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"This engaging Kodachrome drama (formatted for television broadcast) from the Union Pacific ostensibly deals with safety at railroad grade crossings, but it's also about much more: youth's feeling of invulnerability; the highway patrolman as an authority figure; the look of the rural and urban West in the late 1950s; the urge to speed through a sparsely populated agricultural landscape; and the train's role as farmer's servant and potential killer. Is this overanalysis? Perhaps. But longer films aspire to higher goals, and one way to achieve these goals is to pack them with hints of meaning in many directions.
This film was made just five years after The Days of Our Years but belongs to a different world. This is not the close environment of urban railroad workers, but the wide-open spaces of the agricultural West. The visual evidence of the film implies that it was shot in Idaho, and the highway patrolman who carries the film forward wears an Idaho State Patrol uniform. It's summertime and the kids are out of school. Although they are responsible for farm work, they are free to roam the countryside and do. Danger lurks in this mobile world, but not in dark, enclosed industrial spaces — it lurks in broad daylight along a sunny railroad track. The deaths that form the film's climax happen right after lunch on what looks like a Saturday afternoon, and death takes the young rather than the old.
It's hard not to think that the Union Pacific is here again trying to pass the buck on safety. It costs lots of money to protect railroad crossings with gates and even more to construct separations between railroad rights-of-way and highways. Construction projects of this type have always involved contention between railroads and local governments, and the differing interests of railroads and government fill our history books. Suffice it to say that there's a great deal of background that isn't practical to include in the movie. Interestingly enough, the victims drive through a crossing with gates, lights and bells, so no one can pin the responsibility for this accident on corporate greed.
The most quotable line: as two railroad crewmen stand by the wrecked automobile, one says: "Why don't they look, Frank?" Frank responds: "I don't know. Why don't they look?" This short dialogue fragment, and in fact the whole movie, has become a big hit on the TV show Mystery Science Theatre 3000."
Public domain film from the Prelinger Archives, slightly cropped to remove uneven edges, with the aspect ratio corrected, and mild video noise reduction applied.
The soundtrack was also processed with volume normalization, noise reduction, clipping reduction, and/or equalization (the resulting sound, though not perfect, is far less noisy than the original).
A level crossing (a primarily British term; usually known as a railroad crossing in North America) is an intersection where a railway line crosses a road or path at the same level, as opposed to the railway line crossing over or under using a bridge or tunnel. The term also applies when a light rail line with separate right-of-way or reserved track crosses a road in the same fashion. Other names include railway crossing, grade crossing, road through railroad, railroad crossing, and train crossing...
Early level crossings had a flagman in a nearby booth who would, on the approach of a train, wave a red flag or lantern to stop all traffic and clear the tracks. Manual or electrical closable gates that barricaded the roadway were later introduced, intended to be a complete barrier against intrusion of any road traffic onto the railway. In the early days of the railways much road traffic was horsedrawn or included livestock, requiring a full barrier crossing the entire width of the road. When opened to allow road users to cross the tracks, the gates were swung across the width of the railway, preventing any pedestrians or animals getting onto the tracks. The first US patent for such crossing gates was awarded on 27 August 1867, to J. Nason and J. F. Wilson, both of Boston...
Traffic control devices
All public crossings in the United States are required to be marked by at least a crossbuck. The 2009 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices requires passive crossings (crossings without actuated flashing lights or gates) to have either stop signs or yield signs in addition to the crossbuck, unless a flagger will stop traffic every time a train approaches. Normally a yield sign is used...
If the crossing has more than one railroad track, the crossbuck is required to have a small sign beneath it denoting the number of tracks...