One of many “actualities” from the beginning of the twentieth century that offered to show America to Americans and the world, this movie reflects a rare opportunity to see the West in the movies before fantasy took over. Much longer than movies of only a few years ago, it remains simple in terms of technique and set up.
The camera rushes along a mountain rail line, seeming to soar over forests and rivers, following the track across high bridges and below towering peaks. After a short distance, the train itself comes into view as it proceeds around a bend in the track. We can see the caboose, suggesting that the platform the camera is mounted upon is attached by a cable perhaps ten feet or more long, allowing a complete view of the train under certain circumstances. Seemingly all of the passengers in the rear cars are waving white handkerchiefs out the windows on the left side of the train, waving, as it were, at the audience. A conductor stands on the back of the final car and is especially vigorous and visible in his waving. Even when the passengers seem to tire of it, or when he has to lean dangerously far off the side to be seen, he keeps waving. At one point, the train goes underneath a trestle bridge while another train passes above, but the camera remains focused on the wavers. The terrain becomes rocky, the train barely missing boulders that have been blasted out to make way for the track, and the conductor is now hanging off the side in what seems a decidedly perilous manner as we go by a rail worker standing by the side of the tracks. Now a mountain village becomes visible, as the camera turns to pay more attention to the surroundings than the train. Houses loom up and we roll past warehouses and other commercial buildings. A church spire is visible in the distance. Still, whenever the train turns, we see the passengers endlessly waving, right up to the end of the film.
It’s interesting that someone thought seeing Coloradans wave would be more interesting than just looking out at a vista of Colorado. This may have been done to add “human interest,” or it may have been calculated to give the audience something more to focus on than just the scenery, which is all you usually get in a “panorama” film like this. It’s especially surprising to a modern audience when we glimpse the second train on the bridge above, only to lose sight of it and stay focused on the wavers. I suspect this is because the tripods used at the time didn’t allow for enough “tilt” to keep it in view as the train went underneath. The conductor seems to have been especially dedicated to the waving principle, we can sometimes see him glance over his shoulder to make sure he’s not the only one waving. His uniform is distinctive and similar to what would be seen in later years; we also see a woman in a heavy, non-revealing outfit with a large hat, pretty much the style in 1903.
Run Time: 3 Min
You can watch it for free: here (no music)