Wabash Cannonball

The Wabash Cannonball is the subject of many speculations. Was there really a train by that name? Who is Daddy Claxton? What is a "combination?" Are there really jungles in Indianna? What do you mean, "no changes can be taken?"

The milestones on the journey of the Wabash Cannonball are these. It seems to have left the station on sheet music as 'The Great Rock Island Route' by J. A. Roff in 1882. In 1929 it made a stop in Tennessee where The Carter Family recorded a version published by William Kindt in 1905. The most popular recording, and still my favorite, was made by Roy Acuff 1936. Pete Seeger jumped on board in 1955 and added the little vocal train sound that I try to imitate, woo-woo-hoo-hoo woo-woo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo.

No one can really answer all the questions, but here are some "educated guesses."

The Wabash Cannonball is supposed to be a fictitious. According to Utah Phillips, it is a ghost train that carries dying hobos to heaven. The Wabash railroad named one of its trains the Cannonball, but that was in honor of the song and well after the fact.

The "jungle" refers, of course, to the "hobo jungles", the dangerous world of the railroad bums.

Best guest about 'combination' is that it refers to a combination freight and passenger train.

"No changes can be taken?" It is an express, you can't change trains. Once on board you'll ride it all the way to the big rock candy mountain.

The Carter Family version refers to 'Daddy Cleton' and nobody seems to know who he was. Roy Acuff substituted 'Daddy Claxton'. It is said that Claxton was the name of his grandfather. Also it is said to be Roy's middle name given to him by his father in honor of a lecturer named Claxton with whom he was impressed. Roy often confirmed and denied these and other stories depending on his mood.

Another likeable if unlikely theory was espoused by historian James W. Loewen. He claims that Daddy Claxton was an African-American farmer from Alabama, and member of the populist Farmers Alliance. He stole a train in protest of the railroad monopoly in his region. This would explain why he would be long remembered in the courts of "Alabam." That's my story and I'm stickin' to it. You can make up your own.

All aboard!

Lyrics: 

From the great Atlantic ocean to the wide Pacific shore
From the queen of flowing mountains to the south bell by the shore
She's mighty tall and handsome and she's known quite well by all
She's the modern combination called the Wabash Cannonball.

She came down from Birmingham one cold December day
As she rolled in the station you could hear all the people say
There's a girl from Tennessee, boys, she's long and she's tall
She came down from Birmingham on the Wabash Cannonball

Our estern states are dandy so the Western people say
From New York to St. Louis and Chicago by the way
From the hills of Minnesota where the rippling waters fall
No changes can be taken on the Wabash Cannonball

Heres to daddy Claxton may his name forever stand
And always be remembered 'round the courts of Alabam'
His earthly race is over and the curtains 'round him fall
We'll carry home to victory on the Wabash Cannonball

Oh, listen to the jingle, the rumor and the roar
As she glides along the woodland, o'er hills and by the shore
Hear the might rush of the engine, hear them lonesome hobos call
Your travelin' through the jungles on the Wabash Cannon Ball.

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