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[Note 184.1] The Dundee and Perth Railway opened 22nd May 1847 with a temporary terminus at Barnhill on the outskirts of Perth. From May 1847 a horse omnibus carried passengers between Barnhill and the centre of Perth. Karl Dallas quoting Robert Frost in Vagabond Songs and Ballads of Scotland says that Charles Balfour, was Stationmaster at Glencarse, [4 miles east of Perth], and that the song was first performed at a railwaymen's festival in 1848.  The Dundee and Perth was the first railway in the area and had been running for less than a year when the song was written so the author must have met many people using the railway for the first time who were as amazed as the song’s narrator by the experience. Balfour maintained that the story was based on fact.

The penultimate verse seems to refer to the viaduct carrying the line across the Tay into Perth which opened in March 1849. If so; the narrator is reporting the view of the viaduct under construction. [ref : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dundee_and_Perth_Railway]
This detail from a picture by James Hall Cranston shows the new railway bridge soon after it was opened.

Insert image 184Viaduct.png

“something Gowrie” is probably Invergowrie, just east of Dundee. The station there opened in 1848 so the song must have been written soon before its first performance. [Ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invergowrie_railway_station]

Kist = a chest.
Cheils = cheil; rascal or villain
Speered = Enquired [On-line Scottish Dictionary gives the spelling ‘speir’ to mean question or enquiry]

 

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