Penn Central: The Movie (1974)

Discussion relating to the Penn Central, up until its 1976 inclusion in Conrail. Visit the Penn Central Railroad Historical Society for more information.

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Otto Vondrak
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Penn Central: The Movie (1974)

Post by Otto Vondrak » Thu Dec 18, 2008 11:48 pm

A blistering, self-depreciating look at Penn Central circa 1974. Depressing and dumbstruck at the same time.
This is the movie commissioned by the Penn Central Railroad bankruptcy trustees to try to convince members of Congress that the railroad desperately needed a cash infusion or some other federal intervention if the railroad were to survive. Think of it as the social media of its day, a corporate movie commissioned as a way of educating elected officials who had little time or inclination to actually visit the railroad to find out what was going on.

In fairness, there are some anecdotes I've heard about the making of this movie, including the fact that some of the really bad conditions just wouldn't cooperate with the filmmakers. So instead of showing actual "standing derailments" (derailments caused by crossties so rotted that the rails just spread apart under the weight of the freight cars), they actually had to stage some of them. There is a scene of a car derailing as it moves down the "hump" track in a classification yard, and I'm told it took more than one take to get it to derail.

Despite these moviemaker tricks, the facts were pretty bleak for Penn Central.
http://www.lubetkin.net/blog/2008/12/pe ... movie.html

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Re: Penn Central: The Movie

Post by 3rdrail » Fri Dec 19, 2008 12:39 am

Very sad, particularly when you realize what crack railroads turned into the Penn Central- like a Third World Pakastani outfit. I would have rather seen NYC-PRR-NH get a bailout back then than all these slippery investment companies that got it now. Wonder what the outcome would have been ? By the way, wasn't that Jerry "The Beaver" Mathers at 4:13 doing a cameo as yardmaster ? No wonder the place went downhill !
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Re: Penn Central: The Movie

Post by umtrr-author » Fri Dec 19, 2008 5:21 pm

How do you find this stuff, Otto?

Quite an amazing film. It looked dark on my monitor, particularly in the scenes inside the shop, but it got the point across. I wonder how common a tactic this was to secure financing? Certainly PR pieces are nothing new, but "we don't have the money to do anything" is probably not the typical message one gets from a Corporate Film Production.
George in Rochester NY
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Re: Penn Central: The Movie

Post by charlie6017 » Fri Dec 19, 2008 6:34 pm

3rdrail wrote:By the way, wasn't that Jerry "The Beaver" Mathers at 4:13 doing a cameo as yardmaster?
LOL...............that did look like the Beave! :P
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Re: Penn Central: The Movie

Post by Sir Ray » Fri Dec 19, 2008 11:30 pm

Regardless of the message, you gotta love the shots of the rolling stock majestically teetering side to side as they roll along, and also the wreck crew images toward the end (Big Hook & Side booms in action! Huzzah! :P ).
Also gotta love them complaining about flat switching at Waverly Yard (NJ) - looking at the location on Live Local today you see how they resolved that yard issue (heh - other than the Newark Airport monorail station, a big empty lot...) - BTW, what company was the Waverly-Yard guy said was complaining it took a day to recieve a freight car dropped off on the other side of the yard because the 'passenger main' (well, NEC now) was between the yard and the siding? Acostas or something?
Finally, you people really think the chubby guy in the yellow hardhat going 'This is our supply, we live off it' looks like a grown up Jerry Mathers (who would have only been about 26 at the time of this film)? This must be a whoosh...

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Re: Penn Central: The Movie

Post by Allen Hazen » Sun Dec 21, 2008 2:19 am

Otto--
Thank you VERY MUCH for posting that link! I read about the movie (in "Trains") when it was made, and have always wished I (as a non-Congressman) could see it! This was a treat!
--
The story about it in "Trains" remarked that the scenes of PC at its worst tended to be on ex-PRR and ex-NH parts of the system, those of PC at its best on ex-NYC parts. I'm afraid I didn't know enough of the places mentioned to tell if this was so (though obviously two of the worsts -- the outdoor spot repair "shop" at Morrisville and the Cedar Hill yard toothpick machine -- are in Red and Orange territory, not Green!). At least one of the this-is-what-we-wish-it could-all-be-like sites was specifically noted as having been built by PC itself in the early years of the merger.

