Polkadate: February 2018. My memory is intertwined with trains and train songs. While I have dim memories of riding a train from Austin to Southwest Missouri in the late 1950s, the one trip is implanted deeply. Train stories from the mid-1900s related by Dad, and his indulgence of me playing around trains (both real and model) as a child, has kept this interest a wonderful memory. My son, Jonathan, and I have chased the few remaining steam locomotives through Central Texas, and he has made sure that his son has ridden two locomotives, so far. This column covers train music in America. Next month will focus on Texas train music. So All Aboard! Leaving On the Only Track For Somewhere Else…..
What is the most popular topic for songwriters? Love between humans: good love, bad love, lost love, longing for love, eternal love, and unrequited love. And then there is non-human love, such as love for dancing, nature, ideas, coffee, music, and an infinite number of objects and ideas. However, there is a category that has been covered by almost everyone of them, and that would be trains. The train is everywhere in music: pop, rock, Cajun, blues, all flavors of country. One of the first musical pieces composed was The Steam Engine Polka written in 1837 by Johann Strauss II.
In the first third of the 1800s, different flavors of railway systems were used mostly for hauling freight. The accepted long-distance mode of transportation by water and stage-coaches was gradually replaced by the steam locomotive. Over the following decades, as locomotives were made safer and reliable, passenger trains slowly became accepted. However, the geographic focus was in the more populous northeast U.S. Prior to the 1860s, railroads in the south were few and far between and used mainly to transport crops (mainly cotton) from larger inland towns to the coastal ports and return with imported items. The ensuing unpleasantness played havoc with the primitive railroad systems in the South yet played a significant role on both sides.