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)