April 5, 2014

Fletcher’s songs bring Great Locomotive Chase to life

Charles Oliver

— Many Whitfield County residents know Glenn Fletcher as a retired teacher and former assistant football coach at Northwest Whitfield High School.

Bluegrass fans know him as a member of the Fletcher Brothers, an Alabama Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame group that played festivals and other events around the country for decades.

Some may even know him as the writer of songs that have been recorded by some of the top acts in bluegrass, such as Doyle Lawson and Gary Waldrep.

But now railroad and Civil War enthusiasts are getting to know Fletcher as the driving force behind “Great Locomotive Chase,” a CD of 19 songs inspired by that historic event. The CD is available at several places around the Dalton area. Credited to Glenn Fletcher & the Fletcher Brothers and Friends, the CD features Fletcher’s songs and banjo playing.

Fletcher says the CD is an update and expansion of an album he recorded several years ago.

“I just got to thinking that there are a lot of songs about trains, but no one’s ever done anything about (the Great Locomotive Chase),” he said. “I realized that was a great opportunity for us.”

The result is songs such as “Fire in the Boiler,” “Texas and the General,” “Tunnel Hill Train” and “Old Prater’s Mill.”

“It probably took me about four years (to write them all),” Fletcher said. “You want to get the history right, but you have to make sure that the lyrics are good and easy to sing. I’d work on them and work on them. I’d think I had everything right, then I’d see some way I could change it and make it better.”

The songs tell about the events some 150 years ago when two dozen Union spies stepped aboard a train near present-day Kennesaw. Their mission was to steal the locomotive the General and drive it north to Chattanooga while doing as much damage to the railroad along the way as they could. They didn’t make it to Chattanooga, running out of fuel just north of Ringgold. They also didn’t do that much damage to the railroad, and most were captured. But their daring won some of them the very first Medals of Honor.

Fletcher credits Thomas Scaif, manager of visitors centers for the Dalton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, for prompting him to put out the CD.

Scaif says that when he contacted Fletcher he was just looking to see if Fletcher had any copies of the original album left because he wanted to stock it. He says he didn’t expect Fletcher to create a new CD.

“I like to support local artists when I can,” Scaif said. “This gives a new unique souvenir to sell to those railroad enthusiasts and Civil War enthusiasts that come through.”

The CD is for sale locally at Prater’s Mill, the Tunnel Hill Heritage Center and the old freight depot in downtown Dalton. The cost is $10, which includes tax.

Born in Ball Play, Ala., Fletcher says he grew up making music.

“My father learned to play harmonica in World War I and came back playing. My mother played piano, and I had three older brothers who all played different instruments,” he said.

The brothers began playing bluegrass, gospel and mountain music together in the 1940s. Glenn Fletcher plays several instruments but specializes in the banjo.

But playing bluegrass didn’t provide a steady living, so Fletcher decided he needed a day job. He went to Jacksonville State University, where he played football.

“I didn’t have much size, but I had a lot of speed,” he recalled.

After that, he became a teacher and football coach at several high schools in Georgia before coming to Northwest Whitfield about 30 years ago, where he finished his career.

He says he already has a concept for another album.

“My family operated steamboats on the river, from Murray County to Gadsden (Ala.), and I’ve always been fascinated by that,” he said. “I’ve written some songs about steamboats, but I’m thinking about doing an entire album on that.”