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Re: Railroad Bull

Posted by ESC on December 29, 2001 at

In Reply to: Re: Railroad Bull posted by R. Berg on December 29, 2001

: : The discussion of "screws" in prison got me wondering (which is why I like this site) about the origin of the railroad "bull". The bull policed the train, throwing freeloaders off, particularly during the Great Depression. Any input about where the term originated?

: Dict. of Amer. Slang gives as one sense of "bull" "A policeman; a law enforcement officer of any kind, as a uniformned policeman, detective, plain-clothes man, F.B.I. agent, prison guard, railroad policeman, or the like. . . . Prob. earlier than c1800 . . . Orig. hobo and underworld use; since c1920 very common with all ranks of the underworld. Prob. of gypsy orig. from Sp. sl. 'bul' = policeman, reinforced by the image of a bull as big and aggressive. Often used in combinations to designate the type of law enforcement officer. Cf. cinder bull, fly bull, harness bull, yard bull."

And here's a nice tune that uses the term:

attr. to Harry "Haywire Mac" McClintock

In the Big Rock Candy Mountain
You never change your socks
And little streams of alkyhol
Come trickling down the rocks
O the shacks all have to tip their hats
And the railway bulls are blind
There's a lake of stew
And gingerale too
And you can paddle
All around it in a big canoe
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain