“Quiet on the set!” is not an expression you’d expect to hear in the tranquil beauty of the Great Smoky Mountain peaks. Yet major portions of the 1993 blockbuster movie “The Fugitive”, starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, were filmed in and around Sylva, North Carolina, my hometown.
Nestled in the mountains of eastern North Carolina. Sylva is small yet gradually progressing in many ways. Our downtown boasts a Main Street community with many restaurants and shops along its tree-lined streets. Educational prospects are nearly limitless, with Western Carolina University in nearby Cullowhee. The region captured Hollywood’s interest many years ago. With peaks rising more than 6,000 feet above the valley floor, Hollywood producers find a visually stunning panorama for their films.
That includes “The Fugitive’s” famous train wreck scene involving Kimble’s prison transport bus and a freight train that was filmed in nearby Dillsboro. Director Andrew Davis actually crashed a real train for the movie, with only one chance to get it right. Davis, engineers, stunt doubles (and the movie’s insurance company) anticipated that train would crash into the bus at a speed of 35 miles per hour. However, a miscalculation meant the train roared through the shot at 42 miles per hour! Nevertheless, the scene evolved precisely as intended.
You can visit the site of the crash along the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. Based in Dillsboro, it offers year-round excursions exploring the beautiful landscape of the Great Smoky Mountains. We recently enjoyed the 36-mile round-trip, Tuckasegee River Excursion, traveling eastbound along the Tuckasegee River through old railroad towns and rolling meadows. Our train passed through the open-air movie set from “The Fugitive” train wreck, giving us an excellent view of the railroad’s equipment featured in the wreckage. The four-hour trip also included an hour layover in the town of Dillsboro for us to sightsee, shop and explore this captivating country village.
Other scenes from “The Fugitive” were also shot near Sylva. The hospital scenes following Kimble’s escape and the ambulance getaway were both filmed at Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva. About 45 miles northwest of Sylva lies Cheoah Dam on the northern edge of Tapoco, NC, where Kimble leaped out of a drainpipe and escaped downriver.
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