Being a train buff, the 1976 movie Silver Streak has always been a favourite of mine and while I knew it was filmed in and around Alberta, I never really paid much attention to that aspect of it. Until recently that is when we manged to come across a DVD of it at the library. It had been at least a dozen years since I last viewed the movie.
After watching it carefully and by using nothing more than our detective skills we’ve manged to locate at least a dozen or more locations in the province where we could shoot a then and now series, all of them standing in for various places in the States.
For the first of these we venture down to Okotoks Alberta to see the train station seen in the movie, which still exists today. In the film it stood in the fictional town of Stavely, New Mexico, which I find hilarious. That state is quite arid in most places, very unlike this section of the province which has nothing but endless wheat fields.
The station seen in the movie is still with us and while modified somewhat it’s easily recognizable. The only major changes to it since the film, bedside being spruced up, is a small two story addition on the east side. One can assume that its for an elevator or stairway. The building is called the Station Cultural Centre and today houses the Okotoks Art Gallery.
Located on CPR’s north south secondary line travelling between Calgary and Lethbridge, this structure dates from 1929. There was an earlier station at the same site but it had burnt down the year prior and this one was built to replace it. This one stands out as being unique and this author has found no others on the CPR that match either its brick construction or its distinctive look. Most stations were built to specific plans that shared a common appearance and outside of major terminals, most were of wooden construction.
Typically, a two story train station like this housed a waiting room, a baggage and express room and ticket booth, all on the main floor. The upper part was likely accommodations for the station agent and his family. These operators not only sold train tickets, and they also coordinated freight car allocations for their area, inspected passing trains, managed express shipments along with numerous other duties. This kept them very busy. With advances in technology and changes in operating patterns, these local positions were over time eliminated.
I have been unable to confirm when passenger service ended on this line, although one source has quoted 1971. By then the train was probably a single railcar. After that service ended it’s likely our building was either empty and boarded up or used of other purposes likes storage. The scene from the movie shows the building intact but looking somewhat run down. In 1981 it was converted to its present use (it’s an arts and cultural centre) and it’s assumed at that time that side addition was added. Horribly ugly it absolutely ruins the pleasant lines of the building (IMO). It makes it look goofy and lopsided.
The track here, which dates way back to the 1890s, is along the CPR’s MacLeod subdivision and sees many freight trains per day.
The grain elevator behind is of course long gone and I have been unable to identify its lineage. I know there were at one time at least two commercial elevators here, but which one this one was and when it was torn down is not known. There was a third elevator down the tracks, a small seed cleaning plant, which burnt down recently.
The locomotive seen in the then image is CPR 4070, a GMDD model FP7a, thinly designed for the fictional passenger carrier “AmRoad”. It was built at the General Motors Diesel Division locomotive factory in London Ontario in 1952. A passenger engine (geared for fast service and with a heating plant for passenger cars), it was later sold to the Montreal commuter service (originally called CTCUM). In 2003 the much travelled locomotive was again sold to the Quebec Central railway, which I assume planned to use it or did use for their tourist trains. At some point, the engine was set aside and while it exists today in Quebec, it is not operational.
Seen across the street from the station there are two old buildings that really complete the scene. They appear very original, and one has two very interesting ghost signs.
The movie Silver Streak starred Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. From a railway standpoint the movie is full of technical errors (something only a train buff would spot), but it’s still great fun. In the scene involving this station, Gene Wilder’s character is seen running for this train after he was earlier thrown off it.
At the time of filming Okotoks was a quaint little farming centre. Today however it’s booming bedroom community and the old part of town has been swallowed up by urban sprawl. One thing has remained constant though, characters similar to the two “good-ol-boy” extras seen with the pickup truck could easily be found on the streets of Okotoks today. Big trucks rule (the bigger the better – even if they are only grocery getters) and cowboy hats are still a common headgear.
In addition to Okotoks, the movie Silver Streak was filmed in Calgary, High River, Carmanygay, Lethbridge, near Cowley, in the Crowsnest Pass, somewhere near Drumheller, and in the southeastern part of BC near the Alberta border. As time permits, we will try to duplicate all of these (quite a project).
I am curious about that single bush seen to the left of the station in the now image. Is it also seen in the then picture, and is it a holdout from that row of similar looking plants?
Images from the movie are copyright 20th Century Fox. Thanks to Joshua Soles for helping me identify this building.
To see other Silver Streak then and now shots taken in Calgary, follow these links…
Silver Streak movie then and now – boarded up train station.
Silver Streak movie then and now – bridge jump.
Silver Streak movie then and now – cop chase.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date: February, 2013.
Location: Calgary, AB.