Railroad slang usage past and present on the LIRR - Both unique and in general railroad use
"Nothing made the old timers cringe more then calling a
"Hack" a caboose." I remember when I first hired
on, there was a hack on main line # 4 at Hillside, as we went by on
mainline 2. I called Queens on the radio to ask if a freight was working,
or if the hack somehow separated from the back of a freight. I made the
mistake of saying "caboose" on the radio. Man, I heard it for
days... "It's a HACK, not a
caboose." I suppose as the old timers retire, and there are less people who
actually worked freights with "hacks" this will be another
tradition gone by the wayside. (Hey, that was a railroad term, too. ) Thanks for
letting me "Let off Steam"
"6 behind 2" An 8 car train with the head 2 cars closed to the public and the 6 cars behind are open to the public .. hence 6 behind 2..
"A Hot Meal" [The fireman was the only one to get paid for lunch or supper in the early contracts.] Info: JenKar2000
"Big Stink" See below: "Stink Track"
"Bomb Jobs" railroad term for lousy jobs. ["Hey what job is Bob on?" " Oh, he is working some bomb collectors job out of Brooklyn."]
Bomb could also apply to a conductor, engineer or brakeman job that worked lousy hours or a lot of trains.
"Boys in Blue" LIRR Police
"Bulls Prick" the coupling pin of an M1 or M3
"Cement Train" A very local train. Usually found going to Babylon that stops at every passenger station
"Clear the Hanger" Clearing a hanger is for the train to pull clear or stop before a hanger signal. [LIRR #6001 your arriving on 17 track, pull it all the way west and "clear the hanger" and "take it to west side".] A hanger can be created in other places in PENN also, depending on where you are located, and if the head end is past this signal and the rear end is not clear if it becomes a hanger, you'll also hear ["Engineer you got a restricting on the hanger"] See: "Hanger"
"Coffee Up" [Take a break.] Yardmaster slang,
"Crab Eyes" ALCO S2 units #439-445 (ex-D&H) and RS2
units #1519-1520 (ex-D&H) with
top hood mounted red external marker lights.
"Cut off and Runaround" [Uncouple the engine and put it on the opposite end] Info: JenKar2000
"Dead Man" the controller on an M1 or M3 spring loaded, so if the engineer lets go of the handle, the train will go into emergency; also the pedal on the floor of an engine. Engineer must keep his foot on it, or train goes into emergency (Note: Dead Man Throttle not unique to LIRR)
"Down & Back" [Take a train out of a Penn Station track, turn it on the lead and bring it back up into another station track (when a line is OOS).] Yardmaster slang, Info: BMC
"Down the Avenue" Montauk trains routed down the Atlantic Branch are said by block operators and dispatchers to be routed "Down the Avenue".
"Drag her Out" start the train on its run out of the yard Info: Richard Harrison LIRR Engineer
"Dropped The Signal" A signal that was better then
"STOP" suddenly goes to stop while approaching it. Usually a track circuit problem.
Info: Bob Anderson
"Drop" Spotting a car on a siding when the switch is facing the wrong direction. (A facing point switch) The car to be "dropped" would have the air brakes made inoperative (brakes bled off, air bottled in release, etc.). The engineer would throttle up approaching the switch (which would be lined for the main.) When coming close to the switch, another crew member would pull the cut lever, cutting the engine away, then race over the switch. Another crew member, stationed at the switch, would line it for the siding. Once the car cleared the siding, another crew member riding the car could apply the hand brake. The rulebook states that "Drops" are prohibited on passenger cars, livestock and hazardous materials. Note: Not unique to LIRR usage. Also referred to as a "Flying Switch" or a "Roll-By".
"Flyer" A train that does not stop at Jamaica ["I caught the Flyer to Babylon."]
"Frog Holler Job" Night switcher in Holban Yard with the only life you saw was a bunch of leaping and hollering frogs Info: Richard Harrison LIRR Engineer
"Garden Tracks" Garden Tracks referred to outside the roundhouse tracks. It was correct during the 1940's and sometimes called that by the old timers. The name came from the term Victory Garden during WW II and, yes, they grew a lot of vegetables. A smaller version was kept alive into the 1970's. The gardener was an ex-prisoner of war from the Battle of the Bulge, named Jackson.
