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Origins: Reuben's Train - who was Reuben?

DigiTrad:
NINE HUNDRED MILES
REUBEN TRAIN
REUBEN'S TRAIN


Related threads:
(origins) Origin: Nine Hundred Miles (19)
900 Miles/500 miles (47)
Lyr/Chords Req: Reuben's Train (40)
(origins) Origins: One Hundred Miles (27)
Origins: 900 Miles - origin and history? (3) (closed)
Lyr Req: Five hundred miles away from home (9)


Pappy Fiddle 07 Feb 17 - 02:00 PM
Airymouse 07 Feb 17 - 04:23 PM
Joe Offer 08 Feb 17 - 04:52 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 09 Feb 17 - 08:12 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 09 Feb 17 - 08:27 PM
Joe Offer 10 Feb 17 - 02:40 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 10 Feb 17 - 05:15 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 14 Feb 17 - 03:47 AM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 14 Feb 17 - 03:50 AM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 15 Feb 17 - 08:07 AM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 16 Feb 17 - 08:23 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 16 Feb 17 - 10:37 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 17 Feb 17 - 01:19 AM
Richie 17 Feb 17 - 11:56 AM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 19 Feb 17 - 12:24 AM
Joe Offer 19 Feb 17 - 02:12 AM
Pappy Fiddle 19 Feb 17 - 11:51 PM
GUEST,Joseph Scott 20 Feb 17 - 08:06 PM
GUEST,Phil d'Conch 20 Feb 17 - 09:53 PM
GUEST,Cenk Uyger 21 Feb 17 - 06:39 AM
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Subject: Origins: Reuben's Train
From: Pappy Fiddle
Date: 07 Feb 17 - 02:00 PM

I see threads about this but they don't seem to be exactly about this so here goes...

Reuben's Train is a song that I'm starting to hear a lot. I did a little digging and some thinking and I think I found the main origin of this song.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reuben_Wells_(locomotive)

Reuben Wells is a locomotive designed in the 1860's by Reuben Wells to run on one specific section of track in Indiana. It was a helper engine designed to push trains up the 6% grade. Typical lyrics:

   1. Ol Reuben made a train & he put it on a track
   He ran it to the Lord knows where
   Oh me, oh my ran it to the Lord knows where
   
   2. Should been in town when Reuben's train went down
   You could hear that whistle blow 100 miles
   Oh me, oh my you could hear the whistle blow 100 miles
   
   3. Last night I lay in jail had no money to go my bail
   Lord how it sleeted & it snowed
   Oh me, ...
   
   4. I've been to the East, I've been to the West
   I'm going where the chilly winds don't blow
   Oh me, ...
   
   5. Oh the train that I ride is 100 coaches long
   You can hear the whistle blow 100 miles
   Oh me, ...
   
   6. I got myself a blade, laid Reuben in the shade,
   I'm startin' me a graveyard of my own.
   Oh me, ...

The first verse there looks obvious to me that this is about Reuben Wells. The train goes to Lord knows where because it doesn't go anywhere - just up and down the one hill.

The engine was returned to Indianapolis in 1968 with a big fanfare & parade. Remember life in Indiana is life in the slow lane. I think that was the 2nd verse... it originally was something like "shoulda been around when that engine came to town". Or maybe it just the engine coming back down the hill.

Verse 4 might be about the engine going into a museum "wher the chilly winds don't blow".

I surmise the rest of it has been accumulated, sort of like a wad of gum under the bed accumulates lint and cookie crumbs.

My collection of old song anthologies etc is kinda limited so if anybody can confirm this...


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Subject: RE: Origins: Reuben's Train
From: Airymouse
Date: 07 Feb 17 - 04:23 PM

Ol Reuben had wreck
And it broke Reuben's neck
But it never hurt a hair on my head

Ol Reuben's goin down the track
And he's got the throttle back
And the rails are a carryin him from home

Your 4th verse is comparable to a verse from John Hardy:
I've been to the East, and I been to the West
I've been this whole world around
I've been to the river and I've been baptized
Tomorrow be my buryin ground, Oh Lord
Tomorrow be my burying ground.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Reuben's Train
From: Joe Offer
Date: 08 Feb 17 - 04:52 PM

Interesting question, Pappy Fiddle. Norm Cohen's Long Steel Rail is the most comprehensive train song book I know of. It says "Reuben's Train" is one title for a number of songs in the "Train 45/500 Miles/900 Miles" group. It's one of the most commonly-sung railroad songs, and it has countless versions. None of these songs seem to have any tie to the locomotive you've found, so I'm wondering if there is no connection between your locomotive and the song. Cohen makes no mention of Reuben Wells, either the person or the locomotive.

