hill

OVERLAP—Where two block signals control the same stretch of track OWL-Streetcar or train that runs late at night; almost anything having to do with night

PADDLE—Semaphore signal

PADDLE WHEEL—Narrow-gauge locomotive with driving boxes outside of the wheels

PAIR OF PLIERS—Conductor's punch


PAPER CAR—Baggage car for the transportation of newspapers exclusively

PAPERWEIGHT—Railroad clerk, office worker. Also called pencil pusher

PARLOR—Caboose. Parlor man or parlor maid is hind brakeman or flagman on freight train

PASSING THE CROAKER—Being examined by company doctor

PEAKED END—Head end of train. Also pointed or sharp end

PEANUT ROASTER—Any small steam engine

PECK—Twenty minutes allowed for lunch

PEDDLE—To set out freight cars

PEDDLER—Local way-freight train

PELICAN POND—Place outside a roundhouse (down South) where there is much ooze and slime, caused by the fact that many locomotives are run thirty days without the boilers being washed out. The boilers are kept clean by blowing them out with blowoff cocks


PERSUADER—Blower (for locomotive fire)

PETTICOAT—Portion of the exhaust stack that guides exhausted steam into the stack proper. When this becomes displaced, the spent steam goes back through the flues, cutting off the draft from the fire

PIE-CARD—Meal ticket. Also called grazing ticket

PIG—Locomotive. Pig-mauler is locomotive engineer; pigpen locomotive roundhouse. (See hog)


PIN AHEAD AND PICK UP TWO BEHIND ONE—Cut off the engine, pick up three cars from siding, put two on the train, and set the first one back on the siding

PIN FOR HOME—Go home for the day

PINHEAD—Brakeman. Pin-lifter is yard brakeman. Pinner is a switchman that follows. Pin-puller is a switchman that cuts off cars from a train. The old-style link-and-pin coupler (now rarely used) was called Lincoln pin

PINK—Caution card or rush telegram

PLANT—Interlocking system

PLUG—"One-horse" passenger train. Also throttle of old-style locomotive; hence engineers were known as plug-pullers. Plugging her means using the reverse lever as a brake instead of the air. Local passenger trains are sometimes referred to as Plug runs

PLUSH RUN—Passenger train

POCATELLO YARDMASTER—Derisive term for boomers, all of whom presumably claimed to have held, at some time, the tough job of night yardmaster at Pocatello, Idaho

POLE—To run light. (See light)

POLE PIN—Superintendent of telegraph

POP—To let safety valve on boiler release, causing waste of steam, making a loud noise, and, when engine is working hard, raising water in boiler, thereby causing locomotive to work water

POP CAR—Gasoline car or speeder, used by section men, linemen, etc.; so called because of the put-put noise of its motor exhaust


POSITIVE BLOCK—Locomotive engineer

POSSUM BELLY—Toolbox under a caboose or under some wrecking cars

POUND HER—Work a locomotive to its full capacity

POUNDING THEIR EARS—Sleeping, making hay

PUD—Pick up and delivery service

PULLER—Switch engine hauling cars from one yard to another at the same terminal. Also the operator of an electric truck that transfers baggage and mail around a terminal

PULL FREIGHT—To leave or to give up a job

PULL THE AIR—Set brakes by opening conductor's valve or angle cock

PULL THE CALF'S TAIL—Yank the whistle cord

PULL THE PIN—Uncouple a car by pulling up the coupling pin. A boomer expression meaning to resign or quit a job

PURE-FOOD LAW—See dogcatchers

PUSHER—Extra engine on rear of train, usually placed there to assist in climbing a grade

PUSSYFOOTER—Railroad policeman

PUT 'ER ON—Make a reduction in air in the train's braking system. Put 'er all on means apply emergency brake, more commonly described as big-holing her


QUILL—Whistle (term used especially in the South)

QUILLING—Personalized technique of blowing a locomotive whistle, applicable only in the days before the whistles became standardized

