“IN THE MOVIES”: THE RIVETING TALE OF SOUTHERN RAILWAY NO. 4501
Few can boast the timeless allure and charm of a steam locomotive. But when that very locomotive shares screen space with Hollywood luminaries, the tale turns legendary.
From Tracks to Reels
The year was 1971. Southern Railway No. 4501, a locomotive steeped in history, transcended its traditional track boundaries. It was cast alongside James Maitland “Jimmy” Stewart, George Kennedy, Strother Martin, Anne Baxter, and Kurt Russell in the cinematic creation, “Fool’s Parade”.
But the 4501 didn’t simply roll into the frames. Its iconic green and gold identity was transformed to mirror a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad locomotive from the Depression era. The metamorphosis was total, complete with the grimy aesthetic authentic to the period.
A Peek into the Plot
“Fool’s Parade”, based on Davis Grubb’s novel, unspools mostly in Moundsville, W. Va. – reimagined as Glory, W. Va. on screen. The tale revolves around three convicts, one of them played by Jimmy Stewart, who embark on a journey post their prison release in 1935. But it’s not just freedom they’re after; it’s also Stewart’s hard-earned prison savings of $25,452.32, which becomes the target of a nefarious plot hatched by the prison guard (played by Kennedy) and a scheming banker.
Trains become pivotal to the story. They are the escape routes, the chase scenes, and the moving stages for drama, suspense, and action. And given the story’s setting in 1935, steam locomotives were indispensable, leading to the 4501’s selection for the role.
Glimpses from the Shooting Floor
Arriving in Moundsville on September 22nd, 4501 underwent a dramatic transformation. Columbia Pictures‘ prop team meticulously painted the locomotive and tender black, overlaying the bright Southern colors. It was then re-lettered “Baltimore and Ohio”, complete with a coat of mud, water, and oil to give it a well-used appearance.
For days, the locomotive became the star, changing identities from scene to scene, sometimes numbered 4501 pulling passenger coaches, and at other times with different numbers hauling freight cars.
An interesting tidbit? Walter C. Dove, a retired general road foreman of engines and regular engineer for 4501, helmed the engine during the shoots. Alongside him was “fireman” Paul Merriman, the proud owner of 4501 and the president of the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.
Snippets from the Scenes
- Movie poster for “Fool’s Parade” – A visual treat that hinted at the thrilling journey audiences were about to embark upon.
- A Knowledge Exchange – Walter Dove and Jimmy Stewart stood side by side with Paul Merriman, deep in conversation about the workings of the magnificent 4501.
- “Lights, camera, action” – The buzz, the anticipation, and the thrill of filming came alive.
- Key Moments – 4501 pulling into the depot at “Glory,” W. Va., with George Kennedy, Strother Martin, Jimmy Stewart, and Kurt Russell setting the scene.
- Historic Tracks – A breathtaking image of 4501 at Ludlow, Kentucky on October 10, 1970.
- Journey to Chattanooga – A visual chronicle of 4501’s triumphant voyage.
- A Pitstop – A memorable moment captured as 4501 halted in Somerset, Kentucky en route Chattanooga.
The locomotive’s cinematic journey culminated in its return home, with its movie “makeup” still intact. And while it would once again don the familiar green-and-gold, its stint in “Fool’s Parade” ensured it was forever immortalized in cinematic history.