Maybe you're right and the locomotive and song are connected, but I'm not willing to buy into that yet.

The Reuben Wells locomotive is an 0-10-0, a very interesting wheel configuration. Hope I get a chance to see it some day.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Origins: Reuben's Train
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 09 Feb 17 - 08:12 PM

The locomotive (tank engine) Reuben Wells and the Madison Incline were on the Jefferson, Madison & Indianapolis RR where Master Mechanic Reuben Wells (1829-1912) worked for 26 years before promotion/transfer to Kentucky and the Louisville & Nashville as General Manager. Certainly a major railroad personality in those parts.

Emry Arthur (1902-1967) was born in Elk Spring Valley, Kentucky and relocated to Indianapolis mid-1920s. He died there in 1967, the year before the Reuben Wells came to the museum. A major folk source for your sub-set of lyrics.

One of the reasons the locomotive was retired to Purdue U. was that Reuben Wells was a Trustee and help set up the mechanical – civil engineering departments in the 1870s.

The engine was brought out for the '33-34 Chicago World's fair which was announced about the time of Arthur's release date on Paramount Records.

Fun to speculate. Emry Arthur's great-grandson (Jeff Summers) was active on the genealogical websites at one time. You might try him.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Reuben's Train
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 09 Feb 17 - 08:27 PM

fwiw: Reuben Wells also broke his Engineer's neck… and everything else, no doubt:

A Fearful Ride, —We learn from the Indianapolis Journal, that a locomotive descended the inclined plane at Madison, Indiana, on Monday last, owing to the wet track, got beyond control of the breaks, and went down the plane with fearful velocity. When within a hundred yards of a freight train which was standing on the track, the Engineer, Samuel Idler, and the Fireman, Thomas Bixette, took a desperate leap for life from the flying engine. Mr. Idler was dashed against a switch signal and instantly killed. Mr. Bixette struck the ground and instantly expired. Mr. B. J. Robinson, a clerk of the Company, who was also on the engine, clung to it, and by the collision with the freight train, was shockingly mangled, though yet living.

[9 July 1855, Virginia Chronicle]

This was one of the second generation Cathcart-Baldwin cog engines gone runaway. Engineer Idler was most likely laying on the whistle lanyard pretty hard coming down that hill.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Reuben's Train
From: Joe Offer
Date: 10 Feb 17 - 02:40 PM

So far, I'm thinking of this as an "interesting possible connection" between Reuben Wells and Reuben's Train - but I'm not ready to accept it as fact. Maybe this will be a question that will remain open at Mudcat for years, until we find something that ties it all together.
Good sleuthing - but to me, still inconclusive.
-Joe-

For the sake of discussion, here are the two versions we have in the Digital Tradition:


REUBEN'S TRAIN

Ol Reuben made a train & he put it on a track
He ran it to the Lord knows where
Oh me, oh my ran it to the Lord knows where

Should been in town when Reuben's train went down
You could hear that whistle blow 100 miles
Oh me, oh my you could hear the whistle blow 100 miles

Last night I lay in jail had no money to go my bail
Lord how it sleeted & it snowed
Oh me, oh my Lord how it sleeted & it snowed

I've been to the East, I've been to the West
I'm going where the chilly winds don't blow
Oh me, oh my I'm going where the chilly winds don't blow

Oh the train that I ride is 100 coaches long
You can hear the whistle blow 100 miles
Oh me, oh my you can hear the whistle blow 100 miles

I got myself a blade, laid Reuben in the shade,
I'm startin' me a graveyard of my own.
Oh, me, oh lordy my, startin' me a graveyard of my own.

Repeat 1st verse

@railroad
filename[ RUBNTRAN
BF
oct99

REUBEN TRAIN
(traditional)

Oh, Reuben's coming down the track,
And he's got his throttle back,
And the rails are a-carrying him from home.

If the boiler don't bust
'Cause it's eat up with rust,
I'll soon be a long ways from home.

If you don't believe I'm gone,
Look at the train I'm on;
You can hear the whistle blow a thousand miles.

I'm a-going down the track;
I ain't never coming back,
And I'll never get no letter from my home.

Well, the train run so fast
Till I knowed it couldn't last,
For the wheels was a-burning up the rail.

Old Reuben had a wreck
And it broke old Reuben's neck,
And it never hurt a hair on my head.

