John Henry died for our sins!

I am thinking back to my last

days on the rail.

Back to a final run that ended

in Cave City, KY.

My conductor and I

waiting for a van ride home.

We dogged, didn’t make it.

 

Thinking back to the train derailment

in Colesburg, Kentucky.

Thinking back to the locker room

in Nashville.

Sitting at the picnic table, in the crew room –

listening to five trainmasters

make light of an unsafe situation

that could have killed

four of my union brothers

and possibly an entire town.

 

A 16,000 plus ton train.

Two locomotives on the head-end.

Two locomotives in the middle.

The train being in total, almost two miles long.

 

Two days before, a train just like this one

came off the rail putting 20 something

cars on the ground.

 

Half of it, still sitting up on Tunnel Hill.

Rumors, as of that morning were;

that the cleanup crew while

trying to move the rest of the derailed train,

what was left of it, almost derailed again.

 

I am thinking about the day

that broke the camel’s back.

My plan was to go to work and

just do what they tell me to do.

 

The trains that we were being expected

to run, were the talk of the town.

Something was always going wrong,

numbers were being crunched,

books being cooked, and we were all

being expected to just, “run the plan.”

 

I am thinking about

a conversation

with my bosses.

The tremendous pressure that was

causing them to try and gauge

what my modus operandi would

be for that day.

 

One on the bosses, matter of fact,

the Terminal Superintendent,

suggested that he had heard,

 

“that us Louisville boys

don’t really like this train.”

 

I snapped.

 

I asked the railroad officials

the names of the people who were

almost killed the day before.

 

They didn’t know their names.

 

I am thinking about what I said,

head hot,

sweating and

pissed off more than ever before.

 

I almost marked off sick. Language, native.

A language only railroaders know.

Marking off sick,

the ace up the sleeve

that gives us a way out.

An ace.

 

I told them very sternly

to get out of my fucking face.

I told them, I would show them how

to inspect four locomotives.

 

Twenty minutes for each machine.

They knew what I was saying. Implying.

They knew I was right to be throwing this fit.

Nobody thought these new trains were, a good idea.

 

That is why I never heard

the threat of insubordination.

And to be more explicit and

somewhat to conjure another voice

that was informing my resolve –

I told my train masters to …

 

Go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut,

go take a flying fuck at the moon.

Ting a ling, and so on.

 

They didn’t mention that they would

charge me with delay of trains.

The five bosses knew that what we were

being expected to do was insane.

Greedy.

 

They mentioned that this was not their idea

and were only taking orders.

They were half drunk on kool aid –

half on my side and wanting the strength

of my union educated foot to somehow

strike out at the ass of the message maker,

not their messenger positions.

 

I am thinking about how,

for almost two years before that day in the

locker room – about how a fragment of a speech –

from a presentation at Yale University

that Wendell Berry,

the poet, family man,

seeker gave,

and how it

resonated

in my soul.

 

I am thinking about how two lines

haunted my moral convictions.

 

I am thinking back,

in hopes my hindsight is 20/20.

I am thinking about being part

of an organization that beat down

the first widespread union supported

attempt to reduce trains crews

to just one person.

 

I am thinking about the

luddites who quickly new –

 

“the industrial economy from agriculture to war

is by far the most violent the world has ever known

and we are all complicit in its violence. The history

of industrialization has been violent

from the start”

 

I am thinking about the word,

informed and

 

how that word is used to suggest an authoritative

voice that speaks from experience.

And how that thought

takes me to this fragment.

 

I am thinking seriously about a moral.

 

A moral to a folk story and how that story,

and the fragments of a presentation from a poet,

informed my decision to walk away from a career.

A career that I was proud somewhat,

to be part of.

History.

 

John Henry died for our sins!

 

John Henry lives every day when a

human being is being asked

to conform to an unreasonable shift.

A shift to the inhumane practices

of an industrial economy.

He died with a last request.

He wanted a cool drink of water

before he died.

 

What informed my decision

to abandon my post of Locomotive Engineer

was a complicated list that stretches as long

as the trains that were being demanded of us

to operate.

 

And down a side track, I go, again.

I am also informed by another folk story

of what seems to be happening to me now

because of my decision.

 

Jumping Mouse, the fictional mouse in a well know

native peoples’ folk tale, is found to be suspicious after

his decision to leave his community.

 

After Jumping Mouse

was tricked to fall into the river –

he found himself not

trusted by his friends!

The searching –

that want to go away –

leave, find wisdom –

became a serious burden

and a long, difficult journey.

 

And what seems to me

to be a one-track pondering –

running through

most of my narrative of late is …

 

A question.

A burning question

that fuels this want

to present ideas,

what some

may call prose,

other may brand

a long read –

poetic justice.

 

Isn’t’ this enough?

The creative questions presented!

Isn’t the hook baited well enough to be

expecting further questions?

 

I have named dropped well known

contemporary thinkers, folk tales,

scary stories of possible destruction!

 

What gives?

 

I guess I am tied to John Henry

and his demise.

As many railroaders

who have not a clue

who their own

folk hero was,

there are as many

folklorists who didn’t

ever stop to think –

 

what was the moral to the story?

 

I have never heard a question

presented by any academic

accreditation that went to the

very end of the folk thesis.

 

Did John Henry ever

get his cool drink of water?

 

If I must suffer another narrative

of what is wrong with the railroad,

I also may just die before being allowed

time to vindicate the demise of my fellow

worker and brother,

John Henry.

 

I am thinking back to

the day, I walked away.

I am thinking back

to a lonely dark spring early

morning, watching leaves

blow down the street in

Cave City, Kentucky –

the day I sidetracked

my train and went home.

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I Got My Learnin’ From the L&N – The Best Of JP

This new release is compiling over 12 years of original songwriting that was created while I was employed on the CSX railroad as a conductor and then as a locomotive engineer. Most of the tunes on this collection started out as ideas that were transferred to the blank sides of paper work as I drove a train from Louisville to Nashville.

Railroading can be a poetically romantic job

and is truly an American experience. Writers, poets, reporters and songwriters use the rich metaphors of “the railroad” quite often. I had a wonderful career!  During my long days and lonesome nights, rolling straight down the center of Kentucky, I met some of the most wonderfully resiliant folks!

One of the first questions you get asked when get “hired on” at the railroad is

“What did you do before ya come out here?”

This question for me, was sort of difficult to answer. Well …. I was an Artistic Director of a Christian Arts organization slash Dishwasher slash African Djembe player slash community organizer. I brought all those experiences and more to a new job. Not only was this a job, I was being introduced to a way of life and

a culture that has its own music, language, history and long held traditions.

I like to say that If Americana was a quilt, then railroad themed music is the thread. The word “qwirk” is an old term used to describe a person’s unique stitch in a quilt. So trust me “the railroad” has its quirks about it.

The tunes are mostly in the folk music style of G,C and D. “I throw in an F to impress the girls,” I believe Hank Williams Sr. said that. My father Joe Wright suggests that Jimmie Rodgers tunes are supposed to be played in C, so… strum accordingly.

I wanted to throw a few tunes out there and tell the stories behind them. Please check out the tunes below individually on Bandcamp for desciptions and photos. Folk musicians are somewhat part reporter, part historian and part folklorist. That is what I love about folk music! There are big stories behind the tunes and the stories are important.
If you would like a hard copy of this CD please send 12 dollars via Paypal to railroadmusic333@gmail.com

Don’t forget to leave your address in the note section provided by PayPal

Thanks Y’all and have a goodin’

JP