Bob Dylan wrote a song, titled; “It takes a lot to laugh, but it takes a train to cry.” I pondered that for some time, before I understood what he meant.
I’ll bet Stan Garner knew what Dylan meant much sooner. Garner is a lover of trains, from childhood to the present day.
It drove him so much that he changed careers halfway through life. No longer a computer engineer and consultant, he became an owner of trains for special occasions and movie rentals. But that’s putting the caboose before the engine.
When he had an opportunity in 1968 to purchase a small engine and a quarter-mile of track on the Cucamonga Spur of the Sante Fe railroad he leapt at the opportunity. It was a small, 1891 steam engine, only 10 tons. Nothing to sneeze at, but still a train engine. Garner needed some cars to pull, hmm.
He discovered that Paramount had a back lot of trains. He called.
Nothing on the market just then, but Jerry Cook, vice-president of studio operations and former property assistant to C. B. DeMille said he would keep in touch and if anything came up, he’d give Garner a call. Cook kept up a correspondence with Garner and let him know that in 1970 MGM was selling off its back lots and property.
Property taxes were getting high and the studio needed cash. They held an auction for a flat car and a coach. The flat car was a Western Pacific and Garner purchased it through negotiations and rental agreements.
In September of 1971, Cook called and informed Garner they were selling everything — 27 railroad cars, most of them 19th century cars. Bob Shelton, of Old Tucson, bought the lot and then sold five cars to Garner. Now he had 10 cars, but needed a bigger engine.
Garner called Bernie Parson at 20th Century Fox in late 1971. Fox had decided to sell everything it had including an engine, 17 cars and one-third of a mile of track. Garner turned around and sold what he didn’t need.
With a new partner he went into a part-time movie business; renting out the cars and engines for use in the movies.
Working with real trains, isn’t the same as playing with models. Getting trains to locations, passing constant government inspections, refurbishing cars and moving them around the country, can be a full-time job, not to mention expensive.
Garner’s real job as a computer engineer and consultant was taking a strong hit from his part-time occupation as a railroad engineer. He needed to make a choice. Garner became a full-time renter of trains to movie studios and any other group or organization who needed a train for a special occasion. Best choice he ever made, he said.
One memorable experience was a trip from Los Angeles to New Orleans. It was a jazz music trip and went through Phoenix and Texas to the jazz capital of America. Garner said it was a trip most ordinary people would never have the opportunity to experience.
As always, there is a hitch with owning trains.
The annual upkeep is expensive. Cars need constant safety inspections, parts need replacement, interiors need to be re-done, exteriors need care and they must be Amtrak approved. Amtrak has stringent rules before cars can be moved with their trains. Did I mention one needs to find trains to hook up with to move these cars around?
You almost need to be a computer engineer to figure out how to get from here to there riding the rails.
Nationwide 135 cars are privately owned, spread across the country from California to Rhode Island.
Managing multiple cars eventually became too much work, so Garner sold off most of his cars, leaving him just one to enjoy.
Because Amtrak runs on paper, it takes a month of planning to set up trips. Garner has redefined his role as a train handler several times and currently rents one car to movie studios, companies, organizations and people with an inclination for trains and riding the rails.
When a movie studio calls with a bid, Garner gathers the information, lays out the plans and presents a budget for the bid.
Garner is a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and has been in several movies, usually as a conductor, engineer or brakeman. He has worked on the television series “Quantum Leap,” “Super Dave Osbourne,” the movie “Iron Will” and other projects.
Many of the movies he has worked on were in and around Los Angeles. But most studios don’t work there anymore, due to the cost of producing a movie in California.
Filmmakers face too many restrictions from too many quarters for a studio to make money on big budget films. Now that’s irony. The movie capital of the world, and it costs too much money to make movies there.
Which brings us back to Bob Dylan and Stan Garner.
To laugh, one needs a joke; which requires a set-up (story or visual) and, a punch line. Ah, but to cry; one needs to be committed to a goal or cause, or an idea or person one cares about a great deal and then have a period of struggle that leads to triumph or failure, and then tears (of sadness or joy).
So, you see, Stan Garner has ridden the rails, switched the tracks, heard that lonesome whistle blow and knows what it means to cry for trains.