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Listen to the land a profile of a nation in terms of its living language. This week. Ha ha. We invite you to listen to America to the stories poems legends humor the drama and the thought that characterize our country and give it color and meaning. Listen to the land as produced by station W.H. y y Philadelphia under a grant from the National Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. By sharing aloud the writings of our country past and present. We can come to a fuller appreciation of those things which are meaningful to us as Americans and perhaps of the nature of our role in the contemporary world. Now here is your host and narrator Richard
S. Byrd. Thank you. It was grating. Everybody is fascinated by trains. Parents love to have the excuse to take their children down to the depot to watch the trains come in to go out. We're all intrigued with the lighted windows of trains passing us in the night. There are magic rolling names printed on the sides of boxcars and of course by this sound perhaps the most lonely nostalgia evoking sound known to man. Thank you and the sound of a train whistle in the night. Many moody wrote a poem that was published in the Ladies Home Journal several years ago but admirably captured the haunting wanderlust spirit of a
night time train whistle the poem was called steam engine whistle. Thanks. Listen my grandson just beyond the hill it lifts its lonesome voice and wails once more. A sound with a heart break in it tired and shrill a sound a million boys I've heard before and in the night time they have raised their heads just as you are doing now and felt a strange wonder catch hold of them in their safe beds till the sun's bed far off and out of range. It was a sound to park the buffalo grass long years ago a sound with history in it. Baltimore Kansas City Donner Pass. Thanks. Listen my grandson listen for a minute and then remember always if you can. It will be gone forever. When you are a man to go and. Eh why does
a train whistle mean so much to Americans. Jessamyn West recounts being asked that question and her delightful book to see the dream and she answered it this way. It stitches us together and it separated us. We got on a westbound train with all our household goods. We said goodbye to the folks back east into the old homestead in the known climate and the familiar waves and the train whistle as we pulled out of the depot and mother's face. We were never to see it again was wet with tears and the train whistled as we crossed the thousands and thousands of miles. The big rivers the everlasting deserts the sky touching mountains and it whistled when it pulled into another depot a depot surrounded by geraniums had tall and we got out and looked up at a blank cloudless sky through the fronds of palm trees that moved together with a dry homesick sound and we stood there strangers in a strange land and the train moved away slowly
and we listened to it whistling in the distance out of sight and the sound was the same sound we had heard as we kissed mother goodbye and the sound was the same sound we had heard as we lay on our beds back east and along fiercely to escape from the worn out farm and the worn out ways and the mean prejudices and the piddling virtues of something bigger and better. What's the sound that separated us. And it's the sound that stitches us together and we can hear it without crying for what's lost without marveling at what lies in between and without rejoicing at having escaped and without yearning for what lies ahead. It's the strongest most moving sound for an American there is extra over the origin of the train whistle came on
May 4th 1833 when a market cart loaded with eighty dozen eggs and fifty pounds of butter approached a railroad crossing between bag worth and Thornton and England. The driver had no way of knowing that the SAMs and one of the world's pioneer locomotives built by George Stephenson was then approaching on the tracks of the Lester and Swanton railroad. Oh the eggs were scrambled and the butter smeared in the dust. The directors of the railroad called an emergency meeting. A manager on Baxter suggested the Stevenson is it not possible to have a horn fitted to an engine one which steam can blow. 10 days later a musical instrument maker delivered a steam trumpet about 18 inches long and shaped like a megaphone its diaphragm agitated by a jet of stream. It gave forth a toot not unlike the sound of the diesel air horns on the stream liners today. But steam naturally prefers to whistle and steam engines soon replaced the trumpet on railroad engines in England and America. The wood burners gave forth a high shrieking
wail like the one Walt Whitman celebrated in his poem to a locomotive in winter in the lines. Fierce throated beauty roll through my chant with all thy lawless music I swinging lamps at night by Trill's of shrieks by rocks and hills returned launched or the prairie is wide across the lakes to the free skies unpin and glad and strong. The trend unfortunately is against self-expression and toward uniformity as long ago as 1895 the Fitchburg railroads general superintendent E-W Ewing gathered a group of unhappy engineers around a table and conducted a power loan to whistles school in succeeding years they became as scientific about whistles as about everything else on the railroad. Casey Jones was the classic example of a runner with a distinctive quill as the famous song relates the switchman know by the engines moans but the man at the throttle is Casey Jones.