"Get the Numbers off the Wood" Get the car numbers (passenger or freight) visually yourself off the cars. Goes back to when the cars were constructed of wood and you had to walk up to the car to get the number to match the waybill. See: "Off the Wood" below: Info: Bob Anderson
“Get the Toogle” The toggle phrase refers to the door toggles between each coach. This controls how many doors open on a train. If the doors are toggled all the way through, every door will open when the Conductor presses the button. If there are closed cars (deadhead cars) in a consist, the Conductor can choose to toggle them off as to not open them at each station. It is also used in route to zone off cars that are off the platform at short platforms, such as Murray Hill. See: "Good on the Switch"
"Glass Out" Running MP15s cab forward, "Glass Out" on both the LIRR and NYA. "...I've heard "glass out" referenced as far back as the Baldwin switchers on the LIRR...". Info: Kyle Mullins
"Good on the Switch" The switch (toggle) is thrown when a train is approaching a short platform. It will cut off the signal to a portion of the train. For example: If an 8 car train comes into a 4 car platform, the switch is thrown which will prevent doors from opening up that aren't on a platform.
"Hack in the Back" An employee with the last name “Hack”; when working as a brakeman, is jokingly referred to as having a caboose on the back, as LIRR crews called cabooses “hacks”.
"Hanger" A signal that hangs from the ceiling in Penn station, usually a colored Light signal. It is a signal that is just to the rear of the leading end of the train when the train is stopped between a facing point switch and a signal. The hanger would be your starting signal.
"Hanging the Chains" When we showed up for a job, one of the crew members had to walk the train to make sure the chains between the cars were hung, attached to the next car in the consist. It was a safety thing, designed to keep passengers from falling between the cars if they walked through. When we got to the rear car, we had to hang the chains across the rear. ["Hey, kid, go hang the chains."] All railroaders of a certain age would know what that means; nowadays we just lock the back door. Bob Anderson Retired LIRR
"Haul Ass for Hicksville" The old timers from the 50's used it. ["He has to haul ass to make up time"]
"He has it in with the signal and the UB" UB stands for utility brakeman. Other names include switch tender and utility assistant conductor. The UB is responsible for lining the switches so that trains can go into and out of the proper tracks and also for giving trains the signal to proceed. It's common to hear the Yardmaster tell a train he "has it in with the signal and the UB". Translation is: train has permission into the yard with the proper signal and a hand sign from the UB.
"He is a Little Low on the Air" someone who is slow or ditzy
"He Straightened all the Curves" [Joe ran a fast train last night, he straightened all the curves on the Port Jeff Branch"] Info: Bob Anderson
"HighBall for the Wall" When a float was pulled at Bay Ridge Yard, the crew would be doubling onto cars placed there earlier. New Haven trains destined for Cedar Hill were made up on the wall with the hack at the river and the engines at Eighth Ave.
"High Baller" Express Train
"High Speed Couple" collision with the train ahead. The Lynbrook accident in the 70's was a high speed couple.
"High Wheeler" Express train.
"Hogger" LIRR Engineers (not LIRR unique)
"Hounds" People who were always trying to make OT
"If it looks Good, give it a Kiss" [If the couplers line up, couple it up.] Yardmaster slang, Info: BMC
"In the Bag" service disruptions, delays, [New York is in the bag.]
"In the Hole" train is in an emergency brake application. He saw the car on the tracks and put it in the hole.
"In the Hole" means that you’re an inferior train, such as a freight, or a train that does NOT have the right of way and you are required to take the passing siding when a train superior to you is due at your location. After the meet occurred and the superior train had passed, the inferior train was allowed back on the main. Freights always went “in the hole” for passenger trains on the LIRR. And . . . westbound trains were superior to eastbound trains during morning rush hours and eastbound trains were superior to westbound trains during evening rush hours (This is approximate. The Book of Rules and/or ETT tell what the exact times are for determining superior and inferior trains) . Inferior trains always went “in the hole” when a meet was about to happen. Dave Keller LIRR Historian
"Irregular Trains" Trains without
timetable schedules. Irregular trains can be freight Extras, Specials;
which were passenger Extras, and work Extras. Info: Art Huneke
"JPs" Jamaica trains to Penn Station. Info: Richard "Dick" Kelly LIRR Train Director HALL Tower, Jamaica
"Juice" 3rd rail or overhead catenary electrical current
"Key the Gates" means to manually deactivate the gates closest to you. (i.e. a train has a sick passenger and needs to wait in the station until help arrives. While the train is in the station, the grade crossing closest to the station stays down the whole time (the others go up automatically after a set time with no train). To avoid massive traffic problems, they will "key the gates" and manually deactivate the crossing, raising the gates (even though the train is only a couple hundred feet away))
"Lay it up on the Wall" [30 track in Westside] Yardmaster slang, Info: BMC
"Let Go of the Handle" Specifically on an M-1 or M-3, the engine is equipped with a spring loaded control handle, so if the engineer takes his/her hand off of it, the train goes into emergency. Info: Bob Anderson
"Loop the P Wire" The P-wire is the break communication wire used when troubleshooting specific Electro Pneumatic brake system failures on an MU train. When the engineer in the cab breaks, the signal travels through the P-wire and tells car 7, etc. to break. In order for that to work, there must be a complete circuit--all the way from the cab, to the last car, then all the way back. When the circuit cannot be completed, usually due to a problem at one particular coupler junction, they "loop" the P-wire, meaning they go to the problem coupler, break apart the big loop and make two smaller loops.
