Chattanooga Choo-Choo lights up 100 candles

pardon me boy, is that the chatta- nooga Choo-Choo? The answer to that musical question was "yes," when a 1980 version of the famous Choo-Choo recently rolled 338 miles from Cincinnati to Chattanooga.

Allen Casey (left), board chairman of Chattanooga Choo-Choo Company, welcomes Cincinnati Mayor J. Kenneth Blackwell and his wife, Rosa, aboard a special train commemorating the 100th anniversary of the famous Choo-Choo. Th train made the Cincinnati to Chattanooga trip in eight hours.

The special trip commemorated the 100th anniversary of the first direct passenger train route connecting Cincinnati and Chattanooga. Sponsoring the run was the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Company, founded when a group of Chattanooga businessmen created a hotel -restaurant-recreation complex by renovating Southern's old Terminal Station.

Visitors can climb aboard this old wood burner at the Chattanooga Choo- Choo motel-restaurant-recreation complex. The engine was last used by the Smoky Mountain Railroad.

The Chattanooga Choo-Choo complex opened its doors in 1973 on a 24-acre site around the Terminal Station. Forty-eight of the Choo-Choo Hilton's 250 rooms are old, restored railroad cars. The complex also features three restaurants, numerous gift and hobby shops and an ice skating rink. The Grand Dome dining room features a dome ceiling 85 feet above the former main lobby of Terminal Station, which was completed in 1909. Choo-Choo attracted over 2 million visitors last year.

Stopping at Oakdale, Tenn., the special Choo-Choo changed crews before continuing on to Chattanooga. Passenger service to Chattanooga was discontinued in 1970.

When passenger train service was inaugurated between Cincinnati and Chattanooga on March 5,1880, a newspaper reporter dubbed the train the "Chattanooga Choo-Choo." The Cincinnati Southern Railroad, owned by the City of Cincinnati, operated that first train. Control of that railroad passed to the Southern by lease to the CNO&TP in 1895. To this day, Southern leases the right-of-way from the City of Cincinnati.

James A. Bistline (standing), assistant to Southern's chairman, greets Frank Worthington, retired SA vice president and now vice president of the Chattanooga Choo- Choo Company. Mr. Worthington served 56 years on Southern.

But the train didn't really achieve fame until the Glen Miller Orchestra recorded "Chattanooga Choo-Choo," a smash hit in the 1940s. Composer Harry Warren and the late lyricist Max Gordon wrote the song for the 20th Century Fox movie, "Sun Valley Serenade."

In the song, Gordon's lyrics are about trains leaving "Pennsylvania Station about quarter to four ," and traveling through Baltimore and the Carolinas en route to Chattanooga.

"The real Chattanooga Choo-Choo, however, ran between Cincinnati and Chattanooga," said Choo-Choo Board Chairman Allen Casey. "In its heyday in the 1920s, actually there were many Choo-Choos. Every day about ten trains loaded with more than 400 people left Cincinnati for Chattanooga and points south."

The special train commemorating the Choo-Choo's anniversary was operated by Southern Railway under the direction of James A. Bistline, assistant to the chairman, Washington, D.C.

At the Choo-Choo complex Southern participated in the celebration by providing free rides on its "Best Friend of Charleston." The Best Friend is a replica of the steam-driven locomotive that pulled America's first scheduled passenger train on Christmas Day, 1830, at Charleston, S.C.

To mark the inauguration of the first Choo-Choo, train loads of southern dignitaries, including the mayors of Chattanooga, Atlanta and Montgomery , traveled to Cincinnati on March 18, 1880. A grand banquet was held in the city's Music Hall for more than 1,700 merchants, manufacturers and government representatives.

Aboard the recent 100th anniversary run were 80 passengers, including Chattanooga Mayor Pat Rose; Cincinnati Mayor I. Kenneth Blackwell and his wife, Rosa; directors of the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Corp., and journalists.

Among the writers was 81-year-old Rogers Whittaker, who writes about railroads under the pen name of E. M. Frimbo. Mr. Whittaker, who resembles Winston Churchill, has traveled more than 2,500,000 miles by rail and is regarded as the world's most traveled rail buff. Since he was eight, he has kept a diary of his journeys

Rogers Whittaker finds each mile aboard the domed car fascinating although he has traveled more than 2,500,000 miles by rail.

The diesel-powered train with a dome car, club car and dining car arrived in Chattanooga eight hours after its departure from Cincinnati. A band blaring out "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" greeted the passengers as the train backed into the Choo-Choo complex for the celebration.

An early morning photograph, before visitors began to stir, shows the entrance to the Palm Terrace and Grand Dome dining areas in Terminal Station.

"We had hoped to have composer Warren at the festivities," Mr. Casey said, "but he is hospitalized in Beverly Hills, Calif., and unable to attend. He's 86 years old."

Nevertheless, a railroad car at the complex was named in Warren's honor. Decorated in Victorian decor, the car will serve as a presidential or bridal suite and will overlook a waterfall at the Hilton's outdoor pool. The car will sport a parlor, bar, bedroom and a jacuzzi.

William D. McLean (left), vice president, Real Estate and Insurance, and James A. Bistline, assistant to chairman, represented Southern at the Choo-Choo banquet. Mr. McLean is a member of the Choo-Choo board of directors. Southern, which formerly owned the station, is a Choo-Choo stockholder. Messrs. McLean and Bistline are headquartered in Washington, D.C.

A day packed full of Choo-Choo events included a Tea Dance with Glen Miller music, the ground breaking for a new convention center located on land once owned by the city of Cincinnati and recently sold to Choo-Choo, and a banquet with E. M. Frimbo describing several of his exciting train rides.

"When I was in India traveling on a train at night, I got out of bed and stepped on a banana," Mr. Frimbo said. "But it turned out to be a snake."

Admitting that he has never owned or driven a car, Mr. Frimbo said that trains are the way to go. "I feel this way even though in Mexico I was on a train going over a collapsing bridge and on a train in the Orient caught in the middle of a typhoon."

Mayor Blackwell, also a banquet speaker, summed up the history of the Chattanooga Choo-Choo: "This train was the great connector between the North and South. In a way, it brought together the North and South more than anything."

Chattanooga Mayor Pat Rose received a lithograph of the Choo-Choo ceremony held 100 years ago in Cincinnati from that city's mayor, J. Kenneth Blackwell.