The Cottonwood Local


The Cottonwood Local started out as a noodlin’ in the key of D on the mandolin.

When I would get off of my train, I would spend time sitting on the front porch of the Holiday Inn in Nashville playing my mandolin. Mostly people watching. I lived at the Holiday Inn in Donelson, Nashville, TN for 14 years. This was what we railroaders called the Away From Home Terminal.

One day when I was pickin’ …

A Locomotive Engineer friend of mine suggested we needed a song about a local job that we had on the CSX Mainline called the J765-J768. I already had the fiddle tune going when he made this suggestion and we sat there joking about all the crazy stuff about the job. My friend suggested the Cottonwood name because the two trainmen working the job at the time were Josh Cotton and Joe Woods, thusly, Cottonwood.

There were a host of Locomotive Engineers working the job, but mostly the ones holding the position were old heads. The job was a good one and it always went high on the seniority roster. A local is a job that does not work the entire length of the railroad. It does industry work and then either goes home, or in the case of the Cottonwood, stays overnight in a town like Bowling Green and works its way home the next day. Usually with a day off. My favorite Engineer, A.T Robb was one of the many characters who held the throttle on the local.

Artie, Atrimous Robb, RT, that’s me … had many nicknames. The reason he “tied it down in Shepheardsburg from the Main Line Friendly Local”, was because he retired and lived on some property out in Shepherdsville. He called the job the MLFL, Main Line Friendly Local and it stuck. On the engine, we called it the Main Line “Fuckin’ Local.

Mr. Robb called the railroad signal in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, Sheep Herds Burg. Why? Know body knows. We didn’t know why he would bring jugs to get what was left in the tank cars when we would pick up the empties from the Jim Beam Distillery. He said the white/clear alcohol was good with sugar and Kool-Aid, but it made his tractor run hot.

This song is somewhat a native language

that only exists in a time and place called the railroad.

In Kentucky.

It is a Kentucky folk song in a sense, that the people that are being mentioned have a place in the folk history of the people involved, now, especially, that the stories are folk tales and memory, it has slipped into history.

“Too bad Pauline’s ain’t around no more …” is bringing up Kentucky History about Bowling Green, Kentucky that is a deep legend. Not to mention history some folks do not want to talk about and would rather forget.

Pauline’s was a whore house. A bordello. A house of il’ repute. She closed her doors in the early 1970’s and moved away.. Get to talking about Pauline’s to almost any man from the region over the age of 70 and you will see a twinkle in their eye as thoughts of that place come bubbling into their blood. We had a railroad van driver out of Bowling Green who used to work for Pauline. He hated George McCubbins and the feeling was mutual. George was an Engineer on the local and either ya liked him, or ya hated him. He was the boss of the job or at least that is what he thought.

“You know, we know you got a lot of work to do,” came from another Engineer who worked the local from time to time. G.W. Haynes. Gross Weight. He was a very big man and sometimes not very nice. He came with loads of nicknames and his reputation preceded him. The song lyric means the local job will clear the mainline when trains need to get through. The working nature of the local meant that the mainline would be blocked when the local was out pulling or placing cars from the industries that it worked. Crews on the local would try and be in the clear for the “Big Boy’s.” Some just wanted to get their work done and get to the other side of the road or get the day over with and didn’t really care if mainline trains would have to wait for them to clear up … “get in the hole.”
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“Memphis Junction,” is the name of the railyard in Bowling Green, Kentucky where the job ended its southbound work. Back in the day, the L&N had a mainline that went all the way to Memphis, TN. Toby Asher was the mainline trainmaster who worked in Bowling Green at this yard. The “only regular job” lyric comes from the job having regular start times. Having a regular start time is the perk of a local job and this job would get pulled off from time to time thusly the jab of it being the only regular job he could find.

Toby was a strange guy. He was the boss. Somewhat spookily he would be somewhere on the mainline, at all times, day and night. He is the kind of boss the railroad generally doesn’t like. He knows how to railroad. And that term railroad means many things. He lived and breathed railroading. His father was a Switchman and he grew up admiring his father’s work buddies. He loved the railroad and had respect for his “men.” Love is not an easy word to define on the railroad. Respect for craft is something the railroad seemingly has totally forgotten about.

This song is a fragment of time and place that has mostly slipped into folk history. It was an honor to work the section of rail known as the L&N, Louisville to Nashville, Main Stem. The L&N railroad at one time was the largest railroad in the eastern part of the United States. This song comes from the namesake of that railroad. The L&N, Kentucky, known today as the CSX Railroad.

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Pauline Tabor

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Me and Van Driver Jimmy. Pauline’s cab driver back in the day.

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A.T. Robb

alexmlfl

Railroad Tag

 

Sunday Morning Alone Time Meeting Minutes – 12/10/2017 – Linkin’ Bridge Click

Sunday Morning alone time
meeting minutes – 12/10/2017
 
Call to order at 7:39 a.m.
 
John Pawl in attendance with myself and I.
 
Financial report: Almost broke!
 
