zzzg | Trains (1)


In this column: The Katy, The Santa Fe, The Dummy, The Chief, The Midland, The T.P, Mystery Train, Mean Old Train, Midnight Special, The Box Car


More background information on trains, on the basis of the song Katy Blues of Bessie Tucker.

"Katy's at the station, Santa Fe is in the yard;
Mmmmmmmm, Santa Fe is in the yard.
I would catch that T.P., if this Midland's got me barred."

"Now, when I got on the Dummy, didn't have no fare;
The police asked me what I was doin' on there.
I got on the Dummy, mama didn't have no fare;
An' the police asked me, what I was doin' on there."

The Katy (the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Line) and The Santa Fe (the Santa Fe Railway) I explained earlier.

The railroad workers called the Texas-Midland (the T.M.) "the Midland". It ran from Ennis, 30-odd miles south of Dallas, in a north-easterly direction through Terrell, Greenville and on to Paris.
Bessie could catch the T.P., the Texas & Pacific, if the Midland got her barred (blocked). It prevented her from bumming a ride once she got to Terrell.

In the verse where Bessie sings on "The Dummy", she describes riding illegally in a box car and getting caught by the railroad "police" employed to keep hoboes off the trains.

Box Car

Background on the Midland

The Texas Midland started in 1892 and owned by Hetty Green then the richest woman in the U.S. She handed it over to her only son, E.H.R. Green. Becoming a major road for cotton in Texas, he sold the Texas Midland, in 1928. The buyer was the Texas & New Orleans RR.

Cotton Belt/Texas Midland Belt Union Depot (Commerce, Texas)
Cotton Belt/Texas Midland Belt Union Depot (Commerce, Texas)


"Midnight Special". A prison song written by Lead Belly. The song is based on his experience of getting arrested Houston, his stay at the Sugar Land Prison (now the Beauford H. Jester pre-release Center) in 1925, and the legend of the Midnight Special.
The Midnight Special was a train that ran from Houston to San Antonio. The train passed through the middle of the town of Sugar Land, and west of town, through the heart of what used to be known as the Imperial State Prison Farm (Sugar Land Prison), each day at midnight. Its headlight flashed through the bars and into the prison.
The superstition was that if the light shined on you, that meant your woman was on the train with the papers from the Governor to get you out of prison. Thus, the men hoped the light of the Midnight Special would shine it light on them.

(Lead Belly Version)
Yonder come Miss Rosie, how in the world do you know
Well I know by the apron and the dress she wore
Well an umbrella on her shoulder, piece of paper in her hand
Well I’m gonna ask the governor, he turn a-lose a-my man

Let the midnight special, shine the light on me
Let the midnight special, shine the ever-lovin’ light on me

Harry Belafonte with Bob Dylan on harp (Bob's first time)

Background on Dummy Lines

In the 1920s lumber was still a major force in Southern industry and the railroads had logging interests at that time. Temporary lines were built deep into the piney woods and were known as 'dummy lines'. The term also included the trains that ran on them; some of which eventually carried passengers as well as lumber.
Logging camps were set up at the railhead with a commissary store and often a barrelhouse. The company brought in blues singers to entertain. As well as liquor and gambling.

Railroad track in West Virginia leading to a logging camp (1900s)



"Mean Old Train Blues". Leroy Carr recorded "Mean Old Train Blues" about a year prior to the Bessie Tucker recording. It is said that the mean old train refers to the Midland.

Rock Island Line.” Alan Lomax recorded this song on an Arkansas prison farm in 1934. Lomax credited it to Kelly Pace. There are kick-ass versions by Leadbelly and Johnny Cash. The line in question — the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific — never got farther west than the Mississippi.

Johnny Cash

"Mystery Train,” by Junior Parker. Originally a blues song. The words first written down by Howard Odum in 1905.
The mystery train may have been inspired by the Missouri Pacific’s Houstonian, which left Houston around midnight and rolled by the Sugar Land penitentiary, Texas. Or the old Chicago and Alton Railroad’s Midnight Special between Chicago and St. Louis.

Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore and Bill Black

More trains in the next episode.

Sources: pancocojams.blogspot.nl, americanbluesscene.com, YouTube, Wikipedia, Hudson Motors Compagny, Archive Minneapolis, The Cruel Plains, M.H.Price a.o., truewestmagazine.com, The Austin Chronicle, Cambridge Free English Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary, TheSaurus.com, dragonjazz.com/grablue/blues_travel, Encyclopedia of African American Popular Culture, Blues by Paul Breman, Blues by David Harrison, Quora.com, urbandictionary.com, Blogs.loc.gov, The Ballad Hunter by Alan Lomax, Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the 1920th by Daphne Duval Harrison, jopiepopie.blogspot.nl, redhotjazz.com, The Blues Lyrics Formula by Michael Taft, American Ballads and Folk Songs by Alan Lomax and John Avery Lomax, The Past Is Not Dead: Essays from the  Southern Quarterly by Douglas B. Chambers, EarlyBlues.com, railroad-line.com,  Jason Lee Davis' RailFan Pages , centertruthjustice.org