Picture

PictureA newspaper clipping of the Ernest Thomas train wreck story from the San Francisco Call newspaper, August 1900.

If you’ve lived in Mill Valley for a while, you likely know a bit of the history of the the Mt. Tamalpais and Muir Woods Railway, which ran between Mill Valley and Mount Tam’s east peak, with a 2.5-mile spur line to the Muir Woods, from 1896 to 1930.

But have you heard the colorful history of the  “Crookedest Railroad in the World” celebrated in a lyrically accurate bluegrass tune by some fantastic local musicians led by the multi-talented Dore Coller? Now’s your chance.

Master local filmmaker Gary Yost filmed a performance of Coller’s original song “Old Railroad Grade” at Coller’s STR Studio here in Mill Valley. Coller, on guitar, was joined by Dan Large on mandolin, Steve Kallai on fiddle, Gary Kaye on banjo and Larry Carlin on bass. Yost filmed the performance as a gift to the Mill Valley Historical Society.

“But it was really a gift to me… being such a wonderful ‘distraction’ from the events of the week,” Yost says. “It put the first smile on my face in quite awhile.”


​If you want to sing along, here are the lyrics:
WAY OUT IN CALIFORNIA, JUST ABOVE THE GOLDEN GATE,
THERE USED TO BE A RAILROAD WITH THE BEST VIEW IN THE STATE,
FROM THE SNOW CAPPED PEAKS TO THE OCEAN, THE HORIZON DID UNFURL
ON THE CROOKEDEST LITTLE RAILROAD IN THE WORLD

HOP ON AT THE OLD MILL DEPOT, SWAYING AS SHE SWERVES,
STRAIGHT UP BLITHEDALE CANYON, AROUND THE HORSESHOE CURVE
WINDING THROUGH THE REDWOOD FOREST, YOU COULD SEE FROM NEAR TO FAR
AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD, YOU KNOW JUST WHERE YOU ARE

CHORUS:
RIDING ON THE MOUNTAIN, YOUR TROUBLES START TO FADE
FLYING THROUGH THE REDWOODS, ON THAT RAILROAD GRADE

CMON DARLING, WE GOT IT MADE IN THE SHADE
LET’S HEAD UP THE MOUNTAIN, ON THAT RAILROAD GRADE

YOU RUN UP THROUGH THE DOUBLE BOW KNOT, PARALLEL FIVE TIMES,
WHEN YOU GET TO THE WEST POINT INN, YOU CAN CHANGE TO TWO MORE LINES
THE OCEAN SPUR TO WILLOW CAMP, YOU CAN RUN OUT ON THE BEACH
ANY WAY YOU GO, A GOOD TIME’S WITHIN REACH

AT THE TOP WAS THE OLD TAM TAVERN, JUST BELOW EAST PEAK,
YOU COULD SNEAK UP FOR A QUICK ONE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WEEK
HAVE A DRINK OR TWO AND ENJOY THE VIEW, DIDN’T HAVE TO TRAVEL FAR.
THEN COAST BACK DOWN IN THE GRAVITY CAR

​CHORUS:
RIDING ON THE MOUNTAIN, YOUR TROUBLES START TO FADE
UP THROUGH THE REDWOODS, ON THAT RAILROAD GRADE

CMON DARLING, WE GOT IT MADE IN THE SHADE
LET’S HEAD UP THE MOUNTAIN, ON THAT RAILROAD GRADE

THE YEAR WAS 1900, ON A DAY THAT WAS PRETTY CLEAR,
THERE WAS A TERRIBLE TRAINWRECK THAT KILLED THE ENGINEER
IT WAS HALFWAY UP THE MOUNTAIN BEFORE MILEPOST #5
HE HIT THE BRAKES BUT HE DIDN’T COME OUT ALIVE

HIS NAME WAS ERNEST THOMAS, RUNNING ENGINE #2
SOME GREASE BUILT UP UPON THE TRACKS, THERE WAS NOTHING HE COULD DO.
THE ENGINE CRASHED WAY DOWN THE SLOPE, TWAS SUCH AN AWFUL SCENE
HE LOST HIS LIFE IN A BLAST OF STEAM

CHORUS:
RIDING ON THE MOUNTAIN, YOUR TROUBLES START TO FADE
UP THROUGH THE REDWOODS, ON THAT RAILROAD GRADE

CMON DARLING, WE GOT IT MADE IN THE SHADE
LET’S HEAD UP THE MOUNTAIN, ON THAT RAILROAD GRADE

NOW ALL THESE LONG YEARS LATER, WHEN SO MUCH TIME HAS PASSED,
THE RAILROAD IS A TRAIL ROAD, PEOPLE LOVING IT TO THE LAST
THERE’S HIKERS AND THERE’S BIKERS, STILL WANT TO SPEND THE DAY,
RIDING UP AND DOWN THE GOOD OLD RAILROAD GRADE.


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