Old Business:
 
I woke this morning with way too much on my mind. My son next to me, sleeping – covered him, gave him a kiss and walked down the stairs with an old friend on my mind.
 
 
and this old business, is because, I am warning y’all – this man has a stare quite like mine. And he will figure out what ever y’all throw at him. We used to roll together. and the hood is where he is from. I know, cause i used to pick him up ever day when we was PNEUMA kids. We was the black sheep, the bad news bears and the red headed step kids all rollin’ together … and we used to sing in the van – i taught him old bluegrass gospel harmonies – the stanley brothers – bill monroe – while we was learnin’ all that shit from Sweet Honey in the Rock … and
 
That blank stare is street smarts. Aware of your surroundings, like something is bout to go down, a vision of what just might be lurking in the future – I learned my version of that blank stare while we was rollin’ …
 
To the chicken joint to pick him up after work, roll past Whitey’s in the 32 duce ward, roll past the Washburns, over to the Wright’s and then roll all the way out to Newburg, roll downtown, and then over to Arturo’s little Mexico – where the immigrants were, over by the race track.
 
We would roll over to Smoketown, to 420f and pick up John and Cleo, and whoever else was still around from Smoketown, Shepherd’s Square … roll over to Portland to pick up the twins and their sisters – I got my blank stare from knowing what was going on in their house, with their mother … who died from aids – and we would roll …
 
Rolling past places where drive by’s happened the day before, was gonna happen soon, it was 1994,95,96 – 2001 – and we joined a gang together – a gang led up by a little woman with a big heart – she was employed by Jesus and we were her Pigeons. Bird Men … 
 
Her blank stare, was from her knowing all of us kids, were one step away from jail, the crazy house, the food stamp office, detention … being exploited, abused, victims of horrendous violence, innocents being lured in by gangs, drugs, prostitution
 
some of us, possibly one step away from death.
 
I got my blank stare, from the streets! From a glock 9 held to my head at 32nd and Kentucky … from saving the little girl who was molested by her uncle. I got my street smarts from all the air brushed RIP shirts I saw from all the cousins, relatives and friends who died from gun violence, neglect, drugs and … from representin’ …
We rolled all day, in a hot as hell van! In the worst summers in this town! No air conditioning – real hot boys – sweat pouring down our backs, looking out for our kids – our friends, sisters – brothers, bling bling, pinky ring worth about 50 – the van boppin’ to B96 – You don’t know nann – Back that ass up – call me big daddy – is where I get my blank stare of worry from – listening to them little girls sing and those little boys … being exploited by a music industry … that … 
 
and this ain’t no joke! for real – this is for my dog China AKA Shon AKA Lacy Aka the Southwick kid, AKA
 
The choral director of PNEUMA.
 
Back in the day.
 
New Business …
 
Y’all know me
and my poetry
I am JP …
The human beat box
with a million watts
of power … playin’
juba in his head …
The Railroad Man
The Djembe’ player slash
community activist
griot –
family man
shoulda been a preacher.
 
My blank stare is
love and worry
born of –
a mindfulness
informed from
the streets and
verified authentic
by my brother
Alonzo Johnson!
He is a peacemaker.
 
We got our blank stare
from God and in the
same van … rollin’ the
streets of Louisville
when nobody
wanted to admit
they were on fire.
 
Meeting Adjourned
8:25 a.m

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I refuse to be reactionary …

I refuse to be reactionary …

 

“Until the color of a man’s skin

has no more significance

than the color of his eyes.”

 

said the Ethiopian king –

who was scared to get

off his flying machine

when his followers

mobbed his reverence.

White men

Black men.

Color is not

the main issue.

War

profits of

religion of

money –

time to rethink

slave owners

wage slaves

labor policy …

The haves

and the have nots …

Time to remember

a man ain’t nothing

but a man and his Gods

seem to get him in trouble.

 

He puts his friends

in power – gives them

the benefit of circulation –

and in mint condition

preserved for generations

to question.

 

Once black was negro

once black was non-human

and red skins were less.

Property of men

and devils of the

earth to be beasts

of some man’s burden.

 

I am a ghost dancing

around the issue.

We are all slaves to

the mighty dollar.

 

Slaves to Capital

plans.

 

What are we gonna do

when the new monuments

get raised.

 

Fists and marches and love

and hate and Ad clicks

and hear ye’ here ye’

read all about it!

War in the east!

War in the west!

War up north!

War down south!

 

What color

are your eyes?

Doomed To Fall

 


I’ve had my Black Elk moment at age 47.

The tree of my people is on fire!

I am dressed in red,

all my prayers have been said

and it seems we are doomed to fall.

 

The masters of war

on the eve of destruction

playing with their battle toys!

The masters of war

on the eve of destruction

boys will be boys.

 

That’s a Bob Dylan and a PF Sloan tune.

Our lessons have not been learned.

My folk music ways, are dying today

and it seems they are going to brand us all.

 

With hell fire like we have never seen!

My, my generation knows not of Japan!

Who against who, in this media zoo?

This land was never our land.


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