Life’s Railway to Heaven

For today’s Pickin and Grinnin in the Kitchen Spot I’m sharing the second video from our Month of the Train Series over on our Youtube Channel. I’ll let Paul give you the details about this one.


Life’s Railway to Heaven is a classic hymn and the second video in our train song series. We are holding to our 1-take rule in this video. My friend, Josh, knew the song but had not played it before, so this is without rehearsal, showing what a great musician he is, one of the few pianists I know who plays without sheet music.

Josh’s walk into the low chord at the end of the chorus on the piano was a great touch, but with no rehearsing, he hadn’t quite worked out the timing. Still, I like this take because as with all first takes, there’s a spontaneity of in-the-moment creation or response. Plus, when Josh requests a second take at the very end, you can briefly here his spot-on Bill Clinton impersonation.

We hope you enjoy this 2nd installment.

Song Info: According to, this song was written by Eliza R. Snow and M.E. Abbey. Abbey is said to have been a minister in Georgia in the 1890’s. Hymnary credits him with three other hymns, which I have not heard. They provide no info on Snow.


Life is like a mountain railway With an engineer that’s brave We must make the run successful From the cradle to the grave Watch for curves and hills and tunnels Never falter never fail keep your hand upon the throttle And your eye upon the rail

Blessed Savior, Thou wilt guide us Till we reach that blissful shore Where the angels wait to join us In our praise forevermore

As you roll across the trestle Spanning Jordan’s swelling tide There you’ll see the the Union Depot Into which the train will glide There you’ll meet the superintendent God, the Father, God, the Son With a hearty joyous greeting Weary pilgrim, welcome home

Blessed Savior, Thou wilt guide us Till we reach that blissful shore Where the angels wait to join us In our praise forevermore



I hope you enjoyed Paul and Josh’s video of the old song. I like the one take rule Paul came up with-he’s right that first take captures some of the realness of the moment.




You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    September 28, 2020 at 7:29 am

    Oh I love that song and I love to play it on piano and sing but I love to hear it on A guitar..Tipper you’re family Is a blessing to these wonderful mountain folks and now your sharing them with folks all over . Your sharing so many traditions of the mountain folks, thank you.

  • Reply
    Lucy Riley
    June 3, 2019 at 6:23 am

    Love your music. Do you have CD’s ?

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 19, 2017 at 10:39 pm

    My daddy used to sing that song. He could also make the steam whistle sound that prefaces Paul’s railroad song series. Daddy did it with his lips and voice. Of course the hissing steam sound was missing but it was a pretty good imitation nonetheless. I’ve tried, with some success, to do it too but can’t get close to what he did.
    I sing that song too but at a much slower cadence than Paul. I guess Paul’s train moves a little faster than mine. Mine is a tour train while Paul’s is an express. Perhaps “The Lightening Express?”

  • Reply
    November 19, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    Paul on the Dobro and Josh on the Piano in “Life’s Railway to Heaven” reminded me of my mama singing all those old Railroad Songs. She was born in 1913 and her daddy and lots of her brothers worked for the Railroad. She taught me to keep time on the Black Keys of the Piano cause her left hand had no feeling. (from a Stroke just after I was born.) Anyway, we’d play and sing those old Railroad songs for hours and Daddy would raise up behind our heating stove after each one and say “Aman”.
    Pap and Paul came into “Jimmy’s Pick and Grin” to support Chitter and Chatter. We were there to hear the Girls sing, but when Pap saw me him and Paul came over and Pap asked me if I was keeping everything Straight up in Topton. After I answered him he said “it was so cold over at home that some folks stole the crossties off the Railroad, just to keep warm. And the train couldn’t run for several days. Paul just stood there and grinned, never doubting his Daddy. …Ken

  • Reply
    Janice Chapman
    November 19, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    Another song bringing back good memories of singing with my dad!

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    November 19, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    I’ve known and sung this beautiful song since I was a boy playing along the old Clinchfield Railroad.
    I’m always taken back to that old streak of rust when I hear the song and I think lately about the Santa Train that will make its way down through that part of Appalachia in a few days. Kids all up and down the line will scream with glee when they see the old fellow and chase after the bounty he throws from the train.
    Beautiful opening picture, Tipper.

  • Reply
    November 19, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    Is someone intermittently harmonizing off camera? -at least during the first half? That added a nice touch too.
    Hadn’t heard the song before – thanks for introducing me to it.

  • Reply
    Angie Veri
    November 19, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Very nice rendition of Life’s Railway to Heaven, Paul and Josh. I wonder does Josh play by ear, as I do or does he know songs so well that he just knows how to play it without the music sheets? Beautiful hymn and I like the dobro with it also.
    I have moved to British Columbia since I last responded to your pages Tipper. I now live on Vancouver Island, out here in the far western shores of Canada. I used to live in New Brunswick for 21 years, but moved back to B.C. to where I have family.

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    November 19, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Loved the video, Tipper, and the song. Dad said a couple of his uncles used to work on the RR – and of course, John Henry, the steel drivin’ man, is famous in WV lore for helping build the RR tunnel at Big Bend, WV. I also want to thank Jim Casada for his nice remarks about my cookbook.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 19, 2017 at 11:18 am

    My comment is over on Youtube. Paul and I had an interesting little exchange in the comments there.

