January 2010 Article

This Month's Article - January 2010
"Fairville" and the movie "Virginia" -
The Nelson & Albemarle / C&O Connection
Recently, I was reading a new book acquisition, "Appalachian Conquest: C&O, N&W, Virginian, and Clinchfield Cross the Mountains" (ISBN-13 978-1883089795) relased by TLC Publishing in conjunction with the C&O Historical Society in 2002 that held an interesting storyline on the Nelson & Albemarle and the fabled use of the Esmont depot for a set of scenes in the movie, "Virginia" (1941).  As luck would have it, the fictional town of "Fairville" was recreated elsewhere - evidently with much dismay according to reports on the reactions of local people in Esmont noted in various books.  However, it is part of my own family history that the movie crew ended up in Howardsville and that my Grandmother & Grandfather (on my Father's side) were both extras that appeared on the station platform behind Fred MacMurray (holding his movie-daughter, Carolyn Lee in his arms) in scenes that included the arrival of the Nelson & Albemarle train on the C&O James River Line at the Howardsville depot.  (My other Grandfather, my Mother's father, was Section Gang Foreman for the C&O in Howardsville, and while not where the camera was ever trained on him, he was likely present in his official capacity).  Now, the Howardsville depot wasn't really gussied up for the occaision, but it did have a new, albeit temporary name, "Fairville" and I've included a photo in the Image Repository by that name that shows some of the movie crew out in front of the station.  I've got little comment on the actual movie itself, except that it bore some resemblance to another movie of that period.  "Viriginia" has it's best moments (in my opinion) not only when my Grandparents are on camera, but also when the Nelson & Albemarle train comes into view and I hear that whistle blowing.  This movie is somewhat available (in a less-than-good-quality copy on DVD) from http://classicreels.com/product_info.php?roducts_id=46 for $10 + shipping.  It's listed in Black & White now, but there were older copies in color on DVD, so if you want a color copy, look for it on iOffer or eBay.  It's also available (in Color) from http://www.ashfaultsclassicmovies.com/virginia41.html for $14.99 plus $5.00 media mail shipping.  There was much talk about the filming in the 1963 publication of Steam Locomotive & Railroad Tradition (May issue, #13-14) when H. Reid mentioned it in his feature article, "An Upcountry Romance: A reminiscence of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway".  Evidently, this was considered an afront to the good people of not only Esmont and many citizens of the area, but also the Nelson & Albemarle crew that ended up being replaced with C&O counterparts.  It seems in any publication commenting on the movie filming, there is a lot of speculation over the locomotive and cars used to serve this unique opportunity.    So, I took my first color copy of the film and spent some time breaking down the original movie and lighting so that I could lighten the background and hopefully get a clear picture of the engine and coach arriving at the station.  Now, I've recently stated that engine 11 (a 2-4-2T) had lettering that matched that seen in the movie as shown in some photographs.  But, after spending a lot of time with the movie, it is obvious that the locomotive that arrived was #9 and by using stop action on the movie, I was able to tell this when the scene turned to a conversation with the engineer just after arrival.  The lettering for Nelson & Albemarle Railway is nice and bright on both the engine and the boxcar behind it.  The number 9 on the cab side underneath the window is faded and also matches the font/style used by the builder (as seen in the builder's photograph used in this site's logo).  So, #9 - the 2-6-2T primary engine of the era, was used for this starring move role.  I also saw where Eugene Huddleston, author of the Appalachian Conquest, believed that a "doodlebug" might have been used as a replacement for the combine.  That's really hard to tell in the movie scenes as these copies are quite dark.  I've asked my video editor brother to break down the scenes for me with his AVID production-editing equipment, so we will know the answer soon.  What I can tell is that mail bags were thrown off the train by a baggage door (either a combine or doodlebug would have that) and that the arrival of Miss Dunterry was off the rear steps which could be either the combine or the doodlebug and no one could really tell the difference in the manner in which this was portrayed and used in the filming.  Guess I'll have to wait for my brother's efforts to show more detail and possibly which car was used in this scene.  But with a little luck from my new fine-detail monitor, I've been able to notice one thing that didn't stand out before.  And it related to my preparations for the October 2009 Article as I reviewed photographs from the California State Railroad Museum.  It turns out the arrangement of wall, baggage door, wall, windows and stove pipe stack align to the photos taken by Charles Clegg in January 1946 - 5 & 1/2 years later of the combine used in day-to-day service.  So it appears that this may be the same combine used with a boxcar that had a wider opening and no door (2x4's appear to be the only blocking to keep a large boxed-soapstone piece from shifting out of the car).  Engine # 9 was the primary locomotive for the N&A in 1940's Nelson & Albemarle counties and having it taken up with a day of filming must have put a crimp in the normal operations that most trains adhere to on a very accurate schedule.      I frequently enjoy these types of mysteries as they require some investigation and discussion among friends and fellow fans of the N&A.  It appears that the normal train of the day was used for filming with no substitutions!   It's also been 70 years since this scene was shot and while there likely are still certain families upset at the change of venue, it's only lucky that we have a slice of life to savor in the beginning 3 and 1/2 minutes of the film showing Howardsville as it was in 1940 near the Nelson & Albemarle county line. 
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