Monday, June 23, 2008

Photos by Fred Guenther

05/16/08 Essex Steam Train: I was fortunate to ride in the cab of Valley RR 97, for a steam train charter up to Chester and back to Essex. Here are some photos which tell the tale but don't fully express how much fun I had.

We found this wonderful set of photos recently, which you can view online here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Quest For Cash

Well, I finally saw the latest Indiana Jones epic. I had tried several times previously only to find it "sold out" for any performance prior to 9:30PM or so. My motive for seeing the movie was that one rather short (although pivotal) scene had been shot at Essex, using some of our equipment as props.

A bit of background.

We had, of course heard that Steven Speilberg, et al were filming another episode and that New Haven would be one the locations. The State of Connecticut gives tax credits to motion picture production companies that use locations/facilities in the state, so suddenly there is quite a bit of movie work to be had. However we were surprised when a location scout called and asked for a meeting.

We chatted about the scene and what they would need: "typical" depot, typical day coach, paved station platform (huh? "well, there is some action on the platform"), an airport nearby (huh? "don't know, but it's important". We asked them what sort of a locomotive they wanted and it didn't seem to matter as the scene didn't include a locomotive.

A few days later another group came for the same tour. This time there were electricians and other tradesmen along to figure out how to deal with getting plenty of "clean" power on the train and in the "Indy" car. We chose our former L&NE gondola to carry their generators and a caboose to bring up the read of the train.

A few days later yet another group arrived for the same tour (routine by now). The Art Director was along: "typical" depot too clean (just repainted the year before), typical day coach ("Indy car") to be No. 503 (not the nicest or the scruffiest of the fleet), platform fine except for yellow safety line and he liked the old airport around the corner (not much landing space but it has a neat old arched hanger building). He wanted to see our selection of locomotives but got no further than 2-8-0 No. 97, loved it and that was that.

There were endless negotiations about costs, logistics, available days, etc. For enough money, we were prepared to shut down the railroad for a day.

In the end, we maintained our regular schedule operating from a track in our parking lot. Each regular train would load, back onto the main track at which time the movie train would have to stop and stay in the clear. Then our passenger train would pass the movie train on the Essex passing siding. Once they were clear, the movie train could go back to work until it was time to get the passenger train back into the parking lot. It worked well and our passengers got a front row seat as they passed the "set". My job was to cordinate the movements of the trains between the Railroad and the production company.

Preparations for the "shoot" took days. Our freshly painted depot was given a patina of age and use, signs were changed or removed. Truckloads of dirt, small tree and shrubs arrived and were artfully placed (and often moved). Huge light trucks arrived (think of O. Winston Link's obsession with controlling light) as well as a fleet of antique autos.

On the big day, the station area was a beehive of activity as everything got set up. Scenes were run through and tweaked. Eventually they began actually filming and not long after, someone said: "he'll be here soon. "Who? "Speilberg, that's his helicopter... And sure enough, there was a helicopter landing over at the old airport, and sure enough, a few minutes later, Speilberg arrived and everything moved into high gear.

Aside from the lunch break (plentiful and delicious and relaxing), it was a fast paced afternoon.

I kept the trains moving and other of each other's way AND I instructed Harrison Ford (a nice guy) on how to properly get off a moving train so he wouldn't fall down. But that shot wasn't used ( they wanted him to get off backward so he would face the camera).

Eventually Speilberg and all the important people left, which left cleaning up and putting everything away to the worker bees. It took days to put everything right again. The depot was repainted, temporary trees and dirt removed, cables stowed away, generators, etc. sent back to from where ever they came from, and Essex eventually returned to "normal".

Oh, and we got our final payment for our efforts.

And the movie (remember, I went to see the movie) was good. I especially liked the brief glimpse of The Ark of the Covenant in the warehouse scene and the snake. Oh, and the scene shot at Essex is a good one too.

Ken Blandina can be seen in the gangway of No. 97, Brian Messinger walks across the platform, cars 503, 602 and Wallingford appear as does the running gear of No. 97 and plenty of steam, although most of the steam was created by machines other than No. 97.

Thats' Hollywood!