Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair


Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair were communities along a railroad in Shelby County made famous by a crapshooters’ phrase and a song by the singing cowboy Tex Ritter who grew up nearby. 

Here are his own words on the subject from a recording around the early 1950s:

“Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair. Those are four little East Texas towns in Shelby County. Now I was born in the southern part of Panola County in Murvaul Creek. They were on the HE and WT (Houston East and West Texas Railway). Now they used to call that little line ‘a railroad to hell any way you take it.’ But to tell the story, the conductor would holler them all at one time. He went through the coach hollering in each town and before he got through the fourth one, the train had been through all four of them. It became a saying in dice games when you’re trying to make ten — ‘Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair.’  That saying went all over the world during WWII, but it’s four little towns in Shelby County very near to where I was raised.”  

It was said that HE&WT became specifically know to stand for “Hell Either Way Taken.” The first railroad in East Texas was sometimes a rough ride and the locomotive was known to jump from the track from time to time.

As for how the phrase “Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair” began, most agree with Ritter’s account that the conductor’s words caught on and, adding to that, it is believed that a National Guard Unit during World War I composed of men from Shelby County started using the phrase in place of “hup, two, three, four,” to honor their hometowns. That spread the chant further out into the world where dice players started using it for good luck when trying to roll double fives. Ritter’s song surely added fire to make it a worldwide term.  

Some of the words of “Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair” are:

On the HE&WT line,
Old East Texas sure looks fine 

Drop me off just anywhere,
Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair

Hear those drivers pound the rails,
Takin’ me back to Texas trails, 

Bought my ticket, paid my fair,
Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair

Let’er highball, engineer,
Pull that throttle, track is clear, 

There’s a gal just waitin’ there,
Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair.

Tenaha and Timpson are still active small communities with about 1,200 people according to the 2010 census. Bobo and Blair are basically gone now with the exception of a few houses, a church, and a historical marker. 

The phrase continues today among those who like to play dice games and in songs like “Ping Pong, Pool” by Texas singer-songwriter Max Stalling, whose love song states he’s not playing games.

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