Long Run ON THE Short Line : Railroads: The movie train has been seen in more than 70 TV shows, films and commercials. But now the lease is up on the owners’ track in Valencia.
The names hardly evoke images of Hollywood stardom, but Woody, Tubby and Boris have had busy movie careers over the last five years.
Woody, Tubby and Boris are the affectionate nicknames given to a freight car, a tanker and a locomotive belonging to Short Line Enterprises Ltd., a small railway in Valencia whose exclusive business is to rent trains to filmmakers who need a railroad for a backdrop.
Location managers say the rail line is unique in the industry and more than 70 movies, television shows and commercials have been filmed there since 1985. When they tried to throw momma from the train, they were riding the Short Line.
But the movie train may be headed for its last stop.
The railroad’s landlord, Newhall Land and Farming Co., has declined to renew its lease and the co-owners of the Short Line, James Clark and Stan Garner, are scrambling to find a home for several thousand tons of equipment by Aug. 1. Their last film in Valencia, a Dan Aykroyd comedy, will begin filming the end of this month.
One possible haven for the Short Line is 16 miles of Southern Pacific track in Ventura County, but Clark and Garner admit they are unsure where their three locomotives, four passenger cars and 12 freight cars will actually end up--or how they will pay for the move.
“We’re short,” said Garner of the estimated $60,000 in moving expenses. “We have part of it, but we don’t have all of it.”
In its five years in Valencia, located on a scant three miles of track abandoned by Southern Pacific after a flood in 1982, the Short Line has become a curious landmark in the Santa Clarita Valley. Ever since the flood, the track has been a rail line to nowhere, cut off from the Southern Pacific line passing through Santa Clarita, Clark said. Its diesel and steam locomotives are visible from the Golden State Freeway as they chug along rails just north of Magic Mountain.
Locals spotting the train resting at one of two mock stations along the Short Line have asked if the train ferries commuters to Los Angeles. A train once painted to resemble a New York line raised eyebrows as well, Clark said.
Curious onlookers asked, “What’s the New York Central doing going through Newhall?”
After a slow start--just six productions in two years--the business took off, averaging about 19 productions every year. Among the productions filmed there have been “War & Remembrance,” “Midnight Run,” “Quantum Leap” and “Night Train to Katmandu.” Even a video for Playboy lingerie was shot on the Short Line.
Jack English, a free-lance location manager whose credits include “Godfather II” and “Apocalypse Now,” said the Short Line is the only railway in the country exclusively devoted to the film industry.
Usually film companies rent equipment and time from commercial railroad companies, which are not always sympathetic to the needs of a filmmaker, English said. But the Short Line, as a private business tailored to filming, appreciates the need for a second take.
The Short Line refined its technical skills to suit movie-makers. As their brochure enthusiastically notes: “Our freight train is now nearly two football fields long and our new tank car is just waiting for your hazardous waste spill. Yes! We can stage derailments.”
Clark hoped to augment filming income with a dinner train, where costumed musicians, waiters and bartenders created a 1940s atmosphere for diners who rode the rails back and forth--the train can’t turn around--for an evening. The train made five trial runs and Clark printed up tickets for regular dinner rides.
But in September, Newhall Land informed Clark that the Short Line would have to leave by February. Marlee Lauffer, a company spokeswoman, said the company needs the land for commercial development to complement a 700-acre industrial park planned near the junction of the Golden State Freeway and Henry Mayo Newhall Drive.
Clark and Garner admit that they always knew their lease might not be renewed. “I can’t deny that,” Clark said. “They had every right to tell me it was time to leave.”
Even so, the news came earlier than he expected. “It was a bit of a surprise,” Garner said.
Clark and Garner said their best possibility for relocation is 16 miles of track Southern Pacific is selling in Ventura County. The line starts in Piru and passes through Fillmore and Santa Paula.
Southern Pacific has not set a selling price yet, Clark said. Ideally, his company could lease the property, but it’s unclear whether Southern Pacific will agree to such an arrangement or whether Short Line could raise the capital to finance the deal.
Nonetheless, in hopes of drumming up local support for film work and the dinner train, Clark met with city officials in Fillmore and Santa Paula to explain his plan.
Despite the uncertainty of the next few months, Garner and Clark will continue to enjoy their little railroad, drawing out a fascination that began years ago when their only locomotives came from Lionel.
In fact, five years ago when Clark told his wife, Jeanette, that he was wanted to provide railroad sets for movies, she envisioned something on a miniature scale. “I thought he meant model railroading,” she said.
Before entering the movie field, Garner and Clark did train restoration work for museums, fixing everything from faulty boilers to torn carpeting. Most of their cars were purchased from movie studios that had phased out their private railway collections or from dealers in odd machinery.
A 1946 passenger car came from a Fontana junkyard. It was filled with garbage up to the windows, and “bums were living in them,” Clark said.
As they recently gave a guided tour of their tiny railroad to a visitor, it was clear that Clark and Garner still love playing with trains, albeit on a grand scale. Many cars had nicknames and the men eagerly explained their pedigrees.
“This is Boris,” Clark said, pointing to a beefy and imposing locomotive with a 2,000-horsepower engine.
Sitting next to Boris, dwarfed by the black locomotive’s bulk, was a steam engine from 1891. It once served the Rogue River Valley Railroad in Oregon. Among its unusual claims to fame, Garner insisted, was an appearance in what he said was the first 3-D movie, a flick called “Bwana Devil.”