John Henry The Myth – The Flogging Will Continue Until Morale Improves.

John Henry was the second folk song I worked on after I started working at the CSX railroad as a yard switchman. The first tune I wrote was Hub Engineer. We will get to that later.

There was so much going on around us as this tune was being reformatted for contemporary use. A new technology was being introduced, jobs were being cut and morale was at an all time low. Written on the cab wall of one of the railroad yard switch engines, in big black letters read:

The Flogging Will Continue Until Morale Improves.

Remote control technology had been a rumor for a long time and every once in a while in conversation we railroaders would suggest that it could never work, or any version of that argument, however, the union was making agreements, the remote control boxes were arriving and something needed to be done.

I grew up around folk music my whole life!

I was raised by a railroader and political activist! I knew the John Henry story and knew the power of song and being a Sun Ra devotee, knew that myth was important to developing our story. John Henry might as well had been a steel driving man, but we needed a hero. We needed myth and a story. What we needed was good old folk music to the rescue!

After releasing the song, I was sort of concerned because my co-workers were not fully aware of one of their own working class heroes. What was even more troubling, was that the moral to the real folk story John Henry was not being heeded.

Pride killed John Henry, and pride was not going to help us organize against this new technology.  The railroad knew Remote Control Technology was a direct threat to the locomotive engineer craft. They knew the two unions it was being forced on were historically known to fight each other. The railroad worked every aspect of the pride issue and eventually got exactly what they wanted. We were railroaded.

Dumb Boys UTU BLET Fighting Cartoon

Everybody was pissed off, mad and nervous.

Things were changing fast! Operations were changing, two unions were being pitted against each other and something historical was happening and needed to be told. A story. A story about what was going on back in the not so far away past. In some ways, I was embedded behind the front lines of the class war. Sort of a war journalist in a railyard battlefield.

I compiled the song John Henry on a CD titled Music For Modern Railroaders and sold them at the railyard from a clerk van. I think we sold about 200 copies at the yard. The song made everybody who bought a CD from the railroad clerk, laugh.

We needed laughter, bad.

There really was a locomotive engineer named John Henry at the railyard. He retired before the remote control technology was implemented. Ol’ John used to say when the rumors became a locker room conversation, that he would be gone before they came. If you get the nickname John Henry on the railroad these days, it’s probably because you are a company man. You probably need to slow down. He was one of those who would work us out of a job. Slow down! John Henry for ya’ work us all out of a job!

John Henry 2006 from (JP) (rufus porter) to all my brothers and sisters in
the BLE&T and The UTU!
Well John Henry he was a locomotive engineer

Workin’ down in the Osborn bowl.

And he looked at his switchman said you

Better git to work.

We’re gonna beat that RCO.

Gonna beat that RCO!
Yankin’ and a Pullin’ on them cars with his

Switchman working as fast as he can.

Ol’ John is a thinkin the whole time,

A Machine aint gonna beat a man.

A machine aint gonna beat a man.
Well the groundhoggers came out of the shanty

And they looked at the 6022.

Said to each other as they switched on their boxes,

Ya know we got a lotta work to do

Ya know we got a lotta work to do.
The groundhoggers were havin a little problem

They couldn’t get their boxes to link up.

Between a poll off-line and a comm loss,

They wer’nt having a very good time.

Seems like it happens everytime.
Well the groundhoggers hollerd at the bowl.

BOWL TOWR

We’re havin a problem linkin up.

We’ve tried everything we know how to do.

I guess we’re shit outta luck

I guess we’re shit outta luck.
The tower hollers to John Henry.

Come and get this engine outta the way

It’s blockin the East and we gotta pull some cars,

I guess we’ll convert one today,

It seems like it’s better that way.
The groundhoggers sat in the shanty,

Waitin for a Big E to come and git er done.

John Henry and his switchman allready pulled 300 cars

That RCO job pulled none.

But it’s safer when you sit on your bum.
There is a reason for this story,

Corporate greed is killin this land.

If we don’t do something and ORGANIZE.

Say hello to the ONE MAN PLAN.

That’s talkin Union!

They wanna run trains with one man.
Roll the Union on!!

The Sabbatical of the Belle

They call me old man.

My crew. Nothing has really changed

in the over 100 years our lady has

made her way around.

They call her a tramp.

The boat. They use her to make a point,

of how things used to be built to last.

They say she is haunted.

By a deckhand, who walks the lower

deck whistling a mournful tune, and

by a captain who loved to gamble.

We are not a team.

For a team is out to win something.

Competes in game-playing.

We are a crew.

Wherein We, is the only way.

There is no, Them.

They call me old man.

My crew. Of young boys of summer.

Spirited like freedom, like

fireworks. Crass, salty and no different

than any other working men –

I have experienced.

They give me shit, and I give it back –

as they carry large bags of ice up a grand

staircase. I shirk that work, as they

miss the details, skip the corners –

walk around in circles,

day dreaming of

cute girls,

success

and

money.

There is something about her –

our Southern Belle. She breathes

with the ebb and flow of the river.

As her lines tighten and slack.

One little mistake could skin

a finger, pull a body into the water.

And that is our only goal, to keep

everyone out of harms way.

The river, our river –

much like how this boat

has been at times.

Trashed, dirty and rolling free,

like the murky blood

of a forgotten country.