  • Reply
    November 19, 2017 at 9:46 am

    I’ve heard this song many times. It was a favorite of my uncle by marriage. This was a mighty fine rendition. I really enjoyed listening to the piano. They both are so talented. This made my Sunday morning.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    November 19, 2017 at 9:26 am

    Tipper–I found this immensely enjoyable, not to mention moving, on a whole host of fronts. First and foremost, this is a song my beloved Ann adored when her mind was still with this world (and who knows, it’s quite possible she still does in that strange world of the mind where she now resides). Since she was not a huge fan of country and gospel music, or at least wasn’t until she got involved with the SEOPA pickin’ and grinnin’ gang on the grinnin’ side, that’s unusual. I think it was in considerable measure because some members of her extended family were railroad people, and one of her uncles on the paternal side was involved in inventing some gizmo that removed and replaced railroad ties with a machine rather than by hand.
    Beyond that, the song has always been a favorite of mine. Then add the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever heard it played on a piano before and the discovery that Renaissance-like Paul can play a dobro, and I woke up Sunday morning with no way read the Blind Pig that didn’t delight.
    Jim Casada
    P. S. Yesterday’s mail brought my copy of Janet Smart’s “Cooking with Family.” I’m just getting into it but it’s a pure delight. Not only are there scrumptious recipes but some folksy commentary, a wonderful reminiscence about blackberry picking days of her youth, and even detailed instructions for making an apron.

  • Reply
    Brian P. Blake
    November 19, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Speaking of bold railroad men: John Alfred Poor (1808-1871) of Andover is known as “the Father of the Maine Railroad System.” His Atlantic & St. Lawrence Railway was the world’s first international railroad, running 250 miles from Boston through Portland, Maine, to Montreal, Canada. In 1976, E. Spencer Miller, chairman of today’s Maine Central Railroad, noted that John Poor stood six-foot-two and weighed 250 pounds, with “clean-cut Grecian features and a presence and manner to match. His overall impression could only be described as Jovian.”
    Opposed to competition, a committee of wealthy Bostonians moved to protect their interest. They obtained a state charter for a competing Boston, Concord & Montreal line and sent a delegation to Montreal to trump Maine’s plan by concluding a prior agreement with Canada. Chairman Miller reports what followed, based on Mr. Poor’s later account.
    “Portland’s peril was reported to Poor on February 4, 1845, and at 12:30 am on the fifth he started for Montreal in the teeth of one of New England’s worst blizzards. Poor had sent men ahead to arrange for relays of horses while he collected necessary engineering data and papers. Wrapped in furs and blankets, accompanied by a man named Cheney, and behind a strong and spirited horse, he tried to hold the road, which soon disappeared. The [icy, driving] snow cut men and horses till they bled. Poor protected his eyes by allowing icicles to form and hang from his eyebrows. Horses were changed at Falmouth and Paris, but there was no rest for the men. The snow was especially deep at Rumford, but six young men broke a horse track to Andover, beyond which there was no road, only the Big Woods for forty miles to Colebrook, New Hampshire.
    “Poor battered on and at last reached the Dixville Notch, which he described as a terror of a place ‘like a titanic gateway to some vast and mysterious desolation.’ Poor said the Notch thundered like the bellows of the gods, …a place of chaos and old night, dark with thickening snow; but he passed over the 2,000-foot divide and…reached the banks of the Great [St. Lawrence] River in the dark of Monday morning, the 10th. The huge waterway was a fearsome sight with swift current and floating ice, but finally a dauntless French boatman ferried the travelers to the island city, arriving at 5:00 am; Poor slept an hour before acting.
    “At 10:00 a.m. the Montreal Board of Trade met to act on the Boston proposal. The Canadians were neutral between Boston and Portland, but the Bostonians had been on the scene for days. Poor spoke and extolled the excellence of Portland Harbor, its closer proximity to Canada and Europe, and the favorable features of his route–a debatable point. His eloquence and impressive appearance gained valuable delays and a few days later when the matter was again debated Judge William Pitt Preble strode into the hall dramatically holding aloft a handsome charter, glittering with red seal and elegant script, for the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad Company, granted February 19th by the Maine legislature. The Montrealers voted for Portland, and proceeded to organize their own part of the railroad. Poor and Preble returned to Portland in triumph, but the terrible ordeal was too much for even his physique…he lay in delirium for many weeks, and probably never fully recovered.”
    The first rail of the Atlantic & St. Lawrence Railway was laid on 4 July 1846, and in August 1853 Canada’s Grand Trunk Railway was organized, inaugurating the first iron road across the North American continent.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    November 19, 2017 at 9:10 am

    As with “The Royal Telephone”, I think this hymn must have grown out of personal experience. I get the sense that a mountain railroad journey was challenging and could be dangerous. Trouble might lurk around every curve. It required vigilance. Maybe that is why the author saw it as an allegory for the Christian life.
    As to music, it is a great mystery to me so I’m afraid to stick my oar in and reveal my ignorance. Musical I am not.

  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    November 19, 2017 at 8:25 am

    That is a BEAUTIFUL picture, Tipper, and I really enjoyed the song. They did a wonderful job.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    November 19, 2017 at 8:08 am

    My Grandmother always said there was a stairway to heaven but a highway to hell because more folks headed south.
    Loved the song. I don’t think I ever heard it before.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 19, 2017 at 7:57 am

    Good job! Josh is a fine piano man. I can’t believe he never played that song before.
    I like the idea of a train collection of songs, it seems somehow fitting!

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    November 19, 2017 at 7:37 am

    Great job, Paul and Josh.
    Even though I’m the engineer (but never drove a locomotive!) in the family, it is brother Jim who wants “Life’s Railway to Heaven” sung at his funeral.
    Somewhere in this old house that has been home to the Casada family for over 3/4 of a century are the words of Life’s Railway in Daddy’s handwriting. He wouldn’t sing at all in public, and wouldn’t even participate in family “Happy Birthday” singings. But years after Mama died, I’d occasionally catch him sitting at the kitchen table, looking out the window after breakfast, quietly singing to himself. Life’s Railway is one of a few songs, along with “Each Step I Take” which I remember hearing. I never said a word about how nice it was to hear him singing; he’d have quit if I did.

  • Leave a Reply