INTRODUCTION TO THE SONG: I’d like to say thanks to a friend of mine. This song, “Calling Trains” is on one of his many record albums, and it is his photo and album cover that you see down below. He was the real Dos Equis guy. Bruce Phillips (1935 – 2008) was his name, and he was in the running for the most interesting man in the world. “Utah” was the name he answered to. His nom de guerre was U. Utah Phillips.
In this little adventure, Utah was my personal tour guide at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, on a day, just months before the Gardner Museum was robbed in what was, and remains, the biggest art theft in American history. That is all I have to say on the subject of robbery until they up the reward, wink wink. I’m kidding.
There are individuals and there are INDIVIDUALS. Bruce Phillips was the latter. Ask anyone who knew him, and plenty did. He had merriment in his eyes and a benevolent aura about him. His hair and beard were snow white. He wore a flannel shirt and painters overalls.
Utah Phillips was a less well known American icon, a railroad man, a hobo, a gandydancer, a writer and performer, a Wobbly, a pain in the ass to conservatives and bosses, and a people person of the highest order. Utah got paid to travel the world and sing songs, and tell his always hilarious stories. He was far more of a story teller than a song singer.
On this particular day, at the Gardner Museum, Utah Phillips was piss full of vinegar and details about Rembrandt this and Rembrandt that. He morphed into a museum tour guide, as versed as if he worked there.
Bruce was telling me exactly how many self portraits Rembrandt had painted as we stepped into the beautiful home of the late Isabella Stewart Gardner, a 19th century Patron of the Arts, who would eventually own one of the great private art collections in the world. It is now a museum in Boston’s Back Bay.
Utah pointed out a small painting on the wall to the right and blurted, “Ah, the ‘Storm on the Sea of Galilee.’ Harry did you know that Rembrandt painted himself into this very painting. Look in the lifeboat, right there. It’s Ol’ van Rijn himself.”
About a half hour earlier, Utah and I had been at a nearby conference and the proceedings were sliding downhill into Pedantics 101. He got my attention, gave me a thumb sign, and motioned toward the door, with a jerk of his head. I had no idea where we were going. He obviously did and it was off to the Gardner Museum.
THE SONG ITSELF
As mentioned above, this is about a song that appeared on one of his many records. He didn’t sing the song. We don’t know who did. It is titled “Calling Trains” and it is all of 46 seconds long. It is spoken word.
It is a chant by an unidentified gentleman, inside the Union Railroad Station in New Orleans, circa 1935 give or take five years, announcing the departure of the City of New Orleans passenger train bound, eventually, for Chicago.
This is not an express train to say the least. It is the Local, making stop after stop (forty in all) as it rolls north from New Orleans toward Chicago, through Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Illinois. “Calling Trains” calls out each of the forty scheduled stops the City of New Orleans was scheduled to make on its journey. The recording is from the Library of Congress.
When I listened, at first, I couldn’t decipher much of what was being said. But I stayed with it, trying to understand the whole “call from start to finish. After studying old railroad maps and Mississippi atlases, I have a written complete precise translation of the “call.” Absolutely correct. Guaranteed or your money back.
As the gentleman is calling out for passengers to board the train on track four, you can probably pick up some of what he say on first listen. After you hear it a few times take a look at the transliteration below and then listen again as you read along. I think it is pretty cool. And it is historic as well.
So enjoy the listen. However, I still need some help with the transcription. If you can figure out the last three words spoken, you will get credit for doing so in this post. It sounds to me like SAL A MATOO. Obviously, that is not English. He may be saying “That’s all of my tune” It has me stumped. So if you have any idea, please let me know
HERE ARE THE LYRICS, which are absolutely spot on except for the last line.
transcription by Harry Lipson III
“ALL UP FOR ILLINOIS CENTRAL, LULING, PONCHATOULA, HAMMOND, AMITE, INDEPENDENCE, FLUKER, KENWOOD,
OSYKA, MAGNOLIA and MCCOMB, BROOKHAVEN, WESSON, HAZELHURST, CRYSTAL SPRINGS. TERRY, BYRAM, to JACKSON, to
TOUGALOO, RIDGELAND, LUX, and MADISON, CANTON, VAUGHN, PICKENS, GOODMAN, DURANT, WINONA,
GRENADA, SARDIS, MEMPHIS, DYERSBURG, FULTON, to CAIRO, CARBONDALE, Centralia, Effingham, Mattoon, Champaign,
Kankakee, and Chicago. Train on Track Four. Sal a matoo.”
A LITTLE BACKGROUND INFO ABOUT THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS AND THE ROUTE IT TRACED:
I found it a nice coincidence that one of the forty en-route stops for the The City of New Orleans was in Goodman, MS, given that Steve Goodman wrote the Grammy award winning song about this famous train.
One of the mysteries, to me, is why the gentlemen calls out “Lux”, Mississippi as one of the train stops. The train rolls along the Illinois Central Railroad tracks and Lux was located northwest of Hattiesburg and southeast of Jackson. It was many miles away from the railroad line, no where near it in fact. I have looked at original Mississippi railroad maps and old state maps and you won’t find Lux anywhere near the tracks. To add to this mystery, Lux disappeared and is no longer found on maps after a certain date prior to 1950. . Could the gentlemen have been from Lux and wanted to give a shout out to his hometown? We will never know how Lux makes the list of train stops, for sure the City of New Orleans never once stopped in Lux.
Deciphering the audio was initially challenging. I misunderstood the gentleman at numerous points, but eventually it became clearer to me. Mapping and repeated listening ultimately solved the puzzle of the lyrics.
“Luling” was initially difficult for me to ascertain what he was saying. I found Luling on an old map right on the train line.
“Amite” was another that took additional time to understand and transcribe.
“Terry” and “Byram” were initially tough to determine. I thought he was saying
“Cairo bound for Jackson”. If you listen to it, you might hear him say that too.
I also had trouble understanding an earlier portion that I thought was “Westhaven”. But there is no Westhaven MS. It was “Wesson”, “Hazelhurst”.
And as mentioned previously I am unable to understand the last three words that are spoken which sound like “Sal A Matoo.” ANY THOUGHTS ?
Vaughn, MS, one of the forty stops along the line in “Calling Trains,” is oft forgotten as the place where famous railroading “disaster” occurred in 1900.
It was near Vaughn that Casey Jones, veteran Illinois Central conductor, died, the only fatality in that accident, (Casey was at fault for rear ending a freight train) forever immortalized in song. Listen and enjoy and try to catch the words (you can follow along with my transcription above).
Harry Lipson III @ HarryShots.com