Our small corner of Northeast Georgia has surprisingly been the filming site of several movies, as far back as the 1950s. In this month’s episode, we feature oral histories from local folk who have dealt with the movie industry–from loading train cars in “The Great Locomotive Chase” to restoring appliances for “Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” Check out our recommend movie list below to watch some of the movies made here in Rabun County! Want to hear more first-hand accounts? Check out The Foxfire Book of Simple Living. We apologize for the white noise in some of these interviews! Please check out the transcripts below if you have a hard time understanding.
Select Movies Made in Rabun County, Georgia:
- “The Great Locomotive Chase” (1956)
- “Deliverance” (1972)
- “Foxfire” (1987)
- “Trouble with the Curve” (2012)
- “Christmas on the Range” (2019)
- “Hillbilly Elegy” (2020)
- “Blue Ridge” (2020)
FF: Well, tell me what you remember when they’s making the movie?
JE: Yeah, they had people was there where Keller’s furniture is, they was making that movie–Walt Disney. They told me just to stand there and be an onlooker, right in front of the depot when the train come in. Watch people get on and off the train when it comes in. We was standing there and Fess Parker, he was taller than me, you know, Ken Cobin–one of the movie stars–was to the left of me. Fess Parker, he looked up to the sky, you know, and he said, “It’s a’cloudin’ over.” He looked down at me and said, “You think it’s gonna rain?” And I looked up at the sky and looked at him, I said, “It might could rain. It rains one minute and shines the next.” That’s what I had to say.
Well there was a lot of people standin’ round the depot–women, men, just onlookers, you know, come to see that movie.
FF: Didn’t you say you had another part in it too? You had two parts in the movie?
JE: Well, I was a stand-by one day. Didn’t have to do anything, they usually don’t. I rode with them up–somewhere up in North Carolina on the train. The Old General, I think it was, that they used in the movie. They give me my wardrobe clothes. I remember my hat strings, or watch chain I believe it was. Had a big ol’ watch.
FF: I was gonna say, do you remember any of the other actors that was in it? Fess Parker, and–
JE: Well, Jeffrey Hunter was in it. He was one of the leadin’ movie stars, like Fess Parker. And I had a picture–it’s in the newspaper somewhere, and I don’t know where it is. They took a picture of me; I think I was smoking an ol’ cob pipe there. And I made one cob pipe for the engineer on that train. He wanted one, he wanted one that was brand new, never been fired up, you know. Never had tobacco, been smoked. And I made him one. He paid me something to make it.
FF: How long were the movie people around?
JE: I think they was here about two or three weeks, as well as I remember. They was here a good while. ? Watts, he was in the movie and Luther Watts. They each one worked about seven days; they was just stand-bys, you know, in case they needed them in the movie. They never did have to be in the movie; they didn’t put them in. I think they got ten dollars a day as a stand-by.
FF: Do you remember watchin’ them when they made that movie?
EP: Oh Lord, I went every day. My husband played in it.
FF: What was his name?
EP: Bob Parker. I got his picture settin’ up there now. Yeah, he come down up there and that movie (?) had a bunch that come right out here, right above Dillard. Through there, way up high, the train did. And up there, Bob was the leader of the army. He had on a Confederate suit. And he was leadin’ the army, but he was after Fess Parker; trying to catch him. And they come on up there, right up there about where the road turned off into that feller’s fish pond, or somewhere long down in there. Bob said he caught the movie star. They went down through there in horse, he was just young then, and boy, he would run. And Bob said he jumped that whole street yard they used to have, the railroad track–he went across that and run around out there on the hill and Fess Parker stopped him. He liked to cause–the man he was runnin’ from; he was after him. And my Lord, I seen all them. But you know that movie, honey, when it come out and showed ‘em–now if you can find it, it’s somewhere or another. Somebody’s got it stuck back somewhere or another. It’s a picture made of all these places of Rabun County. And the last time I heerd of it, it was here in town; they kept passin’ it around. It was still new when the Rabun Mill come in here, because they added on to it. It’s on the tail end of it. And me and Bob was ridin’ up, the horses, ridin’ that lane that day. Most of us was ridin’ in the lane, it was beautiful then–the pine trees. And we was ridin’–that’s in that movie.
