THE LINEMAN'S HYMN
As I walked out in the streets of old Burley,
As I walked out in Burley one day,
I spied a young lineman all wrapped in white linen,
All wrapped in white linen and cold as the clay.
"I see by your scare-strap(1) that you are a lineman,"
These words he did say, as I boldly walked by,
"Come sit down beside me, and hear my sad story,
I fell off the pole and I know I must die.
"'Twas once up the poles I used to go dashing,
Once up the poles I used to go gay;
First up the sixties, and then up the nineties,
But I fell off an eighteen, and I'm dying today.
"Oh, ring the phone softly, and climb the pole slowly,
Check your D-rings(2) when you go aloft;
Keep your hooks(3) sharpened, and grease up your scarestrap;
I'm telling you, Buddy, that ground ain't so soft.
"Get me six drunken linemen to carry my coffin,
Six splicers' helpers(4) to mud-in(5) my grave;
Take me to Kline, the Great White Father(6),
And let him mourn over his gallant young slave."
(1) scare-strap - a wide, heavy leather belt with which linemen fasten
themselves to the telegraph pole.
(2) D-rings - large metal rings, in the shape of a "D", to which the
scare-strap is hooked.
(3) books - the sharp spurs or gaffs bound to the lineman's shoes which
bite into the wooden pole as he climbs it, or as he braces himself against
(4) splicer's helpers - assistant cable splicers
(5) mud-in - refilling a hole, as after a wooden pole has been set in the
(6) Great White Father - a sarcastic appellation for Harry Kline (see
headnote to ballad above).
(Sung by Rosalie Sorrels)
This is another of numerous parodies of "The Cowboy's Lament," and comes
from the tradition of telephone linemen. The tune is a conventional one,
and the text is a close recension of the cowboy ballad, but is loaded with
linemen's lingo, and placed in a local setting. Once more, death of the
unfortunate hero is a violent one, but with the ironic twist that he meets
his doom by falling from a low pole, though his job frequently calls for
ascents of far greater heights.
Mrs. Rosalie Sorrels sings a version learned by her husband, Jim (a former
linesman for the Mountain States Telephone Company), in 1953, from Russ
Rogers, a boomer lineman, in Burley, Idaho. Mrs. Sorrels reports that the
Kline mentioned in the last stanza was one Harry Kline, known among
linemen as a tough boss who has performed some amazing feats. Legend has
it, Mrs. Sorrels informs us, that Kline once went into the Malad (Idaho)
telephone office shortly after some tal1 drinking, proceeded to take the
operator on his lap, and then, with one arm around her waist, he drew his
trusty six-shooter and shot out all the little lights as they appeared on
her switchboard. It is certainly not surprising that an industry which
could inspire such a fine legend could also be responsible for one of the
best-parodies yet written to "The Cowboy's Lament."
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