Train 45


Train 45: Railroad Songs of the Early 1900’s (Rounder)

by Steve Leggett
Trains, beginning in the early to mid-1800s and lasting over a hundred years into the early to mid-1900s, were the life’s blood of America, transferring people, freight, and mail from one corner of the country to another. Trains were also easy metaphors for popular songs, signifying arrivals, departures, and other key stops on the long journey of life, and nothing, it has been said, makes a more lonesome sound than a far-off train whistle late at night.

This intriguing collection of train songs recorded between the 1920s and the 1950s shows how deeply the train figured in popular song, sweeping across the genres from country to jazz. Included are Wade Mainer’s early bluegrass version of “Ruben’s Train” (here called “Old Ruben”), G.B. Grayson and Henry Whitter’s poignant and disarmingly offhand “He’s Coming to Us Dead” (bodies of the deceased were frequently shipped by train to hometowns for burial in the early 1900s), and Uncle Dave Macon’s “Death of John Henry,” complete with his trademark bubbling banjo work.

Also worth noting is a field-recorded version of “The Longest Train” by convicts from the Bellwood Prison Camp in Atlanta, GA. A haunting work song that confronts loss and distance while remaining a matter of utility, the rendition presented here perfectly illustrates the multiple levels of metaphor and meaning the train carries as a symbol when used in popular folk songs.

In the 21st century the train retains all its power as an image of personal renewal, but has now also become a symbol itself of an earlier time, a less frenzied time when things appeared to have been easier to comprehend. That concept is an illusion, of course, because the most difficult time to comprehend is and always will be right now. But even so, in a world where blinking satellites whirl constantly overhead beaming streams of data Lord knows where, a far-off train whistle still remains one of the most poignant and forlorn sounds one could ever hear.

01. Steve Ledford, Wade Mainer, And Zeke Morris – Riding On That Train 45
02. Curly Fox – Wreck Of The 1256
03. Arizona Wranglers – Wreck Of The 97
04. Lullaby Larkers – True And Trembling Brakeman
05. Jolly Two – Railroad Stomp
06. G.B. Grayson And Henry Whitter – He Is Coming To Us Dead
07. Gene Mcnulty – The Lightning Express
08. G.B. Grayson And Henry Whitter – Red And Green Signal Lights
09. Wade Mainer And Sons Of The Mountaineers – Old Ruben
10. Crowder Brothers – Depot Blues
11. Andrew And Jim Baxter – K. C. Railroad Blues
12. Joe ‘Cannonball’ Lewis – Train Whistle Nightmare
13. George Edgin – Pine Knot Cannonball
14. Palmer Mcabee – Mcabee’s Railroad Piece
15. Lew Childre – Riding The Elevated Train
16. Captain Appleblossom – Time Table Blue
17. Pullman Porters Quartette – Pullman Passenger Train
18. Jerry And Sky – Orange Blossom Special
19. Home And Jethro – Poor Little Liza, Poor Girl
20. Harry Mcclintock – Jerry, Go Ile That Car
21. T. C. I. Section Crew – Section Gang Song
22. Convicts Of Cummins Farm, Gould, Ar – Rock Island Line
23. Convicts Of Bellwood Prison Camp, Atlanta, Ga – The Longest Train
24. Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet – Golden Gate Gospel Train
25. Uncle Dave Macon – Death Of John Henry
26. Sam Mcgee – Railroad Blues


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