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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Re: Penn Central: The Movie

Post by Otto Vondrak » Wed Dec 24, 2008 6:00 pm

Thanks to Doug Wonders: September 1974 Trains, pp. 8-9, "The X-rated PC."

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BR&P
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Re: Penn Central: The Movie

Post by BR&P » Sun Dec 28, 2008 10:18 am

Yup - that's the way it was. It makes you appreciate how much of a turnaround Conrail accomplished. Comparing then with now, however, today's Class I's preform far more "wholesale" and far less "retail". CSX, NS, any of the big ones, do not have the volume of individual switching and spotting. I think they said, speaking of the NJ location, there were 25-30 customers off that one industrial track. A poster above said the yard is gone, and I'd be surprised if more than 3 or 4 of those 25 customers still exist as rail customers.

Some neat shots of vintage motive power - the Alco 244 sounded authentic, and I believe I saw a Baldwin switcher about the 25 minute mark.

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Re: Penn Central: The Movie

Post by RetiredLIRRConductor » Sun Dec 28, 2008 5:09 pm

Just took a look at it myself. Hard to believe it was that bad.
In 1974, I was in my second year on the LIRR, we used to hump cars in holban yard, saw a few derailments there as well.
On the Montauk Branch east of Patchogue, there was a 30mph speed restriction most of the way to Montauk, and these were passenger trains!
In the Penn Central Video, watching those cars rock back and forth reminded me of how it was going to Montauk back then. yes it was that bad.

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Re: Penn Central: The Movie (1974)

Post by scharnhorst » Mon Jan 26, 2009 4:53 pm

Intresting video kind of reminds me of CSX and there Maintaince programs!
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Re: Penn Central: The Movie (1974)

Post by AgentSkelly » Wed May 13, 2009 6:11 pm

I find it funny this was presented to Congress. The style of it you can tell was produced by their same guys who did the internal corporate films for them (which I imagine at at Penn Central was not many ha.)

I also feel sorry for the camera man who had to be on top of shaking box cars :P
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Re: Penn Central: The Movie (1974)

Post by wdburt1 » Sun May 17, 2009 5:33 pm

AgentSkelly: You find it funny. I find it compelling and honest. And it had the desired effect on Congress. That much we know for sure.

If by "their same guys who did the internal corporate films for [Penn Central] you mean railroaders who were pulled in from Operations and Engineering, then I have to wonder what more authentic voices you would want? Somebody with a Madison Avenue background, perhaps?

WDB

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Re: Penn Central: The Movie (1974)

Post by AgentSkelly » Mon May 18, 2009 12:44 am

wdburt1 wrote:AgentSkelly: You find it funny. I find it compelling and honest. And it had the desired effect on Congress. That much we know for sure.

If by "their same guys who did the internal corporate films for [Penn Central] you mean railroaders who were pulled in from Operations and Engineering, then I have to wonder what more authentic voices you would want? Somebody with a Madison Avenue background, perhaps?

WDB
No, I know that's the conditions that PC had of course and it had the right people explaining the problem, but the style of it just not something I would of done for a film to Congress.

(I used to want to go into working as a video editor and almost ended up in actually corporate video)
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Re: Penn Central: The Movie (1974)

Post by wdburt1 » Mon May 18, 2009 11:30 am

I agree, it comes across as something done by operations and engineering people, and the voiceover is a lot like something from a training film 35 years ago. All that helped this movie to be authentic, believable, and a spur to action.

35 years ago, Congressional staffers were already cynical about the slick, overproduced propaganda that so many vested interests shoved under their noses. It's even more predominant today, and they are more cynical, I think.

I was one of those Congressional staffers working for a congressman on the House Transportation & Commerce Committee in 1974 and 1975. I remember what it was like to go to Washington at age 21 and learn to sink or swim, to sort out the hype from the facts, and to begin to learn how to anticipate all the hidden agendas in a fast-moving legislative situation. At the risk of misidentifying someone or something by relying on 35-year-old memories, I want to add that Penn Central's lobbyist, Harvey Shipman, was well liked by staffers. I am remembering him as a big shambling bear of a man who came across with humility and willingness to help staffers with their questions--not "corporate arrogance" at all (unlike some of the lobbyists for the big-bank creditors). D&H's Bernie Phillips similarly represented his railroad very well.

Perhaps others on this list knew these gentlemen. I never saw the 1974 movie but heard about it at the time, and can just imagine how effective it would have been with Harvey Shipman providing additional commentary.