Now I'm walking up the track,
Hoping I'll get back;
I'm a thousand miles away from home.

If I ever get back to you,
You can beat me black and blue,
For I'll never leave my shanty home.

Collected by Sandy Paton from Frank Proffitt, Reese, North Carolina, 1961.
Lomax printed a collated version of eight stanzas "picked up through the years
along the song-hunting trail" (The Folksongs of North America, New York, 1960).
The Frank C. Brown Collection (North Carolina Folklore, Durham, NC, 1952)
includes two versions, one of which contains seven stanzas. The song, in more
fragmentary form, seems to be quite widely known. Its relationship to the
well-known "900 Miles" is obvious, I think.

@railroad
filename[RUBNTRA2
SP
Oct00



And the Traditional Ballad Index entry on this song:

Reuben's Train

DESCRIPTION: Lyric piece about Reuben's train and travels. Versions vary widely; most contain a verse something like this: "Reuben had a train and he put it on the track, Hear the whistle blow a hundred miles."
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1927 (recording, Grayson & Whitter, as "Train 45")
KEYWORDS: train nonballad
FOUND IN: US(SE)
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Cohen-LSRail, pp. 503-517, "Reuben's Train/Train 45/900 Miles" (2 texts plus exceprts equivalent to about three more, 2 tunes; the first text is close to "Reuben's Train," the second to "Nine Hundred Miles," but the article is mostly devoted to showing how the two songs mix)
BrownIII 236, "Reuben's Train" (2 texts, with "A" being closer to "Nine Hundred Miles" than "B")
BrownSchinhanV 236, "Reuben's Train" (3 tunes plus text excerpts)
Warner 133, "Reuben's Train" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-FSNA 302, "Reuben" (1 text, 1 tune)

Roud #3423
RECORDINGS:
Emry Arthur, "Reuben Oh Reuben" (Paramount 3295, c. 1931; on BefBlues2)
Dock Boggs, "Ruben's Train" (on Boggs3, BoggsCD1)
Carolina Ramblers String Band, "Ruben's Train" (Banner 33085/Romeo 5345, 1934; Melotone M-13947, c. 1935)
Bill Cornett ,"Old Reuben" (on MMOKCD)
Elizabeth Cotten, "Ruben" (on Cotten02)
[G. B.] Grayson & [Henry] Whitter, "Train 45" (Victor 21189, 1928, rec. 1927, on GraysonWhitter01) (Gennett 6320, 1927/Champion 15447 [as by Norman Gayle], 1928)
Vester Jones, "Old Reuben" (on GraysonCarroll1)
J. E. Mainer's Mountaineers [or Wade Mainer], "Riding on Train Forty-Five" (Bluebird B-7298, 1937; Victor 27493, 1941)
Wade Mainer & the Sons of the Mountaineers, "Old Reuben" (Bluebird B-8990, 1941)
New Lost City Ramblers, "Riding on That Train 45" (on NLCR06, NLCRCD2; on ClassRR [as "Train 45"])
Poplin Family, "Reuben" (on Poplin01)
Wade Ward, "Old Reuben" [instrumental] (on Holcomb-Ward1)
Doc Watson, "Old Ruben" (on Ashley02, WatsonAshley01)

CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "Nine Hundred Miles"
cf. "Rain and Snow"
SAME TUNE:
Jack O'Diamond Blues (recorded by Blind Lemon Jefferson)
ALTERNATE TITLES:
Old Reuben
NOTES: I know two tunes for this piece. One resembles "Nine Hundred Miles" and "Rain and Snow"; these three songs seems to have cross-fertilized (so much so, in fact, that I literally cannot tell which one was the more direct ancestor of the Grayson & Whitter recording; I placed it there almost arbitrarily).
The other is that used by Frank Proffitt, who said of it, "This is one of the oldest simple banjo tunes.... It was generally the first tune learned, by playing two strings. There are about fifty different verses to this" (quoted by Warner).
G. B. Grayson is said to have turned "Reuben's Train" into "Train 45" -- but they are still so close that I think they can be considered one song. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.1
File: Wa133

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2016 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Reuben's Train
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 10 Feb 17 - 05:15 PM

I'm thinking it's kind of hard to be a subject when you don't have a narrative.

If there's anything to it, the proof will be in the back story, outside of Arthur's generic lyrical buffet.