RABBIT—A derail; an arrangement for preventing serious wrecks by sidetracking runaway trains, cars, or locomotives on a downgrade. Unlike regular sidetracks, the derail ends relatively abruptly on flat trackless land instead of curving back onto the main line. The term rabbit is applied to this device because of the timidity involved

RACE TRACK—Straight and flat stretch of track upon which an engineer can safely make unusually high speed. Also parallel stretches of track of two competing railroads upon which rival trains race one another (contrary to company rules but much to the delight of enginemen, trainmen, and passengers, and perhaps to the secret delight of some officials)


RAIL—Any railroad employee

RAILFAN—Anyone who makes a hobby of railroading

RAP THE STACK—Give your locomotive a wide-open throttle, make more speed. Rapper is an engineer who works his engine too hard

RATTLE HER HOCKS—Get speed out of an engine

Freight train

RAWHIDER—Official, or any employee, who is especially hard on men or equipment, or both, with which he works. A rawhider, or slave driver, delights in causing someone to do more than his share of work. Running too fast when picking up a man on the footboard, or making a quick stop just short of him when he is expecting to step on, so that he has to walk back, are two ways it is done; but there are almost as many ways of rawhiding as there are different situations

REAL ESTATE—Poor coal mixed with dirt or slag. When mixed with sand it is called seashore

RED BOARD—Stop signal

REDBALL, BALL OF FIRE—Fast freight train,

REDCAP—Station porter. Term coined about 1900 by George H. Daniels, New York Central publicist

RED EYE—Same as red board; also liquor

RED ONION—Eating house or sleeping quarters for railroad men

REEFER or RIFF—Refrigerator car

REPTILE—See snake

RETAINER—Small valve located near brake wheel for drawing off and holding air on cars. (Retainers often figure prominently in true tales and fiction stories about runaway cars on trains)

RIDIN' 'EM HIGH—Traveling on tops of boxcars

RIDIN' THE RODS—An old-time hobo practice, now virtually obsolete. The hobo would place a board across truss rods under a car and ride on it. This was very dangerous even in pleasant weather, and the possibility was ever present that you might doze, get careless, become too cramped, or lose your nerve-and roll under the wheels

RIDING THE POINT—Riding a locomotive, point referring to shape of pilot

RIGHT-HAND SIDE—Engineer's side of cab (on nearly all North American roads). Left-hand side is fireman's side. When a fireman is promoted he is set up to the right-hand side


RIPRAP—Loose pieces of heavy stone or masonry used in some places to protect roadbeds from water erosion

RIP-TRACK—Minor repair track or car-repair department. RIP means repair

RIVET BUSTER—Boilermaker

ROAD HOG—Any large motor vehicle on a highway, especially intercity trailer trucks and busses that cut into railroad freight and passenger revenue

ROOFED—Caught in close clearance

ROOF GARDEN—Mallet-type locomotive or any helper engine on a mountain job. Sometimes called sacred ox

ROUGHNECK—Freight brakeman

RUBBERNECK CAR—Observation car

RULE G—"The use of intoxicants or narcotics is prohibited"—one of twelve general rules in standard code adopted by Association of American Railroads, based upon previous regulations made by individual companies. Countless thousands of railroad men, especially boomers, have been discharged for violation of Rule G; not because of railroads' objection to liquor itself but because a man under the influence of liquor is not to be trusted in a job involving human lives and property

RUN—The train to which a man is assigned is his run

RUN-AROUND—If it is a man's turn to work and he is not called, he may claim pay for the work he missed. He has been given the run-around

RUN-IN—A collision; an argument or fight

RUN LIGHT—For an engine to run on the tracks without any cars

RUNNER—Locomotive engineer

RUNT—Dwarf signal


RUST PILE—Old locomotive

RUSTLING THE BUMS—Searching a freight train for hobos. In bygone days it was common practice for trainmen to collect money from freight-riding 'bos, often at the rate of a dollar a division

SADDLE—First stop of freight car, under the lowest grab iron

SANDHOG—Laborer who works in a caisson tunneling under a river, boring either a railroad tunnel, subway, or highway tunnel

SAP—Same as brake club; also called the staff of ignorance. To set hand brakes is to sap up some binders

SAWBONES—Company doctor

SAW BY—Slow complicated operation whereby one train passes another on a single-track railroad when the other is on a siding too short to hold the entire train. Saw by is applied to any move through switches or through connecting switches that is necessitated by one train passing another

Nonunion workman; also car not equipped with automatic air system. (See nonair)

SCIZZOR-BILL—Uncomplimentary term referring to yard or road brakemen and students in train service

SCOOP—Fireman's shovel. Also the step on front and rear ends of switch engines

SCOOT—Shuttle train

SCRAP PILE—Worn-out locomotive that is still in service

SEAT HOG—Passenger who monopolizes more than one seat in a car or station waiting room while others are standing. Such pests usually spread luggage, packages, or lunch over adjacent seats

SEASHORE—Sand used in sand dome. Also applied to coal that is mixed with sand

SECRET WORKS—Automatic air-brake application. Also the draft timbers and drawbar of a car, when extracted by force. If only the drawbar is pulled out, you say, "We got a lung," but if the draft timbers comewith it, you say, "We got the whole damn secret works"

SENIORITY GRABBER—Railroad employee who is glad when someone above him dies, gets killed, is fired, or resigns, so he can move up the seniority list to a better job

The sorting of mail sacks and parcels within the storage car before transferring to trucks

SERVICE APPLICATION—Gradual speed reduction, as contrasted with emergency stop caused by wiping the clock

SETTING UP—Loading a baggage car with mail and parcels according to a prearranged plan to facilitate rapid unloading at various stations along the line

SETUP—Four to six hand trucks placed in formation beside the door of a storage car to facilitate the separation of the mail and parcels being unloaded. Each truck is loaded with matter to be transferred to other trains or to the R.P.O. (Railway Post Office) terminal office

SHACK—Brakeman, occupant of caboose. Shacks master is a conductor SHAKE 'EM UP-Switching

SHAKING THE TRAIN—Putting on air brakes in emergency


SHINER—Brakeman's or switchman's lantern

SHINING TIME—Starting time (probably from old Negro spiritual "Rise and Shine")

SHOO-FLY—Temporary track, usually built around a flooded area, a wreck, or other obstacle; sometimes built merely to facilitate a rerailing

SHORT FLAGGING—Flagman not far enough from his train to protect it. (See drawbar flagging)

SHORT LOADS—Cars consigned to points between division points and set out on sidings at their destinations. Also called shorts

SHORT-TIME CREW—Crew working overtime but not yet affected by the sixteen-hour law. (See dogcatchers)

SHUFFLE THE DECK—Switch cars onto house tracks at every station you pass on your run


SIDE-DOOR PULLMAN—Boxcar used by hobos in stealing rides

SKATE—Shoe placed on rail in hump yard to stop cars with defective brakes

SKIN YOUR EYE—Engineer's warning to man on left side of cab when approaching curve


SKYROCKETS—Red-hot cinders from smokestack

SLAVE DRIVER—Yardmaster. Also any rawhider

SLING MORSE—Work as telegraph operator

SLIPS, CAR OR TRAIN OF—Car or train of bananas

SLOW BOARD—See board

SLUG—Heavy fire in locomotive firebox

SLUGS—A shipment of magazines, catalogues, or automobile-license plates in small mail sacks weighing approximately 100 pounds each

SMART ALECK—Passenger conductor

SMOKE or SMOKE AGENT—Locomotive fireman. Smoker is engine or firebox. Smoking 'em or running on smoke orders is a dangerous method, now obsolete, of running a train from one station or siding to another without orders from the dispatcher. You moved cautiously, continually watching for the smoke of any train that might be approaching you on the same track

SNAKE—Switchman, so named from the large serpentine letter S on membership pins of the Switchman's Union of North America. Sometimes called reptile or serpent

