Gut Rumbles
 

August 24, 2003

the words

I cannot believe that some people never heard this song.

THE WRECK OF OLD 97

Well they gave him his orders in Monroe, Virginia
Sayin' "Speed, you're way behind time,
This is NOT 38, this is old 97,
You bring her into Danville on time."

Old Speed turned around to his black, greasy fireman
Sayin,' "Shovel in a little more coal,
Cause when we hit the White Oak Mountain
You're gonna see Old 97 roll."

It's a mighty rough rail from Washington to Danville
It's lying on a three mile grade
It was on that grade that he lost his airbrakes
You should have seen what a jump he made.

He was flying down the grade doing 90 miles an hour
When his whistle broke into a scream
He was found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle
Scalded to death by the steam.

If you've never heard that song, you need to be dragged off and shot.


Comments

I've got ... a version of that song on a greats-of-bluegrass CD (one of the first music CDs I ever bought), and I hear the lyrics a little different than you've written them, such as the engineer's name being Steve, and he got his orders at Quantico (Monroe probably makes more sense) and the mighty rough road is from Lynchburg to Danville on a line with a three-mile grade.

Also there's another verse:

So ladies you must all take warning
From this time now and on
Never speak harsh words to your true-loving husband
He may leave you and never return

That last, in fact, is part of why the song isn't one of my favorites on the CD -- it just doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the song. Maybe if there'd been something earlier in the song about Steve having an argument with his wife or something. I dunno.

Posted by: McGehee on August 24, 2003 07:09 AM

Well, I dug out the CD and gave the song another listen -- it is Monroe, not Quantico.

Like I said, Monroe would make more sense -- Quantico is way up in northern Virginia.

Posted by: McGehee on August 24, 2003 07:46 AM

In 1814 we took a little trip
along with Colonel Jackson
down the mighty Mississip.
We took a little bacon and
we took a little beans
And we caught the bloody British
in the town of New Orleans.


We fired our guns
and the British kept a'comin.
There wasn't nigh as many
as there was a while ago.
We fired once more and
they began to runnin' on
down the Mississippi
to the Gulf of Mexico.


We looked down the river
and we seed the British come.
And there must have been a hundred
of'em beatin' on the drum.
They stepped so high and
they made the bugles ring.
We stood by our cotton bales
and didn't say a thing.


We fired our guns and the
British kept a'comin.
There wasn't nigh as many
as there was a while ago.
We fired once more and
they began to runnin' on
down the Mississippi
to the Gulf of Mexico.


Old Hickory said
we could take 'em by surprise
If we didn't fire our muskets
til we looked 'em in the eye
We held our fire til
we seed their faces well.
then we opened up with squirrel guns
And really gave 'em ... well ~~~


We fired our guns and the
British kept a'comin.
There wasn't nigh as many
as there was a while ago.
We fired once more and
they began to runnin' on
down the Mississippi
to the Gulf of Mexico.


Yeah, they ran through the briars
and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes
where a rabbit couldn't go.
They ran so fast that the hounds
couldn't catch 'em on
down the Mississippi
to the Gulf of Mexico.


We fired our cannon til
the barrel melted down.
So we grabbed an alligator
and we fought another round.
We filled his head with cannon balls
and powdered his behind
and when we touched the powder off,
the gator lost his mind.


We fired our guns and the
British kept a'comin.
There wasn't nigh as many
as there was a while ago.
We fired once more and
they began to runnin' on
down the Mississippi
to the Gulf of Mexico.


Yeah, they ran through the briars
and they ran through the brambles
and they ran through the bushes
where a rabbit couldn't go.
they ran so fast that the hounds
couldn't catch 'em on
down the Mississippi
to the Gulf of Mexico.

Posted by: Geoffrey on August 24, 2003 08:31 AM

Here's another favorite. I'm pretty alone on these. Not many Yanks are fond of Jimmy Dean and Johnny Horton.

(Big John, Big John)
Ev'ry mornin' at the mine you could see him arrive
He stood six foot six and weighed two forty five
Kinda broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip
And everybody knew ya didn't give no lip to Big John.
(Big John, Big John) Big Bad John (Big John)

Nobody seemed to know where John called home
He just drifted into town and stayed all alone
He didn't say much, kinda quiet and shy
And if you spoke at all, you just said "Hi" to Big John.

Somebody said he came from New Orleans
Where he got in a fight over a Cajun Queen
And a crashin' blow from a huge right hand
Sent a Loosiana fellow to the Promised Land-Big John
(Big John, Big John) Big Bad John (Big John)

Then came the day at the bottom of the mine
When a timber cracked and men started cryin'
Miners were prayin' and hearts beat fast
And everybody thought that they'd breathed their last-'cept John

Through the dust and the smoke of this man-made hell
Walked a giant of a man that the miners knew well
Grabbed a saggin' timber, gave out with a groan
And like a giant oak tree he just stood there alone-Big John
(Big John, Big John) Big Bad John (Big John)

And with all of his strength he gave a mighty shove
Then a miner yelled out "There's a light up above!"
And twenty men scrambled from a would-be grave
Now there's only one left down there to save-Big John

With jacks and timbers they started back down
Then came that rumble way down in the ground
And then smoke and gas belched out of that mine
Everybody knew it was the end of the line for Big John
(Big John, Big John) Big Bad John (Big John)

Now they never reopened that worthless pit
They just placed a marble stand in front of it
These few words are written on that stand
At the bottom of this mine lies a hell of man, Big John
(Big John, Big John) Big Bad John (Big John)

Posted by: Geoffrey on August 24, 2003 08:34 AM

It's a classic.....and a great one to boot.

