Full Steam Ahead!

Some say the invention of the steam engine should be considered the start of the Anthropocene Epoch, when human activity began to substantially alter the Earth. It also altered the way people lived and worked the world over. Hear how James Watt tinkered it into life in the late 1700s, and its adaptation to power machinery, steamboats, and the railroad.

Diane presents songs created by those who worked with these new technologies, including Steamboat Bill, Casey Jones, and John Henry. Blasting tunnels and laying track employed thousands, especially on the epic Transcontinental Railroad. By the 1920s some two million people worked for the railroads, most notably Pullman porters, who led the way into the Civil Rights movement. From their experience we hear The Midnight Special and Freight Train, plus the classic The City of New Orleans. All aboard!

Songs include:

Steamboat Bill, launched into eternity by a boiler explosion, a not uncommon fate.

Stormalong, a work song from the docks, created by the Black roustabouts who loaded the boats. It moved to deep-water vessels and became Old Stormy, who met his end at sea and was mourned as a good skipper.

The Iron Horse, in which a Scotman first boards a train and swears it will be his last ride. He thinks the entire station will be making the trip to Perth, and is terrified at the machine's fearful speed.

The Ballad of Casey Jones, an engineer who in 1900 sacrificed himself to save others from a sure collision.

John Henry, that powerful steel-driving man, who refused to bow down to a steam drill.

Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill, about Irishmen building the eastern part of Transcontinental Railroad.

Freight Train, Libba Cotton's classic entwining actual trains with the Underground Railroad.

The Midnight Special, a lament recorded in Angola Prison in Louisiana in 1934, noting some of the conditions that led to the Great Migration in which some six million Black people rode trains North to a land of less oppression.

The City of New Orleans, Steve Goodman's wonderful 1970 song about an Illinois Central train that runs from New Orleans to Chicago, the route taken by many migrants seeking a better life.

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Puffing Billy