High Iron (1938)

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Mon Jul 30 00:23:47 UTC 2001

In a message dated 07/29/2001 2:05:28 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
Bapopik at AOL.COM writes:

>  CAR KNOCKER: Inspector (RHHDAS 1916.)

A car inspector carries a hammer which he uses to tap the wheels of the cars.
 If the wheel has a crack in it, it will give off a different sound.  You can
sometimes see car knockers in action on passenger trains that have reached
their terminal.

>  CAR TOAD: Car repairer (RHHDAS 1929.)

I once had a neighbor who was a car inspector for CONRAIL.  He said that a
so-called "car inspector" was really a car mechanic, which would imply that
"car toad" is redundant.

>  GANDY DANCER: Car inspector (RHHDAS 1918.)

I've always heard this one used to mean a section hand.  The most plausible
etymology I've heard is that many railroads supplied their track crews with
shovels made by a company in Gandy, Ohio.

A diplomat from Africa wandered into the Berlin Cafe in Brunswick, Maryland
(once called Berlin, MD and a long-time railroad town) and later described
the place as "a gandy bar to end all gandy bars"

>  GOOSE, TO: To make an emergency stop (Not in RHHDAS.)

also called "dynamiting" (a high-speed emergency stop in a freight train can
derail cars) or "big-holing the Westinghouse"

>  HIT THE DIRT, TO: To leap or fall off of a moving train, particularly when
> wreck is impending (RHHDAS 1902.)

According to one reference, Casey Jones's last words  to his fireman Sim Webb
before his fatal wreck in 1900  were, "Junp, SIm! Unload!"

>  JANNEY, TO: To couple (Not in RHHDAS.)

after Major Eli H. Janney (1831-1912) who invented the type of coupler used
by all US mainline railroads (except for certain Amtrak trains).  The Janney
coupler was mandated by the Railroad Safety Appliance Act of 1893

>  LIZARD SCORCHER: Train cook (Not in RHHDAS.)

Not to be confused with "ballast scorcher", a fast-driving engineer.

>  NIGGERHEAD: Steam exit on top of locomotive boiler from which issue pipes
> injector, etc. (RHHDAS 1932.)

is this an ethnic slur or a reference to the type of tobacco?

>  OPERATOR'S FIST: The distinctive, cursive type of handwriting
> of telegraph operators and train dispatchers (Not in RHHDAS.)

Probably a mistake on Beebe's part.  Any Morse code operator has a style of
sending Morse that is as distinctive as his handwriting or voice (although
with a good deal of effort it can be counterfeited.)  In my experience "fist"
refers to an operator's distinctive style.

      - Jim Landau

Here's a challenge for you: what (now-obsolete) railroad employee was known
as a "Twelfth Avenue Cowboy"?

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