“I've Been Working on the Railroad”


The singer describes working on the railroad "all the live-long day" and waiting for Dinah to blow the horn. He describes someone being "in the kitchen with Dinah, strumming on the old banjo."


Although this is surely a composed song, Fuld cannot find any references to the "Railroad" verses prior to 1894 (when it was twice published as "The Levee Song," and in both instances associated with Princeton). No composer is listed in the extant materials.

The "Dinah" verses are dated by Fuld to the period before 1850. How they came together is a mystery; they don't fit all that well -- but as I've never heard the halves done separately (though Scarborough's text consists only of the first part, and the Cohen text, from the Blankenship family omits the"Dinah Won't You Blow" stanza, substituting something Cohen thinks is a school rouser), I keep them together here.

Cohen cites Theodore Raph as claiming the song became popular in 1881. But Cohen himself agrees with Fuld's 1894 date. Probably it will take a much more detailed study than any undertaken so far to finally settle the matter. - RBW

Same tune

  • We've Enlisted in the Navy (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 151)


  • Blankenship Family, "Working on the Railroad" (Victor 23583, 1931)
  • Art Mooney, "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (Vogue R-713-32, n.d. but prob. 1930s)
  • Sandhills Sixteen, "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (Victor 20905, 1927)
  • Pete Seeger, "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (on PeteSeeger21) (on PeteSeeger32)


  1. Cohen-LSRail, pp. 537-542, "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. BrownIII 234, "Working on the Railroad" (1 text plus two unrelated fragments, probably of "Roll on the Ground (Big Ball's in Town)"; the "A" text is a jumble starting with this song but followed up by what is probably a "Song of All Songs" fragment)
  3. Scarborough-NegroFS, p. 248, "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (1 text, with the first verse being this and the second being probably some sort of courting song)
  4. MHenry-Appalachians, p. 81, "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (1 text)
  5. Silber-FSWB, p. 103, "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (1 text, including some parody verses)
  6. Fuld-WFM, p. 209, "I've Been Working on the Railroad -- (The Eyes of Texas)"; p. 513, "Someone's in the Kitchen with Dinah"
  8. BI, FSWB209


Alternate titles: “Levee Song”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1894 (Carmina Princetonia)
Found in: US