FF: Is it?
EP: But this was “The Great Locomotive Chase” that they made and they made that here in town. They did have it throwed up on the streets, the street numbers and things. And we give three hundred dollars to have that thing made.
FF: Did you ever get to talk to Fess Parker?
FF: Did you ever get to talk to Fess Parker? Did you ever talk to him?
EP: Lord, yes.
FF: You did?
EP: When I went to town to see him, this is what he said to me the first time he seen me. When I went to town, Fess come in this way. And Bob come from Blue Ridge somewhere; they was on a truck. And they went on in to town, and when I got to go to town, you know they used to have that old jailhouse on the street. You can’t remember that though, I don’t guess. And the women, if you didn’t wear a bonnet or somethin’ to town, they’d catch ya and put you in jail and then somebody had to come on out and pay, you know, that’s the way they made their money. It was a log jail that they had out there on the street. Oh, we used to have real times. And now it just gone to nothing. Foxfire’s trying to keep these things alive, but it’s not what it used to be.
DB: My name is Douglas Bleckley. I was born in Rabun County, May the 30th, 1942. And I was in “The Great Locomotive Chase” which was filmed in Rabun County, 1955 and 56. ‘56 I went to California and finished filmin’ in Disney’s studio. The story was a true Civil War story, which took place in the South during the Civil War.
FF: It was up to Tennessee wasn’t it?
DB: Yeah, it was from Atlanta to Chattanooga, Tennessee is where all this took place during March during the war. And it was filmed on the old TF–Tallulah Falls railroad, which was about as good a thing as they could get close to back then on the railroad system. They had the old steam engine that ran from Clayton, or Cornelia, to Franklin, North Carolina. Most of it was filmed at Tallulah Falls, back into Franklin. And most of it was, the scenes were in North Carolina, where the fightin’ and all the horseback ridin’ and stuff was done. When I was, when they were here scoutin’ for people to be in it, I was workin’ in the old cafe, called The Picnic, there in town. I was eleven-year old at the time. And they came in and got to talkin’ to me, and asked me if I’d be interested in bein’ in the movie. So I didn’t know anything, I came home and asked my mother. She had to give it a lot of thought before she would let me, and think about lettin’ me be in the movie. People kept encouragin’ her, so she decided she would let me be in it. They come back in the Picnic and asked me for an interview at the Clayton Hotel, which is the Old Clayton Inn now. And they signed me a part and tell me to let my hair grow out and everything, and they’d get back in contact with me. During that time, they went back to California and they came back to get ready to shoot the movie. They talked with me again and gave me another part than what they signed me and the first part they wanted me to play. From then on, it was on scene. They, I was in school then. Schooling had already started. That was, they had me a tutor on the scene, on the set where they were shootin’. They get ready to shoot a scene, I’d just have to leave the classroom to go out for that. They filmed then, which took, I hear, I don’t recall just how long they stayed here and then I went out to California to the studio to finish filming “The Great Locomotive Chase” out there. And then a year later, in the fall of the next year, ‘56, I went back out there for advertisement. I was on the Mouseketeers for a week series out there and advertising “The Great Locomotive Chase.”
FF: Do you remember exactly what Clayton looked like when they was making the movie?
DB: Yeah, it’s changed a great deal. At the time, when they were filming “The Great Locomotive Chase,” it was just, it was a boomin’ place. Filmin’ the movie, and they put a lot of people to work that hadn’t never been, hadn’t worked, or had a public job or anything, worked carpenters. Anyway, they had things for them to do–buildin’ the props and things for the movie. And I’d say at that time, that was the most money that was ever in Rabun County, was brought in here by that movie. Then, there wasn’t any textile plants here. The only thing here then was the shirt factory. And most people that worked there was women. And there was just a lot of work–a lot of money involved. They weren’t tight with people; they really spent the money.
