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Posted by Smokey Stover on March 26, 2009 at 02:04

In Reply to: Highball posted by ESC on March 25, 2009 at 12:35:

: : Highball - - - What is the origin?

: : I've heard if described as an alcohol drink, and "high" being what you get form it, but it doesn't sound likely.

: : Railroads have used Highball for years to mean "Take off" or "Go fast" or "Track open ahead". Before the days of hand-held radios, every railroad yard had a tall pole with a rope attached, like the configuration used to raise a flag. When the track was clear, or it was time to move on, they would raise a large red "ball", therefore, 'high ball'.

: : But what was the first use?
: : Where does the drink phrase come from?
: : Did the railroads steal the idea?
: : How old is the term?

: "When the word "highball" appeared in 1898 ("ball" was a bartenders' slang for a glass in the 1890s, a "high ball," a tall glass) it meant a Scotch and soda...but soon "highball" meant any kind of whiskey and soda." "

: "Herb's Hot Box of Railroad Slang" by J. Herbert Lund (1975, Jay Herbert Publishing Co., Chicago) says, "In the early days a ball was raised on a trackside staff as a signal to 'proceed." Today , the signal is given by waving a hand or lamp in a high, wide semicircle." Page 16.

:Famed in song and story was the "Red Ball Express" of World War II. After the Normandy landing, Allied army units were driving hard into what had been Festung Europa, and had no usable railway system in France (since it had been largely destroyed to deny it to the Germans). So truck convoys were maintained to try to keep up with the troops, and largely succeeded. They called these convoys the Red Ball Express, using a term previously used by railways for express shipments.

Apparently morale was high among the drivers on the "Red Ball Express," and rightly so. It was an enormous logistics success, to which tribute has frequently been paid. As a footnote, about three-quarters of the drivers were African-Americans, who, as a class, were then generally excluded from actual combat.