Gordon Thomas Ward

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Welcome to the Past

Rockabye

Talent

Gordon Thomas Ward on lead and harmony vocals and 6-string grand concert guitar. Eric Troyer added the cymbals, which sound amazingly like the hissing and the bell of a steam train.

Background & Inspiration

From 1888 to 1917, there used to be an American short line railroad that ran in front of the house where I now live. Named the Rockaway Valley Railroad, it was affectionately known as the Rockabye Baby Railroad because its low quality construction allowed the cars to rock its passengers and freight back and forth along the route. The last of the tracks were torn up in 1963 on the day President Kennedy was assassinated, but parts of the railroad bed can still be seen in the woods and fields. I use a good amount of railroad terminology in the song. “Glory road” is a sentimental term for railroad. An “eagle eye” is another name for locomotive engineer. The “Indian Valley Line” referred to an imaginary railroad “at the end of the rainbow,” on which you could always find a good job and ideal working conditions. (It doesn’t refer to the former, twenty-one-mile railroad of that name between Paxton and Engels, Calif.) The same term is sometimes used to mean death or the railroader’s Heaven. On one moonlit night, I was imagining what it was like to be the engineer of one of these steam trains. I’d been told a local story about being able to hear the phantom sounds of the Rockabye train on certain evenings. I didn’t need much more than that to get me going. The song is told from the perspective of an engineer’s ghost who continues to ride the rails he rode in life, his “glory road beneath the sky.”

Lyrics

I stoke the engine’s fire

On this rusted railroad line

In a world of smoke and cinders

Churning out the stacks, on this glory road, beneath the sky.

 

Push the throttle up the grade

Switches, trestles, siding scales

Careful not to push the steam

Or this old, iron horse, she may throw a spike, and jump the rails.

 

(Chorus) Shoveling coal into the flames. 

The runs I make are all the same.

She’s rollin’ hot amidst this cool and verdant countryside.

Drive wheels, pistons, steam, and gauges, 

sing their songs throughout the ages,

I drive this old girl, engine Number 5,

Up to heaven we will ride.

Rockabye, Rockabye, Rockabye

Up to heaven, I will drive, on Rockabye.

 

From Watnong down to Whitehouse

Haulin’ peaches, coal, and lime

Counting cars behind the tender

Swinging side-to-side, helps this eagle-eye, to pass the time.

 

Oh, someday I’ll be drivin’

On that Indian Valley Line.

At times I think I’m dreamin’.

Oh, but dreamin’ was, near the last thing, on my mind.

 

(Chorus)

 

They say when I lay dyin’

I had no regrets or fears

For my soul’s forever tied

To that old road of steel, that ran ’neath the wheels, of this engineer.

 

So, when the hushed night falls

And rails of clouds will trace the sky,

Listen through the woods and fields.

You might chance to hear, my locomotive’s, lonesome cry.

Oooooo, Oooooo, Oooooo, Rockabye, Rockabye, Rockabye.