Posted by: rcottrill | September 2, 2010

Today in 1943 – Charles Tillman Died

Charles Davis Tillman worked as a house painter, and as the traveling salesman for a music company in the United States. He also sang on a traveling peddler’s wagon advertising “Wizard Oil,” a quack medicine that claimed it could cure rheumatism.

A picture sent to me by a boyhood friend now living in Arizona. Lorne is waving from the caboose–though difficult to see.

In addition, early on, Tillman helped his father in evangelistic work, beginning his own career as a singing evangelist at the age of 26. He eventually formed his own music company and published 20 gospel song collections. He was the first to publish the spiritual Gimme That Old Time Religion, after hearing a black congregation singing it at a camp meeting in South Carolina.

Charles Tillman also wrote the tune for the song for which he is best known now, Life’s Railway to Heaven. Some suggest a Mormon poet named Eliza Roxcy Snow Young had a part in it. She did write a poem called Truth Reflects Upon Our Senses which uses the same refrain as the present gospel song. But that is all we know.

The song uses the analogy of a journey by rail to tell how the Lord can help believers through the dangers and difficulties of life. It has long been a favourite of railroaders, and Bev Shea and others have made recordings of it. The song is still found in some collections of gospel songs.

Life is like a mountain railroad, with an engineer that’s brave;
We must make the run successful, from the cradle to the grave;
Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels; never falter, never quail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle, and your eye upon the rail.

Blessèd Saviour, Thou wilt guide us,
Till we reach that blissful shore;
Where the angels wait to join us
In Thy praise forevermore.

You will roll up grades of trial; you will cross the bridge of strife;
See that Christ is your Conductor on this lightning train of life;
Always mindful of obstruction, do your duty, never fail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle, and your eye upon the rail.

This is one of those songs with a vague theology that can satisfy evangelical believers because of what can be read into it. But it has also been recorded by many Country artists (Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis) who, as far as I know, have made no claim to being Christian. They see it simply as a “religious” number to include among other songs in an album because it will “sell.” Having said that, I believe the singer below is sincere.

 (2) In Thee, Lord, Have I Put My Trust (Data Missing)
In contrast with the previous song, this very old hymn (1533) comes across like a biblical psalm, rich in devotional meaning. (See the Cyber Hymnal for the full text and the tune–which has an unusual metre.)

The hymn was written by Adam Reissener, the German original being entitled In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr. Catherine Winkworth has given us the English translation. We know little of Reissener. He was born in 1496, and died about 1575, so he lived through the early years of the Protestant Reformation in Germany. He wrote over 40 hymns.

In Thee, Lord, have I put my trust,
Leave me not helpless in the dust,
Let not my hope be brought to shame,
But still sustain,
Through want and pain,
My faith that Thou art aye the same.

Incline a gracious ear to me,
And hear the prayers I raise to Thee,
Show forth Thy power and haste to save!
For woes and fear
Surround me here,
Oh swiftly send the help I crave!

Thy Word hath said, Thou art my Rock,
The Stronghold that can fear no shock,
My help, my safety, and my life,
Howe’er distress
And dangers press,
What then shall daunt me in the strife?

3) Today in 1887 Jessie Seymour Irvine died.
Jessie’s father was a pastor in the Scottish parish of Donottar. He later moved with his family to the village of Crimond in the northeast of Scotland, where Pastor Irvine served a church for thirty years. According to her sister, Jessie created, in 1871, a beautiful hymn tune fitting the 23rd Psalm. However, knowing no music theory, she passed it on to a tobacco merchant and musician named David Grant to harmonize. The result is the tune Crimond, named after the town. Some books have given Grant the credit for writing the melody, but most hymnals now identify Jessie Irvine (1836-1887) as the composer. The text of Psalm 23 used with it comes from the Scottish Psalter of 1650.

The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want.
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.


  1. […] also wrote the music for Life’s Railway to Heaven. (For more about his life, and this song, see Today in 1943.) Tillman’s gospel song Ready is still found in a number of hymn […]

    • Charles Tillman was one of my great, great uncle.

  2. thanks for dropping by my blog today. I love this old song and this lady really did it beautifully. my dad was a baptist preacher and we sung the old hymns my whole life.

    • Great to hear from you–and learn of your heritage. My father, and his mother, were involved in a sacred music ministry. And since our son is as well…seems to run in the family! 🙂 God bless–and drop by any time.


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