Great Big Rollin’ Railroad
Words by Bill Fries; Music by Bob Jenkins and Dick Proulx

(If you want to sing along to this pre-C.W. McCall ditty, download the MP3.)

In 2012, Bill Fries recalled the genesis of the song:

I remember a cold winter day early in 1970 when I was asked to write an advertising campaign proposal to Union Pacific. I started thinking about what might get UP’s attention. I noted that 1969 was the 100th anniversary of the Golden Spike. Wow…what history! What a great big American railroad story! I thought a song just might be in order. So, I scribbled a few words on a scratch-pad that went like this… “we’re a great big railroad that everybody knows”… I thought about that… then, I added the word “rolling” and dropped the “g”…Two verses and a chorus later, plus some hand-clapping, foot-stomping music to go with it, I walked into a UP conference room and sang it for the first time…

“We’re a Great Big Rollin’ Railroad, one that ev’rybody knows,
We were born of Gold and Silver Spikes, a hundred years ago,
We’re a million miles of history a-shinin’ in the sun,
We’re the Union Pacific and our story’s just begun…

From the Great Plains of Nebraska to the California seas,
From the Summits of the Rockies to the mighty redwood trees
We’re a thousand wheels of freight train, hear the diesel engine’s power,
We’re the Union Pacific, doin’ ninety miles an hour…

Bound from Omaha to Portland through Cheyenne and Laramie,
We’re a-headin’ west for Boise on the Mainline to the sea
’Cross the flats at Salt Lake City, on to Vegas and L.A.
We’re the Union Pacific and we’ve got the Right-of-Way.

From the green fields of the Prairies to the blue Pacific shore,
We deliver your great cargo and come rollin’ home for more.
On the backbone of Our Nation you can see us make the climb,
We’re the Union Pacific and we’re gonna be on time…”

That was 42 years ago. The president of the Union Pacific Railroad, John Kenefick, loved it. He wanted to hear it over and over again. It became the basic music track for all Union Pacific TV commercials and even a nine-screen circloramic slide show for the Spokane World’s Fair. And, of course, the award-winning spot with the Union Pacific employees singing the song became a classic. The 1970 “Singing Union Pacific People” TV commercial was produced by Galen Lillethorup and Bob Spittler in Omaha, Neb.; music by Bob Jenkins and Dick Proulx.

— Bill Fries

Although Bill (as C.W. McCall) never recorded this song, it is number 5 on the Omaha Ad Club’s list of the 100 greatest moments in Omaha advertising. Sixth place went to some bread commercials.

Today’s History Lesson: The Union Pacific Railroad

The Union Pacific Railroad, headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, is the largest railroad network in the United States.

Union Pacific logotype The Union Pacific Railroad was incorporated on July 1, 1862 in the wake of the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862. Under the guidance of its dominant stockholder, Thomas C. Durant, the first rails were laid in Omaha, Nebraska. They were part of the railroads that came together at Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869 as the first transcontinental railroad in North America. Subsequently, UP took over the Utah Central extending south from Ogden, Utah, through Salt Lake City, and the Utah & Northern, extending from Ogden through Idaho into Montana, and it built or absorbed local lines that gave it access to Denver and to Portland, Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest. It acquired the Kansas Pacific (originally called the Union Pacific, Eastern Division, though in essence a separate railroad). It also owned narrow gauge trackage into the heart of the Colorado Rockies and a standard gauge line south from Denver across New Mexico into Texas.

Okay, that’s the trivial stuff. Thank you, Wikipedia!