Railway Preservation News

An "ultimate" railroad film
Page 1 of 2

Author:  nathansixchime [ Thu Jan 27, 2005 9:14 pm ]
Post subject:  An "ultimate" railroad film

As a film major, many of my projects have included little nods to railroading, steam locomotives, and history in general. Some of them have been overt, some very sutble.

In preparing my portfolio and writing scripts and treatments, I've dreamed about doing "the ultimate railroad film," a historical epic, placed in the 1930s-1960s, concentrating on the importance and significance of the railroads during World War II in the United States.

While it may be impossible to appease every single railfan, I'm sure all of us are bound by a common thread: our desire to go back in time and see this stuff as it happened.

Alas, what would make the "ultimate railroad film?" What plot or storyline could suffice in showing America's major railroads, it's machines, and it's employees, at work?

Here's one idea I've had. It takes place in a fictional railroad town, serving at least three mainline roads, such as the PA and NYC (I say this because the race between the 20th Century and the Broadway Limited is one of those "famous" railroad events).

The main characters would consist of a family, living in a row of railroad houses near a yard. A mother (perhaps she works in a station), the father (an engineer, or roundhouse foreman), two sons (one of military age) and the other a young teenager.

The older son joins the Air Force (becomes one of the pilots who blows up Axis trains.) The mother joins the war effort (works in a factory.) The son is a witness to everything or maybe he works at a locomotive manufacturer (a LIMA type of facility.) The father, as an engineer or whathaveyou, has a job that enables him to travel (thus being able to visit famous railroad hotspots and see other signifiant places of interest in the US.)

Other characters could include a hobo, neighbors who work for rival railroads, a reckless fireman (you can see where that'd lead you)...

The story would be told in retrospect, in a flashback, as the youngest son grows older and reflects upon his life...

Or maybe you guys have better ideas? Maybe an idea for a title? Basically, if there was a (truthful, historical, not blatantly romantic) film made about railroad (and of course, American) history, what would you want to see?

NYC Hudsons? PA-T1s? Wrecks? Races? Horseshoe Curve? Troop trains? Penn Station? Roundhouses? Turbines? 1st Generation Diesels? Triumphs? Failures?

-Kelly Lynch-

Author:  tim o'm [ Fri Jan 28, 2005 12:36 am ]
Post subject:  Re: An "ultimate" railroad film

Unless the film is animated, or relies on stock footage, it will be very hard and expensive to re-create such a vivid railroad film. I remember in the early 1990s when a film, to star Kevin Costner, I believe, was going to include Reading 2102, plus 2100, along with Nickel Plate 765, and 587, all running at the time. One plan was to give the 587 a Twentieth Century Ltd shrowding. There was some progress made when the studio backed out. I can't remember the name it was supposed to have.
My advice to you on your film, is to have a solid story, with no obviously ridiculous railroad mishap. A good story can pull anything through. The locomotive footage will be fine for most audiences. I wouldn't try to impress this crowd... We can be a pretty tough audience. Good luck, though.

Author:  p51 [ Fri Jan 28, 2005 12:50 am ]
Post subject:  Re: An "ultimate" railroad film

tim o'm wrote:
I remember in the early 1990s when a film, to star Kevin Costner, I believe, was going to include Reading 2102, plus 2100, along with Nickel Plate 765, and 587, all running at the time.

The movie was to be called, "Night Ride Down," about the Pullman strike. I'm not sure about Costner or not.

Author:  WP&Ymike [ Fri Jan 28, 2005 2:20 am ]
Post subject:  Re: An "ultimate" railroad film

Maybe the father works for Baldwin and is involved with the different wartime locomotives and other military components like guns and turrets for tanks. Baldwin loks went to every theater of the war including 11 to the WP&YR for the building of the Alcan Highway. Different sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and cousins could be at different fronts involved with loks and other items from the Eddystone arsenal.

Author:  H.O. [ Fri Jan 28, 2005 2:26 am ]
Post subject:  Re: An "ultimate" railroad film

I think it was Harrison Ford who was slated to star in the Pullman film that never came to fruition. I think maybe N&W 611, Reading 2102, NKP 587 and 765 were mentioned for female leads.

Author:  tim o'm [ Fri Jan 28, 2005 9:05 am ]
Post subject:  Re: An "ultimate" railroad film

Well, it just goes to show that I know my steam locomotives better than actors. If the movie was to be about the Pullman strike,1894, it seems strange that such modern locomotives would be used. That's Hollywood for you. But that also says a lot about what little is around from different eras to film.

