Finding a functioning steam train for the first season of Wind at my Back was surprisingly easy, but finding a train station? Now that was difficult!
One of the few operating steam train lines that exist in Canada is the South Simcoe Railway in Tottenham, Ontario and it was absolutely perfect for Wind at my Back. Operated by a team of dedicated volunteer train enthusiasts, the S.S.R. has a variety of locomotives and coaches in various stages of restoration. The functioning trains take passengers on scenic tours through the local farmland on a 100 year old branch line that no longer connects with any modern rail lines. In other words, if you want to ride the S.S.R. you have to go to it because it can’t come to you.
As much as the S.S.R. had beautiful trains, the one thing it did not have was a train station. This presented some problems because several of the Wind at my Back scripts contained scenes at a train station complete with a train. After a considerable amount of head scratching and number crunching, the decision was made to construct a train station in Tottenham that the train could pull up to. Unfortunately the S.S.R. didn’t have enough space to build the station because all of their non functioning trains and coaches were parked on tracks that line their property. These trains came in handy though because they were used in the opening scene of Episode 1 – Four Walls and a Roof , when Hub and Fat get caught up in a chase between the police and some hobos, as seen in the photo below:
In order to have enough space for the building and to allow enough track for the train to safely pull up and stop, the station was built in the parking lot of a feed mill across the street from the S.S.R.’s rail yard. This created a very convincing set because vehicles could come down the street and pull up to the station like it had been there for years. The train could also pull in, although we had to have police to stop traffic while we were doing it because the train blocked the road when it was parked at the station. You can see the tracks where the train would cross the road in the photo below from Aunt Grace’s Wedding:
In the below photo of Judd, the train is at the station. Note that the camera never looked in the reverse direction from the train because if it did the feed mill would be in the shot.
The South Simcoe Railway was a great place to shoot but it was also an hour’s drive from the studio. When the show was renewed for a second season, it was ultimately decided that it would be more cost effective and efficient to incorporate the train station into the backlot set at the studio. The train station was designed and built in sections, so it was disassembled and moved to the studio backlot.. You can see it in the background of this shot of the crew shooting on the backlot:
As complicated as it was to shoot the train station and the train together at the South Simcoe Railway, it helped establish the look of authenticity and quality that Wind at my Back maintained over five seasons. When the show wrapped, the train station was used on many other Sullivan productions including Anne: The Continuing Story, Anne: A New Beginning, An Avonlea Christmas and, of course, A Wind at My Back Christmas. To this day, the New Bedford Train Station stands in the Sullivan Backlot waiting for another scene to be filmed on it’s platform.
All of your favourite Wind at my Back episodes are available on DVD at shopatsullivan.com.