Earlier this month I had the privilege of writing a piece for Storyboard, the official blog of the Walt Disney Family Museum. As readers will know, I’m a big fan of the museum so I was very glad to be able to help out. My story concerns the making of The Great Locomotive Chase, a 1956 Walt Disney production starring Fess Parker and Jeffrey Hunter. The Museum’s focus this month has been on Walt’s love of trains, and few of his projects better show this than Great Locomotive Chase; the “true-life” adventure tells the story of Union spies hijacking a Confederate supply train in 1862. It’s an incredible tale that makes for a fun film and it’s easy to see why Walt was interested – it gave him the chance to play around with trains!
I was especially pleased to be able to write about this particular movie as it was filmed in and around some familiar stomping grounds of mine – an area in the Appalachian Mountains between Franklin, North Carolina and Cornelia, Georgia. Both my paternal grandparents were from Franklin – my grandfather’s family has been living up there, in the same valley, for more than two hundred years. It’s still one of my favorite places to “get away from it all.” Furthermore my grandmother’s brother-in-law worked on the now-defunct Tallulah Falls Railroad, where Locomotive was filmed, and her family grew up in the wide valley overlooking where the railway passed from Otto, NC to Franklin. She had moved by 1955 when filming was underway, but her family was still there and I have always had these weird visions of them sitting on their porch while Walt Disney maniacally drove his train back and forth on the other side of the Little Tennessee River.
Local businesses still recall Walt’s visit. At the (truly fantastic, by the way) Dillard House restaurant in Dillard, Georgia, pictures on the wall chronicle the time Walt stopped there for some home cooking. In local histories, people recall seeing Walt come in to local diners and cafes and have lunch alone – just a regular guy, hanging out.
As I say in my piece, you can tell how important this project must have been for Walt – after all, Disneyland had just opened and it would take something remarkable to tear him away from his new sandbox in Anaheim.
For some more info, check out my article and others from this month at the Museum’s blog, and if you haven’t seen it I recommend you check out The Great Locomotive Chase itself. It’s nothing profound but it’s a really fun film with some great actors facing off and that really fantastic art direction you see in Disney productions from that era. You can buy it cheap from Amazon or rent it via Netflix.