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What a way to run a railroad

Posted by ESC on March 02, 2004

In Reply to: Railroad expressions posted by Edie Jud on March 01, 2004

: Can anyone help me identify the origin of the phrase "That's no way to run a railroad!" ???

WHAT A WAY TO RUN A RAILROAD (RAILWAY) -- "Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable" revised by Adrian Room (HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 1999, Sixteenth Edition) put me on the right track. I was looking for "that's no way." with no luck. The phrase is "What a way..."

A second reference had more information: The phrase is sometimes "hell of a way to run a railroad." This catch phrase is "directed at more or (mostly) organized chaos: US, then UK. From an American cartoon of the 1920s: signalman coolly surveying a number of trains colliding beneath his box." From "Dictionary of Catch Phrases: American and British from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day" by Eric Partridge, updated and edited by Paul Beal, Scarborough House, Lanham, Md., 1992)