“Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in Folksong” by Norm Cohen (University of Illinois Press, 2000, 768 pages.)
From “Long Steel Rail,” some old time numerology:
“Train 45” and “Reuben’s Train” are musically the same. The verses that occur in the various versions can be arranged into several groups.
A. Stanzas concerning Reuben, an engineer with a drinking problem and occasionally other distasteful habits.
B. Stanzas in which the narrator pleads with his true love for a sign of affection, or threatens to leave her.
C. Here we are told of a wanderer who wants, or is trying, to get back home to his true love.
“If the train runs right, see my woman Saturday night.
I’m nine hundred miles away from home.”
The distance from home is generally 900 miles, with 500 the second most common. Ten thousand and 400 miles have also appeared.
(Edited, from “Long Steel Rail”)
See also the classic companion LP, featuring the Rouse Brothers, Grayson and Whitter, Tenneva Ramblers, Carolina Tar Heels, Mainer’s Mountaineers, Carter Family, Blind Alfred Reed, etc: