Here is a wonderful short documentary done in 1959, logged in the National Film Board of Canada, documenting a small window panning across the middle of the last days of steam locomotive dominance in Canada in the late 50s to early 60s.
By 1960, all but preserved tourist locomotives were gone in the United States. But in Canada, a few steam locomotives were in service in the 60s.
In the UK and most of Europe and Japan, a few mainline steam trains were operating through the 60s and into the early to mid-70s. It is also true that in North America, trains in general, were becoming less important as the automobile and airline industries worked hard to push the railroad out of public consciousness (and did not succeed in many ways).
In Europe and Japan, for instance, the railroads have continued to play a major role. The nostalgic emotions for steam locomotives are still a major aspect of most cultures around the world. This beautiful documentary uses interviews and the lives of those who had worked intimately with steam trains, to portray loss, change, and the contradictions of the passing of steam locomotives into the category of ‘relic.’ However, train travel in North America is again on the rise. The railroads also understand the steam locomotive to be strong central figures in the bedrock of most modern societies and reminders of colonial and imperial might and industrial-technological advancement and and nation-building itself. The steam locomotive will most likely not go away from human consciousness completely.
This documentary is certainly worth a quiet 30 minutes of our time with a hot drink along with our deepest connections to our histories and where we are headed as humans.
End of the Line by Terence Macartney-Filgate, 30 minutes, 1959.
This is a superb short film for any steam and/or railroad fan or historian/anthropologist.
57 Irish workers who were hired from Ireland to help build some of the first tracks for the Pennsylvania Railroad, were buried in mass graves by the rail site. These people were virtually unknown and forgotten until a group of scientists uncovered mysteries that did not quite fit the silence or the known stories of death by cholera.
Railroads are built by sweat and blood. Industrialization was not only about bigger and better opportunities, but were also about the social relations and death that ‘bigger and better’ brings about.
The story of the Irish people in general, along with others in the histories of Europe and in the United States, must be told over and over, to understand all that we have and don’t have.
On PBS on Wednesday May 8, at 10:00 Eastern Standard Time, PBS will air another documentary/movie on this topic.
For more information on Duffy’s Cut, please visit:
New York Times article March 24, 2013
Duffy’s Cut Project website
They can also be followed on Facebook here.
Some of the most beautiful scenes of vintage European steam in film were crafted in French filmmaker Jean Renoir’s 1938 film entitled La Bête humaine (English: The Human Beast; and in the UK released also as Judas Was a Woman).
The film centers on an express train engineer who discovers his wife was seduced by a wealthy godfather and plots their murder. This murder is witnessed by a co-railway worker. The plot complexifies further with the ramifications of this murderous path.
The express steam train pulled by French steam type 231 plays a major star role in the movie throughout, representing and symbolizing the human journeys, with beautiful photography and atmosphere.
Read more here:
Here are some clips: