Alan Lomax first recorded this song in an Arkansas prison in 1934. Leadbelly arranged it for guitar and recorded it in the 40’s, and it’s since been recorded extensively, as it’s quite a song. Originally it was done a cappella. Leadbelly introduces this up-beat song with a long-winded story about a train engineer declaring the contents of his train to be livestock instead of pig iron (which would have incurred a high tax or railroad fee), so it’s a light-hearted song, what with all the livestock and all.
The old Rock Island Line railroad, one of the early ones in the Chicago area, was bought out in the 1980’s. Too bad about the railroad. Anyhow, “If you wants to ride ya gotta ride it like ya find it. Get your ticket at the station if you wanna ride the Rock Island Line”. Click here to hear Bumbas have a go at it on two tracks (no pun intended, well, not really).