Southern Pacific Lines

Coast Line Division 

“The Route of the Octopus”


S.P. Railroad Terminology

  1. 12 hour trick- work day

    "a good shove"          - what head end engineers call a certain expertise for helper service

  1. a.m. trick          - 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

  2. articulated- a steam locomotive with two sets of driving wheels under a single boiler; articulated locomotives have wheel

  3.                                     arrangements such as 2-8-8-4 or 4-6-6-4; articulated rolling stock like some old pax cars or modem double-

  4.                                     stack cars share trucks between adjacent carbodies

  5. back up Mallies- cab-forwards called by engineers

  6. bad order         - a command placed on a card tacked to a defective car when examined by the car inspector

  7. block- a section of track defined for the purpose of controlling trains

  8. bridge traffic- freight received from one railroad to be moved by a second for delivery to a third; also “overhead traffic”

  9. button job- CTC / dispatcher job

  10. call boy- responsible to call the train crews for work

  11. caboose rocket- when a caboose train slack catches, employees fly inside

    cannon-ball               - an extra hours pay for working air)

  1. Class 1 railroad- a railroad with average annual gross revenue greater  than $255.9 million 

  2. Class 2                        - $20.5 - 255.9 million

  3. Class 3                        - under $20.5 million; 1997 figures

  4. cockpit check - inspection of engine cab and controls

  5. consist- a group of locos; or, the make-up of a train, often expressed as a list of cars in a train

  6. covered wagons- F-units

  7. crossover         - two tracks switches laid back-to-back to allow trains to move  from one track to another parallel track

  8. crotch switch-

  9. cut         - several cars attached to an engine, or coupled together by themselves; a group of cars destined to stay

  10.                                     together for a  time; also a right of way that has been excavated across a high area rather than run over or 

  11.                                     tunneled through it

  12. deadhead         - to move in a train not to support its operation but to be properly positioned for later work; can apply to

  13.                                     railroad employees as well as equipment

  14. deck- 3600/3700 series 2-10-2

  15. depart single- only the head end power

  16. derail- to leave the rails; also a device placed on the track, usually on a siding to prevent cars from rolling on to the

  17.                                     mainline and causing a major collision

  18. died on law- could no longer work because of the 12 hour Hog Law

  19. died on hrs of service - freight crew working 16 hours

  20. dog house-

  21. door- box car position at a warehouse door

  22. double heading- the use of two locomotives with two separate crews to pull

  23. doubling         - cutting a train in two to make a grade because of inadequate power

  24. dynamic braking        - an auxiliary system that uses locomotive traction motors as generators producing a powerful braking effect

  25. fan trip-

  26. fire lighter-

  27. five thousand- 5000 series, three cylinder 4-10-2

  28. garden- where perishable packing sheds were located

  29. going for beans- going to dinner

  30. hanging a car-

  31. head end cars- mail, baggage and express cars, so called because they were usually positioned just behind the locos the

  32.                                     passenger trains they moved in

  33. hearing the bark - engine noise

  34. helper- a locomotive added to a train for a portion of its run to provide extra power to climb a grade; called a

  35.                                     “pusher” if added to the rear of the train

  36. herder-

  37. highball- a signal from a crew member to an engineer by hand motion, lantern, or radio to proceed; from old-time

  38.                                     ball signals that were hoisted high to show “clear”

  39. hog law- under Federal Hours of Service Act a crew could only work 12 hours before a required rest period

  40. hogheads         - engineers

  41. hoopin' ‘em up- order hoop

  42. hotbox- an overheated wheel bearing which, if left undetected, can burn off and cause a derailment

  43. in the hole- on a siding, usually to allow another train to pass

  44. interchange- junction of two railroads where cars are transferred between them

  45. interlocking- an arrangement of track switches and signals that are mechanically or electronically linked so that

  46.                                     conflicting routes are impossible to set up

  47. joint - connection of two cars

  48. knocking down- what you do to retainers

  49. meet- when two trains approach from opposite directions and pass, one using a siding

  50. mixed train- a train carrying both freight and passengers, the latter either in passenger cars or in the caboose

  51. mudhen- old 4020 series steam locomotives

  52. oil cans- oil cars

  53. old kettle         - old steam engine

  54. on sheet         - a train passing a reporting station is recorded on train sheet

  55. on the advertised       - at the same time as that shown in the public timetable-on time

  56. on the ground- derailed

  57. one empty- a 25-ton caboose

  58. OT         - on time

  59. patching a crew- relieved by a new crew

  60. per diem         - the daily rental paid by one railroad for the use of the cars of another

  61. piggyback- the transportation of highway truck trailers or containers on flat cars

  62. “pops” set up- air brake retaining valves set

  63. pool “single end”        - A single-ended pool is like a turn, with crews operating out and back from their terminal.

  64. pool ‘double end”      - A double-ended means crews from both ends work back and forth.

  65. pretty short - not enough power to climb a grade, need helper service

  66. “protect” yard job-

  67. pulling the pin- uncoupling a car

  68. roll-by- visual inspection of a moving train for any unsafe conditions

  69. rolling stock- cars and or locomotives

  70. run around- a maneuver in which the locomotive is uncoupled from its train, run past the train on another track, and

  71.                                     uncoupled to the other end of the  train

  72. sailor train - Navy troop train

  73. set offs-

  74. sit on lead-

  75. soak                           - Relatively low-temperature steam was exhausted and quickly condensed in cool weather. Most SP locos that    

  76.                                     could be called "soaks" had slide valves--or piston valves with no dry pipe. Using saturated steam, (i.e. not

  77.                                     superheated). Saturated steam is "wet," superheated steam "dry," thus the term "soak."

  78. soft puffing - exhaust coming out slow

  79. solid train of “roots”- sugar beet train

  80. "subs”                        - short for suburban car

  81. sure spots         - locations along industry track where specific cars are spotted

  82. stealing initial- Initial Terminal Delay; extra pay a crew could claim if their train failed  to depart the terminal within 1 hr

  83.                                     and 15 min.

  84. “swing” helper- helper cut in mid-train

  85. switch is wrong- a switch is wrong when it is lined against you

  86. taking beans- crews would take on coal

  87. tramp                        - A Roustabout Job where he does anything needed in a freight yard.

  88. traveling light- a locomotive running by itself without other cars

  89. tying up-

  90. unit train         - a train carrying a single bulk commodity, usually coal or grain, from one shipper to one one consignee        

  91.                                  without any switching or classification en route

  92. varnish- a slang term for a passenger car or a passenger train, derived from the coats of varnish applied to wood    

  93.                                     passenger cars


    "weed weasel"            - slang for a trainmaster conducting efficiency tests of train crews

  1. wye         - an arrangement of tracks forming the letter Y used for turning cars and engines

Dictionary of RR terms

  1. There's a book called RAIL TALK, A Lexicon of Railroad Language, collected and edited by James H. Beck, 1978. ISBN 0-931408-00-8

Southern Pacific Lines
Glossary of S.P. Railroad Terminology
Railroad Terminology
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