Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Friday, 18 February 2011

High Ball (O. Winston Link)


O. Winston Link, Birmingham Special, Rural Retreat, VA

Birmingham Special Gets the High Ball at Rural Retreat, Virginia: photo by O. Winston Link, 1957

There were two trains
Two trains running
One left at midnight
One at break of day
One with a red light
One with no light at all

O. Winston Link, The Pelican at Rural Retreat, VA

The Pelican at Rural Retreat, Virginia: photo by O. Winston Link, 1957


manik sharma said...

this reminds me of scenes from the schindler's list,a somewhat accurate presentation of the holocaust years ever on film..i feel..brilliant photographs...there is something about dark photographs...enigma

TC said...


Yes, that is probably a fair comparison for the ominous atmosphere created in these carefully staged images of Night and Shadow.

The rail lore that runs deep in early-to-mid-20th c. American Culture echoes also in the text, a conflation of the lyrics of Muddy Waters with those of certain his well-known pupils.

Tom King said...

I like the Carter Family lyrics to Wabash Cannonball, the one verse that goes: "I have rode those highball trains from coast to coast, that's all, but I have found no equal to the Wabash Cannonball."

Anonymous said...

O. Winston Link is unbelievable. Two Trains Running is perfect also -- runic in this form but permitting variations, which rewards the vague, the memory-challenged and talented people with unique diction.

Terresa said...

A spare, beautiful poem, paired well with the pictures.

TC said...

Many thanks, friends.

Runic indeed.

This one has been lingering in the mind a while... after some (many) years dreaming of trains and hearing train whistles in the night...

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Even earlier, one of Muddy's seminal influences, Robert Johnson, with perhaps his most transcendent lyric:

When the train, it left the station
with two lights on behind
When the train, it left the station
with two lights on behind
Well, the blue light was my blues
and the red light was my mind
All my love's in vain


TC said...



Jagger & Richards were smart enough to take only from the finest sources.

TC said...


I see that the June 20, 1937 Dallas recording of Love in Vain can be found easily enough.

This very interesting video for the song uses archival photos, some of which have been seen on this blog (that man at the drinking fountain will forever haunt me, as in fact does this song).

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Fine use of photos for a youtube video - quite good, and great to hear that wonderful rendition again.

Thanks for linking it along ... it will be forever haunting for those who remember.

If I remember correctly, the Stones didn't originally credit him when they covered it ...

Unknown said...

That's my grandfather J. L. Akers in the photos. The second one entitled "The Pelican at Rural Retreat, VA" I was somewhere behind the camera at the time, listening to Kathryn Dodson play chimes. We are trying to save that depot now:
Very best,
Frank Akers

TC said...


That's a beautiful piece of personal history, intersecting with something even larger -- a collective past, in which we all heard those train whistles in the night.

Let's hope the drive to save the station gets a bit of a push from somewhere. A long way still to go. And from the looks of things, the old place doesn't have many stand-up years left in it. (I'm all too familiar with that condition.)

The detail about Kathryn Dobson's heavenly chimes brings this story to life in a lovely way. Thanks very much for sharing it.