Terms and Slanguage
Names for the caboose
included hack and crummy.
The switchman (or
head brakeman on road trains) that pulled the pins during switching operations
was called the pin man.
The switchman (or rear brakeman on road trains) that lined the switches
and caught handbrakes during switching operations was called the field
If a crew kicked cars
during switching operations, that was called "flat switching".
If cars were shoved over a mound (hump) and the cars rolled down into
tracks under their own momentum, that was called hump switching.
Another name for train
orders was "flimsies."
A yard clerk was called
a mud hop (I started my railroad career as a mud hop).
On a freight train,
the conductor is in charge of the work on the ground. On a switch
engine, the footboard yardmaster is in charge of the work on the
- The Missouri Pacific did not have dynamic brakes on its engines. The
MOP was a powerbraking railroad.
The engineer kept
a steady hard pull on the train with his engine, often leaving the engine
in run 8 almost to a stop. If you had a train running 50 mph, if the throttle
was not in run 8, you put it in run 8, and then about 1.5 to 1.25 miles
from where you wanted to stop you made a 6-pound reduction of the train
line. The MOP carried an 80-pound trainline on its freight trains. Some
railroads carried the minimum 70 pounds, while many carried the maximum
90-pound trainline. A 6-pound reduction made with the automatic brake
valve (keeping the engine brakes released) caused the car brake valves
to put 15 pounds of pressure into each car brake cylinder. Each additional
pound of trainline reduction put 2.5 pounds of pressure into the car brakecylinders.
After making the initial reduction of 6-8 pounds, we followed with 2-pound
Often, a 6-2-2 combination
was sufficient to stop a 100-car train in 1.25 miles, even with the engine
pulling hard to keep the train stretched. We had a saying for when we
got a knuckle- "I got 6, 2, and 2, and when I stopped I was in two." I
told that to the road foreman of engines on the occassion of my getting
2 knuckes at once, and he made me drive 150 miles to Baton Rouge to discuss
it after I tied up.
The advantage of power
braking was that it was very smooth for the people riding the caboose-
no slack action. Also, when we started the train moving, you could put
the engine in a much higher throttle position, say run 4, because as soon
as the engine moved, the caboose moved. I have had a train so tight that
my engine moved only 1 foot and the conductor said "all moving." With
the new EMD power (GP35s, GP38s, and SD40s), you could start a train without
having to take slack. On a long, heavy train with the GP7s and GP9s, and
sometimes with the GP18s, you may have to take slack to get the train
moving. When taking slack, you either took just a little (4 or 5 cars),
or you took slack on the whole train. This was so prescribed in the Air
Brake and Train Handling Instructions, and was on the engineer's exam.
Wheel slip was an
engineer's worst nightmare when starting a train. If the wheel slipped
and then grabbed, the train would be yanked in two if you were not quick
on reducing the throttle. We always stopped the engine on sand (except
within interlocking limits) so that we would have some good traction when
More Rail Slanguage (picked-up from numerous sources):
ABS - automatic block signal. This is a system for controlling trains.
The track is divided into a series of blocks which are controlled by block
signals activated by the presence of a train.
- a normal locomotive that has a control stand (different than a B-unit).
Normally only used to differentiate a locomotive from a B-unit where they
may share a similar body or engine. F7 locomotives were made in both A-unit
and B-unit styles, for example.
- ridge on the front of a locomotive so that in case of a collision with
another vehicle, it doesn't ride up into the locomotive cab
- locomotive which has a diesel engine and generator but no cab.
Wagon - a cab unit, or more generally, a fully cowled locomotive.
- the covering over the working parts of the locomotive. A fully-cowled
locomotive has no walkways on the outside; the long hood extends straight
back from the cab.
- centralized traffic control. This is a system of track control where
an RTC controls the signals and switches along the track and thus controls
the trains on it.
Line - A railroad with trackage within and/or around a city, operating
as a pickup, delivery and transfer facility for truck lines and industrial
System - A system of railroad tracks divided into short sections or
blocks, usually three or four miles in length, which will permit trains
to be run by signal apparatus so that no train can enter a block until
the preceding train has left it.
Line - A line serving one or more stations beyond the point of junction
with the main or another branch line.
Gang - When a number of extra trains (not regularly scheduled freight
runs) are put into service, regular crews may be assigned to take such
trains in turn. When this occurs, train crews are said to be operating
in chain gang service.
Head / Dead Heading
- A railroad
employee traveling as a passenger. The
employee performs no service in such travel status, and he/she is paid
for his/her time while in travel at an hourly "dead head" rate.
chasing - A crew change out.
Double the hill
- the train is split in half to get up a grade.
Track - Two main tracks, one of which the trains run in one direction
and the other in the opposite direction.
Drag - Describes
the movement of a heavy train, such as a coal drag
Dump the air
- Emergency application of the air brakes causing a train to stop abruptly
Board - A list of employees who may be assigned to train crews (1)
when extra trains are run, (2) when regular crews have not had sufficient
rest time before they can legally be required to return to duty, or (3)
when relief men are required on regular crews.
- people who gathered along the tracks to watch trains.
- A third set of rails placed in between two other sets of rails to carry
wide loads through tunnels.
- Trainman's suitcase
Guinea - Usually a new worker unfamiliar with job requirements.
- Running at maximum permissible speed
- Side track on a single track line which permits another train to pass.
- to move a rail car or locomotive from one railway to another. This usally
takes place at an "interchange point".
track - series of turnouts leading to parallel tracks
- paint scheme, manner in which equipment is painted (e.g. stripes, bars,
colours, logos), usually for a locomotive
a.k.a main, iron, high iron, high rail
- means when you approach the limit of your track warrant and have not
received a new warrant, you mosey up to the limit prepared to stop.
MU - multiple
unit; slaving of two or more diesel electric locomotives together, controled
from the control stand of only one of them, usually the lead locomotive.
Bill - A worker who refuses to join the union, particularly train
train - intermodal train, originally piggyback
- occurs when a tractor trailer is placed (usually without the tractor)
on a flat car or specially-designed rail car. See also TOFC.
mover - drives a generator which produces electrical power to drive
the traction motors. There is usually one traction motor on each axle.
the pin - uncouple
it on the ground
- the train has derailed
a locomotive built to help trains up steep grades by pushing from behind
- OR -
Team leader responsible for seeing that work gets done on schedule.
a Red Block - Enter a circuit without clearance from the control tower.
Ball - A fast freight train.
- An auxiliary track along the main line which is used to permit other
trains to pass. (See Hole.)
arrester (arrestor) - device on the exhaust of a locomotive to keep
sparks from flying out and starting fires. These are often quite distinctive
on MP equipment.
- park a rail car.
generator - equipment to generate steam to heat passenger cars in
the early age of diesel. Some diesel locomotives have steam generators
in them; steam was passed to the attached passenger cars by interconnected
- short for Trailer On Flat Car; when a tractor trailer is placed (usually
without the tractor) on a flat car or specially-designed rail car.
- A work shift or hours of duty.
- A train run from a terminal to an intermediate station and return to
that terminal in one work shift.
Varnish - private
railroad passenger car, a.k.a "private varnish"
- baffle placed over the radiator fan on some locomotives used in colder
climates to retain heat in the locomotive
it in the hole - Apply emergency brakes.
On the high iron,
let the big dogs walk - the caboose is over the switch and on the
mainline so open the throttle all the way on the locomotives
All black, well
stacked, goin' down the track clickity clack - the train looked good
on the visual roll-by inspection.