Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Lost on the Rails

Tragic death and a departing lover are recurring themes in the genre of train songs.

Horrible train wrecks were an all too common occurrence in the days of steam locomotives. Many of the more spectacular wrecks have been remembered in song. The heroic actions of Casey Jones is said to have saved the lives of the passengers on the Illinois Central’s Cannonball. The wreck of the Southern Old 97 was caused by a combination of speed, a steep three-mile grade, and a curved trestle. These events are remembered today because of the songs that have survived long after the terrible events.

Another common theme in train songs is that of the departing lover. Of course, trains didn’t bring about the jilted lover or the spouse leaving home for greener pastures. That theme has probably been sung as long as people have been singing, but the train, like the ships before them and the buses after, provided a means of transportation that carried a loved one quickly out of sight to far off places.

J. E. Mainer and his brother Wade grew up in the rural mountains of western North Carolina. The train carried lots of their friends and kin off to the false promise of a better life in the textile mills. J. E. and Wade would make the trip themselves one day in search of a steady income.

Searching through the music of J. E. Mainer’s Mountaineers and Wade Mainer, I found a couple of songs that cover all of these themes. Songs of mountains, an abandoned lover, and gruesome death.

J. E. Mainer's Mountaineers - The Longest Train.mp3

Wade Mainer - Train Carry My Girl Back Home.mp3


Anonymous john said...

Here's an interesting link on the Casey Jones story:

The "Payouts" for injury seem ridiculous today but I'm sure $1ºº for being "jarred" was pretty good compensation in 1900.

It's funny how railroading gets in one's blood. I worked for the IC for a few years during the 60's, until I got drafted, and I still consider myself, in some way, a "Railroad Man". It was the same with my dad, who was a messenger boy for the EJ&E during the 20's. I still slow my car down when I hear crossing bells in hopes that I'll "catch the train" and sit there pleasantly occupied with dreams of my youth while the rest of the road is incensed at the prospect of waiting for the train to pass. For me, the rumble of the cars is the sweet music of commerce, of labor, of life.

One of my great wishes is that the railroads would bring back the caboose. They serve no purpose anymore but trains seem to have no sense of closure without them.

March 08, 2007 9:30 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Hey John, Thanks for the link on Casey Jones.

Great stories! Railroading, whether as a railroad man or railroad bum, does get in your blood.

The plant where I work has over 26 miles of track with 2 feeder lines from CSX and Norfolk Southern. All day long tank cars and hoppers are moving about. The Norfolk Southern Agency Office on the edge of the plant where I work still has a caboose and uses it on the spurs to all of the chemical plants in town, although I haven’t seen it for a few months. I too miss the caboose. Your description, “no sense of closure”, is spot on.

March 08, 2007 7:42 PM  

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