Between 1891 and 1907, Charles W M Shackford (1862-1932) published at least 40 pieces of sheet music. One of these pieces was Asleep at the Switch, published by E. T. Paull Music Company in 1897.
The song describes Tom whose duty sends him to his job as a railway switchman where he is told that he needs to sidetrack the westbound train to prevent a collision with the midnight express train. But Tom's heart is sad because his son is dying at home and he dies at his post before the trains arrive. His daughter Nell comes running to tell Tom that the boy will get well, finds her father dead, and prevents the train collision by raising a lantern to switch the west bound train to a side track. The train crew from the side track calls out to Tom only to see the daughter crying over his dead body. She is rewarded by the president for her heroism.
The original cover for this sheet music which can be seen at the Library of Congress includes a wonderful drawing of a young lady swinging a lantern at a train while her dead father lies nearby. A copy of the original cover along with each page of the sheet music can be seen at Walter Cosand's Sheet Music Website. A copy of the words to Asleep at the Switch can also be found at Rod Smith's Traditional Music Library where you can print out a copy on one page. Rod's WEB site includes transcriptions to some pieces of Shackford music such as "Daisy, Bloomers, Wheel and All", which can only be found at his site.
The lyrics to Asleep at the Switch are transcribed below. Hopefully someday we'll find out what the music sounds like!
Asleep At The Switch
By Charles Shackford
Published by E. T. Paull Music Co. New York
ASLEEP AT THE SWITCH.
Words & Music by Chas. Shackford.
The midnight express will be late here to-night,
So side-track the West-bound freight:
Those were the orders that Tom had received,
As he passed through the round-house gate:
Tom was the switchman, with heart true as steel,
And duty was first in his breast,
But the thought of his boy, who was dying at home crazed Tom, and he fell at his post.
The shrill whistle blew on the freight for the west,
The rumble was heard of the midnight express.
Asleep at the switch, and no warning light,
To signal those trains that rushed through the night,
When down to the switch Ran Tom's daughter Nell,
The crisis had passed, His boy would get well;
She caught up the light, and waved it on high,
And side-tracked the west-bound freight.
And the midnight express All in safety flew by,
While Tom was asleep at the switch.
The freight slowly backed on the main track again,
The men called to Tom good-night,
Only the sob of a girl made reply,
And they saw by the engine's light,
Tom lying flat at his post where he fell,
And there, with her head on his breast,
Was his brave daughter Nell, who had saved all their lives,
And those on the midnight express.
Each man on the freight for the west bared his head.
For Tom's heart had stopped, at his post he lay dead.
Asleep at the switch, the president read,
And my wife and child were on board he said,
But as he read on, his stern face relaxed,
This road shall reward such heroic acts:
He sat at his desk and filled out a check,
And sent it with all dispatch,
Twas for Tom's daughter Nell, for her brave deed that night,
While he slept his last sleep at the switch.
Folklorist (http://www.folklorist.org/ : accessed 26 November 2013), http://www.folklorist.org/song/Asleep_at_the_Switch,.
Smith Rod, Traditional Music Library (http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/ : accessed 26 November 2013), ASLEEP AT THE SWITCH. Words and Music by Chas. Shackford
Copyright 2013 Joanne Shackford Parkes