Casey's locomotive whistle with a homemade chime instrument formed by six slender tubes banded together the smallest being just half as long as the tallest one. It had a beautiful tone. Casey could make the thing say prayers like a whippoorwill or scream like a banshee. This is from main line of Mid-America the story of the Illinois Central by Carleton J crawlers and published by Creative Age press. Casey Jones was a real person whose real name was John Luther Jones and he was born in southeastern Missouri on March 14 1864. He was a strapping dashing figure was Casey black haired gray eyed six feet four inches tall. He and his training were widely known and loved along the run between Chicago and New Orleans. This fact is brought out in the lines of the ballad engine engine number nine running on Chicago line. When she's polished don't she shine. Engine engine number nine farmers went to their fields and children to school by her
punctual whistle in a switchman knew by the engines moans that the man at the throttle was old Casey Jones. Casey always whistled one long wail then three short blasts for the crossings on the night of April thirty one thousand nine hundred. Casey and his Fireman Sam Webb brought the north bound cannonball express into Poplar Street Station Memphis exactly on time and promptly backed their engine out to the south Memphis yard roundhouse. There they found that the engineer who was scheduled to take the cannonball south that night was on the sick list. Since no other engine crew was available KC and Sam were asked to double out without sleep or rest. The train was due to leave Memphis at 11:15 p.m. but it was running late and it wasn't until 12:30 a.m. that KC opened the throttle of engine 382 and the six car train of male baggage coaches and sleepers pulled out of Poplar Street station on its history making run through south Memphis yard on the fly.
He heard the fireman say you've got a white eye. It was a murky night but Casey knew the road. Every station bridge switchin plantation home along the route was a familiar landmark but the mess of trains at Vaughan was something unfamiliar and even more serious than Casey had imagined. Somewhere south of Vaughn headed north where freight train number 72 with 36 cars and a caboose northbound cannonball number two and two sections of another Chicago bound passenger train number 26. All of these trains were running late. There was a considerable traffic and switching complication in the yards that run in order to clear the tracks for the southbound cannonball at the last minute. Number 72 burst a rear air hose which left four cars of number 83 freight falling the main line at the North switch. It was at this juncture that Casey's cannonball came thundering down the two mile stretch of main track approaching the curve just north of Vaughn. Casey pulled the throttle wide
open to make up the last few minutes needed to put the cannonball on time. As they rounded a curve some saw the lights of number 83 as caboose on the track a few hundred feet ahead. He yelled to Casey to jump for his life. Casey applied the emergency brakes and yelled back you know I'll stay. Firemen jumped but Casey stayed on. It was a good engineer but he's dead and gone. When Casey's body was found in the wreckage of engine 382 one hand was clutching the throttle and the other the air brake control. Casey was the only person killed. No passenger or other member of the crew sustained more than slight injuries and when the last rites were Casey Jones was set in the little church at Jackson Tennessee where he and his wife Janie had pledged their troth 15 years before. Casey's record of never having been in an accident which involved the loss of a fellow railway employee or a passenger still stood. It was left for Wallace Saunders the humble negro engine wiper in the Illinois Central shops to bring immortality to
the memory of Casey Jones. Casey was Saunders hero. And when Saunders heard that his idol was dead he began to chant. Casey Joe Casey he was all right stuck to his duty both day and night. Casey Jones firemen say Casey used to run into fast out run to signal last station you past Casey. It's easy John. And the chant he was picked up and passed on in time by fellow workers. Oh and one day a professional songwriter polished it up a little by changing a word or a line here and there set it to music and had it published the ballad was a hit almost from the start. It was a viral song that appealed and appeals today strongly to men. Men of the outdoors sailors Callahan's lumberjacks naturally strongest of all the railroad men to me. Casey Jones has come to symbolize the courage and
the devotion to duty of men who work night and day braving all conditions of weather and during all the discomforts of the road to put the trains through on time. Regardless of obstacles. Oh and he joins an immortal company of legend and Ballad of Davey Crockett Buffalo Bill Johnny Appleseed and Wild Bill Hickock. As one of the great characters of American folklore Oh I'm the lyrics of Casey Jones are so well known that it seemed to me preferable to use our time on this program on the story of how they came to be written rather than to deliver the lyrics themselves but of course the various versions are available at your public library or on numerous recordings to AAA. Iraq thank you.
