Superman 1978

Warner Brothers

“More powerful than a locomotive!” I remember watching Superman in the theatre when it first came out. Great, fun film and quite a few train scenes to boot. It was a pleasure to get a copy on DVD then go back and research all the locomotive and train sets seen.

The movie would feature a GMD FP7, an EMD FL9 and 3 EMD SPD40F locomotives as well as a studio mockup of villain Lex Luthor’s (played by Gene Hackman) underground lair — done up as a flooded section of Grand Central Terminal in New York! It’s the late 1970’s, so there is plenty of pre-Superliner, “heritage” equipment to be seen.

Let’s take a trip on the Canadian Pacific, the New Haven and Santa Fe railroads, shall we? All Aboard!

The Kansas Star hurtles past the camera under a magnificent sky. This FP7-led passenger train would soon encounter a young Clark Kent racing alongside.

Our first train scene is 28 minutes into the movie. Substituting for Kansas are the prairies just outside Calgary, Alberta.


Rounding a slight curve comes a short passenger train. As the train pulls alongside, we get a good view of CP Rail #4037 and a CP express box car. Further back, a teen-aged Clark Kent (played by Jeff East) is running beside the two coaches.

Notice the big box on top of the F? That’s a winterization hatch — in deference to Canada’s brutal winters. Also — I remember seeing a silver box car just like that on The Canadian when we used to “race” it out of town from Vancouver, BC in the 1960’s.  (long story)

A little girl onboard spots Kent who gives her a friendly little wave.

Mommy! There’s a boy running beside the train! Mom is skeptical because they’re doing 50 mph or so. Hmmmm. Mom looks familiar…

The Adventures of Superman from 1952-1958! That’s right, the little girl’s mother is played by Noel Neill – who previous starred as Lois Lane in that 1950’s TV show.

One of the first TV shows to be filmed in color, it featured a beautiful clip of a gyralite-flashing A-B-B set of Daylight-scheme Southern Pacific EMD E7 units on the Sunset Limited.


Meanwhile, young Clark is gaining on the Star. He makes the turn towards the crossing…

The Railway Crossing crossbuck is a clue this is filmed in Canada (U.S. crossbucks would say “RailROAD” Crossing). Rising through the weeds, we get our first clear view of the nose of #4037. Filmmakers painted up the unit with a nice logo and name.

For comparison, here’s a picture of CP 4037 GMD FP7A in its original maroon/grey script-lettering taken just before filming started. Courtesy RRPictureArchives.net: Date: 4/11/1977, Location: London, ON CA, Collection Of Jack Smith.


Kids, don’t try this at home.  You’re not Superman.  According to IMDb Trivia, Jeff East nearly got hit by the unit until pulled back to safety by his stunt coordinator.

This scene finishes up with a very pleasant roll by of the entire consist through a wheat field. The train included: GMD FP7A locomotive, CP express box car, CP 3 door baggage car, CP 2 door baggage car, 2 smooth-side streamlined CP coaches.

The second train scene happens 58 minutes into the movie.

Overhead views of Grand Central Terminal in New York City.

Down at track level we find a New Haven “McGinnis Scheme” EMD FL9, a unique locomotive that could run on electric 3rd rail or with a diesel engine.

Here’s a view of NH No. 5048 taken 11/11/1978 at Poughkeepsie, NY by Bill Rogerson (via RRPictureArchives.net). That odd-shaped protrusion on top of the engine is a “Hancock Air Whistle”.

Welcome to my underground lair! Complete with swimming pool and lots of electronic gear, Luthor’s cave ALSO featured….

…a cheesecake interlude.  Miss Teschmacher!!


Valerie Perrine (rahr-RAHR!) played the villain’s moll, girl-gone-wrong bit to perfection — ultimately betraying old Lex — but that’s another story.

Back to the railroad stuff…

Our final train scene happens 2 hours (120 minutes) into the picture. We’re out west, somewhere along the AT&SF Railway.


Here comes the Southwest Limited! Led by three Amtrak SDP40F locomotives running elephant style, the train crosses a dry wash on a high bridge.

In a similar view of a couple SDP40F’s, we find the Southwest Limited at Garden City, KS. Photo taken June 16, 1979 by Charles Stookey via RRPictureArchives.net.

Bit of trivia, Santa Fe Railway at first wouldn’t let NRPC use the “Chief” name, because Amtrak’s service was so crappy. Finally they relented and Amtrak now calls it the Southwest Chief.

Whoa! There’s a huge washout in front of the train! The engineer (complete with stereotype pinstripe cap and overalls more suited to a steam locomotive) puts on the emergency brake.


The folks back in the dome car are getting thrown around from the sudden stop.

Notice that yin-yang logo at the front of the car? That means filmmakers used an ex-Northern Pacific Railway dome car for this onboard scene.


But not to worry, Superman (played by Christopher Reeve) is on the job. The man of steel bends the rail back into place and uses his body to make the roadbed passable. That’s using your head!


Our final train shots reveal most of the consist as follows:

SDP40F
SDP40F
SDP40F
baggage car
low level dormitory/transition car
High level ex-ATSF “El Capitan” coach
High level ex-ATSF “El Capitan” coach
High level ex-ATSF “El Capitan” coach
High level ex-ATSF “El Capitan” coach
Heritage sleeping car
Heritage sleeping car
ex-NP Vista Dome

Note that the former Santa Fe El Capitan high level cars were the inspiration for the new Superliners Amtrak would purchase in a few years for long-distance service.

The Amtrak equipment used in the film was probably whatever they had on hand in the Los Angeles coach yard. An actual passenger train of 1978 would not have low level sleepers coupled behind high level equipment as there would be no way to get between cars en route.

All Aboard!

Here’s what IMDb has to say about Superman:
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078346/

If you have ANY information about this movie you’d like to share, please contact me at: Lindsay.Korst@gmail.com, or leave a comment.  Thanks and enjoy the blog!

THE END

1 thought on “Superman 1978

  1. tigersmummy

    Christopher Reeve, still the BEST Superman, ever! I like how his backpack has “Smallville” stenciled/printed on it 😉

    Like

    Reply

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