I was working on the set of a movie.  The director wanted a shot of two men on horseback galloping alongside a speeding train.  Unfortunately, the locomotive’s engine lay on its side derailed in a clearing about a quarter of a mile down the track.  A bunch of us had to go out there and see if we could get the train upright again.  The mud was thick around the train where it lay, and we had no equipment to hoist it up.  We stared at the daunting task under the broiling sun.  We scowled and spit and a few suggestions were made, but finally it was decided that there was nothing to do but just put our backs into it.

Some of us got under it, and some of us behind it, and we heaved it up with all our strength.  The guy next to me got all red in the face, his cheeks bulging and his jaw tight.  The engine seemed irretrievably fixed in the mud, but with one mighty effort that extended beyond all our limits, we managed to dislodge it.  We all grunted as we felt it begin to give way.  Some of the guys slipped about in the slop as we got the engine up over our heads.  Others tried to brace the side of the engine with wooden posts as the rest of us held it up, but the posts couldn’t get a firm hold anywhere in the loose mud.

Finally we had it up and almost back onto the track.  But that’s when the accident happened.  One of the guys on the crew was bracing his boot against the steel rail as he put all of his weight into lifting the engine.  He was focused on hefting the engine, watching in case it began to slip from our grasp, rather than being mindful of where he placed his feet.  One of the train’s wheels came down right where he had his boot.  The whole weight of the train came right down on his foot and snipped it in half like a twig.  He didn’t even cry out, but I could see the look on his face, shocked and sickened and gone completely pale from the pain.

The director came riding up in a white convertible, standing and raising his head up over the windshield and gripping his white Panama hat with one hand and shouting questions about what we were doing even before his driver had pulled up and stopped.  Some of the crew stood around and stared at the severed stump of the injured man’s foot in disbelief.  Others, more mindful of the man’s pain, took an arm around each shoulder and helped him up.  The director yelled at the driver to shut off the car so that he wouldn’t have to keep shouting over it.  The men bearing the injured man just glared at the director, like they were thinking about killing him.

We all went to see the injured man after he got out of the hospital.  He had a house on the open prairie.  They had given him a cane to walk with, and after he greeted us at the door, he hobbled over to his chair and sat down.  We’d all heard that he wouldn’t be able to find work now.  He sat there brooding.  A train let out a whistle far off somewhere, and I saw him wince at the sound.


9 thoughts on “Derailed

  1. This is the kind of thing that would happen in a film by Werner Herzog, a film about the making of a film, in which the part of the director is played by Klaus Kinski, and Herzog himself as the surgeon who fits a bionic foot on the injured actor and then plots with him a mutiny and ultimately a coup, forcing the director into a path of humiliation, script changes and ultimate redemption.

    A bit like Herzog's film Fitzcarraldo, in fact.


  2. Wow. You know what's funny? I had heard in passing of a Herzog film about moving a ship across land, and I was even reminded of it with this business of the crew lifting the locomotive. But I didn't know the name of it or anything else about it. Then I highlighted the title you provided and did a Google search, and there's Klaus Kinski dressed EXACTLY like my director, and he even is a director.

    Strange. Maybe at some point I was exposed to more information about this movie than I consciously remember.


  3. Ok, so when you read Margaret Boden's book, check out the references to Livingstone Lowes, who wrote a book on the ways Coleridge was unconsciously influenced when he wrote Kubla Khan & The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.


  4. Right. You're picturing the workers (by implication) spattered with mud from lifting the train (maybe blood too from the accident.) Then this asshole comes riding up in a white car dressed in a white suit.


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