NS signalman’s song gives a salute to steel rails across America
Signal maintainer Gregg Eargle has railroading in his blood, people at heart, and a new song in his voice. Performed with the Norfolk Southern Lawmen Band, Eargle’s song is a patriotic paean to freight trains across America in a music video released June 1, Norfolk Southern’s 35th anniversary.
“I wrote this song for America,” Eargle says of “The Steel Rail News.” “It’s the railroad singing to America.”
So goes the chorus:
“Good mornin’, America
“We hope you’re doin’ fine.”
That refrain might ring familiar. Eargle drew inspiration for his song from Steve Goodman’s 1971 folk/country tune “City of New Orleans,” written at a time when parts of the rail industry were struggling. The last line bemoans, “This train’s got the disappearing railroad blues.” Eargle, who hired on at Norfolk Southern five years ago, says, “I thought to myself that if the steel rail could talk, it would sing a different story today. The steel rail no longer sings the blues.”
“We’re proud to serve the great red, white & blue
“These steel rails bring good news to you.”
A song about heart
Eargle joined the Lawmen on a sunny May day at the Norfolk Southern Training Center at McDonough, Ga., for the song’s first live performance, showcased in the music video. It was the first McDonough appearance for the Norfolk Southern band that has entertained four generations at 200-plus locations annually with its crowd-pleasing diversity of genres.
Rex Blancett, manager corporate entertainment and Lawmen leader, produced the song, fine-tuning the lyrics, melody, and instrumentation. “The first time I heard it, I felt the song had somewhat of a folksy bluegrass feel to it. When we recorded it, I wanted to keep that vibe, which is why I used mostly acoustic instruments and very light brushes on drums.”
Eargle describes the genre as “Americana, since it feels to me a blend of folk, country, and easy rock.” The song is about heart, he adds. “When a train goes rumbling down the tracks, it is more than a big piece of steel rolling along. That train has heart. It represents the hearts of railroaders who operate and support it, the customers we serve, and the people who live and work in the towns along the line.”
“From town to town we roll along
“Familiar as a favorite song …
“… We move freight out, we move it in
“And each day we begin again”
A railroading family
Railroading is carved into the Eargle family tree, with a grandfather and two uncles having served. A brother, Perry, works in the bridges and structures engineering group at Greensboro, N.C. In his job, Eargle, based at Seneca, S.C., builds and maintains track signal equipment. He grew up around the railroad tracks at Prosperity, S.C., and he entertained himself with music. “I used to know every word to every song on the radio. I have been writing, singing, and playing music for 35 years.”
For his song’s McDonough debut, Eargle’s tenor harmonies blended with Blancett’s lead vocals, accompanied by band members Bobby Napier on fiddle, drummer Freddie James, Blake Houston on bass, and Dale Henson on banjo and keyboard. A drone-borne camera overhead and a manned camera on the ground captured the action. The video was produced by the Corporate Communications Department’s Media Center, led by Kim Cloutman, manager media center.
A positive culture
Dominik Browne, director training and manager of the training center, fired up the grill at the outdoor pavilion and invited trainees and guests to come enjoy the show, which included a mini-concert in addition to “The Steel Rail News.”
“The music was right up my alley,” said conductor Cory Ross of Bellevue, Ohio.
Conductor Zachery Allen of Altoona said, “It was a good time. The band did a very good job and played a lot of genres of music. It was very enjoyable.”
Jessica Bartges, a conductor based at Conway, Pa., said, “It’s nice to feel like you’re appreciated and to do and see things you’ve never experienced before – to have a little fun at work.”
Training Center guests enjoying the concert included employees of other railroads participating in an industry technology meeting. Among them, Aaron Ratledge, general director operating practice and rules for Burlington Northern Santa Fe at Fort Worth, Texas, said, “It’s pretty awesome to have a craft employee write a song and to have a band tweak it and play it. It shows the positive culture that’s within Norfolk Southern.”