Historic Railroad Songs

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Brakeman Hal

Well-Known Member
Everybody's favorite is probably "Wreck of the Old 97", based on the true story of Southern Railway's mail train #97, pulled by a new 4-6-0 engine, with engineer Steve Broady at the throttle, on September 27, 1903 outside of Danville, Virginia.

The words tell the story of an engineer who had to run his train too fast, to make up for 47 minutes of lost time to get to the mail's delivery point. The train lost its airbrakes on a 3-mile grade, and was making over 50mph when it entered the Stillhouse Trestle, which had a 15mph speed limit at its entrance. (The song said it was making 90mph, but this was proven incorrect.)

The 45-foot high trestle had a tight curve, and when Broady's loco entered it, the rails were torn from the ties and #97 plunged to the bottom of the ravine, killing Broady and 10 others.

My favorite line is the last one, which says:

"Ladies, you must take warning from this day on and learn,
Never speak harsh words to your true loving husband,
He may leave and never return!"

Several Country singers have recorded this, including Hank Snow and Johnny Cash...check it out!

Brakeman Hal
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NH Mike

CEO & Wheel Cleaner
That song came to mind before I had even read your post. So I'll add a couple of my favorites. The city of New Orleans, I'm Movin' On, Waiting For a Train.

A line I like from I'm Movin' On is "Mr engineer take the throttle in hand, this rattler's the fastest in the Southern land" Reminds me of the days of steam and before welded rail when all the noise and movement gave a soul to rail travel.

Brakeman Hal

Well-Known Member
"The City Of New Orleans" is another one of my favorites, Mike!

How about "Chattanooga Choo Choo"?

"Pardon me boy...is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?
Track 29? Boy, you can give me a shine!"
(Glenn Miller,1940's.)

I'm from the Days of Steam myself, when my Dad worked for the PRR as a Fireman on 2-8-0 Consolidations and 2-8-2 Mikados during the WW2 years. When he had yard duty and I was out of school, he'd take me to work with him, and I'd spend the day in the cab of an 0-6-0 Switcher, taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells of a real live steam loco assembling another train for a Mailine run to Eastern War Plants.

What an experience for a 6-8 year old!



Well-Known Member
Sometimes, out of the blue, the line "and he was scalded to death by the steam" pops into my head.

My therapist is still trying to work that out.
"Casey Jones mounted to the cabin,
Casey Jones, his orders in his hand.
Casey Jones mounted to the cabin,
And he took his farewell trip to that Promised Land!"

The line you quoted came from the original poem, probably authored by a roundhouse hostler. I can't recall most of it, except the chorus.

How about, "If you miss the train I'm on,
you will know that I am gone,
You will hear that whistle blow a hundred miles..." ?

"That old fast freight.."
"Every night I listen,
And wonder if it's late,
And in my dreams I'm ridin' on that train..."


Well-Known Member
Really when I 1st read this the only song to pop was the City of New Orleans. The few others didn’t come up in my mind but I have heard them and know many of the words.


Brakeman Hal

Well-Known Member
In the song "Casey Jones", a line said "T'was on a Six-Eight Wheeler that he won his fame."

He was driving a 4-6-0 "Ten Wheeler", and I never heard of 6-8 wheeler, have you?

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GNRR Mechanic always fixing stuff
What about "Let it Roll"?

My favorite version: (ok the video if from the sister company of Chuck E. Cheese, but it's the better recoding of Mel McDaniel.)


Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
Many many songs come to mind. I find most either way to old a genera for my taste (Chattanoga Choo Choo - gag) , or just not that good of songs (thinking of things like Locomotive Breath).
Rock Island Line
Wabash Canon Ball
Lonesome Train
Lost Train Blues
Railroad Boomer
Take the A Train

BUT - the only railroad song that I think might become a classic and stand the test of time outside of folk music and railroad circles is Steve Goodman's City of New Orleans, as sung by Arlo Guthrie. It has the musical sophistication to reach people at a harmonic level.

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