Skip to main content

I posted this on another thread, but had been meaning to post it by itself, because I think it is worthy to stand alone as a topic of some interest. The question is the origin of the term "hi-rail". Like most people I have always thought that the term "hi-rail" came from the unprototypical height of tinplate track.  Then last year I unearthed and thumbed through a copy of 'The Model Railroad Book" by Warren F. Morgan. This was published in 1953.

In the book ( page 19),  Morgan talks about the origin of the term "hi-rail". Here is the gist:

In the late 1930s, while building one of the first "hi-rail" layouts (although the term was not then in use), his two sons decided they needed a password for their family train club. Pop suggested "Hi, Rails!" because railroad buffs in the Navy were called "rails" (Morgan was a Commander in the US Navy). In 1940 this layout was featured in Model Builder. Dick Robbins of Polk Model Craft Hobbies in NYC liked the article and was interested in promoting the use of "tinplate" on realistic model railroads and sold Charlie Penn, editor of Model Craftsman, on the idea of a series of articles on mixing scale and tinplate. They needed a name for this new hybrid and Commander Morgan then suggested "the breezy salutation Hi, Rail! "( his words) and the term caught on (and became "hi-rail"). Make of this what you will, but since the story of the origin was published in 1953 and Warren Morgan was a respected writer on the hobby, it has a certain plausibility.

Last edited by Will
Original Post

Replies sorted oldest to newest

@Will posted:

I posted this on another thread, but had been meaning to post it by itself, because I think it is worthy to stand alone as a topic of some interest. The question is the origin of the term "hi-rail". Like most people I have always thought that the term "hi-rail" came from the unprototypical height of tinplate track.  Then last year I unearthed and thumbed through a copy of 'The Model Railroad Book" by Warren F. Morgan. This was published in 1953.

In the book ( page 19),  Morgan talks about the origin of the term "hi-rail". Here is the gist:

In the late 1930s, while building one of the first "hi-rail" layouts (although the term was not then in use), his two sons decided they needed a password for their family train club. Pop suggested "Hi, Rails!" because railroad buffs in the Navy were called "rails" (Morgan was a Commander in the US Navy). In 1940 this layout was featured in Model Builder. Dick Robbins of Polk Model Craft Hobbies in NYC liked the article and was interested in promoting the use of "tinplate" on realistic model railroads and sold Charlie Penn, editor of Model Craftsman, on the idea of a series of articles on mixing scale and tinplate. They needed a name for this new hybrid and Commander Morgan then suggested "the breezy salutation Hi, Rail! "( his words) and the term caught on (and became "hi-rail"). Make of this what you will, but since the story of the origin was published in 1953 and Warren Morgan was a respected writer on the hobby, it has a certain plausibility.

I read that paperback book years ago, and immediately thought of it when I read the title of your post. It is a fun story, and who knows, it might be accurate. I still enjoy rereading the book every now and then.

I have read several stories on this question, and I am professionally interested in the answer.  All of them--including this one and its several variants (Army RR battalions in the war, etc.)--have the ring of of folk etymology, and none is likely responsible for the coinage.  The versions that claim that the size of the rail (as opposed to "scale" rail) are perhaps a little more likely but depend upon the advent of widespread use of smaller rail, and the dates are pretty fuzzy.

@palallin posted:

I have read several stories on this question, and I am professionally interested in the answer.  All of them--including this one and its several variants (Army RR battalions in the war, etc.)--have the ring of of folk etymology, and none is likely responsible for the coinage.  The versions that claim that the size of the rail (as opposed to "scale" rail) are perhaps a little more likely but depend upon the advent of widespread use of smaller rail, and the dates are pretty fuzzy.

I also thought it smacks of "folk etymology", but since this is a first hand account, Morgan would have had to been embellishing his own role, and he seems like a straight shooter, so it may well be true.

