Jerry Go Oil the Car

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about

Sometimes called “Larry Sullivan,” this was one of five songs about railroad workers in Dean’s repertoire. Dean had many personal connections to the railroad. In a letter sent along with a copy of his songster The Flying Cloud, he listed “Rail Road Construction works” as one of the places he “wandered around” gathering up the songs that went in to the book. Around 1885, after working as a logger in New York and Michigan, 20-something Dean settled in Hinckley, Minnesota where he stood behind the bar at saloons across the street from the St. Paul and Duluth depot that catered to railroad men employed by that line. His brothers Charles Dean (St. Paul) and James Dean (Milwaukee) were both conductors for the Milwaukee railroad. In fact, his brother James, like the hero of this song, was highly regarded as someone who “never had a wreck” through his 49-year career.

lyrics

Come all you railroad section hands, I hope you lend an ear,
Likewise pay attention to these few lines you’ll hear,
Concerning one Larry Sullivan, alas he is no more,
He sailed some forty years ago from the green old Irish shore.

Now for four and thirty weary years he worked upon the track,
And the truth they say from the very first day he never had a wreck,
For he made it a point to keep up the lower joints with the force of the tamping bar,
“Joint ahead and center back, Jerry go oil the car.”

To see old Larry in the winter time when the hills were clad with snow,
It was his pride on the handcar to ride as over the section he’d go,
With his big soldier coat buttoned up to his throat, how he looked like an emperor,
And while the boys were shimming up the ties, Jerry would be oiling the car.

And when Sunday morning came around to the section hands he’d say,
“I suppose you all know my wife is going to Sunday Mass today,
Now I need every man to pump all he can, the distance it is very far.
I want to get in ahead of number ten. Jerry go oil the car.”

“Now that my friends are gathered ’round, there is one request I crave,
When I am dead and at my rest, put the handcar on my grave,
Let the spike maul rest upon my breast with the gauge and the old clawbar,
And while the boys are lowering me down, leave Jerry to be oiling the car.”

“And give my regards to the roadmaster,” poor Larry he did cry,
“And raise me up so I may see the handcar before I die.”
He was so weak he could hardly speak, in a moment he was dead,
“Joint ahead and center back,” were the very last words he said.

credits

from The Lonesome Hours of Winter, released November 23, 2018
Brian: vocals, bouzouki, harmonium
Randy: mandola

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The Lost Forty Saint Paul, Minnesota

Brian Miller and Randy Gosa craft intricate arrangements of rare old songs entwined with the history of the Great Lakes region. Their sources and their approach celebrate two centuries of Irish musical influence on the under-explored folk song traditions of the north woods. ... more

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