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John and Simon Take It On the Road

Herb’s Blog, Herbdate 22333 – 801:

Here’s the haps:

John and Simon Take It On the Road – By Herb

When Simon was a little baby
Sittin' on his daddy's knee
He picked up a pencil and a piece of graph paper
and said, I'm going to make something keen
Lord, Lord
But I'll make this little drawing first, Lord, Lord
But I will make a drawing first

Over the years, Simon invented
He designed quite a few things
But none of them were really big
And none of them could make you sing,
Lord, Lord
None of them could make you want to sing

Simon invented a steam drill
Unlike others it was portable
And it turned the bit automatically
And so he tried really hard to make a sale
Lord, Lord
He tried really hard to make a sale

The Boss Man, he said to Simon
Go ahead and bring your machine around
I'll give it a try against my best worker
and we'll see just what it can do
Lord, Lord
Let's see what this thing will do

You know the Ballad of John Henry
And how the race was won
The steam drill only made nine feet
John Henry did fifteen and he was done
Lord, Lord
He collapsed in a heap and he was done

Simon walked away dejected
He had lost the race and he had lost face
But he didn't lose a sale that day
Lord, Lord
He made a sale that day

You see,

John Henry didn't die that day
The way some storytellers say
He rose up and said, "Simon let's make us a deal
We can both make out real good
Using your machine to drive steel
Lord, Lord
Simon, let's make us a deal."

Simon and John Henry
Went to mining towns and rail
They set up the folks a week or two before
And got set up for a big race
Lord, Lord
A Man Versus Machine Big Race

John Henry would say to the Captain
Go ahead and bring that steam drill 'round
Before a machine can get the best of me
I'll die with a hammer in my hand
Lord, Lord
I'll die with my hammer in my hand

Well, Simon and the steam drill would make it nine feet
John Henry would make eight and half
Simon made a sale and covered John's "funeral"
Then they'd go to the bank and they'd laugh
Lord, Lord
How Simon and John Henry Laughed

They used to teach The Ballad of John Henry in school when I was a boy and there are so many versions of this folk song/folktale/bit-of-Americana/folklore that it would be impossible to get into all of the versions out there. I guess you would probably have to classify John Henry with other heroes and folk heroes like Davy Crockett, Paul Bunyan, Ole Svenson, Pecos Bill and others. And like those guys, there was probably some real person of origin, like Davy Crockett. He was a real man but did he really kill a bear when he was three?

I hadn’t thought about the story of John Henry for a long time but then I read a very different, more serious, man versus machine type story on Haoyan Do called Superfluity which was a worthwhile read but got me to thinking about the whole theme. On one trivia site it mentioned that the first written speeding ticket was given to Harry Meyers of Dayton, OH in 1904 for going a terrifying twelve miles per hour! There is also an earlier story of a New York taxi driver in 1899 going twelve miles per hour where the speed limit was eight miles per hour and four miles per hour when turning. The way I remember the story is that he was immediately arrested by a bicycle-police officer and taken to jail. Many men of science at the birth of the railroads warned that if a human being were to travel over thirty miles per hour that severe brain damage and psychiatric problems would result (Dumbest Blogger noted somewhere when I mentioned this that maybe they were right.). While there are still communities scattered around the country that use horses and buggies the majority of US citizens use more modern modes of transportation. Machines won.

Anyway, my mind wandered around and got to wondering what happened to the guy with the steam drill? In my wanderings and wondering, I learned that the miners would take a steel bit and one guy, called the “shaker” would hold the bit and another guy with a sledgehammer would hit it, then the shaker would turn the bit until the hole would be big enough for a stick of dynamite. Ben told me that they actually would take turns and each guy would do one job sixty times, then switch.

Simon Ingersoll was a mechanical engineering genius and inventor but by the accounts I read, not a very interesting fellow. Certainly not the type of inventor/showman/con man(?) that Thomas Edison was, but more like the character of Caractacus Pott of Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang fame. Whether you know know the Dick Van Dyke movie version or the Ian Fleming book version you have a guy always tinkering with something and a house and barn full of interesting but unprofitable machines. Take the personality down a couple of notches and there’s Simon Ingersoll. He could barely support his family by farming and sold off his patents to make ends meet.

But what if he had the marketing savvy of an Edison or a Barnum? Or even a Buffalo Bill, for that matter? That’s where my version of The Ballad of Simon Ingersoll came from. I know that mechanically and metrically it really, really stinks but other than that I like it. In my defense, there are so many versions of the original song that it was hard to keep it straight. Plus, while I like the original version, I also really liked this Smothers Brothers version. The SmoBros made a few different versions but this was the one that would allow me to maintain my “G” rating which is very important to me.

As always, I can’t be responsible if you go off my site and someone I’ve linked offends and I also have no control over any advertising you may be forced to view on Youtube videos.


20 responses to “John and Simon Take It On the Road”

  1. GP Avatar

    Thanks for reminding me about John Henry!

    1. Herb Avatar

      You’re welcome.

  2. dumbestblogger Avatar

    I don’t think I’d ever heard of Simon Ingersoll. You learn something new every day.

    1. Herb Avatar

      Ingersoll-Rand started out as the Ingersoll Drill Company. He sold out his interests if I recall correctly.

      1. dumbestblogger Avatar


  3. haoyando Avatar

    “… the type of inventor/showman/con man(?) that Thomas Edison was” That is so funny. Love this alternative angle towards such a well established symbol.

    1. Herb Avatar

      Thank you.

  4. AJMcGregor Avatar

    This is great! There’s so much in here that’s interesting — definitely including your version — and it’s always terrific to see the Smothers Brothers. Thank you!

    1. Herb Avatar

      You are welcome and as always, thanks for stopping by.

  5. Petra Avatar

    I’ve never heard of this one before!

    1. Herb Avatar

      Glad to have helped.

  6. tonylaplume Avatar

    Edison was perhaps not as much Edison as he was a shameless self-promoter (who also happened to be a pretty sharp inventor). I’ll always be a Tesla guy. Recommend the movie The Current War.

    John Henry was a favorite of mine as a kid. DC based on of its “replacement Supermen” during the ‘90s on him, complete with a hammer.

    1. Herb Avatar

      Edison was a better and more crafty marketer than Tesla. I didn’t know about the DC comics thing. How interesting.

      1. tonylaplume Avatar

        Steel; his given name is John Henry Irons. There was a movie based on the character released in 1997 starring Shaq. It’s not earth-shattering, but it’s worth a watch if you ever come across it. Sells the character well.

        1. Herb Avatar

          That’s pretty interesting.

  7. Mr. Ohh's Sideways View Avatar

    Wow I showed up here and learned all this great stuff about hammers and drills and songs. Wow I could die happy, but I won’t
    Show the world how to laugh

    1. Herb Avatar

      You just might.

      1. Mr. Ohh's Sideways View Avatar

        Naw Too much work

  8. Amber Avatar


    1. Herb Avatar


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