What It's Like To Be In A Movie On Location

| May/June 1992

1626 Noyes Road Arroyo Grande, California 93420

When Hollywood decided to remake the classic 1940 film Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, an operating steam traction engine and a separator were needed for the harvesting scenes in the present version.

The story revolves around two itinerant farm hands, George and Lennie, as part of a wheat harvesting crew on a ranch in the Salinas Valley of California in 1928.

Movie Director Gary Sinise wanted an authentic steam threshing outfit for the film. Instead of Steinbeck's original setting in the Salinas Valley, the filming was done at the 1,800 acre Gainey Ranch near Santa Ynez, north of Santa Barbara. This site was chosen because of its 'old California look' with oak trees and rolling grain fields and not the present-day Salinas Valley row crop scenery.

The search for a suitable steam threshing outfit covered much of California. Old timers and old time equipment restorers and exhibitors at shows and museums were asked where this operating equipment could be found. Unlike the U.S. Midwest and East, there is not too much of this equipment in California today.

A telephone call from a movie set coordinator began 'getting steam up' at the R. C. Wiley & Son Ranch, where just such equipment was available and in good operating condition. Next came a personal visit to determine feasibility. A video tape of the equipment in operation at Pioneer Day in Paso Robles was loaned to the set coordinator to take to Hollywood and show to the 'Big Boys' of the movie. This showing turned out to be a hit! It resulted in a contract which included moving costs, insurance, hiring the crew as extras, food and lodging, as well as a daily lease amount for the steam traction engine and separator. Even wood fuel, water, and extra help were provided.