Author:  bobyar2001 [ Fri Jan 28, 2005 9:16 am ]
Post subject:  Re: An "ultimate" railroad film

As someone described above, I think it would be quite hard to produce such a film here in the US with much degree of authenticity, though not impossible. James Cameron's Titantic recreation would seem pretty far out also, but it was one of the best movies ever, and made one feel like they were really on board. The Titantic legend was a big part of that, however; I doubt if a lesser known liner would have had such a draw.

Though not American, such a railway story probably would not be too hard to produce in say, Eastern Europe, where the proper settings and hardware still exist and life in general hasn't changed as much.

Author:  Ed Fritz [ Fri Jan 28, 2005 10:33 am ]
Post subject:  Re: An "ultimate" railroad film

In preparing my portfolio and writing scripts and treatments, I've dreamed about doing "the ultimate railroad film," a historical epic, placed in the 1930s-1960s, concentrating on the importance and significance of the railroads during World War II in the United States.

I think the "Walton" approach is a bit tired from over use. I would suggest a bit different approach and since this is a site into history, lets look at American history. I would pick an engine that worked through the period of interest and use the station(s) and train to explore the American physic through a series of vignettes of people on travel to explore the way American history evolved by the thoughts and interactions of those traveling. The engine/train set would provide the continuity and would provide an easy way to provide a contrasting juxtaposition with the rural/agricultural way of life that was the backbone of the American scene until the '50s.

My image would be something like the N&W K2a class, built by BLW in 1923 and were still in service at the end of steam. They were regularly assigned to the crack "Tennessean" in the early days, and were still pulling the locals in 1958 and 1959. They also were the subject of a major rebuild after WWII which included an enlarged fire box and streamlining making them thoroughly modern late steam engines. Not to mention, IMHO, that they may have been among the best Mountain type engines built. Their efforts were overshadowed by the N&W "Big Three" -- the "J"s, "A"s, and "Y6b"s.

Some imagined vignettes:

1920's -- This was a period that Americans turned inward after a century of isolation was breached by President Wilson, "To make the world safe for democracy." An experiment that didn't turn out so well as the young men died by the scores in the trenches and suffered the misery of gas attacks etc. Explore the ideas of Prohibition, flappers, and the young men suffering for Post Traumatic Stress from the trenches of WWI (Though there was no name for those symptoms back then, one was expected to keep that behind a "poker" face and take the change out in nightmares.). There were also some significant labor strikes during this period and could provide some interesting topics.

1930's -- Actually begins with the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Explore the impact on Americans as the economy slowly grinds to an almost halt. The sense of loss, failure and hopelessness. Concurrently, the "Okies" were abandoning their farms by the droves as a seven year drought wreaked havoc on the West. There is lots of fodder on the political front as the various radical political parties make inroads into the traditional parties platforms.

1940's -- Begins in 1938 or so with the rise of the Nazi Party to power in Germany. The slowly rising consciousness that America was going to be drawn into another World War. The build-up and the no effort spared to support the war effort on the home front. Of course these are stories about people and not the events which have been rehashed over and over. You could also look at one of the least studied periods of American history, the period from 1946 to 1950. Tired of war and trying to move back to peace and another period of American introspection.

1950's -- Eisenhower election became the symbol of America as the leader of the Free World and steadfastly opposed to those countries behind the Iron Curtain and launching the period of U.S. routine deep involvement in world affairs for the first time in it's history. Probably history will also remember this as the "Golden" period of the Industrial Revolution. The "Engineer" was king and could do anything and every problem could be solved by the appropriate engineering. Also a period of fundamental change in the U.S. The U.S. was transitioning from a rural/agricultural heritage to an industrial/urban view of the world. Also could explore the death of the train and it's replacement by the auto and plane. A very interesting period indeed and laid the foundation for what would come in the '60s with the "Hippy" movement.

Just some thoughts. I'm smart enough to let someone who could actually write turn the vignettes into dialogue and acting and not offer any samples.


Author:  nathansixchime [ Fri Jan 28, 2005 12:15 pm ]
Post subject:  How to do it?

I've brooded over "how to do it" as well and mind you, if this particular idea were to ever meet fruition, it wouldn't be for several years (or at least until I can grab that internship at Paramount Studios, haha...)

As for now, I'm just stirring the pot, "just in case," and writing things to put in my portfolio of ideas, so I have something to show when the chance arises.

My idea about how to recreate all this would be simple: Utilize current operating steam locomotives, freight, and passenger cars. Find suitable locations (stations, yards, etc that still survive) and leave the rest to digital technology.

