Music, Stories told

On the Dummy Line

What fun songs do you remember singing as a child?

Preacher Mike’s blog this morning quoted a line from an old song about trains that I learned in the second grade but haven’t thought about in years. The teacher gathered our class around the piano every day and we sang songs from a set of discarded songbooks that had been part of the curriculum many years before. The book included this song, which we sang often – because I liked it and asked for it all the time! I still remember my favorite verse and the chorus:

Got on the Sunny, didn’t have my fare
Conductor said, “What’cha doin’ there?”
I jumped up and made for the door
And he cracked me on the head with a two-by-four!

On the Sunny, on the Sunny Line
Rise and shine
Rise and shine and pay your fine
When you’re riding on the Sunny, on the Sunny Sunny Line!

Preacher Mike remembered the song as “Dummy Line.” I Googled it and found that there are many songs about trains with “dummy” in the title, including this one. I find it curious that the songbook publisher sanitized the title but not the lyric where the conductor assaulted the farecheater!

Turns out that this is a folk song with roots going back as far as the 1890s. The version I learned was about hoboing on the railways on “dummy trains,” the trains being “dumb,” meaning quiet, because they used locomotives with condensing engines that eliminated the noise of steam escaping. Other versions involve trolleys or short branch railways, the cars pulled by small steam engines that sometimes were “dummied up” to look like passenger cars so the sight of them didn’t frighten horses on city streets. I gather that this kind of dummy train was known for being slow, reflected in this lyric I found but don’t remember:

I said to the brakeman, “Can’t you speed up a bit?”
Said he, “You can walk, if you don’t like it”
Said I, “Old man, I’d take your dare
But the folks don’t expect me till the train gets there.”

I wouldn’t have cared about any of this when I was in the second grade. I just got a big kick out of singing about that poor guy getting hit on the head with a board!

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21 thoughts on “On the Dummy Line

  1. marie armone says:

    oh my gosh, i was just thinking about grade school and remembered this song that i learned in second or third grade. The Dummy Line, and i found you! i learned this song in the very early 60’s on long island, in new york. the version i learned went something like this: some folks say that the dummy don’t run, come and let me tell you what the dummy’s done, left st. louie at a half past one and rolled into memphis at the setting of the sun, on the dummy, the dummy line, rise and shine, rise and shine and pay your fine when your riding on the dummy, on the dummy, dummy line. got out my seat didn’t have my fair, conductor hollered, ‘whatcha doing there?
    i jumped up and i headed for the door and he cracked me on the head with a two by four.
    the funny thing about this is that we would sing this song in music class really loudly, with gusto, children of the three stooges generation, we loved that raucous stuff. the next month we learned waltzing matilda and oh where have you been billy boy….thanks, marie armone

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  2. Sunder says:

    Hello!!! I’m only 28, but I learned this song as a child also!! I was searching the internet because I couldn’t remember some of the lyrics and I found your site and I want to thank you!! I also learned to sing this song really loud, but in my version it went something like this: “On the dummy, on the dummy line, rise and shine, pu poopy du, rise and shine and a’pay your fine when your riding on the dummy, on the dummy dummy line. Got on the dummy didn’t have my fare, conductor hollered whacha doin’ there, I jumped right up and made for the door, but he cracked me on the head with a two by four. On the dummy, on the dummy line, rise and shine, pu poopy du, rise and shine and a’pay your fine when your riding on the dummy, on the dummy dummy line.”
    I also learned the beginning part about St. Louis, but couldn’t remember it – that’s why I went searching! Thank you so much!!

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  3. s. cornelius says:

    I’M 66 AND INTERNED MUSIC WITH 3RD GRADERS. THE DUMMY LINE WAS THE ONE THEY TAUGHT TO ME WITH GUSTO!
    I GOOGLED IT TO SEE WHY IT WAS CALLED DUMMY BUT IN READING ALL THIS I WONDERED IF THE MUFFLING OF THE SOUND WAS TO PREVENT AVALANCHES IN THE SNOWY MOUNTAINS.

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  4. Linda says:

    How song lyrics stay with us! I, too, remember this song from school, 2nd or 3rd grade in California in the early ’60’s. (I love that I can “google it” and find what I am thinking about on the internet.) It was nice to find others with fond memories of this song.

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  5. V. Maschler says:

    I’m 75 and we use to sing this song at camp. Only our lyrics were “on the dummy line on the dummy line…rain or shine I’ll pay my fine to ride ride ride on the dummy line.

    Casey Jones was an engineer tried to get to heaven on a bottle of beer, the bottle broke and down he fell he didn’t go to heaven but he went “don’t get excited hold your seats he didn’t got to heaven but he went to sleep” on the dummy line on the dummy line. Rain or shine I’ll pay my fine, rain or shine I’ll pay my fine to ride ride ride on the dummy line.

