Episode 21: Understanding English Lyrics 2

2013 Wash. DC trip 122
Thurmond, West Virginia is believed to be the setting for the folktale of John Henry. Amtrak maintains a station there.

Understanding English Lyrics is our goal again as we continue our folklore relating to trains and railroads. Welcome to the Ramping Up your English Episode 21 page. See Episode 21 here.

You can view this episode by segment.  Just click on your desired segment below:

RUE Episode 21 Segment 1

Segment 2

Segment 3

Video Clips Used in this Episode

In the last episode, we used our English comprehension skills to understand the folk tale on John Henry.  We begin Episode 21 with a short video clip to remind us of that tale.  You can watch the clip here.

In this episode, we here the Doobie Brothers sing “Long Train Running.  Here’s a You Tube link to that fantastic song. Click here. 

Here’s a link that shows the Doobie Brothers doing the song in live concert. Click Here.

We turn again to music to explore non-literal use of trains in song lyrics.  We featured a song by a local Bluegrass group – Siskiyou Summit – entitled “Waiting for the Train” to introduce another metaphor connected with trains.  In this case, it signified the afterlife. We further shared a song by the Doobie Brothers entitled “Long Train Running.”  The lyrics contained visual elements of coal trains and the demise of a woman names Miss Lucy, and the chorus “..without love, where would you be now?…” but how that all ties together is less than clear.  As I said in the program, don’t feel like you have to figure out the meaning of every set of lyrics you encounter.  Sometimes it’s best just to enjoy the music.


I also introduced some railroad jargon.  I just discovering this for myself, so I’m sharing a few words that I recently learned myself. These terms have special meanings, distinct from the vocabulary we may already know.  For example:

Frog: This is where a switch causes a train to leave one track and go onto another.  I mentioned the video producer making train videos – named Green Frog.  This is their website: www.Greengrog.com.  It’s a different meaning from the amphibian we all love to hear singing when it rains.

This is a diamond in Chicago
Understanding English Lyrics
Here’s a frog on the old IC line.

Hog: In the jargon of railroad people, this is neither the mammal from which we get pork, nor the name we use for someone who never shares. It’s the train’s engineer.  Actually, the common word is hogger.

Bull: Again, this is not the animal on the farm.  The word bull in railroad jargon is a railroad police officer.

Rail Fan:  You won’t get cool air from this kind of fan.  Think of the word fan as in sports fan.  It’s short for fanatic. There’s no questioning the intensity of love for trains when it comes to rail fans.  Another term is “foamer” in that a rail fan may be so excited to see a train that he foams at the mouth. I suggest being careful using that one.  To be fair, some great photographs and film/video footage comes from Rail Fans.  If you decide to become one, remember that tracks mean trains, so be safe out there and respect railroad property.

Language Objectives

Recall the basic sequence of events in a folktale.  Identify the main theme of a popular folk tale. Relate the theme of a folktale to historical trends.

Academic Content Objectives

History: Trace the development of Railroads in the 19th Century in the United States.  Explain the role of mechanization on the status of manual labor in the United States. Literature: Explain the role of folktales in the growth and sustainability of Labor Unions.  Transportation: Trace the growth of railroads and how they effected the movement of goods and people. Economics: Demonstrate the cause/effect relationship between commodities and transportation system development in the United States.

Link to Video Clip

I found an outstanding video featuring Arlo Guthry singing “City of New Orleans.” Click here to see and hear it.


Click here to see the bonus video of the Cardinal Eastbound from Chicago to Washington D.C.  It has all three parts that we features plus some extra video footage. The same video is on archive.org. Click here to see it.


Look up the lyrics to a popular song on Lyrics.com. Copy the lyrics into your notebook and then write what the song’s about – in no less than 10 words.

Next Episode

I hope that some of the recent lessons help you with the challenges of understanding song lyrics. I also hope you enjoyed our visit to Washington, D.C.  We have more on that visit when we board the Cardinal Westbound toward Chicago during Episode 22.  Click here to visit that page.