"Lung a Car" [He pulled the drawbar out.] Info: John McCluskey
"Making a Hitch" Coupling cars Info: Jay Eichler
"Milk Run" a local that makes all stops (years ago some locals delivered milk)
"Mod Squad" LIRR Spotters checking on crews. These are special duty Conductors who check trains from time to time for various reasons. The regular crew is relieved, and the "squad" works the train. Their official title is the transportation test team, but everyone calls them the Squad, or Mod squad. Info: Bob Anderson
"Non-essential Personnel" management, "Sears Suits", [Oh, Geez, here come the Sears Suits.]
"Not so hot today, right?" Westbound coming into Patchogue Tower PD, the Railway Express man would be standing on the freight house platform with the ramp up ready to drop it in the REA car door as soon as you stopped. This was on the offside for the engineer; so we had a mark to stop at. As soon as you stopped you could hear the ramp drop. Once in while you might miss the spot and it would be a few seconds before you heard the ramp drop, at that time the old engineer used to make this comment.
“Nuthouse" The Bay Ridge Yard in its hey day was
known as the [Nuthouse] due to the seemingly
different operational hand signals compared to the other yards operated by the
LIRR. Float operations at Long Island City were handled by steam
until the ‘40s when the diesels arrived.
"Off the Wood" Goes back to when the freight cars were wood and you had to walk up to the car to get the number to match the waybill. On freight cars, where you had to identify the contents of car by matching the waybill number to the number on the wooden box car (which only ID'd the original railroad, Reporting Marks), was where the term came from according to "Old Timers".
"OK, kid, get on the hack, and back the Hogger down." [Get
on the caboose, and back the engineer into track 3] Make sure the
iron is thrown for 3 [make sure the switches are
lined for 3],
"OK, On the Seal" This is the Conductor telling the Engineer the speed control seal is sealed before leaving.
"On the Ground" was always used; never train derailment.. One guy left a switch open at Amagansett, and the rest of his career he was known as [On the Ground Brown]
“On the Hump” Freight cars with air released [on the hump] ready to be sorted over the hump into the yard.
"On the Pin" [Used when you couldn't get the pin to come up in an effort to separate 2 cars or an engine.] Info: JenKar2000
"On the Motors" Engineer assigned to electric trains.
“Owl-Eyes” MP54s and related heavyweight MU cars, in reference to their distinctive porthole front windows that give the appearance of a pair of eyes when viewed from the front.
"Owned the Track" No other trains are allowed in the area until
we left and could move freely without providing the usual forms of
protection such as flagmen. Info: Mark E. Smith
Used in a semi-official capacity as
tank engines were able to shuttle back-and-forth without turning, thus [ping-pong]
back-and-forth. Source: Art
Huneke noted LIRR Historian
"Ping Pongs" P54 coaches were named ping-pongs because of the way they rode;
bouncing back and
"Plant" Indicating an interlocking. [I'm holding you at the stop signal while the West Hempstead crosses the Plant.]
"Pocket" A stub-ended siding, or a section of interlocked track used to layup/turn trains. [We're going to turn you in the pocket]
"Polishing Rail" an equipment train, or a particular run that had a lot of trains [Oh, he's out polishing rail.]
"Pouring Seashore" sanding the rails for traction Info: Richard Harrison LIRR Engineer
"Pull Drop and Load" [A term used on the float bridges meaning to unload a float barge and then load it with empties for the trip back over to NJ] Info: JenKar2000
"Pull the Pin" retire [Did you hear Bob pulled the pin?]
"Pullman Hitch" A coupling of cars wherein the knuckles of the couplers are close enough just to drop the pins and the coupling is complete without disturbing passengers in the cars, etc.