    Once was a boy came home from school found 50 cents behind a mule, crept up like a little mouse…next day funeral at the little boys house. On the dummy line, etc. I seem to remember a verse about Hitler and one about Fat and Skinny went to bed…but don’t remember the rest…We sang this every year until I was at least 10 at camp in San Francisco bay area camp grounds. Fun to see other lyrics up here…

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    • What a wonderful memory! It seems like this song had maybe regional variations on the chorus, and a huge variety of verses, many of them wry or humorous. I chuckled over “next day funeral.”

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    • JOP says:

      This version by a man of 75 is closest to mine of 1938-40 at age 9-10-11 summer YMCA camp, New Castle PA. Yes there were a huge variety of verses, some of them faintly “off color”– the outdoor toilets were called “Old Joe” so you could make up rhymes to GO with Joe…. It was not about the railroad but about the weird stuff/people that rode…. One I recall ess obnoxious than most:

      There was a pain woman, her name was Jo,
      do dadda da Da, da da dadda MO,
      She had a mole on the end of her chin
      She called it a dimple, but a dimpe turns in

      On the dummy line, on the dummy line, rain or shine I’ll pay my fine

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  6. Steve says:

    thanks for back ground. I sang this song to my kids when they were little and crazy about trains. It was a song I learned in my childhood and it has since bothered me that I could not remember where I learned it.

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  7. RGWilder says:

    I’m of the same vintage as V. Masehler and JOP, and like JOP attended YMCA camp but on Catalina Island off the coast of California. The rendition I remember went something like this: On the dummy line, on the dummy line, rain or shine I’ll pay my fine, rain or shine I’ll pay my fine, ridin’, ridin’, ridin’ on the D-dummy line.
    (In this verse you can use anyone’s name. We used a fellow camper because it made everyone laugh harder, but I’ll use Abe Lincoln):
    Old Abe Lincoln was chased by a bear, chased him here and it chased him there. People thought he was out of his mind, running around with a bear (bare) behind.
    The dummy conductor went to the fair. Bought himself some combination underwear. Wore ’em six months without irritation…wore ’em so long he forgot the combination.
    Wish I could remember some of the others. Campers would take turns singing their own verses. It was great fun around the campfire!

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  8. “The Dummy Line” song seems to have vanished from modern elementary schools, at least out here in California. As for myself, I used to sing it in the third grade at Lowell Elementary School, Fresno, California, in the year 1963. Not a year earlier, not a year later. Because when third grade ended, I never again heard the song sung.

    Anyway, my 3rd Grade teacher’s name was Mrs. Setty, in case anyone else is left alive from that class.

    Below are the lyrics that stuck with me all these many years:

    “Rise and shine and pay your fine, on the Dummy, on the Dummy, on the Dummy, Dummy Line!”

    Just that. But those words have lingered in my mind for over half a century, and are rekindled every time I hear certain words, or see a 19th century train huffing across the television screen while watching an old cowboy movie.

    It really, truly, does seem like it was almost yesterday…

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    • Indeed, this song has faded from public consciousness. I think that’s why people find this post: on the entire, vast Internet, it’s one of the few outposts where the song is mentioned.

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  9. I got on the Dummy and I didn’t pay my fare, the Dummy said to me: “what are you doing there”? He took me by the collar and threw me out the door! He said he didn’t want me on the Dummy anymore!

    “On the Dummy Line”, “the Dummy Line”, “Rain or shine I’ll pay my Fine”! “Rain or shine I’ll pay my fine”!. “Ride, ride, riding, on the Dummy Line”!
    Jimmy Brown got an awful scare, got chased 10 miles by a Grizzly Bear! People said he was out of his mind, to run 10 miles with a Bare Behind!!!!

    “On the Dummy Line”, “the Dummy Line”, “Rain or shine I’ll pay my Fine”! Rain or……{ repeat}…….

    Johnny Jones coming home from school, spied a half a dollar at the foot of a Mule, he stooped down just as quiet as a Mouse, there was a Funeral next day, at the little boy’s house!

    “On the Dummy Line”, “the Dummy Line”,”Rain or shine I will pay my fine”. “Rain or ……{repeat}……

    Bought me a suit of Combination Underwear. “To keep out the cold and the freezing air”! Wore it 6 months and I got an “Irritation”!. “Couldn’t take it off “cuzz” I forgot the combination”!

    “On the Dummy Line”, “the Dummy Line”. Raine or shine I ‘ll pay my Fine”! Rain or ……..{repeat}…..

    Betty Green, had a Wart on the end of her chin, “She called it a Dimple, but a dimple grows in!””

    “On the Dummy Line”, “the Dummy Line”, “Rain or shine I’ll pay my Fine”! “Rain or shine I’ll pay my fine”! “Ride, ride riding, on the dummy Line”!

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  10. Blanche cupler says:

    There was a old hen with a wooden leg best old hen that ever laid an egg ,laid four spools in a old tin can called t a ford and the darn thing ran

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