By Morgan Bryce
A new film chronicling the history and tradition of Opelika’s Rocky Brook Rocket is set to release in January.
Filmed by Rex Roach, ‘A Rocket in a Railroad Town’ is a 45-minute documentary narrated by former WSFA anchorman Bob Howell that will educate viewers on both Alabama’s and Opelika’s railroad history and the origins of the 62-year-old miniature train.
“By 1955, Opelika was the hub in East Alabama for railroad commerce. So, it was a natural thing for them to put a railroad in the park for the children,” Roach said. “In the film, we tell about the early days of the train, who was involved, some of the drama that ensued in getting it here and the contest of naming it, which took a while.”
Roach said a major part of the film deals with the train’s recent restoration.
After years of wear and tear, the train’s driveshaft was torn during the 2015 Garden in the Park event, causing use of the train to come to a screeching halt.
Following discussions with city officials, Municipal Area Supervisor Matt Battles said the original plan was to have the train shipped to Rick’s Restoration in Las Vegas, where its repairs would be documented on History Channel’s American Restoration television program.
“When History Channel cancelled the show (in spring 2015), we all got together and said, ‘well, there’s no reason why we can’t film our own little thing,’ and that’s when we brought in Rex to start that process. And actually, we got a better product,” Battles said. “We got more of the history, more of the story, more of the people who were involved with the documentary than we would have if it had been featured on the History Channel’s show.”
The city conducted a nationwide search for another company to make the repairs, eventually selecting RMI Railworks in Oxnard, Calif.
Roach said the film contains footage and photos of Battles and Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Tommie Agee visiting Oxnard to check on the train’s year-long restoration, as well as repairs made to the tracks and depot during the train’s absence.
The film concludes with the return of the train to the tracks at Municipal Park during last December’s Reindeer Express event, a moment that Battles said would not have been possible without the help of Opelika and its citizens.
“As far as the train restoration goes, there were no tax dollars put into that. It was all completely funded by civic clubs, businesses individuals and just a big community project … it’s what makes Opelika great,” Battles said.
Roach added that the film is a tribute to the uniqueness of the Rocket and the deep meaning it holds within the community.
“There’s not many of these little things around anymore, so a town that has one, that is something special. To me, it says a lot about a town when they put effort, money, manpower, thought, creativity into non-revenue producing things, things like the Rocket, that help make Opelika a better place,” Roach said. “I think the train, along with the park, generates happiness and camaraderie and community feeling.”
A public viewing of the documentary is slated for Jan. 13 at Municipal Park, which will feature free train rides, refreshments and more. Check www.opelika-al.gov for updates.