Those that know me know that I love swing music, especially that of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. In fact, I typically pipe in such music during my 1940s-era operating sessions on a period-appropriate radio. And folks that have toured my layout, or seen my NMRA presentation on The Valley Local, will hear me tell a story about a remarkable link between The Valley Line and the famous Glenn Miller.
It has to do with a little diner in Cromwell, CT pictured in the photo above. While it's fairly distinct, with its octagonal windows, you may not notice it right away, so here's a closeup:
The first time I heard of any connection between Miller and the Valley Line, was when I read the description that Max Miller had included on the back of this photo:
While Max misspelled the name, local dance band musician, Cromwellian Hal MacIntyre, figures prominently in the Glenn Miller Story . . .
Anyone familiar with the history of the Glenn Miller Orchestra will recall there were actually two Miller bands. The first one, started in the mid-1930s, wasn't successful. So what happened? What made Glenn Miller decide - despite his better judgement - to reform the band which ultimately went on to phenomenal success and provided the soundtrack of the early 1940s and WWII?
The answer lies within that little non-descript diner.
Apparently, the McIntyre family had a farm in Cromwell, CT where all the band equipment was stored. Hal had been a local celebrity before being discovered by Benny Goodman (briefly) then Miller, having led his own popular dance band in the early/mid 1930s. But the first Miller band never found its groove, broke up, and stored its stuff in Cromwell.
Hal, who had become one of Miller's closest personal friends during those early years, finally persuaded Glenn to take another chance. While I typically relate the story based on some conjecture, I just tonight discovered verified proof in this book:
Instead of me telling the story, why not hear it straight from Hal himself from an interview from May 1945 about a day in the early spring of 1938 (p. 112-113):
"After the first band broke up, I took all the equipment up to our farm in Cromwell, Connecticut, and got a job in a factory and played with my own band at night. I used to call up Glenn every Sunday afternoon at one and try to argue him into starting the band again. But he'd always say 'Nothing doing,' and that he hadn't gone through $18,000 too fast to want to go back into the band business.
"Well, one afternoon he was driving through Cromwell and he called me from a diner. I went over to see him, and we talked for a while and I brought up the subject of starting the band again. At first he said 'No,' but I sort of detected a lessening of resistance, and I kept working and working and working on him until he finally said, 'OK, we start rehearsals at the Haven Studio next week."
And the rest, as they say, is history. The Glenn Miller Band went on to become the most popular band of the Swing & Big Band era, winning the first ever gold record for Chattanooga Choo-Choo (appropriately, another railroad reference).
I actually didn't know about any of this history when I first decided to model the New Haven Railroad's Connecticut Valley Line, but once I saw Max's note during my initial research, I just knew I had to model that diner on my HO scale version of Cromwell. And, thanks to BillS, this little bit of history - and the story associated with it - can live on.