Probably the most famous railroad poem ever written was knocked off in just one day in 1897 by Strickland W. gillion when he was a reporter on the Richmond Indiana Palladium. Oh life then a noted humorous weekly reprinted it overnight Gilliam became nationally famous mostly because of the last seven words of the poem which became a kind of popular catchphrase. Oh and billion became a noted lecturer and wrote many more poems but as he himself said not more than one Finnegan happens to one man in one lifetime. Oh and well here's the poem now and again the Flanagan. Now it's the rhyme the count of the friendly animosity between two Irishman one a yard superintendent by the name of Flanagan the other a section boss named Finnegan. Oh and. Superintendent was Flanagan boss of the section was filling in whenever the cars got off of the track and muddle things up to the devil and back. Finnegan written to Fran again after the wreck was all on again. That is this Finnegan
reported to Flanagan. Now when Finnigan first read to Flanagan he wrote 10 pages to do it again and he told just how the smash occurred further mineit Ager's blunder in word and Finnegan write to Flanagan after the cars had gone on again and that's the way Finnigan reported to Flanagan and Flanagan node more than Finnegan. He'd more education had Fran again and it weren't Lennon completely out to target Finnigan written about in his writing to Mr. Flanagan so he righted this here Master Finnegan don't do such a scene again make him brief Finnegan when Finnigan got this from Flanagan he brushed rumors he rid the gene again and he said I'll gamble the hormones pair that it'll be many and many a day before superintendent that's running and gets a whack at that very same
scene again from Finnegan to Flannigan reports won't be so long again. One day on the section of Fenian on the road superintended Flanagan a real giveaway and a bit of a curve and some cars went off as they made the swerve and there's nobody here to do swimming in. But reports must be made to Flanagan and he winked at Mike Corrigan is married to Finnegan. He was Shanti and CNN was Finnegan is Meneer railroaders been again in the smoke your lamp was burning bright infinit in Santiago that night by Alan Donn his report was feeding in and he rated this here. Musta Flannigan off again and again gone again. Finnegan. In a few weeks we're going to have a two part program featuring the writings of the
1920s in which naturally F. Scott Fitzgerald will be prominent. We hear the voice of Fitzgerald briefly in this program on trains by way of a short passage near the end of his excellent novel The Great Gatsby. Nick Carraway the narrator of the novel evokes a nostalgic memory of his youth time and the trains of homecoming. One of my most vivid memories is of coming back west from prep school and later from college at Christmas time. Those who went farther than Chicago would gather in the old dim Union Station at six o'clock of a December evening with a few Chicago friends already caught up into their own holiday gayeties to bid them a hasty goodbye. I remember the fur coats of the girls returning from Miss this or that and the chatter of frozen breath and the hands waving overhead as we caught sight of old acquaintances in the matching of invitations. Are you going to the odd ways. Her so used to shelter us in the long green tech it's clasped tight in our gloved hands and
last the murky yellow cars of the Chicago Milwaukee and St. Paul rail road looking cheerful as Christmas itself on the tracks beside the gate. When we pull out into the winter night and the real snow our snow began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows in the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by a sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air. We drew in deep breaths of it as we walked back from dinner through the cold vestibules undoubtably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour before we melted indistinguishably into it again. That's my middle west not the wheat or the priorities. The last Swede towns. But the thrilling returning trains of my youth and the street lamps and sleigh bells and the frosty dark in the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that a little solemn with the feel of those long winters. Thanks
to. Thank you. Some writers are written at great length on the subject of trains others more briefly yet with a kind of power through simplicity. Here's a fragmentary verse by Carl Sandburg that has the effect of a quick look through the window of a passing train leaving one with a feeling of restless observation and as an undercurrent of philosophical comment but it's difficult to find. It's called limited and I am writing on a limited express one of the cracked trains of the nation hurtling across the prairie into a blue haze and dark hair grow 15 all steel coaches holding a thousand people. All the coaches will be scrap and Ross and all the men and women laughing in the diners and sleepers past the lashes. I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he answers often. I am Archie