GARGRAVES' UNIVERSAL TRACKAGE  For Scale or Tinplate (the PERFECT Hi.Rail or Hi.Iron!) This is GarGraves' patented, flexible, Universal track. As the illustration shows, the steel rails (3/ 16" hiqh) and wooden ties are built to the exactly correct size and shape for 0 gauge Scale. The patented feature of construction, which eliminates spike heads (thereby permitting tinplate flanges to run perfectly on scale rail). and which permits curves of any radius to be easily bent, is built into the rail and lies below the web of the rail, and does not in the least detract from the perfect appearance of the track.

An ad on page 34, of the December, 1946, Model Builder Magazine.

http://magazine.trainlife.com/...017/08/mb_194612.pdf

Tom Stoltz

in Maine

I have no substantive backup for my understanding.  So with that said, my understanding was/is that the fastest tracks were ballasted higher than the less used tracks.  Hence Dispatchers would use the term to inform various highspeed trains to "Take the Highrail".  I think this is indicative of the New York Central "Water Level" route where there were four tracks with the Middle two at a higher level.  Pick apart my explanation to your heart's content.

Hence Dispatchers would use the term to inform various highspeed trains to "Take the Highrail".

From CSX's site: Railroad Dictionary

High Iron:  Main line or high speed track

High Rail:  The outer or elevated rail of a curved track.  Could also be an inspection vehicle equipped with rail wheels.

I think Tom's find of the 1946 Model Builder Magazine ad is the best since it is the earliest actual written reference so far.

Last edited by CAPPilot
@Tom Stoltz posted:

I thought Lewis Hertz coined it in his book, Riding the Tinplate Rails.  Check with TCA.

https://ogrforum.ogaugerr.com/...m-hi-rail-came-to-be

Tom Stoltz

in Maine

Tom,

This is a fantastic post.   Not just for the Gargraves ad, but the entire newsletter itself.   I just spent some time looking at the pictures of reader's layouts in it, and did some searching on the names.  Lots of amazing family stories.  Some good, (one of the layouts shown in Chicago was two blocks from where my dad grew up around the same time frame);   some sad  (the little boy, Gary, with the surprised look on his face passed away in 1964 at age 21).

Then the how to articles, such as making your own rotary coal dump.   That was a fun and informative read.

Thanks for posing this!

Last edited by EscapeRocks
@EscapeRocks posted:

Tom,

This is a fantastic post.   Not just for the Gargraves ad, but the entire newsletter itself.   I just spent some time looking atthe pictures of reader's layouts in it, and did some searching on the names.  Lots of amazing family stories.  Some good, (one of the layouts showin in Chicago was to blocks from where my dad grew up around the same time frame);   some sad  (the little boy, Gary, with the surprised look passed away in 1964 at age 21).

Then the how to articles, such as making your own rotary coal dump.   That was a fun and informative read.

Thanks for posing this!

That happened to me, too.  Really neat to see the 'old' stuff.  I also found the entire archive for Model Builder.  I've glanced at the Jan/Feb 1937 issue.  It is amazing how they did the modeling with what they had available at the time.

https://trainlife.com/pages/mo...der-magazine-archive

Tom Stoltz

in Maine

Not to go too far off topic:    The other day I was going thru some old files of my grandfather (he passed in 1991)I found one manila envelope with is hand writing "Electric Trains".   Believe it or not, I never really look in it when my dad gave me a bunch of old train related things.

I had no idea that for 15 years (when I got it) I was sitting on this :

In it is a totally intact, non yellowed 1942 Lionel "Catalog".  Many pages.     At the bottom of each page there's a note that some items may have limited quantity, and may use different materials due to the national emergency

I'm going to take pics of it for a later post, then seal this thing up (I don't want to sell...it's sentimental value can't be matched)

Add Reply

Post
OGR Publishing, Inc., 1310 Eastside Centre Ct, Suite 6, Mountain Home, AR 72653
330-757-3020

www.ogaugerr.com
×
×
×
×
Link copied to your clipboard.
×
×