Sunday, June 22, 2008

40s Music Video Flashback: Chattanooga Choo Choo

From the film "Sun Valley Serenade" (1941), featuring Glenn Miller Orchestra, Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly and The Modernaires.

"Chattanooga Choo Choo" is a big-band/swing song which was featured in the 1941 movie Sun Valley Serenade, which starred amongst others Sonja Henie, Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, The Modernaires, Milton Berle and Joan Davis. It was performed in the film as an extended production number, featuring vocals by Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly, and the Modernaires followed by a production number showcasing Dorothy Dandridge and an acrobatic dance sequence by The Nicholas Brothers.

The 78-rpm commercial version of the song was recorded on May 7th, 1941 for RCA Victor'sFebruary 10, 1942, for sales of 1,200,000. The transcription of this award ceremony can be heard on the first of three volumes of RCA's "Legendary Performer" compilations on Glenn released by RCA in the 1970s. In the early 1990s a two-channel recording of a portion of the Sun Valley Serenade soundtrack Bluebird label and became the first to be certified a gold disc on was discovered, allowing reconstruction of a true-stereo version of the film performance.

The song was written by the team of Mack Gordon and Harry Warren while traveling on the Southern Railway's "Birmingham Special" train. The song tells the story of travelling from New York City to Chattanooga. However, the inspiration for the song was a small, wood-burning steam locomotive of the 2-6-0 type which belonged to the Cincinnati Southern Railroad, which is now part of the Norfolk Southern Railway system. That train is now a museum artifact (see below). From 1880, most trains bound for America's South passed through the southeastern Tennessee city of Chattanooga, often on to the super-hub of Atlanta. The Chattanooga Choo Choo did not refer to any particular train, though some have incorrectly asserted that it referred to Louisville and Nashville's Dixie Flyer or the Southern Railway'sCrescent Limited.


Today, one of the original trains has pride of place in Chattanooga's former Terminal Station. Once owned and operated by the Southern Railway, the station was saved from demolition after the withdrawal of passenger rail service in the early 1970s, and it is now part of a 30-acre (12-hectare) resort complex, including the Choo-Choo Holiday Inn and numerous historical railway exhibits. Hotel guests can stay in half of a restored passenger railway car. Dining at the complex includes the Gardens restaurant in the Terminal Station itself, The Station House (which is housed in a former baggage storage) and the "Dinner in the Diner" which is the complex's fine dining venue, housed in a restored 1940s dining car. The city's other historic station, Union Station, parts of which predated the Civil War, was demolished in 1973; its site is now a large office building. In addition to the railroad exhibits at "the Choo Choo", there are further exhibits at Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, which is in the suburb of East Chattanooga.

The reputation given to the city by the song also lent itself to making Chattanooga the home of the National Model Railroad Association. In addition, the athletic mascot of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is a rather menacing-looking anthropomorphized mockingbird named Scrappy, who is dressed as a railroad engineman and is sometimes depicted at the throttle of a steam locomotive.

The Dixie Flyer originally was a named train that did pass through and stop in Chattanooga on its run from Chicago to Miami. That railroad, until 1957 was the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad (NC&StL). The NC&StL was merged into L&N in 1957. Now it is part of CSX.

The Southern Crescent did not go through Chattanooga, but there were at least three other Southern Railway trains that ran through Chattanooga direct to Washington and on to New York without changing trains. There was a change of locomotives between Bristol, Tennessee, and Lynchburg, Virginia; Norfolk and Western Railway operated the train on that portion, turning it back over to the Southern at Lynchburg. The named trains on this route were the Pelican, Birmingham Special and Tennessean.

The song was parodied in the Mel Brooks horror comedy Young Frankenstein:

"Gene Wilder - 'Pardon me, boy. Is this the Transylvania Station?'

Young Boy - 'Ja! Ja! Track 29! Oh, can I give you a shine?'

Gene Wilder - 'Uh... No, thanks.'"

The Roy Rogers joke

There exists a short, but widely varied, joke that makes a play on the lyrics, "Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?" Rather than those words, the man walking with Roy Rogers says, "Pardon me Roy, is that the cat who chewed your new shoes?"

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