SNAKEHEAD—A rail that comes loose from the ties and pierces the floor of a car; a fairly common accident with the strap-iron rails of a century ago

SNAP—Push or pull with another engine. Snapper is the engine that does the pulling

SNIPE—Track laborer. His boss is a king snipe

SNOOZER—Pullman sleeping car

SNUFF DIPPERS—Coal-burning engines that burn lignite (which, on the Missouri Pacific at least, is the same color as snuff)

SOAK—Saturated locomotive

SODA JERKER—Locomotive fireman

SOFT BELLIES—Wooden frame cars


SOFT PLUG—Fusible plug in crown sheet of locomotive that is supposed to drop when water gets below top of sheet

SOLID CAR—A completely filled storage car containing sixty feet of mail and parcels, equal to a 100 per cent load

SOLID TRACK—Track full of cars

SPAR—Pole used to shove cars into the clear when switching. (See stake)

SPEED GAUGER—Locomotive engineer

SPEEDER—Same as pop car


SPIKE A TORCH—Throw a fusee

SPOT—To place a car in a designated position. Also sleep, rest, or lunch period on company time. On the spot means an opportunity for railroad men to "chew the rag" or swap experiences. Unlike the same underworld term, on the spot has no sinister implication in railroad slang

SPOTBOARD—Guide used by section men in surfacing or ballasting track in order to obtain an even bed.

SPOTTER—Spy, company man assigned to snoop around and check on employees

SQUEEZERS—Car-retarding system used in some railroad yards

SQUIRRELING—Climbing a car

STACK O' RUST—A locomotive that has seen better days

STAKE—Pole used in dangerous and now rare method of switching. A cut of cars was shoved by a stake attached to the car immediately in front of the engine. This method was supposed to be superior to the ordinary method of "batting them out" because there was less wear and tear on drawbars and less damage to freight; but the human casualties that resulted gave more than one yard the nickname "slaughterhouse." Another meaning of stake is the money a boomer saved on a job so he could resign and continue eating regularly while looking for another job

STAKE DRIVER—Any engineering-department man

STALL—Space inside a mail or baggage car containing mail or parcels consigned to a certain destination and separated from other shipments by removable steel posts

STARGAZER—Brakeman who fails to see signals


STEM—Track or right-of-way

STEM-WINDER—Climax type of geared locomotive. Also applied to trolley car without brakes because of the motion of its brake handle

STICK—Staff used on certain stretches of track to control the block. It is carried by engine crews from one station to another. Now rare

STIFF BUGGY—Specially designed four-wheel truck used for transferring coffins and rough boxes inside a station

STINGER—Brakeman. Derived from initial B(ee) of Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, or perhaps from some brakemen's habit of arousing hobos by applying a brake club to the soles of their shoes



STIRRUP—First step of freight car, under the lowest grab iron

STOCK PEN—Yard office

STOCKHOLDER—Any employee who is always looking out for the company's interests

STOPPER PULLER—Member of the crew that follows the engine in switching

STORAGE CAR—Baggage car or (in rush periods) Railway Express car containing a mixed shipment of parcels and mail sacks consigned to a certain terminal for sorting and rerouting to various destinations via other trains

STRAW BOSS—Foreman of small gang or acting foreman

STRAW-HAT BOYS—Railroad men who work only in pleasant weather

STRAWBERRY PATCH—Rear end of caboose by night; also railroad yard studded with red lights

STRETCH 'EM OUT—Take out slack in couplings and drawbars of train

STRING—Several cars coupled together; also a telegraph wire

STRUGGLE FOR LIFE—Existence in railroad boardinghouse

STUDE TALLOW—Student fireman

STUDENT—Learner in either telegraph, train, or engine service; an apprentice

SUCK IT BY—Make a flying switch



SWELLHEAD—Conductor or locomotive engineer

SWING A BUG—Make a good job of braking. (See bug)

SWING MAN—Same as middle man

SWITCH LIST—Bill of fare at railroad eating house


TAIL OVER HER BACK—Engine with full head of steam, with plume resembling a squirrel's tail from her safety valve

