Cisco Houston Web Site

The Songs He Sang

Wreck of the Old 97: Lyrics

As performed by Cisco Houston

Arr & adpt Cisco Houston

Appears on:
Well, he gave him his orders
   at Monroe, Virginia,
Sayin', "Steve, you're a-way behind time.
This is not 38, but she's Old 97
You must put her into Spencer on time."

Well, he turned and he said
   to his tired, greasy fireman
"Shovel on a little more coal,
And when we cross that White Oak Mountain
You can watch Old 97 roll."

It's a mighty rough road
   from Lynchburg to Danville
A line on a three-mile grade
It was on that grade
   that he lost his average
You can see what a jump he made

He was goin' down the grade
   making 90 miles an hour
His whistle broke into a scream
They found him in the wreck
   with his hand on the throttle
He was scalded to death by the steam

Now ladies, you must all take a warning
From this time now and learn
Never speak harsh words to your true lovin' husband
He may leave you and never return.

Of Interest:

This song appears on an early and late LP, but the versions are essentially the same. Other than Danville being the destination in 1952, rather than Spencer, and the fireman being black rather than tired (early PC?), the lyrics are the same. But the performances are not. The lilting tenor of 1952 is the wrong voice for this song. The world-weary baritone on 1960 captures the proper tone perfectly. Same song, same performer, but a much more assured performance.

A firmly entrenched memory from my youth is my dad, who fancied himself quite a vocalist, belting out "He was comin' down the gradin' making 90 miles an hour, whent he chain on his bicycle broke." I have no idea if this was his song, or swiped from some famous parody, but it is much a part of my childhood as Cisco.

Notes from the Folk Song & Minstrelsy Set

On Sept. 27, 1903, "Old 97", which was the Southern Railroad's fast mail train between Washington D.C. and Atlanta, was wrecked north of Danville, Va. Traveling at excessive speed on the run between Monroe, Va. and Spencer, N.C., the train plunged from a trestle that skirted White Oak Mountain. It fell 100 feet. The engineer, the fireman, and seven mail clerks were killed in the wreck.

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