This story starts back in 1965, when Johnny Cash was hotter than a two-dollar pistol. He was playing everywhere from the Newport Folk Festival to the Grand Ole Opry, and was making friends with people like Bob Dylan and Peter LaFarge. He was singing the theme song from John Wayne’s new movie The Sons of Katie Elder, and was on the hit charts with “The Ballad of Ira Hayes.” His stage shows were something else: In addition to carrying the Statler Brothers and Mother Maybelle and the Carter Family, the show used a lot of mixed media. Part of it was the show’s climax, which Cash called “Ride This Train.” On it he showed a film of old railroad wrecks, hobo life, railroad yards, old stations, and the like; while this played, he sang his medley of classic train songs—“The Wreck of the Old 97,” “Casey Jones,” “Folsom Prison Blues.” And he always ended with “Orange Blossom Special,” which he sang and played on the harmonica. This last song had become so popular that he recorded it, releasing it on a single in February. It started climbing the charts, and eventually got to Number Three in the nation.
One evening in 1965 the Cash show found itself in Miami, playing for a sold-out crowd. During intermission a man walked quietly into Cash’s dressing room and stood with his hat in his hand waiting for the singer’s attention. Cash came over and found himself shaking hands with a stocky, well-built, white-headed man of over fifty years who introduced himself as Erwin Rouse. He lived in the swamps out in the Everglades, and he had traveled most of the day across the swamps in a special boat he had built call a swamp buggy. When he got to his sister’s house in Miami, he borrowed her bicycle to ride ten more miles to the concert. “A few years ago I wrote a few songs myself,” he told Cash, “but you probably never heard of them.” Intrigued, Cash asked the man to sit down; the name Rouse rang a faint bell. “Which songs did you write?” Cash asked point-blank. “Just a bunch of old tunes,” he replied. People coming up and claiming