TAKE THE RUBBER OUT OF THEM—Disconnect the air hoses on a train

TAKING YOUR MINUTES—Stopping for lunch

TALLOWPOT—Locomotive fireman, so called from melted tallow used to lubricate valves and shine the engine

TANK—Locomotive tender. Tanker is tank car used in hauling oil, water, milk, chemicals or some other liquid

TEAKETTLE—See kettle

TEASE THE BRUTE—Follow the engine

TELLTALES—Any device that serves as a warning. Specifically the row of strips hanging down a short distance in front of a tunnel or low bridge to inform trainmen who are riding car tops that they'd better duck

* TEMPLE OF KNOWLEGE—Term for caboose

TERMINAL—Railway Post Office unit, usually at or near the railroad station, where mail is removed from sacks, sorted, and forwarded to its ultimate destination

TERMINAL LOAD—A shipment of mail consigned to a certain R.P.O. terminal office for sorting and reshipment in other sacks

THE BISCUITS HANG HIGH—There's a scarcity of food handouts in that locality

THIRTY—Telegraphic term for "that's all-no more"

31 ORDER—Train order that must be signed for; the train must stop to pick it up. (See 19 order)

THOUSAND-MILER—Black satin or blue percale shirt worn by railroaders, expected to last 1,000 miles between washings. (The usual basis of a day's work was about 10 0 miles, so two shirts could easily last from one pay day to the next)

THREE-BAGGER—Train pushed or pulled by three engines. (No doubt originated by a baseball fan)


* THROTTLE GOD—Loc.Engineer)

THROW AWAY THE DIAMONDS—Term applied to locomotive fireman missing the firedoor with a shovelful of coal and spilling some

* THROW OUT THE ANCHOR—Done for the Day

TIE 'EM DOWN—Set handbrakes

TIE ON—Couple on. Tie 'em together is to couple cars

TIE UP—Stop for a meal or for rest

TIER—Pile of mail sacks or parcels occupying the full width at each end of a car

TIMKENIZED—Equipped with Timken roller bearings

TIN LIZARD—Streamlined train

TING-A-LING—Small engine with "tinny" bell

TISSUE—Train order. (See flimsy)

TOAD—Derail. (See rabbit)

TOEPATH or TOWPATH—Running board of locomotive or catwalk on top of boxcars, or that part of railroad embankment lying between end of ties and shoulders of fill

TONK—Car repairer

TONNAGE HOUND—Trainmaster or other official who insists upon longer or heavier trains than the crew and motive power can handle efficiently

TOP DRESSER DRAWER—Upper bunk in caboose

TOWER BUFF—Railfan so zealous that he disregards signs such as "Private," "No Admittance" and "Stay Out" on interlocking towers and other railroad structures

TRAIN LINE—Pipe that carries compressed air to operate air brakes

TRAMPIFIED—The way a boomer looked after being out of work a long time. His clothes were "ragged as a barrel of sauerkraut" and he needed a "dime's worth of decency" (shave)

TRAVELING CARD—Card given by a railroad Brotherhood to a man in search of employment. Also an empty slip bill

TRAVELING GRUNT—Road foreman of engines, traveling engineer. Sometimes called traveling man

TRICK—Shift, hours of duty

TRIMMER—Engine working in hump yard that goes down into yard and picks out misdirected cars and shoves them to clear. (See yard and hump)

TWO-WHEELER—Two-wheeled hand truck for transferring baggage and mail around in a station

UNCLE SAM—Railway Post Office clerk

Just as a man who "can't take his liquor" is sometimes actually under the table, so, figuratively, is a telegraph operator when messages are being sent to him faster than he can receive

UNDERGROUND HOG—Chief engineer

UNLOAD—Get off train hurriedly

VARNISH—Passenger train. Also called varnished shot, varnished job, varnished boxes, string of varnish, varnished wagons, etc. These nicknames are rarely applied to modern streamliners


