‘Stand By Me’ is a classic, coming of age movie. The most famous scene involves a train and a bridge, and you can visit the location in real life, on a disused railway line in California.
You probably know the story; in 1950’s small town America, four early teens trek out into the forest when they hear that there’s a dead body out there. They have some half formed ideas about reporting the find to the authorities, and being rewarded, but really its just an excuse to take off.
They camp out overnight and tell each other stories and talk about girls.
It’s a classic story.
Among the film’s many well-known scenes, perhaps the most iconic is the bit on the bridge with the train:
RAILROAD BRIDGE – EXTERIOR - DAY
The boys have reached a long railroad bridge over a small river. They all glance at each other and then at the bridge, uncertain if they want to chance crossing it.
Vern: Any of you guys know when the next train is due?
Chris: We could go down to the Route 136 bridge.
Teddy: What, are you crazy? That's five miles down the river. You walk five miles down the river, you gotta walk five miles back. That could take 'til dark. If we go across here we can get to the same place in ten minutes.
Vern: Yeah, but if a train comes there's nowheres to go.
Teddy: No there isn't. We'll just jump.
Chris: Teddy, it's a hundred feet.
Vern: Yeah, Teddy.
Teddy: Look, you guys can go around if you want to. I'm crossing here. And while you guys are dragging your candy-asses halfway across the state and back, I'll be waiting for you on the other side, relaxing with my thoughts.
Gordie: You use your left hand or your right hand for that?
Following the train tracks towards their destination, the boys are confronted with an imposing railway bridge, over a steep drop. They have a choice to make; detour and find another, safer, bridge, or take their chances and cross where they are, and hope that a train doesn’t come.
Even before you have seen it, you know how this is going to play out: the boys will cross where they are, there's a slow build up of tension, nothing happens for a bit and then...
THE TRAIN! And a sudden mad dash scramble to get across the bridge and over to safety before they get flattened (watch it here). It's thrilling, and funny, and completely memorable.
‘Stand By Me’ was former actor Rob Reiner’s second film as director (after the classic 1984 comedy ‘This is Spinal Tap’).
Casting the teenage leads took some time, but eventually Reiner found four young actors he was happy with; a high quality ensemble that included future movie stars River Phoenix and Corey Feldman, and future TV stars Jerry O’Connell and Wil Wheaton.
Once casting was complete, Reiner took his actors on location to Oregon a few weeks before filming was due to start.
As well as rehearsing scenes, the group spent time just hanging out, or playing theatre games. This allowed realistic relationships to develop between the actors, which could then carry over into the movie.
The chemistry between the cast, handsome scenery, and perfect, sunny weather, made for a happy set:
‘It was like a summer vacation. It was really beautiful in Eugene, Oregon, we had great weather, and it was just a fun group of guys. We drove around a lot, and would go and hit the bars together. I can’t recall ever working like that since, actually.’
- Casey Siemaszko, who played 'Billy Tessio'
Although Reiner ratcheted up the intensity, when required.
While shooting the famous scene on the bridge, the director felt he was not getting enough fear and panic from O’Connell and Wheaton.
He reportedly yelled at them in an uncharacteristic fashion, questioning their abilities as actors, and then filmed another take immediately afterwards, when both boys were legitimately upset. This is take that made the final version of the film.
While most of ‘Stand By Me’ was shot in Oregon, the train scene itself was shot in California; on the McCloud River Railroad Bridge, in the Burney Falls State Park.
The railroad was established in 1897, as a private line to ferry lumber from the sawmill town of McCloud. Over the next twenty years, the line was expanded to connect other logging towns in the area, with the main rail line in Upton.
The Federal Government commandeered the line during World War I, with timber required as a war material, before returning it to private ownership in 1920. Further expansion of the line continued through the 1920s, as the logging industry in the area flourished.
But by the 1950s, the local industry began to contract again. Sawmills closed, and branch lines that serviced those areas followed suit. The principal line on the railroad continued, and survived past its 100th anniversary, but its eventual closure was only a matter of time.
Having changed hand several times, the private rail firm ‘Four Rails Inc.’ finally closed the railway altogether, in 2005. The tracks were removed, and the land put up for sale. It seemed likely that the railway, and surrounding woodland, would be sold for private development.
But there was a happy ending to the story.
Local non-profit organisations discovered the railways closure, and combined forces to try to acquire the railway corridor.
With funding from the National Parks Service, an 80 mile stretch of the former railroad was purchased in 2010, and was subsequently turned into a walking trail, ‘The Great Shasta Rail Trail.’
This continues operation to this day, and is a popular destination for hiking, camping and mountain biking.
The 'Stand By Me' Bridge is still in place, and looks much as it did in the movie.