I cringe at the first thought of having a bunch of CGI Berkshires racing down the mainline, but the CGI would be used (as it was created to do) as a method of getting material that would otherwise prove wicked expensive or impossible. Let's say you want 765 to pull a fleet of yellowbellies. Film 765 as a template, and digitally import the yellowbellies. Or if you want to wreck a train, or recreate Penn Station. It would be imperitative to utilize what still exists in America to create what once did. It would be a shame to just sit and draw up choo choos in a computer when so many are alive in well.

If you set up a camera crew at Steamtown, blocked off some of the modern landscape, and populated the yard with CGI Lackawana engines, that would be the method, per se.

But remember, this isn't just a film about the engines. It's the people. What sort of stories would you want to see? This hobby of railfanning and preservation is full of great ones!

And yes, I am familiar with the doomed Ford/Pullman movie. 587 still has some freight cars done up by the art department and 765 was drafted to play a part as well. She'd already been in two other films (Matewan and Four Friends, in which she cameo'd as a NYC engine.) And, lest we forget, the fabled Robert Redford "Big Boy" locomotive movie!

Thank you all for your responses! Who knows, maybe one day this pet project will find it's way into being made. As a filmmaker, you first have to be able to dream.

Author:  Dave [ Fri Jan 28, 2005 1:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How to do it?

How about using legitimate history? The Andrews Raid could use a really good telling, Death Valley Scotty's fast ride, Casey Jones saga - no lack of drama in real life.

Has anybody done a film about the D&RG / Santa Fe war for the pass?


Author:  Gary Gray [ Fri Jan 28, 2005 2:36 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How to do it?

I agree with Dave, the Andrews Raid needs an up to date retelling. Are you listening Ted Turner? Here's your next Civil War movie. While we're at it, build a couple of nice replica 4-4-0's for the filming. B&O 25 is too historically significant to do the "stunt work". Or how about using some of the old fiction stories from "Railroad Magazine" as the basis of a modern screenplay? John John's "Night Run" comes to mind, it's also a good Christmas story. Or maybe an "Eddie Sand" epic?

Author:  Richard Glueck [ Fri Jan 28, 2005 6:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: An "ultimate" railroad film

How about a woman who owns a hotel, along with her Uncle "Joe", and three sexy, virginal, daughters who swim in the water tank at trackside? There is a wood burning steam locomotive that the larger railroad has forgotten about on this branchline. Then there is a local community with a provocative name like Hooterville..... Think of the sequels!

Author:  Gary Gray [ Fri Jan 28, 2005 6:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: An "ultimate" railroad film

That one is less far-fetched than you think. After all, remember the "Beverly Hillbillies" movie, the "Starsky & Hutch" movie, the upcoming "Dukes of Hazzard" movie.....................

Author:  evicknair [ Fri Jan 28, 2005 7:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: An "ultimate" railroad film

I always thought that the novel "The Octopus" by Frank Norris would make a phenomenal film that heavily included 1890's railroading in both the machinery AND the business and politics that surrounded it. One of my favorite novels.

I once sketched an outline of a film that would take place during WWII and be located at Norden, Truckee and on Donner Pass. It concerned the lives of the people working on "The Hill" trying to keep the wartime traffic moving. The railroad had hired women to fill some jobs left empty by men going to the war and some conflicts would come from these women bumping up against the "men's world" attitude of the railroad.

I imagined cab forwards and even liberating the 4-10-2 in Pomona for the film.

Author:  Txhighballer [ Fri Jan 28, 2005 8:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: An "ultimate" railroad film


While not a filmaker ,just a praciticing railroader,I have been kicking around a screenplay of my own. It involves two orphans,one black ,one white,who grew up together and went railroading together.
One went off to war,the other went up through the ranks and became a top railroad official at a mid-level fictional railroad.
When the other returned,he went back to railroading,but found that the treatment of himself and other black railroaders wa not someting he was prepared to tolerate.especially since he was a decorated war hero( he saved several hundred Allied troops from capture by firing up a locomotive and running it through German lines. His reward: he was awarded the highest medal he could receive from the French but was issued a letter of reprimand for running the locomotive.)
He boomed al over the country,firing locomotives and finally was working on a railroad that did not care what color he was.they just needed engineers.
Meanwhile,hi childhood friend,was experiencing some difficulty with the slightly parallel,but more prosperous and bigger ,other railroad in the territory. In fact,they were hiring his employees faster than he could replace them,and they were also beginning to replace steam with diesels.
He sent a telegram to his friend,asking him to come and help him with the railroad. And the story begins.............
Historical figures like E. Phillip Randolph may also make an appearance.Should I keep at it or chalk it up to the musings of a slightly demented engineer who perhaps has spent too much time listening to the whistle blow?

Page 1 of 2 All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]
Powered by phpBB © 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007 phpBB Group