Monkey And The Engineer

Lyrics: Jesse Fuller
Music: Jesse Fuller

Once upon a time there was an engineer
Drove a locomotive both far and near
Accompanied by a monkey who would sit on a stool
Watching everything the engineer would move

One day the engineer wanted a bite to eat
He left the monkey sitting on the driver's seat
The monkey pulled the throttle, locomotive jumped the gun
Doing ninety miles an hour down the mainline run

Big locomotive right on time
Big locomotive coming down the line
Big locomotive number ninety nine
Left the engineer with a worried mind

The engineer called up the despatcher on the phone
Tell him all about his locomotive was gone
Get on the wire, switch operator to right
'Cause the monkey's got the mainline sewed up tight

Switch operator got the message in time
Said there's a northbound limit[ed] on the same mainline (note 1)
Open up the switch, I'm gonna let it through the hole
'Cause the monkey's got the locomotive under control

(1) I had originally thought this was "there's a northbound livin' on the same mainline" but then John Krulish pointed out to me that it sounds as if Bob Weir sings "limit" - most clearly on the Mother Mcree version. Neal Belmuth subsequently emailed me to say that it should be "limited":
"In railroading, a "Limited" Is a high-priority passenger train that makes only a limited number of stops, (What most people today call, incorrectly, an "Express,") Passing up the less important stations. It has right-of-way priority over trains of lesser classification. Such lesser trains, typically freights or local passenger trains, are shunted onto a siding or passing track and made to wait so the Limited can make time without having to stop along the way to allow another train to pass. Because of its prestige, a Limited gets the best rolling stock and senior crew personnel.

"So as used in the song, the monkey ends up taking priority away from, and humiliating, the "Northbound Limited," As the switch operator has to shunt the limited aside, forcing it to stop, sit and wait to prevent a head-on collision.

"Limited" Is a formal term used by railroads, not slang. Examples you can easily Google would be the famous "Twentieth Century Limited" or "The Broadway Limited." Amtrak currently has numerous examples as well, such as "The Capital Limited," which runs between Chicago and Washington D.C., with only a few stops in major cities along the way."
That seems definitive, and I note that Randy Jackson's Roots of the Grateful Dead site lists the lyrics as "north bound limited". Nonetheless, it does sounds to me as if Bob Weir (and indeed Jesse Fuller) both in fact sing "limit".

Grateful Dead and Related Recordings
     Date Album
      Jul 1964 Mother Mcree's Uptown Jug Champions
     26 Dec 1969 Dave's Picks Volume 43
      2 Jan 1970 Dave's Picks Volume 30
     31 Dec 1970 Download Series: A Night At The Family Dog
     10 Oct 1980 The Warfield, San Francisco, CA 10/9/80 & 10/10/80
     27 Oct 1980 Reckoning
     23 Oct 1980 Reckoning (note 2)
Other Dead-related Recordings
     Date Album Recorded By
     2018 Dead Songs Vol 2 Barton Hills Choir
     2019 Dead Air TheFront Porch

(2) additional version issued as a bonus track in the box set Beyond Description (1973-1990)

Further Information
For an online discussion of the lyrics to this song see the deadsongs.vue conference on The Well.
For more information on recordings see Matt Schofield's Grateful Dead Family Discography
For online chords and TAB see


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