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Great Big Rollin' Railroad

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Union Pacific Railroad's theme song from the late 1970s to mid 1980s. There were two versions; the first came in about 1978, and a later version came with the merger with Missouri Pacific, and was first heard during the "Rivers Of Steel" presentation during the 1984 New Orleans Worlds Fair. (If anyone knows any back story to this later version, please contact me.)

Great Big Rollin' Railroad (1978; 2 minutes, 16 seconds; 2.1 MB)

Great Big Rollin' Railroad, Rivers of Steel (1984; 1 minute, 23 seconds; 1.3 MB)

Background of the Song

Great Big Rollin' Railroad was written by Bill Fries, aka C. W. McCall, whose best known hit is the truckers song "Convoy", from 1976. (listen at Last.fm)

This is from a C. W. McCall fan web site:

In 1972, while working for the Omaha advertising firm of Bozell Jacobs, Bill Fries created a television campaign for the Old Home Bread brand of the Metz Baking Company. The advertisements told of the adventures of truck driver C.W. McCall, his dog Sloan, and of the truck stop that McCall frequented, The Old Home Café. Bill based the character and his environment on his own upbringing in western Iowa. The commercials were very successful. So successful, that the Des Moines Register published the air times of the commercials in the daily television listings.

From those commercials came the first of the C.W. McCall songs, named after the restaurant: "Old Home Fill-er Up An' Keep On A-Truckin' Cafe." While Bill provided the lyrics to the song and the voice of C.W. McCall, his collaborator Chip Davis wrote the music. Soon C.W.'s first album -- Wolf Creek Pass -- was released, whose title song was a misadventure of a truck with brake failure.

C.W. McCall's popularity reached its peak in January 1976, when "Convoy" -- from his second album, Black Bear Road -- reached the number one position on both the pop and country charts of Billboard.

I've exchanged emails with Mr. Fries (pronounced "freez"), in which he said simply that they paid him to write a song, and that's what he did. There isn't really any story behind the lyrics. Bill wrote:

I was a creative director for an advertising agency in Omaha (Nebraska) and our headquarters was in New York. I spent 20 years in the advertising business before I ever wrote any music. We did commercials for Jaguar Automobiles. We did commercials for the Union Pacific Railroad, Wild Kingdom, Mutual of Omaha and all that. It was one of the chances that come along. We also did several commercials for Old Home Bread, for a a very small client, the Metz Baking Company. The art directors and copyrighters were doing something else, so we came up with the "Old Home Filler Up and Keep on Truckin Cafe." I created this whole soap opera for television featuring, CW, Mavis, Sloan, Mom & Pop, the place they called the restaurant. Had him delivering trucks and his Old Home Bread Truck. It just caught on all over the mid west, one thing led to another. They heard it Nashville and they said why don't you come here and we'll tape in on MGM Records and we'll make it a national song.

According to a news story from November 1999, "The UP ads, which ran from 1970 to 1979, starred and were aimed at the railroad's employees. They played off the centennial of the 1869 Golden Spike ceremony and were intended to buck up employee morale. 'At the time, there was felt to be a need to remind the employees of the company's great history, and to declare that the company was part of the modern age and had a strong future,' Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis says."

I received the following email from Michael Silhavy of St. Paul, Minnesota on August 24, 2005:

Minor correction: composer's last name should be Proulx not Prouix. Dr. Proulx is one of the nation's leading composers of classical church music. I have been working with him in cataloging his complete works. He mentioned this piece and I was very happy to find it on your website.

UP's History Of the Song

The Songs

Great Big Rollin' Railroad (1978)
(2 minutes, 16 seconds)
(2.1 MB MP3 file)

Lyrics: Bill Fries
Music: Richard Proulx
Arrangement: Bob Jenkins & Associates

Produced by Sound Recorders, Omaha, Nebraska

Produced on a 7-inch, 33-1/3 rpm record (SR-2015B), made available through the courtesy of Gary Binder, UPHS board member. (Digital MP3 version produced by Don Strack, May 2001)

Great Big Rollin' Railroad, Rivers of Steel (1984)
(1 minute, 23 seconds)
(1.3 MB MP3 file)

Produced to accompany "Rivers Of Steel" promotional film. (Digital MP3 version produced by Don Strack, September 2006, by capturing the audio from the film.)

Lyrics (1978 version)

We're a great big rollin' railroad
One that everybody knows
We were born of gold and silver spikes
A hundred years ago

We're a million miles of history
A-shinin' in the sun
We're the Union Pacific
And our story's just begun

From the Great Plains of Nebraska
To the California seas
From the summits of the Rockies
To the mighty redwood trees

We're a thousand wheels of freight train
Hear the diesel engines power
We're the Union Pacific
Doin' ninety miles an hour

Bound from Omaha to Portland
Through Cheyenne and Laramie
We're a-headin' west for Boise
On the mainline to the sea

'cross the flats at Salt Lake City
On to Vegas and L.A.
We're the Union Pacific
And we've got the right of way

From the green fields of the prairies
To the blue Pacific shores
We deliver your great cargo
And come rollin' home for more

On the backbone of our nation
You can see us make the climb
We're the Union Pacific
And we're gonna be on time

From the green fields of the prairies
To the blue Pacific shores
We deliver your great cargo
And come rollin' home for more

On the backbone of our nation
You can see us make the climb
We're the Union Pacific
And we're gonna be on time

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