Jerkwater reconsidered

This obviously puts a whole new light on “jerkwater,” but in a strange way it comes full circle and may explain the use of the term (by whoever used it, even if it wasn’t the actual train crews). A town where the locomotive “jerked water” from a trough between the rails was, by definition, a town where the train did not ordinarily stop at all, i.e., an unimportant, probably very small town. So while we may have lost that quaint story about a bucket brigade, we’ve gained a technically fascinating explanation of the phrase “jerkwater town.”

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2 comments on this post.
  1. Dale Martin:

    The spout on the water tank had a long chain with a handle on the end. The Fireman had to climb up on the tender and literally “Jerk” the handle to fill the tender from the tank. Of course, the poor guy had to line up the spout first with the appropriate hatch on the top of the tender. The “scoop” expalnation is not strictly correct, and does not reflect the actual practice of refilling the tender in stations that were “Water Stops” and listed as such in the Railroad Timetables of that era. Yes, they had heaters in the winter to keep the water from freezing in these trackside tanks, the tender did not need one as there was usually a steam heat line to the tank.

    I spent twenty years on various Railroads, and got this information from the old timers who worked during the time of steam engines..

    There is often confusion as well in the use of the word “station” in employee timetables, which leads to all sorts of misinterpretations. The official Railroad meaning of “Station” is any location designated as such in the timetable and it could mean many things besides “a place where people board the trains”.

  2. Jack Larue:

    Writing a book, looked up jerk water on differerent cites. Even had a picture of men scooping buckets of water from a pond on one. I’m going to use the term Jerk Water, seems like the most interesting lingo then bucket brigade, that is used, as I have found to fireman or someone throwing water on a burning building. Just my opinion.

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