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Track 13—From When We Were Young (2011)

The Engineers Don’t Wave from the Trains Anymore 

Tom T. Hall, Sony/ATV Acuff Rose Music


When I was a little boy, I used to play out back

Watchin’ those trains go to Louisville and back

For I had my dreams and I had my plans

I was gonna be an engineer man



For the engineers don’t wave from the trains anymore

Not the way they did back in nineteen-fifty-four

For they’ve all got computers and diesels and things

And the engineers don’t wave from the trains anymore

No the engineers don’t wave from the trains     


Them big old trains they used to chug, chug and spew

They held a secret, but they knew that I knew

No matter how far they would go down the tracks

They’d always turn and come back (Chorus)


More important things have changed in this world

Engineers forgot about us little boys and girls

And I still get a far away look in my eye

When I see an old freight train roll by (Chorus)


This song was first recorded by Tom T. Hall as he teamed up with Earl Scruggs on the “Storyteller and the Banjo Man” album that was released in 1982. I first heard a version of this song from the Boiled Buzzards—an old-time band from Ohio.


There was a railroad track about a mile from where I grew up. It was always a big deal to ride my bike to the railroad crossing in order to get a good view of the powerful locomotive, the different rail cars, and of course, to get a wave from the engineer.


As an instrument, the humble harmonica lends itself nicely to train songs. I purchased my first Marine Band harmonica when I was a Junior in high school (Key of G; paid $5.95—they now cost about $30). Due to the influence of Bob Dylan and Neil Young, I also bought a harmonica holder.


When I was first driving at age seventeen, I would strap on the harmonica and play away as I drove down the road. I’m not sure if it was illegal at the time (like texting), but I never got stopped. “Oh! Susanna” was the first song I learned to play. Thirty-eight years later, I’m still using that same harmonica holder and much more expensive harmonicas.


Although Tom T advocates that “The engineers don’t wave from the trains anymore,” I have a train engineer acquaintance who disagrees. After performing the song at a concert several years ago, this friend vehemently shared that the song was not totally true.


“I still wave!” he declared.