“The Railroad Cars are Coming”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1927 (Sandburg)
Keywords: railroading train nonballad animal
Found in: US(MW)

Description

"The great Pacific railway, For California hail! Bring on the locomotive, Lay down the iron rail; Across the rolling prairies By steam we're bound to go. The railroad cars are coming, humming, Through New Mexico." Even animals rejoice when the train comes

Supplemental text

Railroad Cars are Coming, The
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

From Carl Sandburg, The American Songbag, pp. 358-359. From
"Margery K. Forsythe of Chicago, who learned it from her pioneer
mother."

1 The great Pacific railway,
    For California hail!
  Bring on the locomotive,
    Lay down the iron rail;
  Across the rolling prairies
    By steam we're bound to go,
  The railroad cars are coming, humming,
    Through New Mexico,
  The railroad cars are coming, humming,
    Through New Mexico.

2 The little dogs in dog-town
    Will wag each little tail;
  They'll think that something's coming
    A-riding on a rail.
  The rattle-snake will show its fangs,
    The owl tu-whit, tu-who,
  The railroad cars are coming, humming,
    Through New Mexico,
  The railroad cars are coming, humming,
    Through New Mexico.

Notes

The first Transcontinental Railroad in the Unitd States was the Central Pacific, completed in Utah in May 1860. This line went from Chicago to Omaha through Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada on its way to Sacramento and San Francisco.

But it cannot be the line referred to, since the song describes travelling through New Mexico.

Two major transcontinental lines went through the southern states. The Southern Pacific went from New Orleans though Houston, San Antonio, and El Paso to Los Angeles. This might be the reference, but this line barely touches New Mexico.

The Santa Fe railroad (or the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe) fits much better: Starting from Saint Louis as the Missouri Pacific, it passed through Kansas City and then headed west and south through Kansas, a corner of Colorado, and New Mexico, through Santa Fe and Albuquerque to Los Angeles.

The Santa Fe line makes sense in another way: It replaced the old Santa Fe trail, making its opening welcome even to the animals (since they didn't have to travel it). The line reached Santa Fe in 1880, meaning that its construction was still part of living memory when Sandburg was collecting songs. - RBW

Cross references

References

  1. Sandburg, pp. 358-359, "The Railroad Cars are Coming" (1 short text, 1 tune)
  2. ST San358 (Full)
  3. Roud #10812
  4. BI, San358