Gene Hackman and Candice Bergen star in this 700 mile horse race loosely-based on an actual event in the early part of the 20th century. Of more interest to us is the extensive use of the newly-created (1971) Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad including a steam-driven “chase train” for the horse riders.
Former Denver & Rio Grande Western #483, a K-36 class 2-8-2 1925 Baldwin product shines in its gaudy paint scheme (including gold rally stripe around the smokestack) as it leads “The Western Press” special.
Many famous sights along the C&TS are visible including Tanglefoot curve, Lobato trestle, the yard at Chama, the snowshed on the wye at Cumbres Pass to name just a few. Let’s dive right in and take a journey on the former D&RGW narrow gauge!
C&TS #483 poses at Cumbres Pass in its gold and red trim (even the driver counterweights are red). Just to show off, the engineer spun the drivers a few times for the camera.
The picture opens strangely with a scene of a plunger and dynamite being used to make a satisfactory puff of smoke. What the heck they are doing is never explained. Once the smoke clears “The Western Press” train is allowed through the tunnel and we get our first view of the train’s consist.
As the opening credits roll, we’re treated to a much more scenic vista as the train sweeps along Tanglefoot Curve.
Two interior shots of the private car on the end of the train reveal the posh surroundings. That’s Robert Donner on the right (Mork! Is that you?).
Here’s our first glimpse of the wye snowshed at Cumbres Pass. Note the freight car lettered for the GD&C (Grande Denver & Chama, maybe?). #483 puts out an impressive plume of coal smoke as it rolls past a water tower and abandoned stock pens approaching a small depot.
The train has finally arrived at the starting point for the race (appears to be the yard in Chama, NM). The townsfolk are on hand, a hootin’ and a hollerin’ with plenty of loose women to keep the boys occupied.
In the background, we can see a string of yellow D&RGW refrigerator cars, also some silver MOW equipment as well as the de rigueur drawbridge boxcar to hold all the horses in.
That night, Gene Hackman canters up to the train with a nicely-lit water tower in the background. Hey, that’s Joe Brooks (Vanderbilt!) playing the barber.
A blast on the whistle starts the race. Riders gallop past a coal tower. Through the dust, we see a string of D&RGW box cars and stock car. Boarding the chase train — note D&RGW #487 on the next track over.
The riders head out of town as the train paces alongside. This appears to be on the fairly level area just west of Antonito, Colorado.
As the riders pass underneath, we get a good, broadside look at the train’s consist.
Locomotive #483, GD&C 1505 boxcar, flat car, GD&C 0369 boxcar, with the opulent observation car bringing up the markers.
Early morning view of C&TS 483 with some green MOW cars on the siding. Candice Bergen trots by what appears to be a passenger car made out of an old boxcar.
Boy and girl hose themselves down at water tower. That must have been cold! Nice view of the train trundling through the sagebrush.
Another view of the snowshed up at Cumbres Pass; A rider trots across Lobato trestle.
A rifle-toting Jan-Michael Vincent rides the pilot of #483; Meanwhile, Gene Hackman runs off with an armful of dynamite sticks.
After the movie’s opening scene, you KNEW they were going to be throwing dynamite sticks at some point, right? Unfortunately, those scenes have no trains in it, so we’ll just skip right over that….
All good things must come to an end, so here we are back at Chama with Gene Hackman and James Coburn staggering up towards the finish line.
I won’t tell you how it ends, but we DO get a nice assortment of narrow gauge equipment to look at (K-36 #489, a string of stock cars, etc.).
I did overlook huge chunks of this movie, but at a whopping 132 minutes long, that’s to be expected. Still, “Bite The Bullet” made splendid use of railroad footage from the very early days of the C&TS. As of 2018, the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic has been beautifully preserved and very much worth a visit if your travel plans take you to Colorado/New Mexico. All Aboard!
Here’s what IMDb has to say about Bite The Bullet:
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132 minutes is a loooog time for loose women to keep the boys occupied, I say! wink wink
Say no more! Ah, the men were hardy, wild and woolly back then. And stamina. Oh, the stamina!
Always thought GD&C was a local company – Gunnison, Durango and Chama – that ran their trains along the Rio Grande Southern and D&RG railway, but maybe I am wrong. Never lived there to know exactly. Anyway, in my opinion, BIte the Bullet is greatest western ever made.