“Calling Trains” (On Utah Phillips)
Published August 5, 2011 | By Harry Lipson (From Harryshots.com)
I owe a personal debt of thanks to the late, great Bruce Phillips (1935 – 2008) for being my personal private tour guide at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum back before the Gardner was robbed in one of the biggest art thefts ever. That is all I have to say on the subject of the robbery, until they up the reward, wink wink.
I came here to talk about a friend. U. Utah Phillips was his name. He was an American icon, a railroad man, a hobo, a gandydancer, a writer and performer, a Wobbly, a pain in the ass to some, and a self described raconteur. On the particular day in question, Utah was piss full of details about Rembrandt this and Rembrandt that. He was telling me exactly how many self portraits Rem had painted. Then, as we stepped into the hushed and beautiful Isabella for the first time, Utah pointed to a small painting on the wall to the right and blurts, “Ah, the Storm on the Sea of Gallilee”. “Harry, my friend, did you know that Rembrandt painted himself into this very painting. Look in the lifeboat, right there. It’s ol’ Van Rijn.” That was the day I learned U. Utah Phillips was also a walking, talking art connoisseur par excellence, among the many other things I already knew. Just a half hour earlier, Utah and I had been at a gathering at the Mass College of Art, and things were going downhill rapidly. He winked at me and nodded toward the door. We tiptoed out of Pedantics 101 and he said follow me Harry boy. I did and he walked me over to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and inside we went. Bruce Phillips packed a lot of living in his time on Planet Earth. So thanks Utah, it was a hoot.
I bring him up because this, my first blog, 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. A sing song chant by an unidentified gentleman , inside 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. It is not an express train to say the least. It is what they called the Local, making stop after stop as it rolls north from New Orleans to 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 the journey.
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.
THE LINK, IN BLUE, BELOW: I have set up a link so you can listen to to it. 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.
BUT, I NEED YOUR HELP. The last words he speaks I cannot decipher. It sounds 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.
Well, let’s get started. Maestro if you will….
“CALLING TRAINS” with transcription by Harry Lipson III, 2010
intro: An unknown gentleman, circa 1936, announcing the
en-route stops, most likely for the “City of New Orleans”
Illinois Central passenger train, as it departs north bound for Chicago, from Union Station, New Orleans.
From “Good Though” by U.Utah Phillips, from Railroad Songs and Ballads. a Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture recording.
Calling Trains CLICK TO LISTEN
CALLING TRAINS Lyrics:
“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 “ – ??? possibly he says “That’s all of my tune” ?
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.
I am still unable to understand the last thing he says, something that sounds like
“Sal A Matoo”. Possibly he is saying “That’s all of my tune” ie, 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.