|Single by Red Sovine|
The song tells of a hitchhiker (the singer, in first person) trying to return home from the West Coast. On the third day of his trip, while at a crossroads in a driving rain, the hitchhiker is picked up by "Big Joe" driving his tractor-trailer named "Phantom 309." After driving through the night, Big Joe drops the hitchhiker off at a truck stop, gives him a dime for a cup of coffee, then disappears out of sight.
Once inside, the hitchhiker tells of Big Joe's generosity and the waiter tells him he had been the beneficiary of a "ghost driver" (a variant of the vanishing hitchhiker/truck driver urban legend). Ten years earlier, at the same intersection where he was picked up, Big Joe had swerved to avoid hitting a school bus full of children because he could not stop due to his truck's momentum. But in doing so, he had lost control of his truck and crashed; he had died in the wreck. The waiter tells the hiker that he was not the first; the ghost of Big Joe had been known to pick up other hitchhikers over the years.
Tom Waits version
Other artists who have recorded "Phantom 309" include Dave Dudley, Del Reeves, Ferlin Husky, and Boxcar Willie. Johnny Cash's song "Like The 309", posthumously released in 2006's American V: A Hundred Highways, pays tribute to the original. Stan Ridgway's 1986 UK top 5 hit "Camouflage", about a ghostly marine, was inspired in part by this song.
In the movie Pee-wee's Big Adventure, protagonist Pee-wee Herman, hitchhiking at night, is given a ride by trucker Large Marge, who proceeds to tell him of a horrible accident that occurred on the night in question years before, scaring him so that he requests to be let off sooner than he planned. Arriving at a truck stop, she advises him to tell the wait staff that Large Marge sent him, and drives away cackling. When he walks in the restaurant and mentions her name, the staff and regulars confirm that Marge perished in that very accident.