Old Iron in Hollywood

Lights, camera, action!


| August 2009



This John Deere Model D tractor played a brief but pivotal role in Seabiscuit.

This John Deere Model D tractor played a brief but pivotal role in "Seabiscuit." The scene called for the engine to backfire when starting, startling a nearby racehorse with disastrous results.

Remember the 2003 Academy Award-nominated movie Seabiscuit?

If you’re an aficionado of vintage tractors and trucks, there’s a good chance you’ll recall seeing more than a dozen antique vehicles in the film, including a 1926 Autocar truck, a 1930 John Deere Model D, a 1932 Case Model CO, a 1924 Samson M, a 1950 Minneapolis-Moline U, a 1926 Ford Model T dump truck and a 1931 Diamond T truck.

Perhaps you saw the vintage Caterpillar Sixty dozers that appeared in the 1996 movie Mulholland Falls starring Nick Nolte. Or the 1924 Samson Model M tractor, 1924 Samson truck and 1939 Adams grader in the 2001 movie Pearl Harbor starring Ben Affleck. Or the 1912 Case steam tractor engine in the film Tremors 4.

When production companies film a period movie intended to depict a certain time and place, vintage automobiles and other historically accurate props are essential to help establish a specific era. But in some period films, antique tractors, trucks and farm equipment may be just as important to the set as an old Model T or a classic Packard.

Much of the vintage farm and construction equipment that appears in period movies is supplied by the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum (AGSEM) in Vista, Calif. Located on 55 acres between Long Beach and San Diego, this living history museum has long worked with California’s film and television production companies.

“Because of our proximity to Hollywood, and the extent of our collection, we are frequently contacted by film industry prop managers, set designers and companies that contract with the movie industry,” says Rod Groenewold, museum director. “We have over 20,000 items in our collection, and as a living history museum, fully 95 percent of our equipment collections are operational.”

Over the years, the museum has supplied antique equipment for more than two dozen movies and documentaries including Bugsy, L.A. Confidential, Stargate, The Time Machine, Wild Bill, Murder in the First and the 2008 movie Changeling starring Angelina Jolie.

Contracting with film makers

Because of its close working relationship with the movie industry, the museum staff has developed a rental contract that spells out rental prices per item, and includes provisions for insurance, transportation, staff time and other details.