My grandfather began his career as a lawyer working for the Southern Railway. I remember as a child stopping at railroad crossings as trains rumbled by and learning the names of the cars: boxcar, tank car, hopper car, caboose.
Even then I was struck by the poetry of railroad names. Seaboard Coast Line was then the local favorite, the home team of sorts, but its name began to be replaced by another and sightings became less frequent and more faded. Other names came and faded as well: Central of Georgia, Chesapeake & Ohio, Burlington Northern, and more.
Railroad language extends well beyond company monikers past and present and is imbued with a particular romance. “Rolling stock” is the phrase for vehicles that move on a railway. Reporting marks, in use for more than a century, are alphabetic codes of a few letters that are inscribed on each car to identify its owner.
This work is about the language and poetry of railroads.