The Longest Song Wiki

The fourth track on Written In Salt, this song is a Longest Johns original.

Though written primarily by Dave Robinson, the song's lyrics were fine-tuned and finished by the whole of the band in a collaborative effort.

As is common with work songs, this song begins slow and steadily increases in tempo until its culmination.

Factoids

The First Transcontinental Railroad, or Pacific Railroad, was an approximately 3000 km continuous railway constructed between 1863 and 1869 which stretched from Nebraska to its terminus at San Francisco Bay.

During the period of railway construction that immediately followed the end of the US Civil War, the greatest source of labour for one of the companies prominently responsible for the railway's construction was "Freedmen" labour, former slaves who found working for the white-owned railway companies not significantly different than their previous slavery. The chorus "Ain't no slave but we slave away" likely pays homage to that fact.

"A Mile a Day" was a common work goal for the three separate companies who contributed to the Transcontinental, which, if they managed to maintain that pace (they didn't), would have seen the railway completed in approximately five years.

The railroad met significant difficulties in trying to cross territories held by Native American tribes, particularly the Cheyenne. Despite the fact that numerous tribes and bands had signed treaties with the US, the Railroad and the government policy of Eminent Domain was a significant slight against them. The Cheyenne were particularly resistant to the Railroads annexing of their territory, and reportedly engaged in acts of sabotage and attacked settlements along the railway's route in an effort to stop or divert the railroad away from their lands.

Lyrics

{Dave}
Give me a spade and I'll give you a hole (Hole!)
(Way-oh on the railroad)
Dirt on my brow, but steel in my soul
(Way-oh on the railroad)

{Chorus one}
Picking up coal and we're picking up speed
Shovel as much as the engine needs
Sweat and blood gonna earn my pay
All the way to 'Frisco Bay

{Dave}
Blowing through hills, tryin'a make up time (Whuh!)
(Way-oh on the railroad)
Ain't nothing gonna stand in the way of our line (Whuh!)
(Way-oh on the railroad)

{Chorus two}
Picking up coal and we're picking up speed
Shovel as much as the engine needs
Ain't no slave but we slave away
All the way to 'Frisco Bay

(Hey!)
{Dave}
Bossman says that a mile-a-day's the pace (Whuh!)
(Way-oh on the railroad)
I'll make two for the look on his face (Huh!)
(Way-oh on the railroad)

{Chorus two}

{Dave}
Surveyors tryin'a plan which route is best (Whuh!)
(Way-oh on the railroad)
Just draw a straight line from east to west {Huh!}
(Way-oh on the railroad)

{Chorus 2}

{Dave}
We spare no quarter and we'll spare no man (Whuh!)
(Way-oh on the railroad)
Just pray we don't run into the Cheyenne
(Way-oh on the railroad)

{Chorus one}

{Chorus two}

Picking up coal and we're picking up speed
shovel as much as the engine needs
If I should fall leave me where I lay
On the railway to 'Frisco Bay