Monday, November 30, 2009

Heartland ...

Here's another still image from a Montana-made film ... and another railroad shot, since I'm a fan of those.

This is from the opening of an obscure 1979 art-house film called Heartland, which was based on an autobiographical volume called Letters of a Woman Homesteader. It's a powerful and poignant movie about a pioneer woman's life on an early twentieth-century homestead ... very much recommended. And though the story takes place in southwestern Wyoming, the film itself was shot here in Montana, in Meagher and Wheatland Counties. (The homestead used in the filming is reportedly up by Judith Gap somewhere.)

The little train in this wonderful image was running on the White Sulphur Springs & Yellowstone Park Railway, which ran from White Sulphur down to Ringling. (Nope, it never made it to Yellowstone.) By the 1970s the railroad's days were numbered, the freight traffic almost gone. A promoter named "King" Wilson acquired the line, brought in a steam locomotive and some passenger cars, and tried to turn it all into a tourist attraction. It wasn't a success, though, and the railroad closed down after the Milwaukee Road -- its connection to the outside world -- was abandoned in 1980. The Heartland movie shoot was probably the highlight of the little railway's life.

From what I can tell, the old locomotive is at a railroad museum in Nebraska these days, though it hasn't run in years. And a few of Willson's old railway cars are still sitting up in White Sulphur, just where he left them back in 1980.


  1. Heartland is one of the best little movies's on my Netflix list for around Christmas time...I also have a copy of the vhs packed in my treasures. I've not found a copy of the book for my collection, that I can afford, yet.

  2. Yep, I loved that movie ... and I think it's probably one of the more realistic portrayals of homestead life that's ever been filmed. It's very somber and lonely, and sometimes heartbreaking, but there are also moments of quiet joy that are pretty wonderful.

    I haven't watched it for ages, but it's in my Netflix queue, as well. (I want to try to figure out more of the filming locations!)

  3. According to the IMDB site 3 counties were filmed in the making of this movie...sorry I don't remember all 3...I have the attention span of a wounded gnat right now...but I have moved the film up to #1 in my it will be here by next week. Elinor Randall Stewart rocked...then and now. I adore Conchata too.

  4. Yep ... Meagher, Wheatland, and Fergus Counties. The railroad scenes were in Meagher County, and from what I can tell most of the rest was filmed at a ranch somewhere near Judith Gap, near the foothills of the Snowy Mountains. Judith Gap is in far northern Wheatland County, not far from the Fergus County line. I guess someday I need to go out there and try to find the place ...

    Apparently they held the world premiere of the film in the fall of 1979 ... in Harlowton! I bet that was quite an event.

  5. Mark - you may not know this, but there is a Forsyth native in "Heartland." His name is Jeff Boschee. He plays a land office agent -- he has two lines, the second of which is "Where would you like to file?" (I forget the first line). We played it at the Roxy and put his name on the marquee -- I'm sure half the patrons came just to see Jeff on the screen for all of 10 seconds or less. Anyway, he's very involved in the performing arts in Biillings now -- I think he works for Billings Studio Theater.

  6. Heh ... thanks for the trivia, MIke! I had no idea, of course, and that was actually pretty interesting. And I'm sure that seeing his name on the Roxy marquee absolutely made that guy's year ... as well it should!

    I got that movie from Netflix again recently, watching it again for the first time in years. Great film, and very evocative for our part of the world. I wonder how it played in Harlo, though ..........

  7. Thank you for this post. I love Heartland, and saw it in 1979 at the Lake Theater in Oak Park, Illinois. I was 11 years old, and it struck a chord. The struggle of daily life, the beauty of the landscape, the fragility of life, the power of nature. What an incredible story. I watch it on YouTube when I have a chance.