Buckingham Lining Bar Gang, from Buckingham County, Virginia, is a
group of retired railroad workers. Some of them had worked on the
rails for decades, and they reunited in the early 1990s to demonstrate
the earlier practices of lining track on railroad lines. Before machines,
this back-breaking job was accompanied by rhythmic work songs that
helped time the moving of the rails. The group is led by Charles W.
White and Eddie Neighbors.
African Americans began to move into Appalachia
during the building of the railroad lines. The famous American song
"John Henry" tells the story of a railroad worker digging
the Big Bend Tunnel near Charleston, West Virginia, in 1872. Along
with the banjo, which is based on West African instruments, African-American
slaves brought with them the tradition of song as part of daily
life and work, and often as a form of social commentary on their
conditions. Railroad workers used song to synchronize their work,
and lyrics frequently included references to the "captain"
or the harshness of the work.