In the summer of 2018, I swung a hammer; endured dysentery; lit the fuse; was misled, robbed, and deceived by dirty politics; unfairly compensated; sleep-deprived; and determined to ride the rails of the Union Pacific railroad for days in my mind.

I was consumed at times. The mental journey was unexpectedly vivid and powerfully familiar… too familiar.

Is this song about the transcontinental railway and its precarious, explosive, bullish, corrupt, disastrous, inspirational, and historic steam-driven strong-arm through southern Wyoming? Is it about big business — the music business perhaps?

Yes. The answer is yes. ~SE

RAILROAD
SKIP EWING – ©2019 WRITE! ON MUSIC (BMI)

VERSE 1
My sister cried and my mother prayed.
I chose blue and my brother gray
Gray stained red on the sharp end of a long gun.
After Appomattox, I did my best
But life went south so I headed west
And the horse I chose to ride on was an iron one
I heard they needed men to lay the track out of Cheyenne.

Dale Creek Crossing, 1868 Harper’s Weekly

CHORUS 1
So, I’m working on the railroad, sweat, and steel.
Hope in the hammers, coal in the wheels.
Water in the whiskey, smoke in the sky, fire in the hole
Some men whither, some get strong.
You can get to work or you can get gon
Money’s all that matters when you’re working on a railroad
Working on the railroad

VERSE 2
Got tangled in the trestle at Dale Creek
Rode with the canvas into Laramie
Lost my leg, but I learned Morse Code from a newsman.
Tapped in the wire, heard the lies
But kept my secrets ‘cause I realized
I liked living, and the “graph” paid well for a lame man
Still, I had nowhere to go, and I’d have had to get there slow

CHORUS 2
So, I’m working on the railroad, fists in your gut
Blood on the trail, mud in the ruts
Rice in the barrel, powder in the keg, fire in the hole
Some make a killing, some get killed.
Long shot taken from the top of the hill
You can bet the hand’s dirty when it’s trying to build a railroad
Working on the railroad

Promontory Point, Utah meeting point of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific marking the completion of the transcontinental railway. May 10, 1869

BREAKDOWN
Swing that hammer now. Oh, my Lord!
Swing that hammer now

CHORUS 3
Working on the railroad, press on the pace.
Lie to the government but win the race
Miles in the money, money in the miles, fire in the hole
Throttle on the freemen, throttle in the beast.
Pay the men need it most the least
Money’s all the matters when you’re trying to meet a railroad
Working on the railroad

TAG
Some get the gallows, some get rich.
Bonafide money-hungry son of a…
Working on the railroad.

TRIVIA

When the transcontinental railroad was being constructed in 1868 through the southeastern Wyoming Territory (Wyoming wasn’t admitted to the Union until July 10, 1890) Dale Creek Crossing, “the trestle at Dale Creek,” became the longest bridge on the Union Pacific Railroad, it rose 150 feet above Dale Creek, two miles west of Sherman, WY.

“Rode with the canvas into Laramie” refers to “Hell on Wheels,” a makeshift city that followed along with the crews as the rail grew west. (Also an excellent series still available on AMC Hell on Wheels [TV series])

BACK TO BLOG