Posted by: Jane Finch on August 24, 2003 09:44 AM

Dragged off and shot? just because I haven't heard some obscure-ass song no one has ever happened to see fit to play in my presence? OK OK here I am, drag me off and shoot me!

Posted by: Daniel Day on August 24, 2003 09:45 AM

I love Johnny Horton. My favorite was always North To Alaska.

Posted by: drc on August 24, 2003 10:01 AM

Daniel, in your case it would be a mercy-killing.

Posted by: Acidman on August 24, 2003 10:20 AM

Whoo! Thanks Geoffrey for the lyrics to "Big Bad John." It doesn't play very often anymore of course but on those storied occasions when it does, I shush anyone who tries to talk to me until it's over.

Posted by: McGehee on August 24, 2003 11:26 AM

I hear those songs all the time on KHYI in Dallas. It's the best CW music station in the world. Especially if you like them old cowboy songs. There's a live feed at khyi.com .

Posted by: asm on August 24, 2003 11:52 AM

My 80 year old Dad's version which he sang to us in the bathtub and on cartrips (along w/ Rag-time Cowboy Joe & St James infirmary) -- trust me, these lyrics are permanently imprinted on my brain!!

They gave him his orders in Monroe, Virginia
Sayin' "Steve, you're way behind time,
This is NOT 38, this is old 97,
You can bring her into Danville on time."

HE turned and said to his black, greasy fireman
"Shovel on some more coal,
Cause when we hit that White Oak Mountain
You kin see Old 97 roll."

It's a mighty rough road from Lynchburg to Danville
Line is on a three mile grade
It was on that grade that he lost his airbrakes
And you see what a job he made.

He was comin' down the grade makin' 90 miles an hour
When his whistle broke into a scream*
And they found him in the wreck with his hand on the throttle
He was scalded to death by steam.

[*absolutely had to scream Woo Woo and make pulling the whistle hand gestures here]

Now listen you ladies
You must take a warning
from this time on and learn
NEVER speak harsh words
to your true-lovin' husband
He may leave you and never return.

Posted by: Marianne on August 24, 2003 12:21 PM

Whew! Dodged another bullet!

Posted by: Laura on August 24, 2003 12:41 PM

Non, please don't shoot me!

Posted by: Jay Solo on August 24, 2003 03:39 PM

Shoot me again, I ain't dead yet!

Posted by: Carl on August 24, 2003 03:44 PM

Actually, after singing this damn thing in my head all day now, I'm pretty sure that in Dad's version in the last line of the first verse it says: 'you can bring her into Spencer on time.' instead of your: 'You bring her into Danville on time'. IS there a 'Spencer' on that line? Oh, shit -- now I'm gonna have to find an atlas of Crackerland. But you will notice that if you sing that, the word 'can' fits the rhyme scheme better :-)

Posted by: Marianne on August 24, 2003 04:00 PM

Actually, Mcgehee, the last verse with is probably there because the song borrowed its melody from an earlier song, "The Ship That Never Returned," by John Work Clay, better known for "Grandfather's Clock."

Posted by: wheels on August 24, 2003 08:18 PM

Marianne, on my CD it sounds like "You must put her into (centers?) on time."

I'll have to listen again and see if it could be Spencer.

Posted by: McGehee on August 25, 2003 06:48 AM

Carl,

Spencer (Shops) is in NC (bout due south of Danville). It's where the old rail company (I don't rightly recollect which one) used to have it's maintainance shops. It is now a very cool transportation museum operated by the state of NC.

Posted by: Scott on August 25, 2003 10:53 AM

The live Cash version on whichever-of-the-prison-concerts-it-was has the set of lyrics I like the best.

Of course, with all these old tunes, there are a million different versions and combinations.

Posted by: Sigivald on August 25, 2003 06:18 PM

Trying to drag my fat ass off would give you six hernias, and as for the shooting.... just don't miss with yer first.

No, I never heard of the stupid song.

Only in America would they make a folk song about a train wreck. And we call the GERMANS melancholy?

Posted by: Kim du Toit on August 25, 2003 09:41 PM

Hey, we don't limit ourselves to train wreck songs. I'm still hoping to hear someone who knows the melody to the song about the Boston Molasses Flood.

Posted by: wheels on August 25, 2003 09:59 PM

By the way, here's some information on the Wreck of the Old 97:

http://www.talkeetna.com/Reviews/Old97/Old97.html

Posted by: wheels on August 25, 2003 10:01 PM

Yeah, well here in okieland we name our airports for guys that died in aircraft accidents

Posted by: JSAllison on August 27, 2003 03:29 PM

Great site, wish there were more like it.

Posted by: big john on November 3, 2003 05:45 PM
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