Saturday, June 12, 2010

More Info on "Billy Richardson's Last Ride"

Thanks to John Rucker for finding the lyrics to "Bill Richardson's Last Ride," a song performed by Grandpa Jones that I played on The Santa Fe Opry last night and downloaded from eMusic recently.

As you can see, the song has nothing to do with the governor of New Mexico -- although political foes of the current governor might find metaphorical significance in the fact the song, originally recorded by Vernon Dalhart in 1926, is about a train wreck.

Rucker also found this page with more information on the song.

Here's those lyrics, (which came from this page.) :


Through the west wood Virginia mountain comes the morning mail,
Number three was westbound, the fastest on the rail,
Pulled right into Hinton, the junction along the line,
The Baldwin mounted engine made the run on time.

Billy Richardson's son at Hinton was called to make the run,
Pulled the fastest mail train from there to Huntington.
Fireman 'ported on duty just along the line,
Reading them train orders, left Hinton right on time.

Billy said, "Dear fireman, how happy I would be,
If I could die while pulling a train like number three."
Wanted to die on duty in his engine cab so free,
While pulling eastbound number four or westbound number three.

Fireman said, "Billy, you know you're old and gray,
Your name is on the pension list, you should retire some day."
Billy said, "Dear fireman, the truth I'm tellin' you,
I'll die right in my engine cab and nothing else will do."

Pulling down the river came westbound number three,
Sterning through the cotton hills*, and danger could it be.
His head-end struck a mail train while pulling down the line,
He'll never pull his train again through Huntington town on time.
He pulled the fastest time freight, he pulled the U.S. mail,
He pulled the fast excursion to the music of the rail.
He lost his life on duty in his engine cab so free,
While pulling in Montgomery on westbound number three.

Now ladies if your husband is a railroad engineer,
You know he's in lots of danger and death is ever near.
You know he loves you dearly when he is by your side,
Remember while it's his next run might be his farewell ride.


  1. Anonymous6:56 PM

    You need to get your lyrics right before you post them.

    1.. It was a Bladwin MOUNTAIN engine, not a mounted engine.

    2, "Billy RIchardson was called to make the run"; not Billy RIchardson's son

    3. "The fireman he reported for duty" , not the fire man 'ported.

    4. "Then reading their train orders" not Reading them train orders (they could speak proper English); and finally:

    5. You screwed up an entire stanza. It goes

    "Then pulling down NEW River came westbound number three; By Thurmond, then by COTTON HILL, no danger could he see.HIS HEAD THEN STRUCK A MAIL CRANE (a mail crane was a crane beside the tracks where mail bags were suspended so that a train could pick them off at speed)

  2. Anonymous7:37 PM

    my sources say it is not Baldwin mountain engine

    it is "Baldwin- Mallet", the brand name of the train engine Billy drove

    Jim Rumbaugh,
    The Harmonica Club of Huntington, WV

  3. Well, you know, I've pulled up and listened to Vernon Dalhart's 1926 recording of "Billy Richardson's Last Ride" and to my ear it's fairly certain that he sings, "Baldwin Mountain Engine" in the song. It says the song wasn't written until '26 (by N&W Cleburne Meeks, music by Carson J. Robinson) and Dalhart was the first to record it, so I guess I'm listening to the first version. I'm definitely not hearing "Mallet" and certainly not the nickname "Malley" that many engineers gave the famous articulateds. The accident that killed Richardson was on 14 December, 1910. Here's the rub: Alco didn't build the Mountain 4-8-2's for C&O until the following year, 1911. Notice it was Alco and not Baldwin who built the Mountains for the C&O. They did buy their first Mallets in 1910. Now seeing that the song was written 16 years later by an engineer who'd been a kid waving to Richardson at about the time of his demise, perhaps he mistook the wheel arrangement of a 2-8-0 they'd had since the 1880's. But if you listen to Dalhart's song, , you can hear Dalhart singing "Baldwin Mountain Engine". Maybe wrong, but lots of songwriters and singers take license with their songs. Just like in "The Wreck of Old 97", they sing "Stevie, you're way behind time." It wasn't Stevie on the stick of Old 97, but James Broady. And what kind of engine was the "six-eight" wheeler that Casey Jones ran to his death in the song.

  4. Anonymous3:24 PM

    And of course it is "Through the West Virginia mountains," not the west wood Virginia mountains.

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