Birmingham Rails

Birmingham Rails East

Birmingham Rails East

Saturday morning I left a little more earlier than I needed to for an appointment. I used the time to drive through downtown Birmingham. There are several bridges that cross a series of railroad tracks which divides the city into North and South sections. I parked on one of the bridges where I could view the railroad tracks.

The railroad played a huge part in the history of Birmingham. Residents not only used it for travel, the plants and foundries depended on the railroad for transportation of supplies and delivery of goods.  However, like other places across America, this dependency decreased drastically as interstate travel became easier during the late sixties and early seventies.

Although the train they call The City of New Orleans was never routed through Birmingham I still think of Steve Goodman’s song every time I see this area. I’m amazed how people can sit down and write a song and forty years later it still touches the hearts of people today. Better yet the things in the song actually happened.

Steve and his wife were traveling to visit his wife’s grandmother. After his wife fell asleep, Steve picked up a sketch pad and as he looked out his window began writing the lyrics.

Riding on the City of New Orleans, Illinois Central Monday morning rail. Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders, three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail. All along the southbound odyssey the train pulls out at Kankakee rolls along past houses, farms and fields. Passing trains that have no names, freight yards full of old black men and the graveyards of the rusted automobiles.

 Then he got up and walked back to the club car where he sees several men playing cards.

Dealing card games with the old men in the club car. Penny a point ain’t no one keeping score. Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle feel the wheels rumbling beneath the floor. And the sons of Pullman porters and the sons of engineers ride their father’s magic carpets made of steel. Mothers with their babes asleep are rocking to the gentle beat and the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.

Birmingham Rails West

Birmingham Rails West

Returning home Steve heard about the train being scheduled for decommission and finished the song. The following year Goodman met Arlo Guthrie where he was performing at a bar in Chicago. He convinced Guthrie to listen to his song by buying him a beer. Guthrie who was uninterested and wanted nothing more than to go home, agreed to listen until he finished the beer. Although Guthrie had several well-known songs this became his only charted hit and his signature song. Sadly Goodman died in 1984 at the age of only 36, after a long battle with leukemia.

Listen to City of New Orleans Arlo Guthrie on YouTube.



  1. Len Saltiel August 9, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    Great image and treatment Phillip. I love your stories of the South and music. Keep them coming.

    • Phillip August 9, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

      Thanks Len. You just thought that this was a Photography Blog!

  2. Rob August 9, 2011 at 11:12 pm #

    Love the linearity of these images. Perfection in going west into infinity.

    • Phillip August 10, 2011 at 7:23 am #

      I appreciate you comment Rob, thanks. The tracks are so straight here they do appear to go on forever.

  3. deniseippolito August 10, 2011 at 6:15 am #

    Phillip, Great perspective and the tracks really pull you into the image.

    • Phillip August 10, 2011 at 7:25 am #

      Thank you so much Denise.

  4. A.Barlow August 10, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    I like the highkey and the white vignette in the first shot.

    • Phillip August 10, 2011 at 9:17 am #

      Thanks Aaron I appreciate your comment!

  5. Dave DiCello August 10, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    Really cool use of the lines here Phillip, love the processing as well

    • Phillip August 10, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

      Thanks Dave, I appreciate it!

  6. Curt Fleenor August 10, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    Wonderful images Phillip! I especially like the first one. ‘The City of New Orleans’ is one of my all time favorite tunes but I didn’t know it had such a story behind it.

    • Phillip August 10, 2011 at 10:11 pm #

      Thanks Curt, I agree, it is a special song!

  7. Marc August 11, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    Nicely done Phillip! Great story too!

  8. Jimi Jones August 12, 2011 at 6:28 am #

    Very nice perspectives in each shot, Phillip. I really like the soft tones of that first one and the light beams drifting in from the left in the 2nd shot.


    • Phillip August 12, 2011 at 9:42 pm #

      Thanks Jimi I appreciate your comments

  9. Edith Levy August 12, 2011 at 8:42 am #

    That was really fascinating…great story Phillip. The images are fabulous. I love the treatment on both of them.

    • Phillip August 12, 2011 at 9:43 pm #

      Thank you so much Edith!

  10. Caryn Caldwell August 12, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    I love the mood of these shots! They feel so nostalgic.

    • Phillip August 12, 2011 at 9:45 pm #

      Thanks Caryn, I’m glad to hear you say that, because that was the feeling that I was going for.

  11. Shawn August 12, 2011 at 5:13 pm #

    Neat shots Phil. The high key look is done pretty well.

  12. Adam Allegro August 14, 2011 at 4:41 am #

    These shots are fantastic! love the rigid, old feel you give these photos. Well done.

    • Phillip August 14, 2011 at 8:14 am #

      Thank you Adam. I really appreciate it!

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