"Put it on the Patio" Place the locomotive on one of two
tracks off the turntable where the present Morris Park roundhouse ends
(c.1970) consisting of a large concrete slab and pits
"Put on your Gun" Open the water supply value on an injector
Info: Richard Harrison LIRR Engineer
"Put the Engine on the Pit" Refers to anyplace where the engine would lay up overnight or until the next crew reports. JJ Earl
"Reacher Car" A flat car used to pull freight off car floats (not to load the apron with the engine weight) Info: Richard Harrison LIRR Engineer
"Restricting on the Hanger" You will hear the conductor tell him [Restricting on the Hanger] when they are ready to leave the station. When a train is stopped in Penn Station, there are signals BEHIND the engineers on Track 16-17 that they can't see because the cab is past the device and thus must know the aspect of the signal before they can depart. This must be verbally indicated by conductor to the engineer. If there is no switch between the engineer and the next signal, the hanger signal is not needed.
"Ride the Hump" Brakeman would climb the side ladder of a boxcar to reach the brake wheel, then, once the car was set loose on the elevated hump track (track running downhill in a classification yard), he would manually brake the car before it either hit another car or the bumper block.
"Rodgers Rangers" [Classes given to familiarize new employees with the rail road.] Info: JenKar2000
"Rounders" My Job has 3 round trips to babylon, three of the trains are locals, three are express. ["My run makes 3 rounders to Babylon...3 regulars, 3 flyers.."] Info: Bob Anderson
"Rudolph's" in the wake of the Richmond Hill disaster in 1950, they found that the engineer on the second train probably did not see the small markers on the first train.
The brakeman were given red lenses to put over the rear headlight to act as a large
marker when they ran the engine around, and affixed to the rear end of the train when
changing ends. They were called "Rudolph's" (as in red nosed reindeer) or
Rudy's. Info: Art Huneke
"Run/Dash for the Hole" a backing move from Bay Ridge 0.7% grade
into the tunnel under
"Scoot" Was a term going all the way back to the early steam days as in the "Greenport Scoot" or the "Sag Harbor Scoot" or the "Patchogue-Babylon Scoot" etc. It simply referred to a local rail shuttle service. Back and forth many times between two points, and always connecting with other trains (as at Manorville, Eastport, Bridgehampton or Babylon for example.) Info: Dave Keller LIRR Historian
"Shoving a Double up the Feeder" Long Island City move whereby the engine would shove up on a track lead, cut-off on the fly, back up for cars on another lead (tracks leading to float bridge), return for original lead cars and leave up the feeder to Yard A. Info: Richard Harrison LIRR Engineer
"Skell" Undesirable types. This is police jargon and not unique to LIRR.
"Straight Shoot" [When entering Long Beach Yard #4 track it is a straight shoot.]
"Stop the Train" [Switching and getting ready to couple. (Hitch)] Info: Jay Eichler
"Switch Tender" Utility Brakeman (Assistant Conductor)
"Take it to West Side" This means to clear you train (make sure there is no passengers on board) and bring this equipment to "WSSY" West Side Storage Yard for either storage, (getting it out of the way), layover, or to swap it out for new equipment.
"Telltail" The dangling knotted ropes that hung from a steel frame prior to an overpass or tunnel portal, to warn brakemen on the top of the car that a low clearance was approaching. It would slam the brakeman in the head as a warning that a short distance later, it would be a bridge or tunnel he'd be hitting.
"The Cut" LIRR Bay Ridge branch tracks under 8th Ave Info: Richard Harrison LIRR Engineer
"The Hole" The large switching complex just north of Jericho Turnpike, Mineola. Customers included Mineola Paper, Albertson Lumber, Local Steel, Mineola Plumbing, Latham Brothers Lumber, Windsor Coal, Pittsburgh Glass, an Iron Works Company, a candy company and another paper company at the end.
"The Southern Road" Older generation (those hired in
the 40's and 50's) employees refer to the Montauk Branch as [the
Southern Road]. This
possibly relates back to the use of call letters named for the
"Southern Division" (Montauk Branch) in the latter part of the
19th century. (See below) Rules and Regulations- Telegraphic Call
Letters 7/15/1878 Archive: Art Huneke
"This Train is Bombed" A train that took a "hard hit" from its passengers being very messy.
