working on

I've Been Working on the Railroad

"I've Been Working on the Railroad" is an American folk song. The first published version appeared as "Levee Song" in Carmina Princetonia, a book of Princeton University songs published in 1894. The earliest known recording is by the Sandhills Sixteen, released by Victor Records in 1927.


The modern version of the song is:

I've been working on the railroad
All the live-long day.
I've been working on the railroad
Just to pass the time away.

Don't you hear the whistle blowing,
Rise up so early in the morn;
Don't you hear the captain shouting,
"Dinah, blow your horn!"

Dinah, won't you blow,
Dinah, won't you blow,
Dinah, won't you blow your horn?
Dinah, won't you blow,
Dinah, won't you blow,
Dinah, won't you blow your horn?

Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah
Someone's in the kitchen I know
Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah
Strummin' on the old banjo!

Singin' fi, fie, fiddly-i-o
Fi, fie, fiddly-i-o-o-o-o
Fi, fie, fiddly-i-o
Strummin' on the old banjo.

Someone's makin' love to Dinah
Someone's making love I know.
Someone's making love to Dinah
'Cause I can't hear the old banjo

The 1894 version includes a verse very much like the modern song, though in minstrel dialect, but with an intro that is no longer sung, and a second verse containing what could be considered by some to be racist lyrics:

(SOLO) I once did know a girl named Grace--
(QUARTET) I'm wukkin' on de levee;
(SOLO) She done brung me to dis sad disgrace
(QUARTET) O' wukkin' on de levee.

I been wukkin' on de railroad
All de livelong day,
I been wukkin' on de railroad
Ter pass de time away.
Doan' yuh hyah de whistle blowin'?
Ris up, so uhly in de mawn;
Doan' yuh hyah de cap'n shouin',
"Dinah, blow yo' hawn?"

Sing a song o' the city;
Roll dat cotton bale;
Niggah aint half so happy
As when he's out o' jail
Norfolk foh its oystahshells,
Boston foh its beans,
Chahleston foh its rice an' cawn,
But foh niggahs New Awleens.

The "Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah" section is actually an older song that has been absorbed by "I've Been Working on the Railroad". It was published as "Old Joe, or Somebody in the House with Dinah" in London in the 1830s or '40s, with music credited to J.H. Cave. "Dinah" was a generic name for an enslaved African woman. The melody for this section of the song may have been adapted from "Good Night Ladies", written (as "Farewell Ladies") in 1847 by E. P. Christy.

According to the liner notes to Pete Seeger's Children's Concert at Town Hall (1963), the "Dinah won't you blow" section is a more modern addition, contributed to the song by "some college students".

In popular culture

  • There is a striking similarity between the opening line of this song and the first few bars of the old Spanish anthem Cara al Sol.
  • The air of the song is used in Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie when Itchy becomes a train driver.
  • In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Virtuoso" (season 6, episode 13), the song is the first music ever heard by an alien species; it is sung to them by The Doctor.
  • In the movie Kelly's Heroes, the tank commanded by Oddball (Donald Sutherland) plays the tune while attacking a German-held railyard.
  • "The Eyes of Texas", the alma mater of the University of Texas, is played to the tune of this song.
  • Bruce Springsteen made reference to the song in "Bishop Danced," which includes the line, "There's someone in the kitchen blowin' 'Dinah' on their horn." The song was previously unreleased until 1998, which it was included on Tracks.
  • In one of Band of Brothers episode, The Breaking Point, the Americans were singing this song before the German sniper began firing at them.
  • The melody of the song was used in the theme of the cartoon series Camp Candy.
  • In the Nickelodeon show, Drake and Josh, the song was used as a lullaby to put their dad's boss's baby to sleep.
  • A version of "I've Been Working on the Railroad" as recorded by Johnny Cash appeared on the 3rd disk of the Box Set of works by Johnny Cash called The Legend.

Popular in Japan

This song is a very familiar nursery rhyme in Japan, with the same melody but different title and different lyrics. It is known as "" in Japan and it means "The railroad continues forever". The Japanese lyrics describe the happiness of the journey.

NHK introduced this version of the song in 1967 in a TV program called "Minna no Uta" (Minna no Uta; Everyone's Songs).

This tune is used at the stations on the Hanshin Electric Railway Lines (except Umeda Station) to announce arriving trains and is similarly used at Okayama Station on the Sanyo Line (for Kamigori and Himeji) and the Ako Line (for Banshu-Ako) of West Japan Railway Company.


External links

  • Discussion of "Someone in the Kitchen with Diana" [sic] at Mudcat Cafe
  • the song performed many years ago by "The Rooftop Singers" (from youtube)

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