Some songs and their mem­o­ries by Ferg Devins


  1) Song #1, “Cowboys,Horses, Hoboes & Trains” sung by Box­car Willie remind me of the “Dirty 30’s” when we were kids. Trains would pull into York­ton and the tops of the box cars would be cov­ered with men rid­ing the rails They were called “hoboes”. They were the unem­ployed of Canada.They had no jobs and no mon­ey. One Sun­day in 1938 such a train stopped and the men got off and start­ed walk­ing up the back lanes, look­ing in garbage cans for food. They knocked on back doors beg­ging for a hand­out, and offer­ing to work for food. My Mom hand­ed out sand­wich­es until her sup­ply of bread ran out, and then she had to turn them away from her door, with tears in her eyes. She said that when­ev­er she helped some­one out, some­thing good always hap­pened in her life. And my Dad got a job the next day. After WW2 start­ed the unem­ployed joined the armed forces and thus a whole new era began.

2) Song #2, “The Log Train” sung by Hank Williams and the part where he sings “Mom­ma said, get the sup­per on the table, here comes the Log Train” makes me think about how the wives of rail­road­ers were among the unsung heroes of rail­road­ing. My Mom always had the large meal of the day when Dad was home. If he was going to be out on the job at sup­per­time, then she had the big meal at noon hour or vice ver­sa. And then  in the song the words, “Every morn­ing at the break of day, he would grab his lunch buck­et and be on his way”. Who the hell got up one hour ahead of Dad, took the 2 hour call from the call-boy and fixed his break­fast. You bet, it was good old Mom. Makes me think about the state­ment, “that behind every suc­cess­ful man, is a sur­prised wife” ha, ha.


3) Song #3, “My Dad­dy was a Rail­road man”, sung by Box­car Willie, is about the sec­tion men . Prob­a­bly the hard­est work­ing man on the Rail­road, and the low­est paid. yet he was the back­bone of rail­road­ing. They kept the trains run­ning on safe rails. This song may not have catchy music or words, but it high­ly deserves mention.


Song #4 “The wreck of Old 97” played by Flatt & Scrug­gs & sung by Box­car Willie, reminds me when I was Sta­tion Agent at Nes­bitt. One night I had to curl in Souris. After the game was over, both teams went for some beer, and played many more extra ends in the beer par­lor. We end­ed up on a farm near Car­roll and I had the host sing this song many times. I got home about 2 a.m. (fair­ly pick­led) and went upstairs singing the last words of this song, “All you ladies take fair warn­ing from this time on and learn, nev­er speak harsh words to your true lov­ing hus­band, for he may leave you and nev­er return”. The next morn­ing, I was work­ing in the office when my wife woke up and came down stairs singing “there’s a stranger in my home”. (ha, ha).


 5) Song #5 “Jim­mie Brown, The News­boy” sung by Lester Flatt & Earl Scrug­gs, reminds me of all the paper boys, down at the sta­tion, in Souris. The Assis­tant Super­in­ten­dent was in charge of about 200 employ­ees and yet it seemed to me that the only thing he ever did was stand around at pas­sen­ger train time and give the paper boys hell for not pick­ing up the scrap paper and putting it in the trash bar­rel. I had a few dif­fer­ent paper routes. The one I liked best was my route to the air­port dur­ing WW2. The pay was real good. On evening of May 7th or 8th in 1945, return­ing to Souris on the air­port bus, we could hear all the steam engines at the Round­house blow­ing their whis­tles. It was the end of the war in Europe. I was only 15 years old but what a night that was in Sours. We played in the town band and marched up and down the streets… Anoth­er News­boy Story…I was a Relief Dis­patch­er in Bran­don, 1952 or 1953. There was this large, over­weight teenage paper boy, who seemed to always be on the sta­tion plat­form when­ev­er Pas­sen­ger Trains were stopped for ser­vic­ing. It was about 17 O’clock and there was a Spe­cial Pas­sen­ger Extra East stopped at the depot. It was a pas­sen­ger train car­ry­ing “Shriners” from all across Cana­da. It had start­ed out in Van­cou­ver, pick­ing them up all along the way. Des­ti­na­tion, a con­ven­tion in Toron­to. One of the Shriners took all the news­boys papers, and went down the sta­tion plat­form sell­ing them to oth­er Shriners. When he had sold them all, he took the mon­ey and gave it to the paper­boy. Then before the train left the sta­tion, he went and retrieved all the papers and returned them to the news­boy. Bless those Shriners.


  6). Song #6, “Take this Job and Shove it”, sung by John­ny Pay­check. I’m sure all Rail­road­ers felt this way at one time or anoth­er. I know I did, after 29 years on the CPR. And I did quit. But Rail­road­ing gets in your blood and you can’t shake it. This song reminds me of a call-boy (no names, please, so he says) who had only been on the job for a cou­ple of months. He had to call a train crew for a Bran­don turn. It had been rain­ing all morn­ing. A nice steady rain (remem­ber this fact). The crews were ordered for 13:30. The call-boy had con­tact­ed all the crew except the head­end brake­man, who did­n’t answer his phone at home. So the call-boy went to the brake­man’s house, knocked on the front door and there was no answer. So back to the shops he goes. Bor­rows a Fire­man’s truck and pro­ceeds to ride around town look­ing for the brake­man. He even went down to the dam to see if he was fish­ing. He still did­n’t find him. As time was get­ting short, he then called anoth­er brake­man off the spare­board to fill in the crew. When the reg­u­lar brake­man found out he had missed a call, he put in a “run around ” tick­et, claim­ing pay for not being called, say­ing that he was out work­ing in his gar­den and that the call­boy should have come around to the back yard look­ing for him. NOW REMEMBER IT HAD BEEN RAINING,  ALL DAY, so who the hell would be work­ing in a gar­den? Any­way, the Assis­tant Super­in­ten­dent left a mes­sage at the shops for the call boy to come to his office. The call boy goes to the Assis­tant Super­in­ten­den­t’s office, and the “super” asks the call­boy, “What are you going to do about this run-around tick­et?” Now imag­ine, the call-boy is like­ly one of the low­est paid employ­ees on the CPR and they are want­i­ng him to pay it out of his wages! The call boy replies “How would you like to stick your job up your ass?” and walks out. Anoth­er sto­ry that adds to this item is about my Grand­fa­ther David Munro Fer­gus who arrived in Cana­da in 1883 from the Orkney Isles in Scot­land at the age of 17 years. When he arrived in Bran­don, he took a tri­al trip as a fire­man on the CPR. The main line was built as far west as White­wood, SK. Fuel back in those days was wood­en logs. Any­way after he returned to Bran­don, he had enough of that job, and I like to tell folks that this song “Take this job and shove it” must have been what he was think­ing. And that my friends, is why I remem­ber this song.….(John Fer­gus Devins)