* VOODOO BARGE—Updated Heavy,Slow Freight

WABASH—To hit cars going into adjacent tracks. (See cornered) Also refers to the officially frowned-upon practice of slowing up for a stop signal at a crossing with another railroad instead of stopping. The engineer would look up and down to make sure everything is safe, then start up again, having saved several minutes by not stopping entirely. Wabash may also mean a heavy fire in the locomotive firebox

WAGON—Railroad car. (English term)

WALK THE DOG—Wheel a freight so fast as to make cars sway from side to side

WALK UP AGAINST THE GUN—Ascend a steep grade with the injector on

Forward corner of reverse lever quadrant in engine cab (more commonly called company notch). Called Wall Street notch because engine pays dividends when heaviness of train requires engine to be worked that way

WASHOUT—Stop signal, waved violently by using both arms and swinging them in downward arc by day, or swinging lamp in wide low semicircle across tracks at night

WATCH YOUR PINS—Be careful around stacks of ties, rails, etc.

WAY CAR—Caboose, or car of local freight

WEARING THE BLUE—Delayed by car inspectors. A blue flag or blue light is placed on cars thus delayed and being worked on

WEARING THE GREEN—Carrying green signals. When trains run in more than one section, all except the last must display two green flags

WEED BENDER—Railroaders' derisive term for cowboy, other such terms being hay shaker, clover picker, and plow jockey. Commonest term for cowboy is cowpuncher, which is of railroad origin. Cowboys riding stock trains prod the cattle

* WEED WEASEL—Company Official Spying on Crews

WESTINGHOUSE—Air brake, also called windjammer

WET MULE IN THE FIREBOX—Bad job of firing a locomotive

WHALE BELLY—Steel car, or type of coal car with drop bottom. Also called sow belly

WHEEL 'EM—Let a train run without braking. Wheeling means carrying or hauling at good speed; also called highballing. You say wheeling the berries when you mean hauling the berry crop at high speed

WHEEL MONKEY—Car inspector

WHEN DO YOU SHINE? —What time were you called for?

WHISKERS—Quite a bit of seniority

WHISTLE OUT A FLAG—Engineer blows one long and three short blasts for the brakeman to protect rear of train

WHITE FEATHER—Plume of steam over safety valves, indicating high boiler pressure

WHITE RIBBONS—White flags (an extra train)


WIDEN ON HER—Open the throttle, increase speed

WIGWAG—A grade-crossing signal

WILLIE—Waybill for loaded car

WIND—Air brakes

WING HER—Set brakes on moving train

WISE GUY—Station agent

WOLF or LONE WOLF—Nonbrotherhood man

WORKING A CAR—Unloading a storage mail car

WORKING MAIL—Mail in sacks and pouches consigned to R.P.O. (Railway Post Office) cars to be "worked" or sorted in transit

WORK WATER—Some old-time engineers preferred to work the water (operate the injector and watch the water glass or gauge cocks). On most roads the fireman now works the water

WRECKING CREW—Relief crew. Derogatory term derived from the difficulty regular men sometimes experience in rearranging a car after it has been used by relief men

WRONG IRON—Main track on which the current of traffic is in the opposite direction

WYE—Tracks running off the main line or lead, forming a letter Y; used for turning cars and engines where no urntable is available

X—Empty car

XXX—Same as bad order

YARD—System of tracks for making up trains or storing cars. (Boomer's version: "System of rust surrounded y fence and inhabited by a dumb bunch of natives who will not let a train in or out.") Also called garden and ield. Yard geese are yard switchmen. Y.M. is yardmaster. Yard goat is switching engine

ZOO KEEPER—Gate tender at passenger station

ZULU—Emigrant family with its household goods and farm equipment traveling by rail; sometimes included even livestock crowded into the same boxcar. Zulu can mean only the car, or the car and all its contents. This ethod of travel was not uncommon in homesteading days on Western prairies. Origin of term is obscure. May have some connection with the fact that British homesteaders in Africa fled in overfilled farm wagons before Zulu marauders


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