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Edition #81, July 1, 2008

Million Dollar Lighting Compliments of Universal Studios

Photographer: James P. Bell

                                                                                      Photo by James P. Bell


Million Dollar Lighting Compliments of Universal Studios

Ronald Reagan still ruled as President and Paul Simon’s Graceland album was becoming a runaway hit. The year was 1987 and in northwestern Arkansas, the Burlington Northern had just spun off its former Frisco line from Monett, Missouri to Fort Smith, Arkansas. The new shortline took the name, Arkansas and Missouri Railroad, and became the Alamo of Alcos in North America. Tony Hannold moved from the gentrified east coast to the rough and tumble Ozark Mountains. He settled in as president of the railroad and made the new shortline a thriving enterprise. In the first 12 months of his tenure, Hannold decided to allow the making of a major motion picture on his railroad.

The movie, Biloxi Blues, burst upon the entertainment scene in 1988 and brought the A&M railroad and the Ozarks to the attention of railfans and movie lovers across the country. For eight days in June 1987 Universal Studios photographed along the A&M using Savannah and Atlanta No. 750. The locomotive and her crew traveled to Arkansas from Atlanta, Georgia.  A New York railroad equipment supplier, Don Primi, provided the coaches, former Erie-Lackawanna commuter cars.

Matthew Broderick starred in the movie directed by Mike Nichols and adapted from the play by Neil Simon. Filmed almost entirely in Arkansas, the movie used the Ozarks to stand in for the Appalachians during the train sequences on the A&M. Soldiers in uniform, vintage trucks at grade crossings, and many run-bys provided still photographers the chance to create images on the A&M that had not been possible for 40 years.

One night at Chester, Arkansas, a small town in the mountains north of Fort Smith, the movie crew had their lights and scrims and generators on hand for filming into the early morning hours. I call this shot of S&A No. 750 at the Chester grade crossing, “Million Dollar Lighting Complements of Universal Studios.” Rent the movie, Biloxi Blues, and you will see the train in this location in the first few minutes of the film. Even Hollywood knows the romance of trains at night.

James P. Bell

Fort Smith, Arkansas

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