|Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains(tm)
Big Indoor Trains(tm), and Creek Don't Rise(tm)
Classic Train SongsHi, I'm Paul Race, a folksinger and train-lover from my youth, and I operate several large web sites about folk music and trains (see the matrix at the bottom of this page). But this is the only one where those interests really collide.
This page contains a sort of library of songs that I think every railfan should know and that almost every railfan already enjoys. I started out just publishing links to Amazon clips to some of my favorite versions of several songs, with the idea of coming back later and adding more songs. But the ancient folk-singer and amateur historian in me insisted I tell the story of each song as well, and provide the sheet music if it's available (and not under copyright). So instead of adding more songs, I started telling the story of the songs I've already listed, dedicating a page to each song. A few songs don't have their own pages yet, and there are many more songs to add. But I think providing the history of the song (and in many cases, the history behind the song) will make this feature more useful to people in the long run.
For now I'm leaving a few of my favorite song clips on this page for easy access. But if you want to hear more clips, read the lyrics, learn the history, and (in some cases) see You-tube videos of famous folks performing the songs, click on the link to take you to each page.
If you have a favorite train song, or a favorite performer that you'd like to see added next, please contact me and I'll try to track them down. Also, if you don't see the link for a particular song, hit refresh - it seems like Amazon can never populate all of the links at the same time.
Update for 2017 - Amazon keeps breaking links to the recordings we are featuring on these pages. And quite a few Youtube videos we once featured have been blocked by the record companies. In most cases, the link has just moved or it has been reintroduced under a slightly different naame. If you search on Amazon or YouTube you can still find it.
In the meantime, we have several "new" old songs in the works. So check back.
City of New OrleansSteve Goodman's song was inspired by a train ride he took during the ill-fated McGovern campaign of 1972. But the song wasn't heard much on the radio until Steve pitched the song to folksinger Arlo Guthrie, and the rest is history. Two great sound clips of the song are listed on this page. But there are many more sound clips and other resources on the City of New Orleans page. To learn more about the song, see the lyrics, and hear many more clips, please click here.
Wabash CannonballThe Wabash River flows through Indiana and borders Illinois. The various iterations of the Wabash Railroad reached several midwestern states, but were most concentrated in northern Illinois. So why does the song "Wasbash Cannonball" talk about the train running from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and in some versions to Santa Fe? Because it's a "tall tale of a song" written decades before any train was ever called the "Wabash Cannonball." For a more complete history, more sound clips, and links to some very powerful YouTube performances, please click here.
Orange Blossom SpecialThe Orange Blossom Special was a real train that was advertised as a quick link to the south for folks in the Northeast. It is memorialized in song, or - more precisely - songs. There are words that are seldom sung, and a fiddle solo that (like the "Wildwood Flower" guitar solo) has become better known than the original song.
For a more sound clips, lyrics, history, and links to popular YouTube performances, please click here.
Casey JonesThis is one of the world's most popular railroad songs, written by a black railroad worker who knew Casey and had seen him in action. It has been "covered" by serious artists, and cheezed up by folks who thought it was a kids' song, but it is still a great, historical song. For more information, more mp3 clips, and links to popular YouTube performances, please click here.
Rock Island LineSome folks propose that this song was used for bragging song about industries like factories and mines as well as railroads. Eventually, Hudy "Leadbelly" Ledbetter recorded a version that included a story about a train engineer at a toll gate, and the "Rock Island Line" became permanently attached to the tune. Pete Seeger helped bring it to the world's attention, and the song became a "staple" of the Folk Revival, recorded with and without the story by dozens of popular artists. Its influence reached across the ocean, becoming one of Skiffle artist Lonnie Donnegan's biggest hits. For a description of this song's history and links to popular YouTube performances, please click here.
This Train (Don't Carry No Gamblers)This traditional gospel song finds its way into a lot of train song collections because it is so catchy and easy to sing along to. For more clips and a free downloadable MP3 by former Byrd Roger McGuinn, click here
Engine, Engine Number 9This song was written in 1965 by country singer/songwriter Roger Miller, based on a children's rhyme.For more information click here
Because this song is still under copyright, I can't legally post the whole song or the sheet music for it. However, you can sample the song and or download the whole song from Amazon.
Freight TrainThis song was written in the early 1900s by a fourteen-year-old girl named Elizabeth Cotton. Forty years later, she happened to get a job as a domestic for the Seeger family. And several years later she picked up the guitar again and sang a song that would otherwise have been forgotten. For the whole story, and several nice versions, click here
Down by the StationThis children's song was around before it became rewritten as a swing hit and made popular by folks like Tommy Dorsey. Today it's hard to find many listenable versions, but it still has a lot of potential. It's also stirred up a lot of hard questions like "Is it 'puffing billies' or 'puffer bellies?" For the whole story, and several versions, click here
King of the Road
Technically this song is about a hobo, not about trains, but I kept tripping over it when I was writing up Roger Miller's "Engine, Engine Number Nine" (above). This was one of Miller's best-loved songs and it is certainly the song that was most often covered well by other artists.
For more information click here
Miscellaneous Songs and Performances I Like
Whatever else you get out of our pages, I hope you come away with some great ideas for "sharing the joy."
And please stay in touch!
All material, illustrations, and content of this web site is copyrighted © 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006,
2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 by Paul D. Race. All rights reserved.
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