FF: Can you tell me what your character’s name was, the one you played?
DB: The one I played was Henry Haney. I was a fireman on the Texan. And I only had a few lines to say. One was talkin’ to Slim Pickens–he played the part of Mr. Bracken, engineer on the train. And it was, “Here’s your coffee, Mr. Bracken.” And the other line was to Jeff Hunter, who’s dead now, and it was, “I’ll fire for you Mr. Fuller.” He played the part of–I can’t remember Fuller, he was somethin’ in the army. (Check out 00:23 in this clip from the movie to see Doug!)
FF: You said that Walt Disney and all them were nice?
DB: They were real nice. Yeah, I met Disney and he talked to me and all the directors and all the other stars–Fess Park, all them, they were real good. They were just plain, down to earth people.
FF: Was the most dangerous part about bein’ on the trestles and stuff?
DB: Yeah, we had to shoot scenes–in the movies, we had to catch a runaway box car with the engine, and we had to catch it right on the trestle. And them old wooden trestles, they just vibrate and wobble and the train would jump up and down. That was a pretty scary part. Had to do that several times to get the shot right, by catchin’ the runaway box car. Tryin’ to block us off. And that was the most frightening thing. It was dangerous, probably. Them high trestles, wooden trestles.
It was an experience for my whole family, really. That was, we’ve never been no high life, too much except for that thing.
FF: You said you were one of nine children?
DB: Uh-huh. I was one out of the nine.
FF: What’d they think about it?
DB: Well, at the time, they, when they was filmin’ and got to me because of Disney, momma got a letter from Disney askin’ if we’d move to California, they’d put me under contract. But at the time, there was still six of us at home and my dad had only been dead a year, so she wouldn’t hear of that, so all that blew over.
FR: Way back when I worked for Roosevelt Coffee in the gradin’ business, Walt Disney come in here and made “The Great Locomotive Chase.” Well then, I was the go-between between the mountain people and the movie people, and Walt Disney got me to go around and get the mountain people to take the board roofs off their houses. We didn’t have cedar shakes then like we got now, and I got people to let me take those board roofs off their house and then I put them a new tin roof or asphalt roof back in place of that. Well then Walt Disney got to watchin’ me work around that and finally when the trains come bring the truck–when the little TF railroad was still a thing here then, and when it come to bring the locomotives in from California, they had loaded them in California on railroad cars, but they had to lay railroad track up on them flat cars because the locomotives were so heavy, they’d’ve pushed through the floor. And they laid up track, railroad track, up on top of the cars so they wouldn’t push through the floor. Well then, when they come in here to make it, the man that was supposed to look after gettin’ them things unloaded, he didn’t do his homework. And then when the train come in there, me and Walt Disney was standin’ up there at the old depot, two or three more, and we could hear the little ol’ train a’comin’, pullin’ them, and it was a’chuggin’ along. Walt Disney looked over at me and he said, “Frank,” said–you know, he first looked at the man that was supposed to do it, and the man turned plumb green because he overlooked that, and there wasn’t nothin’ here big enough to pick up a locomotive that weighs 200 tons. And so, I felt sorry. I heerd this and I heard the man that was supposed to it, he just turned every color in the rainbow. Well that’s the only time I seen Walt Disney lose his cool. And he got excited because they decided that they wanted to take ‘em back to Atlanta and let two railroad cranes set ‘em off on the tracks.