Roberts a lot of delightful book called Slow Train to yesterday which is a firsthand account of the broad line and short line railroads of America. You know where the locals the jerk waters and backwoods yeoman that chug their way up and down the national spine. Archie Robinson says to describe certain Sosa as fans of these railroads would be an appalling understatement. So deep and strong is their love for the railroad. One such as Miss Francis Texan of Dickerson station in Coffee County Tennessee. Her grandfather built a local line now a branch of the Nashville Chattanooga and St. Louis upon which the passenger trains a last run no more. It's Henderson conducted a persistent campaign not only to get the service restored but to saturate America with the tragedy of the passing railroad. A letter which she wrote to The Wall Street Journal in 1935 as deservedly become a classic he wrote. Trains are moving things they put into action great and vital
orders. They run the length of the railway on business. This mission established trade and safeguard against depression. A business calamity came to our country when the trains failed to move. Darkness and distress filled the space of the trains moke counties in which there are no railroads have ignorance and the natives are not law abiding. Such a class of people fail to value the Constitution and the wash behind their ears are red and green plush seats were far more comfortable than are those of the Pan American in our train service much better our conductors always left the suitcase while the countrywoman pulled one of the twins and carried her baby as she left the coach. All the family under six went to town with a mob when there was not any cost to their trip. Often an old man standing between the coaches deposited a top tobacco on the wrinkled sleeve of his neighbor but the neighbor was too busy looking at the folks on the train and notice the accident. Those liners hauled more men and women
journeying to Texas than any other line in America. The homecoming ride within the following year. More chicken bones rust along our railway line and not of any line in the world more model cakes with dripping icing seven unpacked from the shoe boxes on this road and all the roads in our states are flag man usually had their show to toes I used but that was part of their peculiar service to humanity. Most engineers are family man. The railroads liked them that way continues. Mr Robertson. But it was also many a Gay Blade who learned how to imitate his rivals whistled as he rolled into town and notified a lady to be ready for an evening out or in one engineer on the CNO who switched at Lexington Kentucky invariably played Home sweet home at midnight on New Year's Eve in Florida trains coming from the north was told to warn the farmers of a freeze was on the way. The one recorded instance however of an effort to make the train whistle serve the purposes of
organized religion was not a success. Dutch I figured an engineer on the Cincinnati southern mastered on the whistle the art of playing such difficult classics as oh how I love Jesus while hauling coal down the lonesome Cumberland mountains. One night a new preacher in the Kentucky mining town of Stearns was whipping the devil into a corner when he heard the plaintive notes of the hymn floating up through the valley rather than sisters. The parson said his voice trembling only a religious man could whistle a song as an engineer has. Dutch retained a high rank with the good people of those parts until one night in a quite different mood he came down the mountain blasting How dry I am. The incensed parson wrote a letter to the division superintendent who advised Dutch hereafter to use his steam to pole box cars instead of entertaining the citizens of Sterns. I have a feeling Tom Wolfe would have enjoyed that starry trains
held a fascination for wealth as they do for a few men. His novels are filled with great sweeping passages describing train whistles journeys on trains and the meaning of trains to Americans. One of the most evocative of these passages as in Will's novel of time in the river in which he describes the nighttime journey of a train across Virginia at night great trains will pass us in the timeless spell of an unsleeping hypnosis. A tolling bell the Great Train mounting to its classic monotone and presently the last lights of a little town. The floating void and loneliness of moon haunted earth Virginia. There will be huge steaming on the rail the sudden smash a wall of light the sudden firings of wild roaring like upon the moon haunted and dreamed tortured faces of the sleepers and finally in that dark jungle of night through all the visions and memories an enchanted weavings of the timeless and eternal spell of time the moment of forever. There are two
