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Swannanoa Tunnel-  Hoyt Axton

     The Western North Carolina Railroad took twenty five years to complete its line between Salisbury and Asheville. In the mountains, the railroad snaked and twisted for nine miles in order to maintain an acceptable enough grade for the trains to travel TWO MILES as the crow flies.  On top of this, seven tunnels through solid granite were required, including the lengthy Swannanoa Tunnel, which came in at 1800 feet.    Built entirely with convict labor, dozens of men died terrible anonymous deaths, and the foreboding tunnel is legendary to this day.
    
      This song version was titled Swannanoa Tunnel on Hoyts first release and Asheville Junction on the second release.
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Heritage through music

        The southeastern United States, particularly the Appalachian region, is extremely rich in both railroad history and a unique musical legacy.  The song "Wreck of the ol' 97," which immortalized a horrific wreck in southern Virginia, is considered the first  modern "Country & Western" song by many historians. Vernon Dalhart's 1924 version was the first million-selling record of the genre.

        There are plenty of other notable, if less commercial contributions, to the musical heritage of the region as well. This page is just a sliver of what actually exists and aims to provide a samples that range from polished productions of Kathy Mattea and Hoyt Axton to the raw recordings of  Dalhart and Big Bill Broonzy (with a little Doc Watson and Hank Williams thrown in for good measure).  So click on the links, kick back, and relax to the very best tunes of southern railroading.
Southeastern Narrow Gauge & Shortline Museum

The L&N Don't Stop HereKathy Mattea

     The Louisville & Nashville Railroad ran primarily in Kentucky, Tennessee, & Georgia, with a famed section in North Carolina called the "Hook and Eye." Today, all of its North Carolina trackage has either been abandoned or is operated by another company.  The L&N truely doesn't stop here anymore.
    
      This song was written by Jean Ritchie and popularlized by Johnny Cash. This version is performed with the hauntingly smooth voice of Kathy Mattea.
Bill Morgan & His GalNew Lost City Ramblers

     The Southern Railway was formed in 1894 by J. Pierpont Morgan from the remains of several financially distressed railroad systems. This depression-era song pokes fun at the unlucky Bill Morgan and the decidedly un-frugal ways of his better half.
    
      This version is performed by the New Lost City Ramblers. The production values are slick, but the soul from the original version remains intact.
Wreck of Ol' 97-  Vernon Dalhart

      Train Number Ninety Seven was a special contract mail train operated on the Southern Railway between Washington, DC and Atlanta, GA.  In September, 1903, engineer Steve Broady and his train took a leap off  Danville, VA's Stillhouse Trestle.

     This song has been recorded dozens of times by everyone from Flatt & Scruggs to Johnny Cash to Boxcar Willie. This version, however, is the original recording from the 1920's by Vernon Dalhart. 
Walk On, Boy-  Doc Watson

      Doc Watson (1923-2012) was perhaps the most influential folk and bluegrass artist to come from the mountains of North Carolina. Blind since his early youth, he was given a guitar by his father and told he would have to find his own way in life. By developing his unique flat-picking style, Doc found a way like no other could.

     This song was written by Doc in 1966 and was his tribute to John Henry, the legendary track layer from the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad.
Greenville Trestle High-  Jimmy Jett

     This song, written by Jimmy Jett, is really called "Green Hill Trestle".  However, Doc Watson heard and mistook "Green Hill" for "Greenville." When Doc first started performing the song, he kept singing "Greenville", and due to his popularity, that name stuck.

     Doc said this song, though relatively new, was one of his favorite railroad songs. Here is a nicely produced version sung by the man who wrote it.
Life's Railway to Heaven-  Brenda Sowers

       Life's Railway to Heaven, a traditional song from the 1920's is as much a gospel tome as it is bluegrass or folk. Its peak popularity was in the 1960's when it was performed by the late, great Patsy Cline.

     This version, performed by Brenda Sowers, is a nicely produced video with excellent sound quaility and true to Patsy's version.
Green Light on the Southern-  Tony Rice


     This song by Tony Rice is another late song from the Twentieth Century. Nevertheless, he captures the essence and mood of southern railroading with a smooth melody and clever lyrics.
John Henry-  Big Bill Broonzy

      John Henry was written and recorded in 1951 by Big Bill Broonzy. Born in Mississippi in the 1890's to parents who were born into slavery, Big Bill became perhaps the greatest country blues guitarist in history.

     This song, perhaps more than any other, has immortalized John Henry and placed him among American icons such as Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed. In it, he captures the story and spirit of track worker John Henry fighting for his way of life aand job against a steam-driven hammer. Legend states that Henry's body is laid to rest alongside the Big Bend Tunnel near Talcott, West Virginia.
The Old Log Train-  Hank Williams, Sr.

      This song from 1952, though a country classic, is one of Hank Senior's less heralded tunes. The simple tune lovingly describes the scene from Hank's childhood, as his father was an engineer for the logging railroads of the W.T. Smith lumber company and the Williams family lived in a number of small towns throughout n Alabama.

Want to hear more?

        You can certainly check out the thousands of tunes on YouTube. Also, though it is not all-inclusive,
                                                  check out this page on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_train_songs
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