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Down by the Station
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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains(tm) ,
Big Indoor Trains(tm), and Creek Don't Rise(tm)

Down By the Station, a Classic Train Song from Family Garden Trains™

Nobody knows exactly where the chorus of this song came from. In 1931, the lyrics were published in a children's magazine. It is usually sung more or less to the tune of Alouette's chorus.

    Down at the station, early in the morning,
    See the little Pufferbillies standing in a row.
    See the engine driver twist the little handle,
    Tst!—Tst!—Toot!—Toot! There they go. (National Recreation Association, Vol. 25, 1931, Page 375: PUFFERBILLY SONG)

Slim GaillardIn 1948, Lee Ricks and Slim Gaillard an introductory verse (the first verse below) and claimed the song as their own. Slim Gaillard was a talented jazz composer and piano player who also shoe-horned all kinds of comedy into his act, some subtle, and some not-so-subtle. (His biggest hit was "Flat Foot Floogie with a Floy Floy"). Gaillard's recording of "Down by the Station" (below) makes it clear that he's recording what he perceives to be a relatively silly record that children might enjoy.

Tommy Dorsey picked it up where Gaillard left off, adding more verses, an Andrews Sisters-style female trio and big band stylings that are almost a parady of the genre. Subsequently, his version was more "dance-floor friendly," and it became a big hit. But Dorsey had his imitators, too. As far as I can decipher, Dorsey's version includes these lyrics.

    This is for the kiddies who like to ride the train, whether in California or even up in Maine
    Makes no diff'rence if you're two or a hundred and two,
    Ridin' the horse and the buggy's not like the old choo choo.

    Click to see this item listed on AmazonDown by the station early in the morning,
    See the little puffer bellies all in a row
    See the station master turn the little handle,
    Chug, chug, toot, toot, off we go.

    Down by the station early in the morning,
    Grab a cup of coffee while a-waitin' for the train.
    Change another quarter, gotta pay the porter,
    Chug, chug, toot, toot, looks like rain.

    Down by the station, shinin' up the brass plate,
    All the gandy dancers on the main line.
    See the diamond cracker warmin' up the big jack,
    Chug, chug, toot, toot, off we go.

    Down by the station early in the morning,
    See the little puffer bellies all in a row
    See the station master turn the little handle,
    Chug, chug, toot, toot, off we go.

    Now, it's time to get a movin', to get aboard the train.
    Maybe we'll hit the coast and then we may go to Maine.
    What's the difference if you're seventy-two,
    Latch on, get your jollies on the choo-ooh choo.

    Down by the station!
    Yes, Down by the station!
    Hey, down by the station!
    Whoo-whooh!

"Gandy Dancers" were originally men who laid or maintained the track. In this context, they may be folks inspecting the track, a less popular usage. "Diamond cracker" is a nickname for the fireman who has to shovel the coal. I have no idea why the verse that includes the most distinctively Amerian slang is recited on the record by a fellow imitating a Cockney accent. The song was a hit, though, so who am I to argue?

In spite of Ricks' and Gaillard's copyright, lots of folks who were around before 1948 remember singing the "chorus" as children, so the "chorus" is much older than the copyrighted materials. Ironically, many modern sources that only use the traditional (pre-Ricks, Gaillard, and Dorsey) lyrics still report Ricks and Gaillard as the song's authors.

Puffer Bellies? Puffing Billies? - The "puffer billies" and "puffer bellies" and "puffing billies" were known by any number of names, and onomatopoeia in the last line varies widely from one version to the next.

Where's Johnny? - One of my favorite versions is a version from Johnny Cash that I first found on You-Tube when I was putting this site together in 2011. The "video" was just pictures of Johnny Cash. The audio was bare-bones, just Johnny and his guitar, similar to some of the tracks on his 1974 train video. In fact, he sings the first verse a capella, like several songs on that show, but it's not on the DVD. For a very brief sample, click here. If you know where it's from, please let me know, and I'll try to track it down again for other train music fans. If you're a record company getting nervous about me providing this clip, please let me know where our readers can buy the whole medley, and we will be very glad to point them to it in any way you see fit.

    Down a the station early in the morning,
    See the little puffer bellies all in a row
    Some folks go to work, and others take vacation.
    One took Melinda to Californi-oh.

Cash's version goes on to add a verse that starts "Oh, Melinda, please don't go," then launches into the verse of "I've been Working on the Railroad." The fact that Cash can make three children's songs sound so compelling reinforces the claim that when he was on his game, he could "sing the phone book" and still have you hanging on every line. Sadly, I can no longer find this track on the internet, and I'm not sure where it came from. I'll post a link as soon a it turns up again.

The "Kid's Song"

The best known children's version presently may be from "Wee Sing." But dozens of versions, most of them cheezy, have been recorded for kids. Many of them are accompanied by even cheezier videos. Sorry, I don't think you have to "talk down" to children to get them interested in things like trains and music.

Some of the posted lyrics for the children's versions have lots of verses that hardly anybody sings - I'm guessing that the fact that the lyrics don't have to rhyme let a lot of otherwise untalented lyricists add their bit.


    Down by the station
    Early in the morningClick to learn about our newsletter for Americana and related music styles
    See the little pufferbellies
    All in a row
    See the station master
    Turn the little handle
    Chug chug puff puff
    Off they go

    Down by the station
    Early in the morning
    See the shiny train cars
    All in a row
    Waitin' to get hitched up
    And go on their adventure
    Chug chug puff puff
    Off they go

    Down by the station
    Early in the morning
    See my favorite engine
    Ready to tow
    All the other train cars
    Will follow on behind him
    Chug chug puff puff
    Off they go

    Down by the station
    Early in the morning
    Climb on aboard
    And hear the whistle blow
    Mr. Conductor
    Please take my ticket
    Chug chug puff puff
    Off they go

    Down by the station
    Early in the morning
    See the little pufferbellies
    All in a row
    See the station master
    Turn the little handle
    Chug chug puff puff
    Off they go

    See the station master
    Turn the little handle
    Chug chug puff puff
    Off they go
    Chug chug puff puff
    Off they go

MP3 clips from Amazon

    Down by the Station - Tommy Dorsey
    - who publicized Ricks and Gaillard's version with a very clever arrangement.
    Click to here a sample clip of this song.
    Click to see this song on Amazon.com
    Down by the Station - Slim Galliard
    - Galliard's own version of this song
    Click to here a sample clip of this song.
    Click to see this song on Amazon.com

More Sound Clips of This Song

For most of the songs we've documented, Amazon has many more decent recordings than we have room to post or even time to audition. Sadly, that's not true of this song. Amazon does have many more recordings of this song on tap, but almost all of them are cloyingly saccharin versions written for children under two. Recordings come and go, however, and you may find a newer version for big people if you give it a try.

So if you want to browse more clips for yourself, please click the following link:

You-Tube Videos of This Song

    Most of the "videos" you'll find for this song are cheezy children's videos. One is a really cheezy video of a fifties quartet called the "Four Preps" singing a cheezy rewrite of the song on a cheezy television show with a faux western theme. A few that make for worthwhile listening are really just recordings with photos of the performers or the record label, but at least you get to hear the whole song, scratches and all.

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