The Madison Incline has always been more interesting to me because of its builders. The main topo feature is 'Irish Hollow' and the adjacent camp road is 'Paddys Lane'

They finished about 1840 and by 1870, right through the Civil war and before Wells was even promoted, they had fought, cut and filled their way west clear across the Indian Nations to Immigrant Gap, UT. and the Mormon Saints and Chinese Celestials headed back East.

The great bucolic plague and nary a WASP in sight!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Reuben's Train
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 14 Feb 17 - 03:47 AM

Tried to locate our subject, or his train, in our 'typical lyric' narrative and the hypothesis has come off the rails instead:

Versions vary widely; most contain a verse something like this: "Reuben had a train and he put it on the track..."

It's MIA in my entire pre-1960s folk scare discography. To be clear, I'm not talking about instrumentals or song titles, just the critical lyric.

Somewhere between the early 1960s Ashley - Watson Folkways recordings or Ash Grove, LA concerts and the Earl Scruggs Grand Ol' Opry routines. I'm not sure which just yet.

From there it's The Dillards (1963) and Holy Modal Rounders (1964) near simultaneous releases. For some reason it got left off The Darlings' covers on The Andy Griffith Show.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Reuben's Train
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 14 Feb 17 - 03:50 AM

Lomax's 1960/1939 version (#302) implies Willie Johnson as the source of the verses:

2. Well old Reuben had a train
Ran from Boston down to Maine,
You could hear the whistle blow a hundred miles,
O Lordy, &c

3. Now you ought to been in town,
When old Reuben's train went down,
You could hear that whistle blow a hundred miles.


...and there is speculation in the notes of Reuben's lynching. By 1967's Hard Hitting Songs however, we're down to the two actual Johnson verses collected in 1939 and it's no longer a train song. When and where the other pre-1960 verses above were collected is not known.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Reuben's Train
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 15 Feb 17 - 08:07 AM

IMO Ruben G. Ledford (1858 - 1923) patriarch of the musical Ledfords of Mitchell, Co., NC. would be a much better candidate.

Most of the artists and folk history centered around the Asheville, North Carolina region; as opposed to Madison, IN.

It seems Ruben was the song title, the lyric not so much; and there were a fair number of instrumentals. I think the name just migrated into the storyline at some point. No other hint of the Lomax-Seeger reconstruction era lynching.

I don't believe Ruben's son Waites (1879 - 1943) ever recorded; but his grandsons, Steve and Taft, covered just about every version imaginable (Carolina Ramblers; Wade Mainer &c)

Nothing to back it up, probably never will, just a hunch.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Reuben's Train
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 16 Feb 17 - 08:23 PM

Thanks for the references Joe. I wasn't sure how much duplication between threads would be considered sporting.

RE: Traditional Ballad Index -

"J. E. Mainer's Mountaineers [or Wade Mainer], "Riding on Train Forty-Five" (Bluebird B-7298, 1937; Victor 27493, 1941)"

B-Side credits: Wade Mainer; Zeke Morris; Steve Ledford (A-side is Down in the Willow Mainer, Morris only. No Mountaineers A or B)

Victor 27493 is disc 3:5 from the Smoky Mountain Ballads, Musical Smart Set album P-79 (78rpm.) Reissued on the Vintage Series LP RCA LPV507, 1964 and elsewhere. Same credits as above.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Reuben's Train
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 16 Feb 17 - 10:37 PM

Steve Ledford, Wayne Ledford, The Hall Brothers, Reubens Train (Roan Mountain EP, RM1, trk A1)

The Hall Brothers are credited as "Roy & Jay" however, given the 7" RCA-EP format wasn't released until several years after "real" Roy Hall's death in 1943, this is either an older recording or replacement rockabilly brother James Faye "Roy" Hall (Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On.)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Reuben's Train
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 17 Feb 17 - 01:19 AM

Correction/addition to the above: Victor 27493 is disc 1 of 5 and the reverse on the album is the Monroe Brothers' Darling Corey

fwiw: Down in the Willow moves to disc 5 of 5 - #27497


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Subject: RE: Origins: Reuben's Train
From: Richie
Date: 17 Feb 17 - 11:56 AM

Hi,

It seems possible that song Rueben's train could be based on the Rueben Wells after 1868, but proving it is another matter.

The other name I know it by is "Train 45" and there's a version by Fiddlin' John Carson with a different title that dates way back in the 1800s.

Reuben is an unusual name in the mountains. I doubt the song originated with the Rueben title. When were the first trains run through that area?

Richie


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Subject: RE: Origins: Reuben's Train
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 19 Feb 17 - 12:24 AM

Joe: Norm Cohen's Long Steel Rail is the most comprehensive train song book I know of.

