Railroading on the Great Divide

Today’s post was written by Paul.

The Streamline Cannon Ball

For our last train song of 2019, I hooked up with local musician David Anderson.

We shot this the day before Thanksgiving in one take, just in time to finish this year’s series.

I love David’s lead vocal on this song. On the wall behind us is an old photo of the Brasstown post office and Settawig Road (then just a narrow, rutted, muddy road with no sign of gravel or pavement). The picture was taken just a couple hundred yards from where we sat to shoot this video.

Just four years younger than Pap, David knew the man on the horse, who was at the time the postman. He also knew the tall lady in the photo, who was then Basstown’s Postmaster.

As I explained in the introduction, I grew up around David and his friends playing music. I heard him mostly at Clay’s Corner (famous for its possum drop), at the John C. Campbell Folk School, and at other venues.

I remember that on a couple of occasions, David played a pretty kick-off and turnaround to “Mary of the Wild Moor” while Pap and his brother Ray sang it.

David and a friend of his ran a small instrument shop in Brasstown, which is where Pap bought his Blueridge 160 guitar.

David is also a talented writer who has written pieces for our local newspaper and for the Blind Pig & The Acorn.

A couple of weeks ago, Chitter went over to David’s house to check on a fiddle that she might like to buy. I tagged along with her. David was kind enough to let her take the fiddle with her and play it for a while until she decides whether or not she wants to buy it. She played the fiddle in a Friday-night concert at the Folk School back on November 15th. The crowd was awed when she mentioned into the mic that the fiddle was made in 1830.

David plays guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and pedal steel guitar. While we were there, he gave Chitter a few lessons on the pedal steel. I may upload some videos of that lesson (if I can figure out how to get them off my phone!). While David played the steel, my ear expected any minute for George Jones’ or Ray Price’s voice to come in behind him. 🙂

It was while we were at David’s home that I asked if he would be willing to do a train song with me. He called me about a week later and proposed that we do this old Carter tune. I was excited to get the chance to shoot a video with him. Just before we started the camera, we double checked the lyrics for the song on a laptop that I brought with me. As is often the case, the online lyrics weren’t very accurate, and we got really cracked up when we saw the line “a skinny old-timer,” which was supposed to be, “ask any old-timer.” 🙂

You may notice a trace of a smile on my lips when we came to that part of the song. We dared not look at each other, or we would have gotten tickled again and started laughing.

The lyrics are below. I find it interesting that the phrase “a long steel rail, a short crosstie” appears in this song. It also appears in many other old songs, including “The Streamline Cannonball,” which we sang in last year’s train song series.

Anyway, we hope you enjoy this final song of the series and that you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2020!

“Railroading on the Great Divide”

Nineteen and fourteen, I started to roam, Out in the west, no money, no home. I went rolling along with the tide; I landed on the Great Divide.

Railroading on the Great Divide, Nothing around me but the Rockies and sky. There you’ll find me as the years roll by, Railroading on the Great Divide.

Ask any old-timer around Cheyenne, Wyoming Railroading is the best in the land. A long steel rail, and a short crosstie I laid across the Great Divide.

Railroading on the Great Divide, Nothing around me but the Rockies and sky. There you’ll find me as the years roll by, Railroading on the Great Divide.

As I look out, across the trees, Old Number 9 rolling, the fastest on wheels. Past to glory, all day she glides with pride rolling across the Great Divide.

Railroading on the Great Divide, Nothing around me but the Rockies and sky. There you’ll find me as the years roll by, Railroading on the Great Divide.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the November Train Series as much as we have! Be on the lookout for a guest post from David later this week.


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  • Reply
    marsha king
    December 13, 2019 at 12:14 pm

    My Mom would have loved this. She loved everything about trains.

  • Reply
    December 1, 2019 at 11:37 pm

    Hi ,
    In my home town we had a switch engine that ran behind a house that we lived in during the late 40’s. I recall the engineer that would always blow his horn and I being about 4-5 years old thought he was letting me know that he was on the way so I could run down the cow path to see him and his train but now I know It was a crossing. Any way it was a thrill to see him and to get the penny candy that he always tossed to me as he passed. Another reader mentioned the candy and I wonder if the candy was a standard thing as I am from a little town in Florida.
    Any way I some how got to you tube and connected to a rerun of the grand old opry which brought back the times of setting on our porch swatting skeeters and listening to the show on Fri and Sat nites on the old radio. That was our past-time as no one had T.V. yet. We got it thru a thing called Skip and most nites it came in real good if the weather was good. Thank you for the memories. Keep up the good work.

  • Reply
    December 1, 2019 at 10:12 pm


    Thank you for the November train series. It has been very enjoyable. My favorite one is with you, Ben and Chitter. It makes me laugh every time. I’m already looking forward to next year’s train songs. Merry Xmas and Happy New Year to you!

  • Reply
    December 1, 2019 at 9:03 pm

    Enjoyed the good voices and simple lyrics, keeping alive the romance of the rails.

