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Wabash Cannonball

by Sven Triloqvist Sun May 3rd, 2009 at 05:49:55 AM EST

A revival of interest in trains in the US got me thinking about hoboes - homeless migrants who ride freight trains. The Great Depression saw a huge rise in the numbers of hoboes, and there are some famous names among them: Burl Ives, Robert Mitchum, Kerouac, Steinbeck, Guthrie, Eugene O'Neil, George Orwell etc. All of them piggy-backing on the system.


Hoboes were probably the first nationwide desegregated community.

Bruce Springsteen's version puts new life into the old song that pits man against machine.

The hobo life inspired many great songs. One of the best known is Wabash Cannonball which I first learned during the Skiffle era, along with `Grand Coulee Dam' for which Woody Guthrie used the same tune. My early youth was filled with singing about trains: Rock Island Line, Wreck of the Old 97, Casey Jones, John Henry, Railroad Bill, Freight train, Midnight Special etc. Becoming a London Road trainspotter did not have as much glamour as the mythical world of the railroad, but it smelt real and was excitingly noisy.

There are endless variations on the Wabash Cannonball lyrics:

From the great Atlantic Ocean to the wide Pacific shore
From sunny California to icy Labrador,
She's mighty tall and handsome and she's quite well known by all
She's the hobo `ccommodation called the Wabash Cannonball

Listen to the jingle, to the rumble and the roar
As she glides along the woodland, through the hills and by the shore
Hear the mighty rush of engines, hear the lonesome hobo's call
Travelling through the jungle on the Wabash Cannonball.

BTW The `jungle' is a hobo encampment.

Boxcar Willie's version, with some trains for DoDo.

The Wabash is a north-running river in Indiana. But the Wabash Cannonball is not a particular train, but a symbol of all `freight-hopping' - a description of a system. A `cannonball' is a fast train in hobo slang - some of which has passed into popular language: `glad rags', `main drag', `flop', `moniker', `punk' etc. Hoboes also used
signs,
written in chalk for instance, near a house to tell other hoboes about the occupants.

Trains are good. They need to be re-romanticized, sexed up - to capture the imagination once more. Along with neutering cars.

The Wabash Cannonball stands for high speed trains that also carry the poorest.

Display:

Freight train by Elizabeth Cotten


You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun May 3rd, 2009 at 06:15:36 AM EST


You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun May 3rd, 2009 at 06:22:45 AM EST
brilliant!

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Sun May 3rd, 2009 at 05:21:08 PM EST
PS.  To celebrate the 90th birthday of Pete Seeger, hobo songwriter commie, Bruce Springsteen and some friends gave a birthday concert very recently.

There's probably utube of it already.  bet there's train and proletariat songs there.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 05:15:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
starts here



"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 05:47:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
i meant to say that annie difranco's comments are right on.


"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 05:47:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
my tribute to Pete, who graced us when we unveiled our A Frame, no water, no sewer, no heat warm eco-house on the banks of a forbidden to build stream, where we showed you could live elegantly with no footprint.

he loved singing for us that day, to honor us as pioneers of sustainability, and we loved having him, were more than honored having him, for without him, we would have understood less.  Here's Malvina Reynolds' version



"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 05:58:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Still plenty of people riding the rails over here.
http://www.billdaniel.net/filmography/who_is_bozo_texino/

Some are ex-railroad guys who can't get it out of their system. One system is to have your retirement check mailed to a PO box in, say, San Diego, and stop by there every few months. It's tough if you don't know how the railroad traffic is routed, but they do.

Others are homeless who sort of aimlessly travel around. The main informal camping areas in Colorado Springs are all near the freight yard, so you can pick up a ride pretty easily.

"Steel Don't Bend" is an interesting short documentary film about modern hobos... Here's the promo, but I don't know how to link to this sort of a movie file:
http://www.boomswagger.com/pop_sdb.html

by asdf on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 12:48:23 AM EST
1.  Kerouac was a hobo?  Did I know that?  Are you sure?

Completely off topic, but I still have "Belief and Technique for Modern Prose" posted on the wall:


Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for your own joy
Submissive to everything, open, listening
Try never get drunk outside your own house
Be in love with your life
Something that you feel will find its own form
Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
Blow as deep as you want to blow
Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
The unspeakable visions of the individual
No time for poetry but exactly what is
Visionary tics shivering in the chest
In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
Like Proust be an old teahead of time
Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
Accept loss forever
Believe in the holy contour of life
Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
Don't think of words when you stop but to see picture better
Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
You're a Genius all the time
Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

  1.  The hobo song with which I am most familiar is the one taught to American grade-school children:  Big Rock Candy Mountain.  Eerily, it is about a hobo Utopia...

  2.  There are still hobos.  I knew some kids who ran away from home and lived as hobos.  Like street kids, only riding the rails.  All very dangerous and anti-establishment.  

  3.  Which brings me to this.  It's all very romanticized now, but looking at the circumstances which turn people to hobodom: Great Depression, domestic abuse, etc., I suspect most of us would rather be paying customers.


"Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over the other organisms." -Dostoevsky
by poemless on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 01:28:55 PM EST
.....according to the wikipedia article on hoboes.

signed: Bozo Texino and his infinity hat




You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 01:59:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Best train song EVER.



"Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over the other organisms." -Dostoevsky

by poemless on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 01:32:40 PM EST
Didn't know there were hoboes in Britain.

guitarist James Burton is from Elvis' band (and Gram Parsons!)

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 05:22:59 PM EST
Grew up two blocks from a major freight line.  I love trains.
by rifek on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 08:24:01 PM EST
(Lots of videos to watch)

I missed this.

The Wabash is a north-running river in Indiana.

But, the reference here is probably to the Wabash Railroad, one of the less prestigious among the dozen or so competitors from Chicago to the East.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri May 22nd, 2009 at 01:43:58 AM EST


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