23 “Engine 143” by The Carter Family9
May 25, 2009 by gadaya
The Carter Family’s World (Part 2)
Legend says that when A.P. Carter first met Sara, she was singing with the autoharp “Engine 143”. He was coming around her home selling fruits and she was just 16 years old then. Soon A.P Carter would marry her and make her sing the songs from her family’s tradition and the ones he collected around the hills of Virginia.
-I already introduced The Carter Family on a previous post
-This is my second compilation of recordings by The Carter Family. Here you have all the recordings they made on February 1929, from which came “Engine 143” and “Little Moses” which were featured on the Anthology
2.My Clinch Mountain Home
3.God Gave Noah The Rainbow Sign
4.I’m Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes
7.Grave On The Green Hillside
8.Don’t Forget This Song (My Home In Old Virginia)
9.Foggy Mountain Top
10.Bring Back My Blue Eyed Boy To Me
11.Diamonds In The Rough
The Engine 143 Variations
Huntington Daily Advertiser
October 23, 1890
Accident to the F. F. V.
“The report reached the city this morning that train No. 4, (the vestibuled) had been derailed a short distance east of Hinton, and the investigation by the ADVERTISER shows that there was an accident to this train, but not so bad as at first rumored.
At about 5 o’clock this morning the train ran into a rock, which had rolled on the track from the mountain above, two miles east of Hinton. The train was running at good speed, and the collision caused the engine and express and postal cars to be derailed. The engine was badly damaged, and in overturning caught the engineer, George Alley, of Clifton Forge, well known here, in some of the machinery, breaking his right arm and scalding him so severely that he died six hours after the accident occurred.
Two firemen, who were on the engine were also scalded but sustained no other injuries. No one else, either of the crew or passengers, was injured, though all of them had a shaking up and a bad scare. No particular damage was done to the passenger cars and at 9:30 the track was cleared and the train started east.”
Since the end of the 19th century, the themes of railroads and trains became a important part of american folk songs, particulary songs about train wrecks. The most famous of them all would be “The wreck of the old 97”, thanks to his numerous recordings by popular and hillbilly musicians in the 1920’s and 1930’s. “Engine 143” (also called “The Wreck on the C & O” or “The FFV”) was also a popular “train wreck” song, one that was part of the oral tradition and continued to live through recordings, particulary the one by The Carter Family, which became the most well-known version of the song until today. It seems that this ballad, that carried the memory of the tragic death of engineer George Alley, was full of little details that were not true at all to the real story. In his study of american railroad songs, “Long Steel Rail”, Norm Cohen enumerates them: “George Alley’s mother did not come to him with a basket on her arm, as she had died years before; George’s hair was straight and black, not golden or curly; Jack Dickenson was not on the engine at the time (and it has not been explained who he was and how he became implicated in the ballad; the engine was numbered 134, not 143; George’s fireman did not have time to wave goodbye to him, nor did he jumped into the river…; George’s mother did not come to his side as he was dying; his last words were very likely “Are they coming?” rather than “Nearer my God to Thee”. The Carter Family’s version, in fact did not carry all the details of the longer ballad but focused more on the heroic death of the engineer.
-For a complete study of the song, see “Long Steel Rail” by Norm Cohen
–On this page, you’ll find the lyrics of all The Carter Family songs
-As i’ve said above, most of the recording versions of the songs since the 1940’s are “covers” of the Carter Family’s version, so you’ll hear Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Judee Still, The Kossoy Sisters, Townes Van Zandt among others doing “their” version of the Carter Family recording. For slightly different versions of the ballad, you’ll hear recordings by Ernst Stoneman, Roy Harvey, Austin Harmon, Doc Watson (and also his mother Annie singing a beautiful acapella version). Of interest also is Dave Von Rank doing a “parody” of the song and Robin Holcomb for a more contemporary reworking of the Carter’s version. And finally there are txo alternate version by the Carters themselves, one by A.P and Sara from the 1950’s and one with the young June Carter singing.
- Fate Of George Allen On Engine 143, The Carter Family, from “The Acme Sessions 1952/56”
- The Brave Engineer, Roy Harvey & The North Carolina Ramblers, from “Charlie Poole with The North Carolina Ramblers”
- Engine 143, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, from “I Stand Alone”
- Engine 143, Barter Theatre, from “Keep On the Sunny Side: The Songs and Story of the Original Carter Family”
- George Allen, Austin Harmon,from “Railroad songs & ballads:Library of congress recordings”
- Engine 143, Johnny Cash,from “Complete Live At San Quentin / Orange Blossom Special”
- Engine 143 (The Wreck On the C&O), Neil Woodward, from “Michigan’s Troubadour, Way of the Rail”
- F.F.V, Doc Watson, from “Home Again!”
- The Wreck of the FFV, Fast Flying Vestibule, Judee Sill, from “Dreams Come True – Hi – I Love You Right Heartily Here ”
- Engine 143, The David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, from “DGBX”
- The Wreck On The C&O, Ernest V. Stoneman, from “The Unsung Father Of Country Music”
- Engine 143, The Carter Family, from “On Border Radio – 1939”
- Engine 143, The Shivers, from “Across the Blue Ridge”
- The FFV, Annie Watson,from “Classic Railroad Songs from Smithsonian Folkways”
- Engine 143, The Kossoy Sisters With Erik Darling, from “Bowling Green”
- Engine 143, Joan Baez, from “Joan Baez, Vol. 2”
- Engine 143, Robin Holcomb, from “The Big Time”
- F.F.V., Townes Van Zandt, from “Delta Momma Blues”
- Georgie on the IRT, Dave Van Ronk, from “Folkways Years, 1959-1961”
- George Alley’s FFV, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs and The Foggy Mountain Boys, from “Folk Songs Of Our Land”
Sweet FSweet Fer
masterful post, thanks for sharing
Brilliant! Thanks so much!
You’ve done some incredible work with this website. (I heard about it through Expecting Rain, by the way.)
You truly understand what makes a great piece of research– the power of small, i.e. the finer details. The posts are exhaustive, yet to the point and concise. Brilliant work– wish the rest of the internet had this kind of originality…
Thank you so much for all the work you have put in here. This is a truly amazing resource. I too got steered in this direction by Expecting Rain; “Bookmark This” it said and I have. I’ve been meaning to say something more interesting, and maybe I shall eventually, but I can’t let that stop me saying simply: Thanks!
What an amazing website you have here. Hours of stuff. Thanks for it all. How do you find the time to do anything like,say, work!
I always liked Michael Nesmith’s version of FFV from Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash – perhaps because that was the first one I heard way back when.
[…] their three years in the recording business. During this session (that you can hear and download here) they recorded many of their best known songs like “I’m thinking tonight of my blue […]
Listening to the popular Baez version back in the 60s, someone asked what “FFV” stood for.
As I recall, the answer was something like “fast flying vestibule.” Can anyone confirm or correct this?
[…] more info and music of the Carter Family, see my other posts about “John Hardy”, “Engine 143″ and “Little […]
FFV was the name of the train, Fast Flying Virginian. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast_Flying_Virginian