Ho'jack = Hobo Laborer - referencing the annual influx and departure of
laborers to pick the fruit and vegetables along the old Lake Ontario Shore
The Ho'jack line was noted for the hobos that used to ride it, probably
because of the leisurely pace at which the trains ran, compared to the main
line. While the name has been extended to the entire territory and tracks
of the former RW&O by some railfans and railroaders, the Hojack was the line
along the south shore of Lake Ontario and its branches.
I searched far and wide for the origin of the term and could not
rationalize the hokey explanations about mules named jack or engineers named
jack. Anyone who's ever been in a cab of even a slow moving locomotive
knows no one there would ever hear, much less understand, something hollered
to a mule or anyone from a crossing ahead, just too much noise. Hungerford
never refers to the term in his history of the RW&O, published in 1922, well
after the RW&O was absorbed into the NYC system. From that I deduce the
term is "line" related rather than "railroad" related.
After conversations with folks in the region and hearing memories about the
hobos and their camps all along the line, and the need for temporary
laborers, I just happened to look in the dictionary. The first definition
for "jack" given in the dictionary I used was "laborer." Hobo came up
"migrant worker." Slap!! Hobo laborer > Ho'jack; not unlike lumberjack,
bootjack, steeplejack etc. A word no longer in the lexicon, if ever. It is
likely a colloquialism, a contraction, born among the towns along the shore.
That explanation isn't as cute as some of those quaint stories, but for a
nickname to apply over the entire breadth of the line, the meaning had to
originate from some definitive characteristic of that line.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it; I offer it for what it is.
>From: "joseph Klapkowski" <riverlinejoe@...>
>To: email@example.com, HudsonRiverRailLines@...,
>Subject: [FJGRailroad] From the Archives Sperry rail Service Part 5
>Date: Wed, 01 Mar 2006 04:11:56 +0000
>Okay where were we. Oh right we were starting down the Hojack which is the
>nickname for parts of the Rome Watertown & Ogdensburg. Nobody seems to know
>for sure what Hojack means. One story is that in the very early days of
>railroading, the engineer of a woodburning steam engine would come upon a
>farm and the farmer's son would race the train to the end of the field on
>the family donkey. the boy and the jack ass would stop and the engineer
>would yell out to the boy, HOOOO Jack!
>Another story i heard in the Oswego yard office was that the engineer came
>upon a donkey or cow that regularly liked to wander about the gauge of the
>track. The engineer and conductor would be obliged to get down and try to
>coax the four legged obstructionout of the way and in so doing they would
>call out whooooo Jack!
>Anyway we were heading south along the single track and I had finally
>a little of the nervousness out of me. I learned the proper way to blow for
>the crossings and somewhere along the line they explained that the red
>handled emergecy cord was to be pulled on your way out the door if a
>collision were imminent. I remember feeling pretty good about this job and
>then Jimmy came up and said I should go get a sandwich then head back to
>detector room. So off I went. I am pretty sure I did not eat anything but
>there was ALWAYS coffee brewing. It was like a Sperry thing to have coffee
>AT ALL TIMES. So off to the detector room cigarette in one hand and coffee
>in the other. It is a little tricky even at 13 MPH walking back through the
>engineroom and into the detector room. But I made it just fine and watched
>all that was going on.
>Then whoever was at the table gave a single buzz for the engineeman to
>Then the operator stood up and guess who was in the way? Well they told me
>where to stand while we were testing but not what to do once we stopped. I
>stepped out of the way and the operator went to the steps and backed up the
>car. Once stopped the chief stood up and got out. I did not know what to
>The chief came back to the steps and that is when I heard it, "Junior, get
>out here". Well down the steps I went and watched the process of running
>rail with the wand which actually has a technical term in Sperry Speak that
>I have long forgotten.
>We repeated this process a couple of times and then suddenly the chief
>motioned for the operator to get up. Junior sit down he ordered! I had
>absolutely no idea what the heck was going on. I am not sure if ivan was
>playing with me (he was) but I finally said "What do I do?" "Coun"t Ivan
>replied. Now here was a man who could spot a defect with his own eyes just
>by looking at the rust streak along the rail. He KNEW EVERYTHING there was
>to know about defective rails.
>Once again I have to stop and explain where we were. The hojack was a
>well maintained branchline. It had 105 jointed Dudley a signature of New
>York Central branches. so every 39 feet there was a joint. "There." Ivan
>said, :"there is the joint on the right here is the joint on the left. Here
>is your next joint and then this one here." Now what is this?" he asked
>pointing to the sqwiggly line on the main paper. "A joint" I replied. It
>seemed kind of funny. Remember I had just completed my Freshman year at
>Oswego. Joint had a very different meaning back then.
>"No junior!", "There are six joints on the paper but only five on the
>"Back em up!" by now we were an easy 12 rails from the offending spot. I
>gave one buzzer to stop and three to back up and then Ivan stopped him with
>the buzzer and I stood on the top step while I watched him motion for the
>car to stop. Then we went through the ritual and I learned how to sqwirt
>soapy water and then use the hand wand to find the defect. Nothing really
>just some surface running and pitting of the rail.
>we repeated the process for maybe an hour and then I was banished to the
>engineman's position for the rest of the afternoon. As I am sitting up
>now really alone for the first time my mind begins to wander. there are the
>trees that encroach on the right of way. An occassional deer or muskrat but
>the steady drone of the Cat (1407) beside me and the warm summer sun can
>really lull you into a trance. there is no deadman on the Sperry car so I
>decide to stand up and stretch. Cup of coffee would be great right about
>BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. I stop
>I look into the rear view mirror and everyone is getting out. No one is
>signaling. Then Ivan looks up at me from the ground and gets back on the
>car. The phone rings. I pick up. Junior, get back here. I stood up and open
>the door to the kitchen, walk back through the dinning room and past the
>bedrooms then oper the door to the engineroom, past the open sliding
>door and open the door to the detector room. The railroad guy is milling
>about talking on the radio, Ivan is standing there hands on hips, the other
>operator is on the groung. "Junior ! Did you see that?" I looked over the
>edge of the detector table about twenty feet away and there was an
>hole in the ground under the tracks. A sink hole! "Where did that come
>I did not know Ivan hardly at all but he did not look pleased. We had a
>discussion about whether it was there before I went over the track and I
>assured everyone that it was not. You just could not have missed a twenty
>foot hole under the tracks.
>This put the Sperry car into the hole for the afternoon. Of course the end
>of testing because the railroad didn't want you to did not mean the end of
>the Sperry man's day. We ALWAYS had the detector room swept, mopped and
>closed up before we tied the car down. How much else we could do depended
>upon whether or not we were moving.
>And that my friends is another installment of From The
>Archives.......................... stay tuned. I promise that in the next
>installment we will hear about the creamery track, invasion of the bushes
>and the 36 inch pounding. Hopefully we will make it as far as Woodard and I
>can tell you how we kept that Sperry Car shiny and clean............