Hojack Roll Call
©2024, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.

"Can you imagine 4,000 years passing, and you're not even a memory? Think about it, friends. It's not just a possibility. It is a certainty." – Jean Shepherd, 1975

Colleen and I have taken up the pastime of "antiquing"—the finding and browsing through variously named and organized establishments to see what's there. If either or both of us actually purchase anything, that's a bonus; the point is to spend time together. Much of what we see in these places falls into the category of "How Much?" A sign in a shop in Maine probably said it best: "We buy junk and sell antiques."

More than half of the time, we leave without buying anything. Half of the time we do buy something, the net proceeds aren't going to keep the lights on in the shop. But once in a while, one of us comes across something irresistible.

In my case, it was a copy of the book The Story of the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburgh Railroad, Copyright 1922. The book was one hundred years old when we found it.

The Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg (I'm using the later spelling of Ogdensburg without the final "H" here) is a railroad line that has pretty much faded into obscurity, even among much of the railroad scholar community. At one time, though, within the State of New York it was second only to the mighty New York Central in terms of mileage, at more than 800—though that was still a fraction of the Central's. When it's known at all, the RW&O is also referenced using the nickname "Hojack." The origin of that name is oft debated but never confirmed. It's also not mentioned anywhere in the book, which to me means that either the nickname was coined sometime after it was written, or neither the author or its editor approved of the moniker. We know that the New York Central, which purchased the RW&O in 1891 and merged it in 1913, absolutely did not want that nickname used.

As I write this, another book has been published in an attempt to bring what is known about the line into one place. The 1922 book is used as a reference. I'll stick with that older book here, though. And that's because the 1922 volume is, predominantly in my mind, a roll call of people who worked to build, finance, manage and operate the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg.

Here are just a few examples. David C. Judson and Joseph Barnes, of St. Lawrence County, New York, were among the initial commissioners to receive and distribute stock of the Northern Railroad, an eventual connection to the RW&O (Page 13). It would wind up as part of the Rutland Railroad, which went out of business in the 1960s. William Smith and Clarke Rice were early proponents and tireless promoters of the Watertown and Rome Railroad, a predecessor of the RW&O, which was initially chartered in 1832, only three years after the first railroad in the United States (Page 26). Mr. Richard T. Starsmeare, an emigrant from Great Britian, was involved in the construction of the Watertown and Rome's northern section near Cape Vincent. He, at the age of ninety-five (!), was interviewed by the author (Pages 39 through 42).

Reading the book from cover to cover, I couldn't help but wonder whether anyone would recognize any of the names of any of the people listed inside. I certainly didn't. Perhaps descendants of the those mentioned in the book might, and might have seen them in genealogy searches including online. It's possible that a researcher took the time to enter some of these names into online resources, as a guidepost to other amateur and professional genealogists. Maybe historians might have come across some of these individuals before, particularly if they made some sort of larger contribution to the Hojack or the area in which it existed, perhaps in other artifacts of the time, or if they were officers of the RW&O.

It's possible that the most notable person in the entire book is its author. According to the title page, Edward Hungerford was also the author of The Modern Railroad, Our Railroads-Tomorrow, and other works, referred to only as "Etc., Etc." He is notable enough to rate his own Wikipedia page. Hungerford's key topic of interest was railroads although his two best selling books were Planning a Trip Abroad and With the Doughboy in France, neither of which were primarily about trains (though the railroads of Europe are certainly mentioned. He also wrote about the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the Wells Fargo Company (well before the bank), among some thirty different works. So I guess the "Etc., Etc." was warranted.

Hungerford was born in Watertown, which made him a natural to write about his hometown railroad. The fact that one Orville Hungerford was the first president of the Watertown and Rome Railroad, a predecessor of the RW&O, might also have had something to do with his interest in what would become the Hojack. Edward was a great-great-nephew of Orville.

And Edward Hungerford is hardly a household name. Had I not had an interest in one of the railroads that was once in the area to which I moved from New Jersey, and found the book about said railroad from 1922 in an antique mall, I doubt that I would have ever come across him.

For what it's worth, though, and I have no idea how much that is, Hungerford did write and have set to print, with the help of Robert M. McBride and Company, the publisher, these many stories great and small of the people who dreamed of, financed, constructed, and operated the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad. And I believe that was exactly his purpose: "To those pioneers of the North Country who Labored Hard and Labored Well In Order That It Might Enjoy the Blessings of the Railroad, The Book is Dedicated by Its Author."