I can't make much sense of Cohen's methodology in LSR given he's dealing mostly with 3-5 minute samples of verses (cylinder & 78rpm) when the songs run 15-30 minutes in the wild. There's no accounting for the practical majority of missing verses in any one so-called song 'type'.

I'm not qualified to speak on the entire pantheon of 900 Mile/Train 45/Reuben songs but, as for the Ledford's neck of the woods, this is the instrumental Old Ruben and when the verses are added it's Crazy Over You or just Crazy (mostly XXX Miles &c)

I haven't found any mention in Cohen to an inside West Carolina joke on the latter song title and Wade Mainer's radio sponsor Crazy Water Crystals (a laxative.) The title seems to have escaped Cohen's net altogether. Not an easy miss but… still checking.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Reuben's Train - who was Reuben?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 19 Feb 17 - 02:12 AM

Hi, Phil - I admit that I've had moments of disappointment with Long Steel Rail, but it's still the best of railroad songs I've ever seen. What has amazed me about this book, and railroad songs in general, is their close connection to actual events - and the fact that they are truly American songs, not derivatives of European ballads.

My gut feeling is that "Reuben's Train" and "Train 45" are modern derivatives of the older "900 Mile" song. I think they come from musicians, not from railroaders. Can't prove that, though.

-Joe-

P.S. Hope y'all don't mind how I altered the thread title...


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Subject: RE: Origins: Reuben's Train - who was Reuben?
From: Pappy Fiddle
Date: 19 Feb 17 - 11:51 PM

Something to take into account, songs originating on back porches would kind of stay in one place for a while, disseminate very slow. At least that's what they do on my porch...

On the other hand, trains would crisscross the land pretty fast. So a new train song or a new version of one might thus get disseminated pretty rapidly.

If there were any (legit) passengers on a freight train, they'd ride in the caboose. Brakemen and various other railroad people changing from one train to another and coming and going different directions. And I suppose that's where some of these gritty kinda train songs originated.

If you never have, go to a railroad museum and look at a caboose. I doubt they rode smooth like a luxury coach with air suspension, nor quiet at all; swaying and bouncing magnified by the last third of the train. My dad rode relocated from Omaha to California in the 30's in one of these. He never mentioned that it was amusing. And probably not much to do, so if there was a banjo I reckon it would get used.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Reuben's Train - who was Reuben?
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 20 Feb 17 - 08:06 PM

"a new train song or a new version of one might thus get disseminated pretty rapidly"

It's a fact that people who learned folk music used trains. The pursuit of regionalism (I never have heard what that pursuit's supposed to be for) may not fit great with that fact, but they did.

Some lyrics about people traveling on trains:
"The train got my honey and gone" -- John Lowry Goree, born about 1881 in Alabama
"That passenger train got ways just like a man/Steal away your girl and don't care where she land" -- Floyd Canada, born about 1887 in Texas
"I caught that Frisco, she was fairly flying/I was on my way to see that darling girl of mine" -- J.D. Suggs, born about 1887 in Mississippi
"When I leave I'm going to leave on the cannon ball" -- Lasses White, born in about 1888 in Texas
"I hate the train, train that carried my baby away..." -- Frank Stokes, born in the 1880s or 1870s in Mississippi or Tennessee

In early blues music, "going" from one place to another, traveling quite a distance (e.g. "going where the chilly winds don't blow" or "going down the river 'fore long"), was an extremely common theme, because people did.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Reuben's Train - who was Reuben?
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch
Date: 20 Feb 17 - 09:53 PM

I think both of you are underestimating the construction push westward from the Erie Canal to the Pacific Railroads. Euro-American song dispersal reminds me more of that track laying bit in the Wrong Trousers. The countryside was trading in song months or years before they heard the first train whistle. Then... it's civilization Ho!

The railroad came to western North Carolina in the 1890s. Proto-Muzac and wired radio were only twenty or thirty years behind. Grayson recorded in 1927, in Atlanta; Mainers and Ledfords in New York.

But more on topic, as it stands, Reuben didn't make a train and put it on a track in American song verse until c.1960 and air travel. However, it does seem an unlikely number (?) of the very early recordings were made by the neighbors and relations of Ruben G. Ledford.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Reuben's Train - who was Reuben?
From: GUEST,Cenk Uyger
Date: 21 Feb 17 - 06:39 AM

I believe Dave Rubin hosts "The Rubin Report" on youtube. He is all about free speech. The Young Turks are not fans.


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