“The Wabash Cannonball” is an American folk song about a fictional train, thought to have originated in the late nineteenth century. Its first documented appearance was on sheet music published in 1882, titled “The Great Rock Island Route” and credited to J. A. Roff. All subsequent versions contain a variation of the chorus:
Now listen to the jingle, and the rumble, and the roar,
As she dashes thro’ the woodland, and speeds along the shore,
See the mighty rushing engine, hear her merry bell ring out,
As they speed along in safety, on the “Great Rock-Island Route.”
A rewritten version by William Kindt appeared in 1904 under the title “Wabash Cannon Ball”.
The Carter Family made one of the first recordings of the song in 1929, though it was not released until 1932. Another popular version was recorded by Roy Acuff in 1936.
It is a signature song of the Stephen F. Austin State University Lumberjack Marching Band, the Kansas State University Marching Band, the University of Texas Longhorn Band, and of the Indiana State University Marching Sycamores, as ISU is close to the Wabash River. It was also used as the theme song by the USS Wabash (AOR5).
The song “The Wabash Cannonball” is part of the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list
In addition to The Carter Family’s 1929 recording and Roy Acuff’s 1936 recording, many hillbilly artists recorded “The Wabash Cannonball” during the Great Depression era of the 1930s and 1940s. Bing Crosby recorded the song for his album “Bing Crosby Sings The Great Country Hits”. The song increased in popularity during this time.
In the wake of the song’s popularity, the Wabash Railroad named its express run between Detroit and St. Louis as the Wabash Cannon Ball in 1949, the only actual train to bear the name, which it carried until discontinued in 1971. However, the train was named after the song, not the other way around.What did you think? Please tell us in the comment section below and remember to sign up for our free newsletter.