27 Dec

What a Time on the Way (Revisited)

Now that the harvest days are through,
To old D-kotey we will bid you adieu,
Back to the jack pines we will go,
To haul these saw logs in the snow.  

Fol-da-lee-dle-o, fol-da-lee-dle-ay,
Hi-fol-da-lo, what a time on the way.

Now you might say that we felt big,
We were in a silver mounted rig,                          
For Akeley town we hoisted our sails,        
They all thought we were the Prince of Wales.

Neddy he’s a splendid cook,
Always stops beside some brook,
Scrambled eggs three times a day,
Lotsa bread and a big cuppa tay.

We jogged along til we came through,
There we met with the rest of the crew,
Handsome boys both young and stout,
The pick of the town there is no doubt.

Into the buggy we jerked our boots,
You can bet our teamster fed long oats,
As to the camp we drove along,
We all joined up in a sing song.

We stayed all winter ‘til we got through,
And started home with the same old crew.
Now we’re home, we got our pay,
We think of the time that we had on the way.


“What a Time on the Way” was one of only two songs Gordon recorded from Israel Lawrence Phillips (1883-1967) who lived near Akeley, Minnesota. Israel was the son of Reuben Phillips who was also recorded by Gordon.

Israel was the first of his farming family to come to Minnesota from Iowa around 1910. He settled south of Akeley near Chamberlain. The Red River Lumber Company, whose sawmill was in Akeley, was quite active at the time so it is likely that Israel worked for them in some capacity. The mention of heading back to haul “saw logs in the snow” after working on the harvest in “old D-kotey” matches the common practice of balancing seasonal harvest work in the Dakotas with a winter job in the pineries of northern Minnesota. Lumberjack Ed Springstead of Bemidji told Franz Rickaby in 1923 that “Harvesting in Dakota was about as common a practice for the lumber jacks… …as lumbering in the winter for the farmer boys.”

Like most songs in the collection, Gordon only recorded two verses of Phillips’ version. Unlike most other songs Gordon collected, he unfortunately did not obtain a manuscript version to flesh out the full text. I featured Gordon’s two verse fragment (verses one and three above) in the October 2013 Northwoods Songs. To create the longer version above, I adapted some verses from similar songs collected in Ontario by Edith Fowke.

Special thanks to everyone that has supported The Lost Forty Project this year!  Please consider taking the Minnesota Folksong Challenge and learning a song yourself!

12 Sep

Lovel (Laws L13B)


As Lovel was walking a walking one morning
He espied two pedlers two pedlers a coming
He boldley stept up to them and called them his honey
Saying stand and deliver boys for all I wants your money.

Lol te de a de um, Lol te de a dum.

O we are two pedlers two pedlers are we sir
And you are Mr. Lovel we take you to be sir
O we are two pedlers that have lateley cam from dublin
And all that we have in our box is our bedin and our clothing.

As Lovel was walking up kinsberry mountain
He espied two rich misers their guines they were counting
First he cocked his blunderbus and then he drew his rapier
Saying stand and deliver boys for I’me a money taker.

O Lovel O Lovel my poor harts a breaking
For little did I think my love you ever would ben taken
And if I had ave knawn that the enemy was a coming
Ide have fought like a hero although Ime but a woman.

O Polly O Polly my poor harts a breaking
If it had not been for you my love I never would been taken
For while I was a sleeping not thinking of the matter
You discharged my pistols and loded them with water.

As Lovel was walking all up the galos lader
He called to the sherif for his irish cap and fether
Saying I have robed money but never killed enny
I think it hard that I must die just for grabing money.

From 1923 through 1927, folklorist and song collector Robert Winslow Gordon edited a column in the pulp magazine Adventure called “Old Songs That Men Have Sung.” Each column included folksong texts sent in by readers from their own memories, personal song notebooks and singing friends and family members. Gordon received over 3000 letters from readers, many in search of words to half-remembered songs and many contributing songs themselves.

During my trip to the American Folklife Center this past June I was able to sift through these letters and Gordon’s typed responses to them – all of which are in the AFC’s amazing archive. Going through the letters (the AFC staff allowed me to work with the brittle originals!) gave me insight into the lives and motivations of singers from that era. Many writers lamented the changing times and the loss of the traditional singing cultures they grew up with.

The words to this version of “Lovel” appear in a set of songs sent in to Gordon in 1924 by singer Reuben Waitstell Phillips of Akeley, Minnesota (see N.S. Oct. 2013). Phillips’ accompanying letter began:

              Dear Sir,
I am an old man and my hand shakes so that I am compeled to use a pencil insted of pen and ink but I am going to send you a few old songs that men have sung if you can use them well and good if not why just a little time spent.

Gordon was delighted by the 22 song texts sent in by Phillips and he chose “Lovel” to print in his next “Old Songs” column. He introduced the column saying:

A MOST valuable contribution arrived last week from Mr. R. W. Phillips of Akeley, Minnesota—a forty-six-page manuscript of twenty-two songs, every one of them worth while! I have sent Mr.Phillips, in your name and mine, our heartiest thanks. May his voice be heard often!

Above, I have given the text as Phillips supplied it, complete with unconventional spellings. The transcription is my own based on a wax cylinder recording made by Gordon of Phillips during a visit to Akeley (from what I can tell in researching the family, the Phillipses lived south of Akeley near Chamberlain, MN) the same year he received the letter.

The song is a distant variant of “Whiskey in the Jar.” Similar versions were collected in Vermont and Maine but Phillips’ melody is quite unique… and fun to sing!

More on this song and its more well-known variant “Whiskey in the Jar” here.