  • Reply
    Kate Naka
    December 1, 2019 at 6:47 pm

    I love hearing these old songs and the way you all sing them. I grew up in California and this is so peaceful and loving. GREAT JOB GUYS !!!!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 1, 2019 at 3:26 pm

    I lived for a long time within feet of a railroad siding where trains would stop and wait for other trains to pass by. At any time of the night or day there might be three or four locomotives just down the hill from where I was trying to sleep. They would sit there for an hour or more with those big diesel engines rumbling. You would think they would keep me awake but you’d be wrong. That is one of the most comforting sounds I’ve ever heard, second only to rain on a metal roof. I would try to stay awake just to listen but invariably they would win and I’d be gone. To say I like trains and train songs is an understatement. They are lullabies to me.
    David and Paul did great job singing and playing “Railroading on the Great Divide” especially considering it was only one take. I wish every month could be train month.

  • Reply
    December 1, 2019 at 1:12 pm

    I love the sounds a far off trains. Ths certain time they come through. My husband works right behind the tracks. Every day when he calls me on his lunch hr. I can hear the train when it come by. They did a good job Tipper. Sounds good.

  • Reply
    Annette Casada Hensley
    December 1, 2019 at 1:05 pm

    Would love to hear more of these two singing together. Wonderful!

  • Reply
    December 1, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    Gosh I really like that song , really enjoyed listening to y”all play it and the harmony… I was singing along on the chorus, even though I’m kinda hoarse and have not much voice( good thing no-one was listening) :)…. love the tune , gonna listen till I learn ….thanks for all the railroad songs…..and the whistle… we are still enjoying leftover turkey and dressing, and pie:) while playing Christmas carols. Have a wonderful day all of you.

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    December 1, 2019 at 12:39 pm

    Tipper this article was so awesome and trains are so much pleasure hearing about them in Music. Someone needs to write a song about the Pee Vine train that ran in the 30’s 40’s and abounded . I rode it as a babe and up until I was about 3years old but don’t know when they took the train off the rails

  • Reply
    December 1, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    Wow, you both did a GREAT job! We hadn’t hear this song, either. David has a beautiful voice, and Paul, your amazing tenor was amazing, as always. Your voices harmonize great together, and it was neat hearing that David knew the people in the photo. Kevin wanted me to ask you if you could do the old Carter Family song, “The Storms on the Ocean?” We couldn’t find it on your channel, so are assuming you haven’t done it yet. Thanks for another wonderful video. You always brighten our day!

  • Reply
    Kenneth Ryan
    December 1, 2019 at 11:28 am

    Paul and David, I really enjoyed the song.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 1, 2019 at 11:17 am

    Thank you, Paul for the train month. I’ve enjoyed the talk of trains and the great songs you brought to us. I forget how important trains were to the development of this country. I still see some abandoned tracks sometimes and feel sad.

  • Reply
    December 1, 2019 at 10:24 am

    Nicely done, enjoyed it very much.

  • Reply
    December 1, 2019 at 9:51 am

    Pinnacle Creek said it well “There is just something about trains and train songs that bring a peace to my heart,” and my heart too. I grew up in a small town but a train ran on the outskirt of town and I remember even as a teen hearing that train whistle at night come softly through an open window was beautiful. When I grew up, married and with family moved about 700 miles away, I was awakened that first summer night to hear a train whistle so faintly coming through an open window and I must say it was and is still a comforting sound. I enjoyed David’s lead part but you both did a really good job and I learned a new song that I had never heard before.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    December 1, 2019 at 9:38 am

    And Paul,
    I love the Old Railroad Songs. My grandpa (Mama’s daddy, Hugh Passmore) was a Railroad Man. He was Foreman on the Train from Asheville to Murphy and I remember Mama telling the stories of life when she was a little girl. She had 16 brothers and sisters, half of them was from an earlier marriage but they were her brothers and sisters too. Delia (Mama’s Mama) had to bury her first husband because of an illness, so she married Hugh. She is burried right beside Mama and Daddy at Red Marble. She had lots of experience of life, I knew her, and having 16 kids, she was a Great Storyteller. …Ken

  • Reply
    December 1, 2019 at 8:51 am

    There is just something about trains and train songs that bring a peace to my heart. Growing up there was always the sounds of the trains in the mountains mostly carrying coal out where miners worked long hard hours. My sisters were allowed to roam freely during those days of safety, and they spoke of talking with the engineer during their stop overs. I was not in on that big adventure.. However, I always remember all children waved at the engineers, and some were known to toss candy out to children who were regular fans. I will have to ask my remaining sister more about that, as now I am curious. Vehicles were often stopped at RR crossings for a good length of time while trains passed, but back then nobody was in much of a hurry. Adventurous boys loved to walk along the high trestles, and this could be a very dangerous undertaking for many reasons. Trains are no longer such a common sight with less coal being mined, but seemingly more coal trucks are on the road. Like many wonderful things in Appalachia, we just didn’t think much about trains until they were no longer a regular part of the landscape. We took them for granted, so I really appreciate the ones who have written or sung songs about trains as an important part of our history.
    You both did an excellent job on the song considering it was only one take. Thank you for the train songs, and helping keep alive the music. This one post has made me want to learn more about something I never thought much about before.

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