"Tie it Down" [Apply hand brakes and follow the rules for laying up equipment.] Yardmaster slang, Info: BMC
"Tie Up" or "Tying Up" [Take your meal break.] Yardmaster slang Info: BMC
"The Signal Dropped" A signal that was better then "STOP" suddenly goes to stop while approaching it. Usually a track circuit problem. Info: Bob Anderson
"Took the Stick" When The string use to tie the orders to the Y stick or “hoop” didn’t release, thus the entire Y stick was let go of and taken by the engineer/conductor picking up the orders on the fly.
"Top Switch" The first switch into the yard, usually the switch that sets the path to either the high side or the low side of the yard.
"Trimmed" [Bumped from your assignment]
Job assignments were determined by seniority, the lower man was "trimmed"
by the senior man. Info: Mark E. Smith
to a location where one or more tracks passes underneath one or more
tracks at a flying junction. Also referred to as a Duckunder. Examples
are the remains of the northbound Rockaway Branch track passing underneath
the mainline at Whitepot and then connecting to the mainline a short
distance west of that location; also the duckunders/underjumps located
both east and west of Jamaica station. Info: Jack Deasy
"You could grab that KO for Hillside Correctional" KO is Ronkonkoma and Hillside 'Correctional' is Hillside. After it first opened, it was primarily an office facility with lots of management personnel.
"Vomit Comet" A designation given to trains that leave New York early morning Sat/Sun consisting of all the obsessive compulsive alcoholics. See: "This Train is Bombed"
"Watch the Birdie" It's the Block operator ( or Train Dispatcher) telling the Engineer or Conductor to keep their eye on the signal, it will be "coming up" from a stop signal to a passing indication. [Hey, Divide the freight just went by at SG. OK, here we go, "watch the birdie"] see next entry.
"Watch the Low Home on the Wall" A low home signal that is attached to a bench wall and not located on the ground. You hear that coming out of West Side Yard, when you come out on the low side along the driveway near 10th Ave. There is a low home on the ground, usually near the walkway, the next signal is attached to the wall, around the bend. You can't see the low home on the wall until you are on top of it. The Block operator or Yard master is warning the Engineer, or Conductor who might be backing up a drill move, to be aware that the signal on the wall is still at stop.
"We got Company" [A transportation manager or road foreman is about to get on your train.] Usually a good engineer will let the crew know over the PA prior.
"Wheels" Female trainmen who temporarily took over for
the men serving in the military during WW II. It was understood they were temporary
positions, and as the men came back they would get their old jobs back.
They were the "wheels that kept the railroads rolling" while the men went off to war.
"Wild-Cat Trains" Extras were called Wildcat trains
and got orders to ["Run Wild"] from
point A to point B. c.1880's Info: Art Huneke
Historical Input: Bob Anderson - Retired LIRR Conductor
March 2007 issue of RMLI's Postboy regarding "HACK". Anyone have anything to add? Al Castelli
Talk to anybody who works or worked on the LIRR and mention the car that was used on the end of freight trains. They all will call it a “hack.” Ask them why it is called that and they will probably say, “that’s just what it’s called.” On the Pennsy, the caboose was referred to as a “cabin car.” Sometimes train crews called them a “crummy,” and with good reason.
Last August I was visiting Engine 39’s former home, the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook. They have on display a smaller version of the familiar stage coach seen in many western movies and TV shows. The museum’s example is an 1860 Hack Passenger Wagon. I thought I was on to something and reasoned that maybe freight crews called the caboose a hack because it was the “passenger” carrying car of a freight train.
I tried to find out some more information and found some references on the Internet. The first station wagons (the automobile type) were a product of train travel. They were originally called “depot hacks” because they were used around train depots for carrying passengers and baggage. “Hack” is short for “hackney carriage,” another name for a taxi. (Most of us have probably heard of taxi drivers being called hacks, and taxi stands being called hack stands.)
Searching for this information also led to the origin of the word “caboose” itself. One account says it was first used in reference to railroads in 1861. It comes from the nautical usage of a wooden cabin on a ship’s deck. The German word for this was kabhuse. In Middle Dutch it was kabuis, a compartment on a ship’s deck for cooking. This makes sense since the first cabooses were wooden shanties or cabins built on flat cars; hence the term “cabin car.” Early cabooses were described as having a “crummy ride,” and the cars themselves were called “crummies.”
Another account mentions “caboose” as the name of a cooking stove used on ships. American railroads used a caboose-style stove in a special car for the train crew to keep warm. The car itself became known as a caboose, and hack was used for them as well from about 1916.
The exact origin of both words in relation to railroads may be lost to time, but hopefully this little investigation sheds some light on the subject. If anyone has any additional information or theories, please email me and share them with the rest of us.