Well, I was just an old punk boy and I was standin’ there, and I felt sorry for that man that hadn’t done his homework. So I said to him, “I can unload them things.” He said, “Shh, shh, don’t let Walt Disney hear you say that.” He said, “These locomotives is his pets.” And he said, “If you was to scratch one of ‘em, he’d have a heart attack.” I said, “I don’t care, I can unload them safer than you can, takin’ ‘em back to Atlanta.” Well Walt Disney didn’t want ‘em–since they was fine antiques–he didn’t want ‘em drove to Atlanta and unloaded and then drive ‘em plumb back. And then that’s when I said I could unload ‘em. So Walt Disney overheard me talkin’ to that old boy, and he said, “Frank, did you say you could unload ‘em?” And I said, “Yes, sir.” He said, “Just how would you do that?” He said, “They weigh 200 tons.”
I said, “Well, I’ll go up here on the railroad track and wherever we’ve got a side track, I’ll take up about 100 foot of railroad track and I’ll take my front end loader and move that track over out of the way. And then I’ll start ramping down, and then I’ll lay the track back in there, and then I’ll roll that flat car down in there and it’ll, then I can roll the locomotives right off on the line out through there.”
And he says, “Can you do that?” And I said, “Yes, sir.” And he said, “You’ve got yourself a deal.” Well from then on, he didn’t listen to nobody else. He just listen to me and I done everything he had to do. Well then in about a week, I had Lincoln Webb. And Lincoln Webb had worked with me and for me, and Lincoln would do anything I told him. Well these movie people, ‘cause they all act like they’re specialists–maybe this one would do one thing, which this one thing is all they can do. And we was doing everything.
When I got all that stuff for them to work with for the movies and everything, then one day, he eased around to me and he said, “Frank,” he said, “I’ve found out, I’ve talked to the local people and I’ve found out what they thing about you around here.” And he said, “I don’t want to start no trouble, but I want you to go to California and be with me.” He said, “I think I need you in my business.” And he says, “You talk to your family about it and see if you can get it worked out and let me know.” Well I went on and talked to Sarah and I’s a big punk and hard up and just had two babies and I went on and told her. She never had liked these mountains too good then, and boy that tickled her, thinking we was gonna get to go to California, you know. And so, in about a week, Walt Disney eased back up to me. He said, “Frank,” says, “What’s your family think about it?” I said, “Well, everybody liked it but my daddy and he didn’t like it.” Well, I said, “I think I’ll do it.” Well Walt Disney says, “Well, now, Frank I’m gonna tell you right now, I know enough about you and I done watched you work.” And he said, “I know what you been worth to me.” And he said, “I’ll give you x-number of dollars for forty hours, and all over forty hours, I’m gonna pay you time and a half.” And the amount that it ‘mounted to, me bein’ born up in these mountains, I didn’t know nothin’ about big money, and I was the highest paid construction man there was, and that was a dollar adn a quarter an hour. And when he offered me that big money, I thought he was a crook and just tryin’ to get me to go to California. So I looked at him, in my mind, I didn’t say nothin’ to him, ‘cause to me, even the president of the United States don’t make that kind of money. If you think you can get me and my wife and young’uns in California, and us no damn way home, you got another thing coming partner. And so I wouldn’t have nothing to do with it. I dodged him from then on for a long time. Then finally, he said that he wanted to go and I told him I believe I wouldn’t go. I’d stay around here and then I just stayed around here and done what come my way.
HC: Try to–synthesis is the word–try to derive from all this material the synthesis of the conflict that’s implied by those books. This is an area, which for many years has been in a state of change. And the changes carries certain aspects that are tragic, because the old way of life, which was established by the mountain families. And which was initiated by the great-grandparents of many of those youngsters, is inevitably changing, passing, going. And the feeling about land, the feeling about the earth and it’s riches and what it gives, the feeling of family, the closeness of family and the importance of neighborhood and neighbors and the combination of self-reliance and mutual dependence on the people who are over on the next ridge, or down in the hollow, or wherever, you know, has gone. Or it is changing. The land has now taken on a different aspect; it’s no longer what it provides to put on the table or take to the market. It’s, what are the views? Where do we build the summer places? So the rich escaping the mugginess and heat of a Florida summer can come up and enjoy as tourists. So in move the developers and the people who enjoy the land but don’t use it. And little by little, cultural values, attitudes change. Television comes in, came in long ago, that has an enormous impact on the young. They see a world way beyond the Blue Ridge and they find a lot of it inviting. And so they go off and do other things. But now, fortunately, some of them come back to rediscover their roots and the life that they found. In what they found outside is a very important element that’s missing. And they come back to rediscover something that is essential of the spirit.
