The Carter Family - Railroading On The Great Divide





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Published on Jul 17, 2012

From the A. P. Carter's Clinch Mountain Ballads...Pine Mountain PMR-206 (LP)

Played and sung by the A. P. Carter Family: A. P. Carter, vocal; Sara Carter Bayes, vocal and autoharp; Janette Carter, vocal and guitar; Joe Carter, vocal and guitar...Recorded in Bristol, Tennessee, March 7, 1952...Originally issued on Acme 992 (45 rpm)

This song, composed by Sara Carter, is probably the youngest piece in the entire book. In reply to my query concerning how she came to write the song, Sara Carter Bayes wrote: "...as to the song, 'Railroading On The Great Divide' - I read a book or a story about this guy in 1916, that he left his home back somewhere and decided to just drift along, and he finally landed on the Great Divide and started working on the railroad. So as we were driving back through Wyoming, I thought about this guy, so I just wrote those few verses down, and later thought up the melody to it on record for Acme."
The "original" Carter Family, consisting of A. P. Carter, his wife, Sara, and Sara's cousin, Maybelle, disbanded in 1943. Domestic difficulties had eventually led to A. P. and Sara's divorce. In 1939 Sara married Coy Bayes, a cousin of A. P., and the couple moved to California. She periodically traveled east for the next few years so that the group could continue to record and perform on radio.
In 1952, A. P. Carter, Sara Carter Bayes, and their two children, Joe and Janette, began a series of recording sessions for Clifford Spurlock's Acme label. At the second of these, held in the studios of station WOPI in Bristol, Tennessee, on March 7, 1952, they recorded "Railroading On The Great Divide." The text transcribed here is from that recording, except for one word. Sara had thought that the name of the town (Laramie) was Lamar; I have taken the liberty of correcting the error in the transcription. Possibly Sara had Lamar, Colorado, in mind.
The railroad through Laramie is, of course, the Union Pacific, though it was completed many years before the date mentioned in the song. ~ Norm Cohen (Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong)


Nineteen and sixteen I started to roam,
Out in the West, no money, no home;
I went drifting along with the tide,
I landed on the Great Divide.

Railroading on the Great Divide,
Nothing around me but Rockies and sky;
There you'll find me as years go by,
Railroading on the Great Divide.

Ask any old-timer from Old Cheyenne,
Railroad in Wyoming, the best in the land;
The long steel rails, the short crossties,
I laid across the Great Divide.

As I looked out across the breeze,
Number Three coming, the fastest on wheels;
Through old Laramie she glides with pride,
And rolls across the Great Divide...

Written by Sara Carter Bayes

Images: Lyle Lofgren family photo, source: Inside Bluegrass, November 2001; The Carter Family: Janette, Joe, Sara, A.P. Carter, source: cover of PMR-206

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