“What lies before us down the tracks? A head?”
This line from the Wind at my Back – Season 1 episode Train to Nowhere is one of my favourites and, strangely enough, we actually had train tracks to nowhere on the backlot. Fortunately we never found a head on them but we did find some surprises now and then.
Since the New Bedford Train Station was really a set on the backlot, we had to figure out a way to make it look like a train could actually stop at it. This was accomplished by laying down real wooden railway ties, spreading gravel around them and then laying tracks on top of them. The tracks were actually made of wood and painted to look like metal so they would be easier to work with. The tracks were behind the station so we could use smoke and sound effects to create the illusion that a train was there if necessary. Usually though scenes at the train station didn’t involve a train, so just seeing the tracks was enough to “sell it” as a functioning train station. This photo from The Champ is a good example:
As fate would have it, the backlot property was right beside an abandoned train line that was once used to ship vehicles from a truck factory. It was only about fifty feet wide and didn’t have any tracks on it but it was quite long and lined with trees, providing a perfect place to build our own section of track to shoot on. The rail bed was still there, so all we had to do was bring in our own wooden track, spread some fresh gravel on top and “presto” we had our own private train track. This was a great addition to the set because we could shoot scenes that were supposed to be taking place away from town without actually having to leave the backlot as seen in this photo also from The Champ:
The abandoned rail bed area also worked well as a place to shoot scenes in “the woods”. To do this, we would either remove the tracks or simply shoot on a section without tracks as seen in this photo from Summer Dreams, Summer Nightmares:
In some cases, we would place set dressing around the tracks to make it look like a different location. In this shot from Triple, Trouble the set dressers made a Hobo shelter from an old shed and some crates:
It was this set that led to one of the surprises I mentioned earlier. The train track area wasn’t fenced off, so it was essentially open to the public. One day, the set dressers went to prepare for a shoot and they got quite a surprise. A homeless person had found the hobo shelter and was actually living in it! Needless to say everyone involved was a bit startled when that happened!
Unfortunately for us, the abandoned rail line site didn’t stay abandoned. A few years ago the property was purchased by a landscape supply company and is now full of topsoil, mulch and decorative stone. It was great to be able to use it during the filming of Wind at my Back though because it served to “open up” the show and complete the illusion that New Bedford was in Northern Ontario, not in the middle of Toronto.
Wind at my Back is available on DVD at shopatsullivan.com.