Song Lyric Sunday: “On The Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe”

Our theme today is “train songs.” Wow, where to begin?

When I was really young, Dad worked for the Monon Railroad (“Up and down the Monon, everything is fine, ’cause the rootin’ tootin’ Monon is the Hoosier line”), one of the smaller railroads that ran from Chicago to Monon, Indiana, Indianapolis and Louisville. When he left, he was assistant to the president of the railroad. We knew this, of course, because when he got the job he had a bunch of pads of paper printed with the Monon trademark and an announcement that “William K. Holton is now Assistant to the President of the Monon Railroad.” We used those announcements as scrap paper for years; some of them might have still been around after he died, I’m not sure. I don’t think he was in the job that long, but it was long enough to score a lot of china and silverware from the railroad when they shut down their meal service. I still have a crumbcatcher that the porters in the dining cars would use to clean off the tablecloths. One of my aunts told me that there was an ad for the Monon that showed a conductor standing in the doorway of a train car shouting “All Aboard!” If you looked close enough, you’d notice that his fly was open.

There was a time when train travel was the dominant mode of long-distance transportation in the United States, and Chicago, being in the middle of the country, was the center of most of it. Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans” (which was covered by Arlo Guthrie) memorializes the Illinois Central train of the same name, which now runs as part of Amtrak, the government-operated company that handles practically all of the country’s passenger rail service. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad sent trains all over the country from its hub in Chicago, most notably the Super Chief, a weekly service that ran between Chicago and Los Angeles, on which many movie stars and other celebrities traveled over the years. The Santa Fe was advertising its passenger service from Chicago on the local news as late as the mid-’60’s.

Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer wrote the song “On The Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe” in 1944. During 1945, no fewer than four versions of the song were on the Billboard chart, by Mercer, Bing Crosby, Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra, and Judy Garland, who had sung the song in the film The Harvey Girls that year. In 1946 it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Mercer’s was the only one to reach #1: here’s that version.

The lyrics, from SongLyrics.com:

Do you hear that whistle down the line?
I’m thinking that’s engine number 49
She’s the only one that’ll sound that way
On the Atchison, Topeka & the Santa Fe

See the old smoke rising round the bend
I reckon that she knows she’s going to meet a friend
Folks around these parts get the time of day
From the Atchison, Topeka & the Santa Fe

Here she comes (oooh)
Hey Jim you better get the rig (oooh)
She’s got a list of passengers that’s pretty big
And they’ll all want a list to Brown’s Hotel
Cause lots of them have been traveling for quite a spell
All the way from Philadelphia
On the Atchinson, Topeka & the Santa Fe

All aboard
All Aboard
Chug a chug chug chug chug woo-woo
Chug a chug chug chug chug woo-woo
Let her rip, let her rip Mister Engineer
Gotta go gotta go far away from here
While the man at the fire shovels on the coal
Stick your head out the cab watch the driver roll
See the towns & the roads go whipping by

Farethewell Laramie, Albuquerque high
Yessire here we are
Going all the way
Won’t quit til we hit california

On the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe
On the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe
Here she comes
Hey Jim you better get the rig (oooh)
She’s got a list of passengers that’s pretty big
And they’ll all want a list to Brown’s Hotel
Cause lots of them have been traveling for quite a spell
All the way from Philadelphia
On the Atchinson, Topeka & the Santa Fe

Wikipedia would like to point out, “Despite mentions in the lyrics of the song, the AT&SF never directly reached Laramie, Wyoming or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.”

Anyway, that’s Song Lyric Sunday for September 29, 2019.

25 thoughts on “Song Lyric Sunday: “On The Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe”

  1. I think train travel needs to be increased just like in Europe because it is so efficient. Apparently my mom’s great grandfather..I think just one Great, worked at the station and swung the lantern back and forth at the train station.

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  2. My stepdad worked for the C&O, now The Chessie System, for many moons. He came out of Grand Rapids and went to Chicago much of the time but they also went to New Buffalo. He was a brakeman. He was injured when one of the switches “blew” and a piece of it went into his leg. He lost a lot of his hearing over the years from it as well. Lots of good times and partying but a lot of tragedy along those tracks also. Your song choice is great, John, Mercer has a smooth voice and a great backup orchestra here.

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  3. Thanks for the info on the Illinois Central in Chicago. My Dad worked there forever and so did I when I started my career in Chicago. I worked at Randolph Street Station under the Pudential Building. I was the Administrative Assst. to the Chief Electrical Engineer. It was now called the Illinois Central Gulf/Electric Line,Commuter division,
    and since I’ve left (100 years) ago it is now part of the Metra system in Chicago. My sister worked Amtrak for a couple of years, my other sister worked out in the yards for ICG Intermodel in Chicago. Our BFF to our family the dad worked for Sante Fe. So I’m all over this one today. Blessings on your Sunday. Been dark fo r a couple of weeks. Mother of the groom. They say just wear beige and be quite, but there sure alot more duties than that 😉

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    1. Actually, I don’t think you have more duties than those. Enjoy the wedding!

      I think Metra took over just about all the commuter trains in Chicago. When the CTA went on strike in ’80, I had to get to the Loop to take an exam, and ended up walking all the way down 47th Street from almost Damen to the IC station in South Shore. It was an interesting sociological experience, lemme tel ya…

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      1. I’ll bet it was !! Sounds about right. I was in the BRAC union and they started buying everyone’s contract up because of the buyout ❤ I missed a tidy sum of money because it happened right after I took maternity leave and quit 😦

        Liked by 1 person

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