horsemen writing writing writing in the night. Who are they. All we know them with our life and they were right across the land the moon haunted passage of our lives forever. Their names are death and pity and we know their face. Our brother and our father ride ever beside us in the dream and chanted spell in the vista of the night. The hooves keep level time beside the rhythms of the train. Forced on the black and moon manes deeds of fury cloaked in the dark of night the spell of time dream pale we turn oh. They are rushing on across the haunted land the moon enchanted wilderness and their hooves make level thunder with the train pale pretty and lean death. Their names are and they will ride forever more of the moon plantations of Virginia keeping time time time to the level thunder of the train pounding time time time as with four hooved thunder of phantasmal whose They pound for ever level with the train across the moon plantations of Virginia got about twenty people from Sun a to quote a company I would storm phantasmal hooves lean death and
pale pity with quite a county to quote had company company about 20 Putin Putin Putin Putin picture him as well Son of God a top cop I'm quite a bit trying to picture in picture. Putin Putin picked him out of a country club trying to kind of a country kind of a country to computer I'm sorry to cut it out and get a company called about 20 credible 20 credible 20 credible 20 got about 20 credible trying to grab a 20 over 20. And so we have listened to the land speaking and singing of trains the high iron that links us together and which may someday have to give way to the jet and atomic powered vessels of transportation even as the horse and wagon gave way to the train and automobile. Ogden Nash who has something to say on just about anything you can mention summed up the thoughts of many of us in the light hearted ballad entitled riding on a railroad train. The last few lines of which go as follows. Some like trips and luxury ships and summon gasoline wagons and others swear by the upper air on the wings of flying
dragons. Let each make haste to indulge his taste be it beer champagne or cider. My private joy both man and boy as being a railroad rider. Wow thanks for being on board during the past 30 minutes we've heard from many how moody Walt Whitman doesn't Westcott and Jay call us. Strickland billion F Scott Fitzgerald Carl Sandburg Archie Roberts and Thomas Wolfe an OG denies. I hope they can join me next week for the first in a two part program that will salute the American press its humor its drama and its great traditions. Until then. So long. Listen to the land was produced and recorded by station W.H. y y Philadelphia under a grant from the National Educational Television and Radio Center and is being distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. The locomotive sounds courtesy mobile fidelity Burbank California James Kato
speaking and suggesting that you'll be with us next week when your host and a narrator Richard S. Burdick invite you to listen to the land. This is the ne Radio Network.
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Listen to the land
High iron
Producing Organization
WHYY (Radio station : Philadelphia, Pa.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-4f1mmg5t).
Episode Description
This program focuses on American railroad folklore.
Series Description
America's literary heritage is explored through readings of short stories, poems, folklore, journalism and legends. The series is narrated by Richard S. Burdick.
Broadcast Date
Media type
Announcer: Keeler, James
Host: Burdick, Richard S.
Producing Organization: WHYY (Radio station : Philadelphia, Pa.)
Writer: Voegeli, Don
Writer: Eitzen, Lee
Writer: Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892
Writer: Nash, Ogden, 1902-1971
Writer: Sandburg, Carl, 1878-1967
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 60-54-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:23
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Chicago: “Listen to the land; High iron,” 1960-01-08, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 12, 2024,
MLA: “Listen to the land; High iron.” 1960-01-08. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 12, 2024. <>.
APA: Listen to the land; High iron. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from