The Songs He Sang
Wreck of the Old 97: Lyrics
As performed by Cisco Houston
Arr & adpt Cisco HoustonAppears 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.
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.