And I walk the decks, a reincarnate

of Floyd the whistling deckhand.

Singing railroad hobo songs,

traditional blues. Making up

words to go with the troubles

I have seen, the struggles I feel.

A continuation of a body of

working songs, left in the air

like vibrations reverberating

in time with the clicking of

this massive machine.

They call me old man.

As I honestly greet every passenger

with a southern charm –

that is not a gimmick.

The rich, who shuffle on the

boat without making eye to eye.

The children, scared by the

grandness of our lady’s strength.

The old woman, who rides for free.

The Mayor, just making an appearance.

All the people, no matter

their lot, greeted in the language

of a native son.

Welcome to the Belle,

watch your step and then

Y’all have a gooden or,

take it easy now,

Y’all come back

and see us.

The Sabbatical of the Belle.

They call me old man.

A river man now.

Who once blew

that lonesome whistle,

all the live long day.

I am a stowaway most of

the time, laughing under my

breath.

They,

my crew,

if they only knew.

Old man river.

That old man river –

he must know something.

But he don’t say nothing.

He just keeps rolling –

He keeps rolling along.

John Paul



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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.”
.
“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.

hp photosmart 720

A.T. Robb

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Railroad Tag

 

*** BREAKING *** Appalachian Coal Report – Boom or Bust, You Decide …

Leave the Lights On For Me is a song that I wrote on the day that the CSX railroad announced that it was going to shut down the Clinchfield coal division section of the railroad. I started writing the tune on a train heading to Nashville and finished it up at the hotel.
Many of my coworkers were being relocated due to the bust situation in the Appalachian coal regions. This tune represents what I was seeing happening to my friends. It is also an honoring of the rich folk music tradition of the Clinchfield Mountains.

How Tomorrow Moves is a CSX railroad slogan and Coal Keeps The Lights On, is the slogan of the coal industry’s propaganda arm, Friends of Coal. Because our Conductor and Locomotive Engineer seniority districts cover almost the entire country southeast of the Ohio River, railroaders were being forced to move from places that they had lived for generations.

Because of short-sighted union contracts and an aggressive / abusive employer, workers were being expected to spend 30 days working for free with the threat of not being able to “hold” a position when they were finished with their territory qualifications. Folks were being expected to “qualify” for upwards of 30 days. No pay!

lyrics

Leave The Lights On For Me
07-07-2016

I left my darlin’ family in a little ol country town
chasin’ these trains across the state.
When I call my little children they ask me
“daddy when ya coming home?” and
I just don’t know what to say.

This railroad says I have to train on my own dime, for thirty days.
Well, no one should be expected to work for free.
When I ask my union brothers, they say “it is what it is”
Now that we have southern system seniority.

[chorus]

So I am, moving to the city to be employed or unemployed
Workin’ for this railroad for free.
I wonder how my kids are doin?
Wonder how my wife is holdin’ up.
And will those friends keep the lights on for me.

They say “coal keeps the lights on” but I can’t pay my utility bills.
And there ain’t no guarantee there’ll l be a spot for me to fill.
Then ill have to go somewhere’s else for 30 more days.
I guess this is “How Tomorrow Moves”

[chorus]

My family’s lived in eastern Kentucky for a really long time.
Working for the railroad, or down in some dark mine.
I’m proud to be a miner’s son,
never signed up to live a life on the run.
I wonder where those friends of coal are now.

[chorus]



*disclaimer

In a boom or bust economy – this song has been the breaking news for generations.
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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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I Got My Learnin’ From the L&N – The Best Of JP

This new release is compiling over 12 years of original songwriting that was created while I was employed on the CSX railroad as a conductor and then as a locomotive engineer. Most of the tunes on this collection started out as ideas that were transferred to the blank sides of paper work as I drove a train from Louisville to Nashville.

Railroading can be a poetically romantic job

and is truly an American experience. Writers, poets, reporters and songwriters use the rich metaphors of “the railroad” quite often. I had a wonderful career!  During my long days and lonesome nights, rolling straight down the center of Kentucky, I met some of the most wonderfully resiliant folks!

One of the first questions you get asked when get “hired on” at the railroad is

“What did you do before ya come out here?”

This question for me, was sort of difficult to answer. Well …. I was an Artistic Director of a Christian Arts organization slash Dishwasher slash African Djembe player slash community organizer. I brought all those experiences and more to a new job. Not only was this a job, I was being introduced to a way of life and

a culture that has its own music, language, history and long held traditions.

I like to say that If Americana was a quilt, then railroad themed music is the thread. The word “qwirk” is an old term used to describe a person’s unique stitch in a quilt. So trust me “the railroad” has its quirks about it.

The tunes are mostly in the folk music style of G,C and D. “I throw in an F to impress the girls,” I believe Hank Williams Sr. said that. My father Joe Wright suggests that Jimmie Rodgers tunes are supposed to be played in C, so… strum accordingly.

I wanted to throw a few tunes out there and tell the stories behind them. Please check out the tunes below individually on Bandcamp for desciptions and photos. Folk musicians are somewhat part reporter, part historian and part folklorist. That is what I love about folk music! There are big stories behind the tunes and the stories are important.
If you would like a hard copy of this CD please send 12 dollars via Paypal to railroadmusic333@gmail.com

Don’t forget to leave your address in the note section provided by PayPal

Thanks Y’all and have a goodin’

JP