Monday, February 11, 2013

Monday's Poetry: "Casey Jones - the Union Scab"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

(This post is respectfully dedicated to Chad Manspeaker, a good union man and future mayor of Topeka, Kansas.)

Riding on the Verde Canyon Railroad this past weekend has left me thinking about trains and the impact that they have had on my life and the life of this nation.  My first ride on a train was in about 1955 when my second grade class rode a Kansas City Southern passenger from the town of Goodman, Missouri, all the way to Joplin, Missouri (30 miles), where we had a school picnic in a park and toured the Wonder Bread bakery.  It was quite an adventure - and we even got our picture in the Neosho Daily News!

Later, while in high school, I rode that same train from Noel, Missouri, to Joplin with a friend to spend the day with his dad at work, and about the same time I made a pair of train trips from Noel to Kansas City - where I discovered everything to be quite up-to-date!

But then the passenger trains quit running for a few years until AmTrak came along providing a few lines out into the Midwest and on to the West Coast.  I have ridden the AmTrak from Kansas City to Flagstaff on a couple of occasions, and had the pleasure of bringing my son and grandson along on one of those trips.

Trains are a wonderful and very peaceful way of seeing the country.  Saturday's trip along the Verde Canyon was such a relaxing experience.

While looking for a train poem to highlight in today's post, I sorted through some of the folklore versions of the tale of Casey Jones.  Most tell a story of a brave engineer who died at the throttle of his engine as it crashed head-on into another train.  Then I came across a much different version of the tale of Casey Jones, this one written by union activist and songwriter Joe Hill - the Joe Hill made even more famous by Joan Baez at Woodstock.  Joe Hill demonized Casey Jones as an anti-workingman scab who refused to go on strike with his railroad brothers.

Here is Joe Hill's take on Casey Jones.

Casey Jones - the Union Scab
by Joe Hill

The Workers on the S. P. line to strike sent out a call;
But Casey Jones, the engineer, he wouldn't strike at all;
His boiler it was leaking, and its drivers on the bum,
And his engine and its bearings, they were all out of plumb.

Casey Jones kept his junk pile running;
Casey Jones was working double time;
Casey Jones got a wooden medal,
For being good and faithful on the S. P. line.

The workers said to Casey: "Won't you help us win this strike?"
But Casey said: "Let me alone, you'd better take a hike."
Then some one put a bunch of railroad ties across the track,
And Casey hit the river bottom with an awful crack.

Casey Jones hit the river bottom;
Casey Jones broke his blessed spine;
Casey Jones was an Angelino,
He took a trip to heaven on the S. P. line.

When Casey Jones got up to heaven, to the Pearly Gate,
He said: "I'm Casey Jones, the guy that pulled the S. P. freight."
"You're just the man," said Peter, "our musicians went on strike;
You can get a job a-scabbing any time you like."

Casey Jones got up to heaven;
Casey Jones was doing mighty fine;
Casey Jones went scabbing on the angels,
Just like he did to workers of the S. P. line.

They got together, and they said it wasn't fair,
For Casey Jones to go around a-scabbing everywhere.
The Angels' Union No. 23, they sure were there,
And they promptly fired Casey down the Golden Stairs.

Casey Jones went to Hell a-flying;
"Casey Jones," the Devil said, "Oh fine:
Casey Jones, get busy shovelling sulphur;
That's what you get for scabbing on the S. P. Line.

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