There was a good article in a recent Trains magazine about the legend of John Henry. The story is a perfect man vs machine battle (low-tech vs hi-tech). The legend goes that a powerful worker named John Henry died after successfully outperforming a steam drill during the construction of Great Bend Tunnel on the C&O Railroad in West Virginia.
Some researchers have cast doubt on parts of the story (whether it was Great Bend Tunnel or another tunnel and even whether there was such a race at all between John Henry and a steam drill). Personally, while I admit sometimes stories are exaggerated over time… I am a believer in the story of John Henry.
There are a number of versions available of the song including a recording of John Henry by Bruce Springsteen. A blistering version of John Henry, the Steel Driving Man is available by The Johnson Mountain Boys (follow links to iTunes). It’s a fine version of the song despite the controversial ending “No such a steel driving man!”by