*Honk Honk*…. Meanwhile back at the……

Category Archives: Trains

A mixed train is a freight train with a passenger car or two rather than a caboose.    Sometimes the combine car will have a cupola above the baggage compartment.  Mixed trains are used on those branch lines or short lines which have very little need for passenger service but yet the railroad must provide daily accommodations.


A “local” is a train that only goes to the immediate vicinity or stops at every little town/station.  A local passenger train would be one that stops at every station.  It connects to the express train which only stops at major or connecting stations.  A local freight is the one that delivers and picks up at all the sidings at the customers request.

This is the opposite of the previous entry.  To kick a car the locomotive will give it a tiny shove.  The brakeman, who is right next to the car or on the ladder, will lift the coupler bar.  This will cause the car to roll down the track and contact the other cars or a bumper.  Probably not good for the load.

These are not rolled but made.  To make a joint is to cause to cars to couple.  A brakeman will tell the engineer “2 feet to a joint, 10 inches to joint”.  When the cars couple he will say “joint made”.  This lets the engineer, who may be where he can not see or her, know the approximate distance he needs to move and when to stop.

No, we are not talking about Superman or The Hulk.

Bending the iron is an old term for throwing a switch machine.  A modern switch machine has a set of points, tapered rails that actually come to a point.  These are hinged so throwing the switch machine doesn’t bend anything.  However, switches use to be made in a style called a “stub switch”. In that design the approaching track is loose for several feet.  To change the route they would actually bend the rails to select which track the train would take.  Hence the term, “Bending the Iron”.

A “hotbox” is not a box at all.

The term hot box refers to a hot wheel journal which indicates impending failure of that axle.  In the old days of cotton packing and grease, such a journal would usually catch on fire.  Modern roller bearings simply shatter spectacularly.

Now-a-days, with no cabooses, the railroads rely upon track side detectors.  If the detector senses a hot journal, the train crew slows down and sets the car on a siding as soon as possible.  The dispatcher sends out a car knocker to jack-up the car and replace the axle.  The new axle, of course,  has new journals. Once repaired, the next available train picks up the car and takes it on it’s way.

The Dance of the Railroad Track Worker.  The following is adapted from wikipedia.

Gandy dancer is a slang term used for early railroad workers who laid and maintained railroad tracks in the years before the work was done by machines. The British equivalents of the term gandy dancer are “navvy” (from “navigator”), originally builders of canals or “inland navigations”, for builders of railway lines, and “platelayer” for workers employed to inspect and maintain the track. In the U.S. Southwest and Mexico, Mexican and Mexican-American track workers were colloquially “traqueros”.

There are various theories about the derivation of the term, but most refer to the “dancing” movements of the workers using a specially manufactured 5-foot (1.52 m) “lining” bar, a “gandy”, as a lever to keep the tracks in alignment.

Though rail tracks were held in place by wooden ties (sleepers outside the U.S.) and the mass of the crushed rock (ballast) beneath them, each pass of a train around a curve would produce a tiny shift in the tracks. If allowed to accumulate, such shifts could eventually cause a derailment.

For each stroke, a worker would lift his gandy and force it into the ballast to create a fulcrum, then throw himself forward using the bar to check his full weight making the “huh” sound recorded in the lyrics. It took many such dances to get any noticeable movement of the rails. This was all done in unison to thew rhythm of a chant or song

The process is explained at the Encyclopedia Alabama folklore section:
“Each workman carried a lining bar, a straight pry bar with a sharp end. The thicker bottom end was square-shafted (to fit against the rail) and shaped to a chisel point (to dig down into the gravel underneath the rail); the lighter top end was rounded (for better gripping). When lining track, each man would face one of the rails and work the chisel end of his lining bar down at an angle into the ballast under it. Then all would take a step toward their rail and pull up and forward on their pry bars to lever the track—rails, crossties and all—over and through the ballast.”