WDB

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Re: Penn Central: The Movie (1974)

Post by Otto Vondrak » Mon May 18, 2009 6:58 pm

wdburt1 wrote:I agree, it comes across as something done by operations and engineering people, and the voiceover is a lot like something from a training film 35 years ago. All that helped this movie to be authentic, believable, and a spur to action.
Right. That was the style a generation ago. The point of the movie was to go into the field and show exactly how bad conditions were there. Exaggerate the worst of it. Make them believe. I'm sure a lot of Congressional members honestly did not understand the situation. This put it in their laps. What's more real, this movie, or something with a bunch of flashy bars graphics and rehearsed lines and actors giving fake smiles and thumbs ups? We laugh because the PC film might look a little corny or overly-dramatic, but this was how you got your point across.

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Re: Penn Central: The Movie (1974)

Post by 3rdrail » Mon May 18, 2009 7:14 pm

I still think that it was "The Beaver" as "Yardmaster" that sold it.
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Re: Penn Central: The Movie (1974)

Post by narig01 » Wed Sep 09, 2009 4:55 pm

The derailment scene described was only supposed to show a bunch of rocking cars. Congressional staff & Congressman did not believe and many labeled it staged. To paraphrase what came from Rush Lovings book The Men Who Loved Trains.
I think the movie was filmed to show just how bad things were. The problem being was that many in congress did not understand or know how complex logistics are. Or just how much stuff moves by rail(then & now). Too many people think that to eat all you have to do is go to McDonalds, and not think about how that food gets to their plates.
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Re: Penn Central: The Movie (1974)

Post by Long Train Runnin' » Fri Sep 11, 2009 6:38 pm

Thank you so much for posting this link. i always wondered "How bad is Penn Central?" This made it clear I had no idea this film even existed. Really enjoyed seeing it although, it was sad to see how bad it was.

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Re: Penn Central: The Movie (1974)

Post by scharnhorst » Sat Sep 12, 2009 6:36 pm

Long Train Runnin' wrote:Thank you so much for posting this link. i always wondered "How bad is Penn Central?" This made it clear I had no idea this film even existed. Really enjoyed seeing it although, it was sad to see how bad it was.

Things were no better after CSX took there half of Conrail either it began to look like another Penn Central in the making till a number of derailments here in the Northeast got the Feds attention to put there foot down on the poor maintenance.
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Re: Penn Central: The Movie (1974)

Post by ExCon90 » Mon Sep 14, 2009 2:12 pm

narig01 wrote:The derailment scene described was only supposed to show a bunch of rocking cars. Congressional staff & Congressman did not believe and many labeled it staged. To paraphrase what came from Rush Lovings book The Men Who Loved Trains.
I think the movie was filmed to show just how bad things were. The problem being was that many in congress did not understand or know how complex logistics are. Or just how much stuff moves by rail(then & now). Too many people think that to eat all you have to do is go to McDonalds, and not think about how that food gets to their plates.
Rgds IGN
Exactly right -- the movie was filmed to show how bad things were, and many in Congress just didn't get it. On one occasion a high PC official stated to a Senate subcommittee that if the company couldn't get hold of some cash it would have to cease operations by such-and-such a date. A Senator objected "but you can't shut down without permission from the Interstate Commerce Commission." The official replied to the effect that if you can't meet your payroll you don't run. Many in Congress had no idea things had reached that stage. And a smooth, Madison Avenue-style presentation would probably have been counter-productive coming from a company in bankruptcy and running out of money -- almost as bad as flying to Washington in a corporate jet with a begging bowl in your hand!

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Re: Penn Central: The Movie (1974)

Post by jmp883 » Wed Jan 13, 2010 10:29 pm

ExCon90 wrote:
Exactly right -- the movie was filmed to show how bad things were, and many in Congress just didn't get it.
It's all hindsight now but I wonder if putting those segments in regarding their new and up-to-date facilities hurt PC more than it was intended to help them.

Even though I was only 10 in 1974 I was already a diehard railfan. I was born and grew up in Sayre, PA, spending many hours around the LV's Sayre Yard. I also lived in Clarks Summit, PA and would stand on the bridges over the EL mainline out of Scranton listening and watching the trains grind up the hill out of Scranton for Binghamton. Because of that I guess I saw the railroad world through rose-colored glasses back then. I was to find out in later years, after obtaining a fairly extensive railroad library in my house, that the railroad world in the early 1970's wasn't as good as I thought it was. This movie really shows the reality of those times.

Many thanks to Otto for posting this video.
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