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Lyr Req: Only a Bum (Bill Garneau)

GUEST, 19 Mar 03 - 05:19 PM
Mark Ross 19 Mar 03 - 06:30 PM
Tiger 20 Mar 03 - 08:00 AM
Tiger 21 Mar 03 - 09:03 AM
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Subject: Origins: only a bum...tonight he sleeps in heaven
From: GUEST,
Date: 19 Mar 03 - 05:19 PM

Greetings. I need to determine the provenance of a song in case I need legal permission to reprint the lyrics in a book to be published next year by St. martin's press. the song was sung to me by my aunts; they learned it in maine in the 1930s, but i suspect it's much older than that. It does seem to have something in common with the Cowboy Lariat song, yet it seems different. Anybody ever heard of it?
My aunts swear it was recorded on an old record they had on one of the early model record players during the Depression.
Here are the lyrics that I know of:
"The engineer looked straight ahead
As the train sped thru the night
But he's only a bum, only a bum
The last night he slept in some farmer's barn.
Tonight he sleeps in heaven."

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Subject: RE: Origins: only a bum...tonight he sleeps in heaven
From: Mark Ross
Date: 19 Mar 03 - 06:30 PM

Get in touch with Norm Cohen who wrote LONG STEEL RAIL. He lives in Vancouver,Washington these days. Get in touch with me at and I will forward your query.

Mark Ross

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Subject: Lyr Add: ONLY A BUM (Bill Garneau)
From: Tiger
Date: 20 Mar 03 - 08:00 AM

"Only a Bum" appears in "The Hobo's Hornbook, A Repertory for a Gutter Jongleur" by George Milburn. It was published in 1930.

It contains 86 hobo songs, and goes into variable levels of detail Of this song, he says:
    There are many sentimental ballads about hoboes that cannot properly be classified as hobo ballads. The following is one of these. I got it from a blind accordion player in Oklahoma City. He sang it to a hymn tune much like that of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," but much less spirited.

I learned the song from my father-in-law about 40 years ago. The words I use are almost the same as Milburn's - a word or two different, here and there. I may be able to post the audio on my website.

Only A Bum ? Bill Garneau

The engineer looked straight ahead as the train sped through the night;
Then suddenly, the engineer saw someone wave a light.
He tried to stop, but someway, he knew 'twas all in vain;
The man who waved the light was ground dead beneath the train.
And then the engineer could see a burning bridge ahead,
And as the train slid to a stop these words of thanks he said.

    He was only a bum, only a railroad bum,
    But he gave his life for us all,
    And though last night he slept in some old farmer's barn;
    Tonight he sleeps in Heaven.

They buried him on Sunday morn, the passengers were there,
The tears were flowing freely as the preacher said a prayer.
The choir from the church was there to sing a hymn or two,
'Twas spring, the flowers were in bloom, the sky above was blue.
The engineer fell to his knees beside the open grave,
And said, "This man, to save our lives, his own he gladly gave."


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Subject: RE: Origins: only a bum...tonight he sleeps in heaven
From: Tiger
Date: 21 Mar 03 - 09:03 AM

Since it was published in 1930, the song is obviously older than that.

It was recorded by Hobo Jack Turner in 1929, and by Gene Arnold in 1933.

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