“What is happening on this train?!” I asked my four-year-old, who wasn’t nearly as amused by the words “puff” and “chug” as I was.
Maybe I’m the only degenerate parent who reads those words in a children’s book and can only think of weed and binge-drinking. But that’s where I found myself while reading “Two Little Trains” by Margaret Wise Brown, a 1949 picture book that sounds ripe for an adaptation as a country song.
It’s a bit of a stretch, but I’d be more than a little intrigued to tune into a duet called “PUFF PUFF CHUG CHUG” if Willie Nelson and Luke Combs collaborated on a tongue-in-cheek, mostly kid-friendly single. It just works…
If you don’t believe me, “Two Little Trains” was, in fact, recorded as a country song back in 1951 by Burl Ives. Perhaps best known as the voice of the singing snowman in the classic stop-motion film “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Ives was a prolific folk singer with multiple singles on the country charts including the Hank Cochran-penned “A Little Bitty Tear” and “Funny Way of Laughin’.”
His version of “Two Little Trains” is true to the original. The story follows two very different-looking trains (a new, streamlined train that “puffs” and an old train that “chugs”) on a journey out west, where they puff and chug their way through various obstacles and hardships.
And if that doesn’t outline a solid, sad country song, especially when you replace train engines with sad, lonely cowboys puffin’ and chuggin’ their blues away, I don’t know what does.
Like the more famous works of Margaret Wise Brown, “Goodnight Moon” and “The Runaway Bunny,” “Two Little Trains” will enter the public domain in 2023.
So, I think it’s a perfect time for a country music refresh and a reimagining of where the “puffs” and “chugs” are coming from. Who better to “puff puff puff” out west than one of music’s most legendary potheads?
And who else would you turn to for some “chug chug chug[ging]” than Mr. “Long-Neck Ice-Cold Beer” Himself, Luke Combs?
As children’s book authors go, while Margaret Wise Brown didn’t have quite as notorious a reputation as fellow children’s poet and award-winning songwriter, Shel Silverstein, she might have been just as interesting.
As Anna Holmes wrote in The New Yorker, Brown lived a fast, rebellious life that included late-night partying in New York City, an affair with a woman (despite being engaged to multiple men throughout her life), and a penchant for hunting real-life runaway bunnies on the weekends. If not for her untimely death at age 42, perhaps more of her haunting, rhythmic verse might’ve been turned into country songs.
As Holmes reported, Brown once said that the best picture-books depend on “writing words that will be heard.” So, something tells me Margaret Wise Brown wouldn’t be opposed to hearing her words belted out by Willie Nelson and Luke Combs, even if the puffing and chugging took on more adult-oriented meanings.
You could do worse than entrust Brown’s beloved work to Willie, Luke, and what suddenly sounds like a great party on a westbound train.
I just hope and pray the deranged people behind the Winnie the Pooh slasher film don’t ever got a hold of the already-unsettling “Goodnight Moon” or the stalker-esque “Runaway Bunny” next year. Because if they do, I may never sleep again….
And speaking of puffing and chugging, let’s throw it back to Luke smoking himself to Pluto with Willie throwing karate kicks.