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Classic Train Songs
Learn all about running trains in your back yard.
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Many ideas and resources for setting up Christmas-themed railroads, including buyers' guides of the best Christmas train choices.
Best Choices for Beginning Garden Railroaders: a short list of things you're most likely to need when starting out
Collectible Trains and Villages: On30 Trains and accessories designed by Thomas Kinkade and othersFree Large Scale Signs and Graphics: Bring your railroad to life with free, downloadable street signs, business signs, and railroad signs
Christmas music histories, sound clips, and videos from Family Christmas Online<sup><small>TM</small></sup>
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Stories and songs about the West National Road
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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains(tm) ,
Big Indoor Trains(tm), and Creek Don't Rise(tm)

Classic Train Songs

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 songs. 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 facts 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 2014 - Two years after our big move to a new server, we're running into other obstacles, like links to songs we like on Amazon randomly changing to links to songs we hate. Turns out this is usually the record publisher's fault - they stop selling one "greatest hits" album and start promoting another one by the same artist, and all the product IDs change. So all the links break, and Amazon's software automatically plugs the same top-40 hit into every link. We've been able to restore many of the links, but we've changed the format of several to make them easier to maintain in the future.

In some cases, the link has just moved and if you search on Amazon you can still find it. In other cases, such as Johnny Cash's rendition of Casey Jones, the mp3 has been removed not only from Amazon, but from the entire internet (you should see the Cease and Desist order). My guess is they're going to come out with an "ultimate" Johnny Cash collection, and they want to make sure nobody has access to certain tunes in the months (or years) before it comes out. Gotta Love 'em!

We were looking at adding several new songs before all of this happened. As of Septermber, 2014, we've been able to plug most of the gaps and get back onto that goal. Still, if a week from now some cheesy pop track appears in a link that used to be populated by a classic artist like Charlie Daniels, Bill Monroe, or Johnny Cash, it's not my doing.

If you're a fan of Americana music in general, you might be glad to know that we've added two new related features.

Click to go to the detailed descriptionCity of New Orleans

Steve 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.
    City of New Orleans - Steve Goodman
    Song by the original composer, who wrote the song when traveling with McGovern's presidential campaign in 1972
    City of New Orleans - Willie Nelson
    Willie's classic take on this favorite

Click here to see more information about the song and the legend of the 'Wabash Cannonball'Wabash Cannonball

The 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.
    Wabash Cannonball - Willie Nelson
    Willie's classic vocal over a western swing accompaniment.
    Wabash Cannonball - Roy Acuff
    A traditional "Smoky Mountain" style arrangement, with harmonica and train whistle.

Click to see an expanded description of this song and more links.Orange Blossom Special

The 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.

    Orange Blossom Special - Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys
    Bill's interpretation was the best known version for many years, featuring fiddler Art Wooten.
    Click to here a sample clip of this song.
    Click to see this song on
    Orange Blossom Special - Charlie Daniels
    The fiddle's on fire in this live performance - a serious toe-tapper.
    Click to here a sample clip of this song.
    Click to see this song on
    Orange Blossom Special - Johnny Cash
    A harmonica-centered version with the words, and the Tennessee Three's persistant backing. Taped live at Folsom Prison
    Click to here a sample clip of this song.
    Click to see this song on

Click to see details about this song.Casey Jones

This 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.
    Casey Jones - Tom Rush
    This verion has a nice up-tempo folksy sound. It includes verses borrowed from other train songs.
    Casey Jones - Craig Duncan
    A very nice, traditional instrumental arrangement with fiddle and flat-picked guitar solos.

Click to see more information about this song.Rock Island Line

Some 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.
    Rock Island Line - The Weavers
    From the group that kick-started America's Folk music revival, back when Pete Seeger had hair
    Rock Island Line - Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee
    An original folk duo's take.
    Rock Island Line - Johnny Cash
    - this version tells the story as well as singing the verses.
    Click to here a sample clip of this song.
    Click to see this song on

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
    This Train - Peter, Paul and Mary
    From their debut album. Mary Travers, Noel Paul Stookey, and Peter Yarrow bring carefully-crafted harmonies to this old spiritual.
    This Train - Big Bill Broonzy
    Worth a listen. From a live folk concert, Broonzy uses a flat-picked guitar with a blues-style walking bass line.

Click to see our page about this song with lyrics and more links.New for 2014! Engine, Engine Number 9

This 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.

    Engine, Engine Number 9 - Roger Miller
    - the original artist.
    Click to here a sample clip of this song.
    Click to see this song on

Click to see our page about this song with lyrics and more links.New for 2014! Freight Train

This 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
    Freight Train - Elizabeth Cotton
    - the original artist.
    Click to here a sample clip of this song.
    Click to see this song on
    Freight Train - Peter, Paul, and Mary
    - their 1963 cover with all of their great harmonies and picking.
    Click to here a sample clip of this song.
    Click to see this song on

Click to see our page about this song with lyrics and more links.New for 2014! Down by the Station

This 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
    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
    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

Click for more information about this song.New for 2014! 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

    Long Train Runnin' - Doobie Brothers
    Doobie Brothers' hit, remastered

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 by Paul D. Race. All rights reserved.
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