Confessions of a 19th Century Train Driver

“She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain when she comes, she’ll be coming ‘round the mountain when she comes”, well, this song, the modern version of it anyway, is about a train. You can imagine the excitement building in small towns and hamlets, as trains full of new things and people made their way around the mountain to your home. The 19th century train driver was an important personage with a lot of responsibility and status to go with it. It was his train coming around that mountain, bearing goods and passengers, which, just might, positively impact that town.

Train drivers (engineers in American parlance) were responsible for checking the rail worthiness of all the carriages and the mechanical operation of the train. The train engineer had his brakeman and conductor to assist him on the journey, as they made their way ‘round that mountain. Occasionally, some drivers would stop their trains to pick up contraband and be paid by smugglers and black market operators as well as having their carriages cleaned by the local spotless cleaning company. Much like this kind of stuff continues to this day, with transnational bus drivers and twenty first century train drivers. Although GPS tracking is now making unscheduled stops far more dangerous for nefarious drivers of all modes of transportation.

What about the land equivalent for the sailor with a girl in every port? The confessions of the 19th century train driver did include the odd interlude with a lady of the night. A vacant carriage and with the support of the assistant driver that rolling stock could really rock ‘n roll. Trains are particularly suited to rhythmic activities and the chug chug of those grinding wheels just keep on and on. Lots of girls love a uniform with shiny buttons and the attentions of an important man. “She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain when she comes”, you know the rest of the song.

Train engineers in the nineteenth century also faced the dangers of bandits and train robbers, as they often carried the wages and valuables of companies across the land. These trains were the life blood of commerce and industry all over America, distributing the wealth. Criminal gangs would target these gold laden trains, as they made their steady way from east to west and north to south. The engine driver and his underlings would need to be ever vigilant, armed and on the lookout for signs of impending danger. It was a time of life and death in the frontier towns.