FF: So what was the biggest, or most extensive prop you’ve made?
JP: The biggest size-wise was probably, probably would be either my personal gaming table or the refrigerator that we did for the fourth Indiana Jones film. The one–he’s in a city in the desert. He doesn’t realize it’s a test city for a nuclear explosion. And he runs and he gets in this refrigerator, fastens himself in it and gets blast across the desert and he survives. So that’s probably the biggest, size-wise, that I’ve made. Probably the most expensive one I’ve done too, would be that refrigerator. (Watch this clip at 2:10 to see Joey’s fridge!)
With props, you’ve got to know every material. And if you don’t know the material, you’ve got to learn the material. So you’ve got to walk through them, what exactly do you want, and you estimate your time and materials into that. And go from there, because they know what they want–he knew he wanted this piece, but that doesn’t really tell you a whole lot. Like, what do you really want. If someone says, “I want a suit of armor.” Okay, do you want a display suit of armor, do you want a suit of armor you can wear? Who’s it going on? Is it black, is it shiny? Does it matter if it’s made of aluminum or steel? Is this gonna go in a museum? Does it need to be historically correct? It’s all questions you have to ask. Because when somebody contacts you for a job, they’re just going to say, “I need a suit of armor. I need this game board.”
The real good part about this is the direction that I can go and do what I want to do. And make money at it. The take on prop making is, ‘specially in North Georgia right now, is we don’t have a huge gaming community and right now we’re just starting to see the movie industry move in more. We’re luckily getting a few more theaters back to do live action stuff, so propmaking for them works a little bit too. I can get some stuff in for them. But the real take of it now, it’s not as steady as it could be.
FF: So, can you name some of the, I guess, movies or just like popular films or ideas that your props have been in?
JP: Well, as I mentioned, I did the refrigerator for the Indiana Jones film. And I got started doing actual props for films here with my other job at Antique Appliances. And that got me, we did the refrigerator for Indiana Jones, I had a dishwasher that I did for Julie & Julia. It was a Julia Child documentary movie, I believe. We have a piece in the Hunger Games, the third one. It was a huge icebox that we did for that. And a lot of little props, and this and that. A lot of times, when a movie comes to you or a studio comes to you, they won’t tell you what movie it’s going to be in. Because at that point, they haven’t released that they’re even making that movie. And even if they do tell you a movie title, that’s usually a working title and it’s not the real title of the movie. They do that for secrecy in the industry, so nothing gets leaked or let out. They don’t want me taking a picture of this prop and sayin’, “Hey, I’m doing this for the Indiana Jones film.”
Another thing I like in props, is I like smalls. I don’t like to build big props. Smalls are easy. I can ship ‘em, I don’t have to deliver ‘em. Even though the movie industry is right there in Atlanta now, it’s still, if I don’t have to drive to Atlanta, I’m better off.
FF: How far away have you shipped something?
JP: Usually it’s within the United States. The furthest is probably California, ‘cause the movie industry is still bigger in California, although it’s moving to places like Georgia rapidly. Georgia has given every incentive for the movie industry to move here. We give ‘em a tax break. California has done a lot of negatives as far as in the eyes of the movie industry. The permits you have to get in California to do anything are just ridiculously expensive now. And Georgia’s not like that, as of now. So they’re moving. Georgia’s not the only place; there’s a town in North Carolina, ‘scuse me for not rememberin’ it, that is also pretty big; movie industry moving in. And they’re just pulling out of California. I feel like personally we will see Hollywood decline rapidly in the next twenty, thirty years. Just because they’re finding these better venues, and they’re pulling out of California because of the taxes and the permits.