• lead vocal: Kevin Conner
  • acoustic guitar: Kevin Conner / Martin D-35
  • background vocals: Kevin Conner and Doug Koempel
  • drum programming: Doug / Roland TR-606
  • bass, whistle and train sounds: Doug / Roland Juno 60
  • keyboard: Doug / Young Chang grand piano
  • recorded at: Bird-On-Fire Recording Studio / West Union, Iowa

Doug's notes:

Hi friends,

It was sometime in the early '70s when four buddies from West Union, Iowa were hiking around Echo Valley State Park (just outside of West Union.) Mark Haines, Kevin Conner (yes, that Kevin Conner,) Dave Robinson and Joe Knight were walking the tracks when they heard a train approaching. They placed a couple pennies on one rail; and after the train had passed and the dust settled, the flattened pennies were retrieved with a markedly new feel and form (as in squashed!)

It wouldn't be long until the train would make its final run through Echo Valley, and now in 2015 the train hasn't run through the park in decades. However those rail beds still remain and have recently been converted to a wonderful bike/hiking trail.

But not to get sidetracked (no pun intended) - back to our four friends and their flattened pennies: Two of the guys, Mark and Kevin, were both developing their songwriting skills back then. And they'd occasionally collaborate. Mark had penned some lyrics about those train track pennies in which he interwove a side story regarding the decline of the trains. He temporarily plugged these lyrics into an existing song entitled "Dead Skunk" by Loudin Wainwright III. Many of you probably remember that 1972 novelty song from its refrain:

     "You got your Dead Skunk in the middle of the road
     Dead Skunk in the middle of the road
     Dead Skunk in the middle of the road
     Stinkin' to high heaven!"

Eventually Mark presented his "train track penny" lyrics to Kevin, and Kevin soon composed an original harmonization and melody to replace Mark's temporary "Dead Skunk" background music. The song was entitled "Train Track Penny" and became a staple at Kevin's concerts when he did his solo act on the college coffeehouse circuit.

After Kevin graduated college, he went on the road with me in 1977 as a Memory Brother. We recorded "Train Track Penny" in 1983 and put it on our Time and Distance album. It quickly became one of our most-requested tunes.

          Train Track Penny

     "I put two pennies on a railroad track
     A train came by and it ran them flat
     I picked them up, they were smooth and warm
     They had a brand new feel and a brand new form

     "I gave one penny to this pretty girl
     I think she kept it but I'm not too sure
     She might of lost it but she couldn't spend it
     As a thing of worth, it's hard to defend it

          "Well, it's a Train Track Penny and you don't see many
          You better hang on to your Train Track Pennies
          Before too long, there won't be any
          'Cuz it takes a train, to make a Train Track Penny

     "I found later from a friend in town
     The train had flattened my pennies on its very last round
     That might not mean to much to many
     But it gives a new meaning to my Train Track Penny


     "I keep my penny in a leather pouch
     It won't get lost when I lying on the couch
     I hope she's keeping her's safe and sound
     We'll have our pennies when the trains are goin' down"


In a bit of an ironic twist, it turned out that the "pretty girl" (who shall remain anonymous) in Mark's lyrics turned out to be related to a Memory Brother - an unintentional reference as Mark would not have been aware at the time that the Memory Brothers would be recording this song. (Do I detect another online contest in the making? "Name That Girl!")

Kevin and Mark went on to collaborate on a couple other tunes (e.g. "Good-bye Mary Lou"); however by the late '70s Mark's musical interests had gravitated to Traditional Folk Music, and his focus turned towards writing lyrics "that read well on their own."

The following is an example of one of Mark's later lyrics:

         I Once Knew A Woman

     I once knew a woman so fine and so fair;
     From her light-stepping feet to her long, flowing hair.
     Like the full moon's light and the cool autumn air
     'Twas madness to love her, but I did not care.

     All Hallows was past. The harvest was in.
     I had time, so I thought, and a woman to win.
     Then the fall fell down in the cold north wind;
     And I lost control of my life again.

     She warned me, she told me,"You've nothing to gain
     From the loving of me but heartache and pain.
     You'll howl at the wind, you'll scream at the rain
     And the turn of the seasons will drive you insane."

     'Twas true, 'twas true, 'twas true - every word.
     I howled at the wind, but the wind never heard.
     I screamed at the rain, still the rain poured down;
    Till the wind, rain and I, we became one sound.

     I once knew a woman so fine and so fair;
     From her light-stepping feet to her long, flowing hair.
     Like the full moon's light and the cool autumn air
     'Twas madness to love and still I don't care.

Mark still resides in West Union, Iowa and is now retired.

And most of you reading this are already familiar with Kevin as a Memory Brother and prolific songwriter who currently lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

browse the Song Vault archives.
Doug Koempel © 2015
SONG #18

writers: Mark Haines and Kevin Conner
album: Time and Distance (BOF-56) 1983
artists: the Memory Brothers
publishing: Blue Baker Music BMI
play "Train Track Penny"