Simply gorgeous film site

To showcase the power of its locomotives, GE wanted a location of powerful grandeur

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

Elsewhere online

The one-minute TV commercial filmed at Cape Horn (plus eight shorter videos focused on the GE employees featured in the ad).

Click the white “play” arrow on the block showing six workers’ photos.

photoThe Columbia River Gorge: “We didn’t know areas like this existed in America,” visitors from the East told BNSF Railway spokesman Gus Melonas. Employees of an Erie, Pa., locomotive plant came to Washington to witness their work in action for a national TV commercial.

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photo A helicopter is used to film a segment of a GE television commercial in the Columbia River Gorge.

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photoEmployees of a GE locomotive plant in Erie, Pa., visit the Columbia River Gorge to film advertising.

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When General Electric wanted to put its work on display, the showcase included a stretch of the Columbia River Gorge a few miles east of Washougal.

Cape Horn was where America’s sixth-largest corporation got its money shot in a nationally televised commercial starring eight employees of GE Transportation and a BNSF Railway locomotive they built.

The one-minute commercial is part of the “GE Works” series, in which employees see the real-world results of their labor.

BNSF Railway provided the eastbound freight train for the commercial, and also suggested the Columbia River Gorge as a possible location.

“We also sent photos of Glacier and Stevens Pass,” said BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas. “When they saw the Gorge, they were sold because of the variety of the terrain: from the basalt cliffs, waterfalls and evergreens to the flat terrain east of White Salmon.

“We heard from people from the East Coast who said, ‘We didn’t know areas like this existed in America,’” Melonas said.

It was a wonderful location, confirmed Andy Goldberg, director of creative content for GE advertising in the United States and the United Kingdom.

While the terrain was beautiful, Goldberg said, the Columbia River Gorge also was a wonderful canvas for capturing the image of a train more than a mile long.

“We could capture the length and beauty of a train going down the track,” Goldberg said. “We could get an elevated look from a helicopter and capture the majesty of it in an epic location.”

Melonas said he took GE executives and scouts from a Los Angeles-based production unit on extensive scouting trips three weekends in a row. They started at the Vancouver depot and went as far east as Wishram, 93 miles up the Gorge, for additional filming.

They also filmed eight shorter segments, in which employees told their personal stories.

The production crew consisted of more than 80 people. A banquet room at Hilton Vancouver Washington was home base, and the hotel also housed a big share of the out-of-towners during the filming, Melonas said.

The eight GE employees were from a locomotive assembly plant in Erie, Pa.

The filming was done at the end of February and the beginning of March, reflected in the snow-capped hilltops shown in some of the online videos.

The GE employees got to see their Evolution diesel electric locomotive in action when it emerged from the Cape Horn tunnel, about 25 miles east of Vancouver. The 2,382-foot tunnel was blasted out of the basalt cliff in 1907, the same year the Erie plant started making locomotives.

The commercial -- Goldberg calls it a one-minute documentary -- helps GE tell its story through the eyes of its employees, he said.

But it’s also raised the profile of BNSF Railway, Melonas said.

“It’s generated quite a bit of feedback,” Melonas said, including calls from retired railroaders who talk about the pride they feel when they see the commercial.

But that’s not the only demographic it’s attracting, Melonas said Wednesday. “This morning, a woman from California called and said how much her kids love that commercial with the orange locomotive.”

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://twitter.com/col_history; tom.vogt@columbian.com.