A Peoria, Ill tractor foreman becomes a U.S. fascination in Laguna Beach
‘OK, who took my car?’ said a more than tipsy Marine Captain Joe Geston.
Joe was finishing up his Friday night’s/early Saturday morning’s ‘end of the week fun time’ at the Marine pilot’s favorite hangout, the Sandpiper, aka The Dirty Bird.
During the 50’s and early 60’s the club was the ‘Mecca’ for the local Marines wanting to blow off steam. As a matter of fact, to this day the Sand Piper still has the Marine badges from those troops displayed on their wall (see photo).
Well on this particular night, Joe went out to find his car to no avail. Perplexed and inebriated he stumbled back into the bar and confronted his comrades who all denied taking it.
He then asked ‘then who did?’
No one is quite sure who said it, but one guy said maybe someone from Peoria, Ill took it. Pretty random to say the least.
But it sounded logical to the Captain and without hesitation he went over the phone booth and called Peoria information and (again) randomly asked for Melvin Miller. He copied down the number and called Melvin while surrounded by his other fun loving Marines who urged him on.
Now while its 1 am in the morning in Laguna its 4am in the morning in Peoria and Marvin picks up the phone from a dead sleep and says ‘Hello’.
Captain Geston, in a very liquid voice, says ‘What did you do with my car?’
Melvin, who’s a ‘salt of the earth mellow’ guy and a foreman with Caterpillar tractor, goes along with it and he learns that Joe is in some place called Laguna Beach and that Joe lost his car and he thinks Melvin took it and he should bring it back.
The other Marines listening in were going nuts and Melvin patiently explains they are 2,000 miles apart and it would have been quite difficult for him to drive back his car even if he did have it.
Well the Marine comes back the following day and sees his car in the exact place he left it. He also comes across Melvin’s number and after a few ‘eye openers’ he gives him a call again and they continue this non seneschal conversation.
In fact, the word gets out about Melvin and other marines start calling him as well and they even send him Christmas cards from the different cities the pilots went to around the world. It would be nothing for someone at a party to call Melvin to pick up some ice.
Again Melvin in his Midwestern dry humor goes along with it and the word about him spreads throughout the Corp.
One Marine even visited him at his house and got his picture which was promptly displayed behind the Sandpiper bar.
This inspired one Marine to say ‘let’s bring Melvin out’.
They put a howitzer shell on the bar and the pilots start throwing their change in it. Next they make tee shirts and hats and the word gets out in Laguna about the loveable Melvin. In a matter of a week they’ve come up with $300 and they invite Melvin and his wife out, though she declines for ‘The Melvin Miller Week’.
So the next thing you know the word on Melvin gets out throughout Southern California and the U.S. and everyone wants to participate.
The Marines charter a bus to pick him up at the Los Angeles airport, he has lunch with Jayne Mansfield, he goes on the Tonight show, and he’s in the papers nationwide as well as Newsweek magazine.
Finally when he gets to Laguna Beach they hold a ‘Melvin Miller parade’ where he went down the Coast Hwy in the back of a convertible Cadillac which is preceded by a miniature tractor that his employer, Caterpillar, sent.
After a couple nights of ceremonies at the Sandpiper and sunning himself in his own personalized chair and umbrella he’s whisked off again for more adventures.
The Del Mar horse track holds a ‘Melvin Miller Sweepstakes’ and in Mexico they name a bull after him for one of the fights.
But to top things off the whole Marine base gathers for a farewell ‘fully dressed’ inspection for him.
And finally as their escorting back to the airport after a whirl wind week of adventure they ask him what he thinks and he calmly responds ‘I got to get back, I got work tomorrow’.
Long live Melvin.