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Oconto County WIGenWeb Project
formatted and posted by RITA
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Scenes from Oconto County Past.
What is left, or what was left until recently, of the old days.

How the very old city of Oconto got the nickname "Jab Switch"

Don't be caught asleep at the switch!

My understanding (from old stories) is that their were several railroads that converged in the old City of Oconto. Some of these regularly hauled logs in to the mills, others hauled cut lumber out to various distribution centers in major cities such as Milwaukee and Chicago, there were passenger trains in several directions, trains that hauled farming products, trade good, factory goods, materials for making goods, coal for factories and the railroad engines, salt for winter roads, live cattle and fowl to stockyards and markets (no refrigeration), and more. Some trains to be sent to sidetracks to wait to be loaded and unloading or for other trains to pass in the opposite direction. It was a busy place and the tracks were constantly being “switched” to route the trains in the right directions.
The poor souls who manned the switches carried “Jabbers”, which were wooden or metal poles with a hook and heel on one end, to move/jab the switches that moved the tracks to connect properly. They were given signals from a person stationed in a tower overlooking the switches as to how to set the switches, sometimes several at a time. The tower man would yell “Jab Switch” down to the pole man on the ground to get his attention and then signal which switchs to move to which tracks....usually in a hurry for the next train was right behind the one he was switching. “Jab Switch” was yelled so often, day and night, that it stuck as a city nickname. The pole men were also responsible for shoveling snow around the actual switches and the switch tracks they controlled. They did this at night by lantern as well as daytime. Some of the old switches were locked with a sturdy key to keep them from being thown when they were not supposed to be.

 I have not seen this in writing, but it was passed down in the many generations of my pioneer family.
Rita – Oconto County WIGenWeb Coordinator


Railroad switch (left) and tracks (right) similar to the old ones of over 115 years ago
. These are not as old, though. 

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