NYC3001

Re: Penn Central: The Movie

Post by NYC3001 » Sun Dec 21, 2008 3:07 am

That guy does look like Jerry Mathers! This means that Eddie Haskell, and Clarence 'Lumpy' Rutherford are probably working in the corporate office as the CEO, and VP of the Penn Central. :wink: Scary.

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Re: Penn Central: The Movie

Post by Big Bri » Sun Dec 21, 2008 9:15 am

.....But wasn't Ward a little hard on the "Beav"??? LOL

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Re: Penn Central: The Movie

Post by Otto Vondrak » Mon Dec 22, 2008 11:46 am

Ahem...
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runnerup

Re: Penn Central: The Movie

Post by runnerup » Mon Dec 22, 2008 6:45 pm

But could it happen again?

I know we are living in the age of bailouts, but things have to get pretty bad (like THIS bad) before a company would be eligible for a bailout.

I don't know how likely it is, but I think that yes, it could happen again.

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Re: Penn Central: The Movie

Post by QB 52.32 » Tue Dec 23, 2008 8:13 am

runnerup wrote:But could it happen again?

I know we are living in the age of bailouts, but things have to get pretty bad (like THIS bad) before a company would be eligible for a bailout.

I don't know how likely it is, but I think that yes, it could happen again.
Highly unlikely, and were that to be the case, the entire economy would be in a total collapse unlike anything experienced. Perhaps with some smaller shortlines or regionals, depending upon their properties and financial structure. But, the Class I railroads have a lot more market flexibility under deregulation; have pared down into pretty lean, mean machines with a background in cost cutting; have invested heavily into their infrastucture during the past 20 years so the physical plant is in good shape; and, have a much different relationship with labor and a lower proportion of labor costs to total costs, than did Penn Central or its predecessors.

PodcastSteve

Re: Penn Central: The Movie

Post by PodcastSteve » Wed Dec 24, 2008 6:22 am

It's funny to me that this movie has been sitting on my bookshelf in VHS format for about 20 years since I left Conrail. I had no idea it was a lost artifact or I would have digitized and posted sooner. It just seemed very timely to post it now as the US government considers bailout money for the car makers. It seems like Penn Central all over again.

If you enjoyed this you might also enjoy my conversation with Rush Loving, author of "The Men WHo Loved Trains," in our Middle Chamber Books Podcast, available at http://www.middlechamberbooks.com.

Also, I've seen a reference in this message thread to a Trains magazine article about the movie. I would love to see that article if anyone can point me to it with issue reference information. Thanks!

Steve "PodcastSteve" Lubetkin

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Re: Penn Central: The Movie

Post by umtrr-author » Wed Dec 24, 2008 7:54 am

Hi Steve, and welcome to the forum!

I wasn't sure you would be aware of "The Model Train Magazine Index" which is at http://index.mrmag.com (no "www") so I went ahead and checked it for you. Unfortunately, there wasn't any article reference that obviously cited the Penn Central film. The index does not cover short news items as far as I know-- it tends to focus on features, which still results in close to 75,000 articles (!) listed. So I'm afraid that may not be a source for locating the piece in which you're interested in.

Here's the exact search I did:
http://index.mrmag.com/tm.exe?opt=S&cmdtext=PC&MAG=TRN

Does anyone else have any other ideas?
George in Rochester NY
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Re: Penn Central: The Movie

Post by Otto Vondrak » Wed Dec 24, 2008 10:38 am

PodcastSteve wrote:It's funny to me that this movie has been sitting on my bookshelf in VHS format for about 20 years since I left Conrail. I had no idea it was a lost artifact or I would have digitized and posted sooner. It just seemed very timely to post it now as the US government considers bailout money for the car makers. It seems like Penn Central all over again.
Steve-

Thanks for joining our site and thanks very much for sharing that movie with us. It's been the topic of conversation here, and on several other lists. How long were you with Conrail?

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Re: Penn Central: The Movie

Post by Otto Vondrak » Wed Dec 24, 2008 10:39 am

umtrr-author wrote:Does anyone else have any other ideas?
Yes, it was the subject of commentary by editor David P. Morgan when the movie came out in 1974. So we're looking for an issue of Trains from 1974. DPM's editorials do not get indexed by the web site. I'm trying to find out more.
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