Old-Timey Railroad Jargon

Posts that don't fit in the other train categories. Off Subject Chit Chat I tell you. :)
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Old-Timey Railroad Jargon

Unread post by Granite »

I listen to an Old Time Radio program from the 1930s. Some of the jargon is unfamiliar to me. Perhaps you or another RRFan can help me determine their meaning and usage. This was steam engine jargon, before diesels.

Can you help with these:

1. ) "Boomer": Some railroad job?

2. ) "High-ball": Some kind of a signal?

3. ) "Hog-Head": One of a train crew?

4.) "Palipot" or "tallipot" or "pellapot": Maybe the fireman??

5. ) "Semifore" or "Semafor": Some kind of a signal?

6. ) "Red-ball": Maybe some signal???

7. ) "Torpedo"" Some kind of a signal device ??

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Re: Old-Timey Railroad Jargon

Unread post by Trainman2223 »

1. ) 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

2. ) 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

3. ) 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

4. ) ?????

5. ) SEMAPHORE - Railway semaphore signal is one of the earliest forms of fixed railway signals. This semaphore system involes signals that display their different indications to train drivers by changing the angle of inclination of a pivoted 'arm'. Semaphore signals were patented in the early 1840s by Joseph James Stevens, and soon became the most widely used form of mechanical signal. Designs have altered over the intervening years, and colour light signals have replaced semaphore signals in most countries, but in a few they remain in use.

6. ) RED BALL - Use of the term "Red Ball" to describe express cargo service dated at least to the end of the 19th century. Around 1892, the Santa Fe railroad began using it to refer to express shipping for priority freight and perishables.Such trains and the tracks cleared for their use were marked with red balls. The term grew in popularity and was extensively used by the 1920s.

7. ) GUN—Torpedo, part of a trainman's equipment; it is placed on the track as a signal to the engineer.
Semper Fi

Dan Cluley
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Re: Old-Timey Railroad Jargon

Unread post by Dan Cluley »

I bet #4 is Tallow pot. I've seen that used as a nickname for the fireman.

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Re: Old-Timey Railroad Jargon

Unread post by C&O Dispatcher »

Torpedoes used primarily back when trains running in non-automatic block territory were required to protect the rear end of their train (unless relieved by train order). Flagman walked back from caboose required distance and placed two torpedoes on rail to alert a following train to look out for flagman ahead. Made a bang loud enough to be heard in the locomotive. Used to be Rule 99. The rules were more complicated than this, but will leave it at that!
Last edited by C&O Dispatcher on Thu Jan 21, 2021 1:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Old-Timey Railroad Jargon

Unread post by PatAzo »

#1 Boomer is still in use. There are guys in the contraction trade unions who move local to local either as a life style or following large projects. They are called boomers.

#2 Ball signals were an early type of signal. A ball was raised and lowered on chain or rope. The ball raised meant the train was clear. Hence high ball meaning o.k. to proceed. https://images.app.goo.gl/5SSehVyDn7t1JCQ5A

#4 Tallow Pot. Early steam oils were derived from tallow. A pot of tallow was kept on the back head so it was flowable. The fireman was responsible for lubrication so he was the tallow pot.

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Re: Old-Timey Railroad Jargon

Unread post by Granite »

Amazing. To each of you who responded, above: Clear, articulate and absolutely well-spoken. Looking sometimes, as I do, at various on-line "blogsites" and their total lack of concern for grammar, spelling and sentence construction, it is tremendously refreshing to read well-written posts.

Now, to your responses: You gave me exactly what I was seeking. Every one of those expressions or words are commonly used in the OTR series "The Green Valley Line". I highly recommend the series to any Railroad Fan and railroad history buff.

Each episode is a fifteen-minute program and together the episodes become a 25-segment story of railroading. It's well worth the less than $5 cost and well worth listening for one-at-a-time or running it all the way through its 4+ hour length while you work.

The background sounds used are actual recordings of train and trainyard sounds and noises and are great to hear and also very nostalgic.

Having read the explanations for my word "palipot", your definitions are correct, I'm certain. Overnight, as I listened again, even before I read your responses, I began to think the characters were saying "tallapot". I discerned from the context that a tallo'pot was slang for "fireman". The character, Spider McGee, was a boomer and always a fireman; his engineer was a "hog head".

Here's another colorful term I hear them use: "streak o' rust" for a subject railroad ("streak of rust")

Good to be aboard.

Thank you all.

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Re: Old-Timey Railroad Jargon

Unread post by hoborich »

"Take your beans". Go to dinner
"Ask your doctor if medical advice from a TV commercial is right for you".

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Re: Old-Timey Railroad Jargon

Unread post by Rick A »

Here's a fun "guide" I found online a while back.


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Re: Old-Timey Railroad Jargon

Unread post by R.E.A.P.E.R. »

Torpedo in Use

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