Steel Rails, Storytelling, & School Programs

Designed to educate folks about a rich part of American history, these enlightening programs can be tailored to your needs, including focus on a specific region, topic or a particular audience. These programs, which are listed below, are available by prior arrangement.

Bill and Kristin Playing Songs

Steel Rails Hummin':

Railroad Folklore through Storytelling and Songs

The Railroad brought dramatic change to America and American society. People and goods were transported over long distances with ease and speed. The lines of communication made a gigantic leap in sophistication as telegraph wires followed the tracks. This mode of travel, transport, and communication played a major role in the industrial revolution.

Using songs, stories and a variety of period instruments, such as banjo, harmonica, guitar and washboard, Bill and Kristin lead the audience on an enriching and enjoyable journey through the history of the Railroad in America. The show touches on the railroad's beginnings on Christmas day in 1830, when the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company began the first steam-powered railroad to operate commercially and spans to the present day when even diesel power is being replaced with electromagnets and wind tunnels.

The main focus of the presentation is on steam power and the period of the late 1890s to the 1950s when the steam engine was replaced with diesel power. This was and remains today the most colorful period when the railroads were competing with each other to win the mail contracts by employing daredevil engineers (called Hoggers) like Casey Jones and Steve Brody. This was the period of train wrecks, rides and hobos.

"One of my earliest memories is the sound of the pulp-wood train as it blew for the crossing not far from my home. Living at the head of a cove, I could hear the sound travel up to the house as if a speaker was aimed in our direction. Investigating that sound became imperative, and the first time I lay in the honeysuckle and watched that train come by, I was hooked. By the time I was eight I was already singing train songs and trying to emulate the sound of the whistle on my harmonica. I stayed down at the tracks so much my grandmother started calling me "Railroad Billy." We moved to Asheville when I was nine and lived on a hill right above the Southern Railyards. I began my hobo days at thirteen when a friend and I hopped a freight and rode to Knoxville, TN., where we got caught by railroad bulls and sent back home. From that time up until the present day I've gotten to know a lot of hobos, engineers, conductors and railroad people and along the way a lot of railroad songs and stories."

School Programs

Kristin Morris sings lead vocals, plays guitar and washboard as well as vocal harmonies as an accompaniment to the music in this program. She also tells stories of her first train ride in Texas, where if you flushed the commode you could watch the tracks go by underneath the train.

Storytelling Shows

Kristin tells stories about coming of age in the South, stories about the ancient Maya and Aztec civilizations in Mexico and Central America, stories about myth and magic.

Bill's stories range from yarns and Jack tales to personal stories about growing up in Appalachia in the 1940s as well as stories about the Civil War and the American Revolution passed down through his family. Railroad history, Hobo and Cowboy stories are also part of Bill's repertory.