Established to serve the communities along the shore of Lake Ontario, a rail line founded in 1871 was active for nearly 100 years. Over the years the line was operated by several different rail companies and was officially known as the Lake Ontario Shore Railroad, but everyone called it the “Hojack.”
With no documentation, local stories and legends emerged over the years. Like the old game “telephone,” stories changed as they passed from person to person or in this case generation to generation. Because of this, we may never know the true origin of why this rail line is called “Hojack.” For the enjoyment of our readers here are several versions of the “true story.”
Hojack originated from an engineer named Jack Welch who was also called “Big Jack.” Since Jack was a farmer and more familiar with horses than locomotives, when he stopped the train, he would say “Whoa, Jack.” This became Hojack over time.
Another story comes from the early days of the railroad when a farmer driving his buckboard pulled by a mule was caught on the crossing at train time. When the mule was halfway across the tracks, it stopped. The train was approaching, and the farmer began shouting, “Ho Jack, Ho Jack.”
Local author Arch Merrill noted the nickname stems from a similar popular mule story where a farmer’s mules. balking and bucking at the sight of a steam train, stood on the rails, causing the train to stop. The farmer called “Ho, Jack. Ho Jack,” to heel the mules and move them from the track and the name stuck.
Richard Palmer, a railroad historian, proposes that the term applies to a slow local passenger freight train.
Yet another story written on July 22, 1965, in Greece Press states, “This line [was] nicknamed “The Hojack” when it was necessary to hurriedly assemble a train crew in the wee hours of the night; the call “Ho Jack!” would boom through the rooming houses where railroad men stayed.”
Other stories state that vagrants riding the rails were classified by railroad men into three categories – the hobos, the tramps, and the hojacks, each one having a different personality.
Which of these stories do you believe or have you heard another version?
On a final note, it was reported in a 1906 Syracuse Post-Standard article that the railroad prohibited its employees from using the word “hojack.” Apparently, the railroad’s decree did no good because the old rail line will forever be called the “HOJACK.”
NOTE: More information on the Hojack Line can be found in the book The Hojack Line Remembered by Richard Chait available in our museum gift shop or through the Monroe County Public Library system.
Also you can look at the 2016 Hojack Trail Feasibility Study by Burton & Loguidice.