Appalachia Music

The Streamline Cannon Ball

The Streamline Cannon Ball

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


This is our last song for this year’s series. Since last week’s tune espoused hatred for a train, we thought we’d end with one that again romanticizes train travel, the wandering lifestyle, and the train itself, with lyrics about gleaming headlights and firebox flashes—plus one of the coolest opening lines: “A long steel rail, a short crosstie.”

The Pressley Girls had listened to this song exactly twice before attempting to sing it, and they had the lyrics pulled up on their phones to look at as needed.

Quite a few years ago, when Dish Network first started featuring “radio stations” among their channels, I heard Tennessee Ernie and the Dinning Sisters sing this song on the classic country station. I liked it immediately but never dreamed how difficult it would be to sing it until we tried.

The girls were expecting to sing it in the same key as the original and would have had no problem doing it there. I had never checked the key of the original recording and mistakenly assumed it was in E major, where I could sing it somewhat comfortably. Turns out, Ernie and the Dinnings did it in C major, 4 frets lower than E! I knew I could never hope to sing it there.

Ernie Ford possessed one of the most powerful voices God ever placed inside a human body, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that he sang it easily in C. I perhaps could have struggled through leading the solo verses in C or D flat, but the impassable obstacle was the fact that he sang bass when they all three sang together, notes I could not descend to or even reach in C. So, the girls agreed to move the song to D, two frets higher than they were comfortable with in order to make it possible for me to do the bass part.

You may notice that we have hard candy in our mouths, an old trick to protect one’s voice in situations like this (or at least make your throat feel better). Chatter and I should have traded chairs, putting the lowest and quietest vocal (mine) closest to the camera and the highest (her tenor) the farthest away from the camera, but hindsight is 20-20. I also wish the girls had practiced the wah-wah train whistle sound the Dinnings did, but no one thought of it until our one-take of the song was finished.

When Chatter says that’s the best she thinks she could do it, she’s referring to the song as a whole, not to our comedic stab at the train sound.

To hear this song done to perfection, all you have to do is search YouTube for the title along with “Tennessee Ernie.”

Thanks for watching our series. We hope you enjoyed it, and we’ll try it again next year. There are still plenty of great train songs left to do.

This song’s lyrics are below:

A long steel rail, a short crosstie… I’m on my way back home, The train I ride is the queen of them all, that Streamline Cannonball.

I can see the smile of the engineer, Although he’s old and gray, Contented heart, he waits for the call Of the Streamline Cannonball.

She moves along like a cannonball, Like a star in its heavenly flight. It’s the lonesome sound of the whistle you love As she travels through the night.

Her headlights gleam out in the night, The firebox flash you see, Will the blonde I like or the life that I love be home, sweet home to me?

She moves along like a cannonball, Like a star in its heavenly flight, It’s the lonesome sound of the whistle you love As she travels through the night.

I hope you enjoyed this last train song. Paul didn’t edit the video, so you get a peak behind the scenes for sure. Things like sweet potatoes so big I had to cut them in two pieces before baking sitting on my stove and me telling Chitter she needed to get the candy out of her mouth as only a momma can do 🙂


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  • Reply
    José Luis
    December 18, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    Dear friends, you can see on YouTube ,…”The Pressley Twins, Paul and JosĂ© Luis, (Brasstown-Buenos Aires, Arg.)”,… In that song, … and say if they like it, hahaha !!, With all my appreciation from Buenos Aires, Argentina, very MERRY CHRISTMAS for all, JosĂ© Luis. (The Gaucho banjo player, !!!)

  • Reply
    José Luis
    December 9, 2018 at 9:38 pm

    Hello my dear friends, Chatter, Chitter and Paul, I loved that song, and I’m going to do something similar to what I did a few years ago with the twins, for Christmas. I’ll put the banjo, to see how it is and upload it to youtube to be heard, (but do not laugh much, hahaha!). A great affection for the girls and a hug for you Paul, and obviously the whole family, JosĂ© Luis from Buenos Aires.

    • Reply
      paul wilson
      December 12, 2018 at 8:05 pm

      We can’t wait to hear it! It will be a great Christmas present! 🙂 Thank you in advance!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    December 9, 2018 at 12:57 pm

    I love Trains, my Mama did too. Perhaps it’s because her daddy was a bossman from Asheville to Murphy. His name was Hugh Passmore.

    I remember when I was just a little thing playing in the yard and hearing my Mama Praying to the Lord to let her live until her boys was a whole lot older. She passed in 86, I am the youngest and I
    was 32 or 34. The Good Lord heard her Prayer.

    Ed, I’m like Tipper, I love the Snow. Send some of that Stuff our way. …Ken

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    December 9, 2018 at 9:36 am

    I had never heard that song for whatever reason. Great job. It may have been hard to hear Paul when all were singing, but he’s never sounded better than in the solo pieces, and the girls were in fine fettle.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 9, 2018 at 9:28 am

    My Daddy used to make those train whistle sounds. I can too, somewhat. You pucker up like you are going to whistle but make the sound with your voice. Your mouth serves as a horn. You can also cup your hands around your lips and heighten the effect even more.
    We have about 10 inches of snow here already and more on the way. The winds are gusting to about 35 mph and it looks like a blizzard at times. It’s 29° but it supposed to warm up to 33° by 5:00 PM. The best and worst part of it is I am all alone.

    • Reply
      December 9, 2018 at 9:54 am

      Ed-stay safe and warm! You know I’d take every single flake if you could send it to me 🙂 Only a cold heavy rain in Brasstown.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    December 9, 2018 at 9:05 am

    Great! One of my favorite train songs is “Night Train to Memphis” by Mr. Acuff. My friend and mentor, the late Mickey Newbury built a lot of his songs around trains…..and threw in a lot of heartbreak and life’s up’s and down’s that made for great songs. One of my favorite Newbury songs is “Frisco Depot”. D

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 9, 2018 at 9:01 am

    Good job! I enjoyed the song and I enjoyed the facial expression that went along with doing a song they were not practiced with.
    I look forward to next year’s train month!

  • Reply
    December 9, 2018 at 8:33 am

    Love, Love that sound of the train whistle at the beginning. I thought you all did a good job on that song. i got a kick out of the video too.

  • Reply
    December 9, 2018 at 6:15 am

    Good job, I get a kick out of the way the Girls talk to each other with their eyes, I’ve been noticing this for a long time, you can just hear their thoughts. LOL

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