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Railroad has long history of 'roles' in movie industry

Railroad hs long history of 'roles' in movie industry

The inclusion of the Rahway Valley Railroad in a feature movie episode filmed this summer recalls its "roles" in early day films made here three generations ago.

In the infant years of the movie industry, filmmakers used the line as a location for outdoor thrillers. The initial filmes with story lines were developing as an entertainment medium in the first decade of the century after Thomas Edison's perfection of a projection on a screen developed in 1895 by Lumiere brothers in Frances (coincidentally, the first sample scenes created in Paris included a train arriving at a station).

At that time the little U.S. industry was headquartered largely in Bergen County, around Fort Lee, and used locations in this area.

Paradoxically, the remake of "Brewster's Millions" this year includes setting in North Jersey, and the producer sounded out Bernard Cahill, president of the Boulevard-based rail line, for help. He obliged and the Rahway Valley will be included.

The screenplay includes a baseball game in Hackensack. Universal Studios found a field in Paterson with a railroad running through it and scheduled a September shoot with star Richard Pryor. But the schedule changed and the studio built its own railroad line through a San Fernando Valley playing field.

Thus the railroad and its insignia went to the set and the actors this time. In the old days the actors and cameramen came here.

In his booklet titled "Saga of a Shortline" prepared for the 1976 bicentennial, the late John J. McCoy, of the Kenilworth Historical Society related that movie makers rented horses from a nearby livery stable and train crews were enlisted for productions of what were called two and three "reelers." In those days the Rahway lugged passenger as well as freight cars, so variable plots and settings counld be employed.

The railroaders received a dollar a day bonus plus free beer and lunch from the production companies, which included Edison's Biograph and Esanay firms. The epics created on the line in those days included "The Switchman's Daughter" and the "Midnight Flyer." One called "The Engineer's Sweetheart" was said to have been made here, too.

The railroad "extra" duty lasted several years. McCoy reported that the filmmaking ended when a movie technician accidentally blew up a shack along the right out way, sending four actors to a hospital in Elizabeth.

Many years later a dispute developed over the contention of some local hisorians that "The Great Train Robbery," the nation's first commercial motion picture with a plot, was made here. It was filmed in 1903. Edison Lab officials said the train scenes were made near Paterson and some outdoor shots in the South Mountain Reservation. An imitation version was made on the Reading Railroad.

There's another paradox in the 1984-85 Brewster's Millions shoot.

The Rahway Valley had origins in the New York and New Orange (Kenilworth was originally developed under the name of New Orange) which received its charter in 1897 to build from Aldene in Roselle Park north to Orange. This began the formation of the vital "short line" linkage between the Central Railroad of New Jersey and the Lackwanna, which took a third of a century to accomplish.

Seven years later, in 1904; the line ran into financial difficulties and was reorganized as the Rahway Valley. The new president was Louis Keller, who while extending the line to his hometown of Summit added a station near the Baltusrol Golf Club. His golfing friends referred to the line as "Keller's Baltusrol & Pacific." Today's Rahway Valley cars are making it to the Pacific figuratively, in the film world, and literally, carrying freight.

The early trunk lines have been absorbed by Conrail but the Rahway Valley's 13.4 miles of trackage, dozen employees, two locomotives, and 75 cars provide vital connections between industrial firms and markets, making the railroad unique as one of the few remaining successful short lines in the state.

'Wild West route' in Kenilworth

In the heyday of making serial film thrillers, wrote John T. Cunningham, much film was expended on the Rahway Valley Railroad line. "For months the line was turned into a Wild West route," he said, "with appropriate shooting and stomping up and down the road/"

"The climax came on day when the film folk were mixing film chemicals in a shack near Kenilworth. They mixed neither wisely nor well and the mixture exploded. Four actors went to the hospital, every window was smashed in the Kenilworth station and moviemaking ended forever on the Rahway Valley..."

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