I don't like a railroad man.
No, l don't like a railroad man;
'Cause a railroad man they'll kill you when he can,
And drink up your blood like wine.
I wish I was a mole in the ground, Traditional
Mona tried to tell me
To stay away from the train line.
She said that all the railroad men
Just drink up your blood like wine.
An' I said, "Oh, I didn't know that,
But then again, there's only one I've met
An' he just smoked my eyelids
An' punched my cigarette."
Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again, Bob Dylan

I first heard about the railroad man from Mr. Dylan when I was about 12. I initially thought he was some random craziness, just another one of the odd characters that Dylan made up himself.

Later, I discovered Bascom Lamar Lunsford croaking about the railroad man on a recording from the 20's, and I understood a little more. Dylan didn't invent him...no...he's been around for a long, long while, sprung from the imagination of an anonymous, forgotten Appalachian troubadour. The railroad man was old when Lunsford sung about him back in the 20's. He comes from a song full of its own set of Dylanesque characters - Tippy and her nine dollar shawl, a lizard in the spring, Cappie and her long hair...and a mole who can root down a mountain. Discovering characters such as the railroad man, and making the connections between old time players and more recent mass market music is one of the joys of listening to (and learning about) folk and roots music.

I've often wondered about the railroad man. Is he to be feared? Is he progress, regression, a technocrat, an industrialist, the music industry, a father, or just a railroad lineman?

Why does he have a penchant for blood?

Dylan didn't fear the railroad man. Perhaps he knew he had nothing to fear.

But I'm afraid of the railroad man; at times, I feel that he may have already killed me.

Bob Dylan, Copyright © 1966; renewed 1994 Dwarf Music

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