Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad
|Dates of operation||1842–1891|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
The Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg Railroad (RW&O) began in 1842 as the Watertown & Rome Railroad (W&R) to link Watertown with Rome, New York on the Syracuse & Utica Railroad, later consolidated as part of the New York Central Railroad (NYC). The Potsdam & Watertown Railroad was formed at this time to link Watertown with Potsdam, New York in St. Lawrence County near Massena. In 1861 these two railroads merged as the RW&O.
A branch line from DeKalb Junction (near Canton, New York) to Ogdensburg was later built. In 1864 the RW&O constructed a line from Pulaski to Oswego and merged with the Syracuse & Northern Railroad. In 1858 the Lake Ontario Shore Railroad (LOS) was chartered from Oswego to Suspension Bridge, New York (now Niagara Falls, New York). RW&O merged LOS in 1875; by that time it was bankrupt.
The RW&O was nicknamed "Rotten Wood & Old Rusty Rails" due to its crumbling infrastructure. By 1878 the RW&O had been merged into the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad (DL&W). DL&W built the Ontario Secondary in 1882 (Beebee line) from Charlotte, New York (where the Genesee River flows into Lake Ontario) to Rochester, New York. By 1891 RW&O became a subsidiary of NYC. On April 12, 1913 the RW&O was formally merged into the NYC.
Former RW&O trackage is operated by CSX (CSXT), Ontario Midland Railroad (OMID) and the Mohawk, Adirondack and Northern Railroad. Several disconnected sections of the former line have also been converted to the Webster Hojack Trail, Cayuga Hojack Trail, and additional sections in Hamlin, Hilton and Rochester, New York.
The RW&O was nicknamed the Hojack, but its origins have multiple explanations.
- Hojack originated from the engineer of the first train, who was named Jack Welch (often called "Big Jack"). Welch used to be a farmer and was more familiar with horses than steam locomotives. When he stopped the trains he would shout "Whoa Jack!". This became Hojack over time.
- Many people fondly called the RW&O by its nickname, "Hojack." In the early days of the railroad, a farmer in his buckboard drawn by a bulky mule was caught on a crossing at train time. When the mule was halfway across the tracks, he stopped. The train was fast approaching and the farmer naturally got excited and began shouting, "Ho-Jack, Ho-Jack." Amused by the incident, the trainmen began calling their line the "Ho-Jack."
Considerable mystery has always surrounded the origin of the nickname "Hojack" applied to the R. W. & O. division. Railroad men, when asked, seemed to have but a vague idea of the reason of the term. In a letter to the Oswego Bulletin, a writer who signs himself as an "Old Engineer," writes: "I noticed recently in an Oswego paper there was some doubt as to the origin of the word 'Hojack' as applied to the R, W. & O. division of the New York Central railroad. There are a few persons on the railroad who know how the name came to be applied, but I happen to know the exact circumstances. Along in the early 70's a man named Royal and one John Tobin were employed by the R., W. & O. railroad in running trains between Lewiston and Suspension Bridge. Royal was a gruff, genial fellow and was well liked by the railroad men at the bridge. It was his habit, when after having delivered his cars at the bridge, he was ready to return, to stand at the officer door and call out to his partner in stentorian tones. 'Ho, Jack, time to be going back.' The man and the voice became inseparably connected with the railroad and when his train appeared the men would say, 'Here comes the hojack.' The name sticks to the road and the R., W. & O., is now better known among railroad men as the 'Hojack' than it is by its corporate name."
Author Richard Palmer attributes it to a slang term for a slow local passenger train or way freight. The Port Jervis Evening Gazette reported, "[w]hile the Hojack was backing down to the depot Wednesday afternoon a horse in a team attached to a wagon from the country got its foot fast between the rail and the bed of the track in a manner similar to that which a horse belonging to Thomas Cuddeback was ruined some time ago. It was with great difficulty that the horse Wednesday was saved from a similar fate. The foot was got out just in time to get out of the way of the train."
A subsequent story in the same newspaper supports that explanation, saying "[t]he name Hojack, which the Gazette gave to the way train leaving here for the west at 1:30 in the afternoon, sticks closer than a brother, and the train is now generally known by that name." NYC attempted to ban the name by way of an edict released in 1906.
- Webville & Hypertext RR
- Freeman, Rich and Sue (2003). Take Your Bike: Family Rides in the Rochester Area. pp. 38–44,80–83, 101, 107–109. ISBN 1-930480-02-4.
- Batzing, Dick. "The Hojack Line Story".
- Rome Daily Sentinel March 1, 1904 page 5
- The Port Jervis Evening Gazette, October 28, 1879
- The Port Jervis Evening Gazette, February 5, 1880
- "Edict Against Hojack". Syracuse Post Standard. 1906-01-12.