Highball ahead for Highball Productions!
There is a long tradition of railfans viewing trains at home. For many years it was film. Film was an expensive hobby and so was out of financial reach for most railfans. Those railfans who were fortunate enough to be able to afford film did share their film, but it was still an expensive proposition for home viewing as the film projector was also an expensive item. So film, while available, was generally not mass-produced or widely available for the home the market. There were a few sellers of film copies such as Sunday River Productions and Blackhawk Films, but it remained expensive to view trains at home.
From Film to Video Tape
Sony first came out with a home video system called Betamax, but it wasn’t until the cheaper VHS option came out, with a more affordable camera system, that viewing trains at home became a real possibility. Once VCR units began to appear at under $200 and camera systems begin to appear under a thousand dollars the home railfan video revolution began in earnest.
On the West Coast, Pentrex began their efforts in 1984. That same year, on the East Coast, Highball Productions began producing train videos for the home market. VHS tape was such a ubiquitous format for the railfan home viewer that Highball Productions even called their eventual website TrainTapes.com. In the beginning, Highball Productions was a part-time affair. Founder (and professional photographer) Peter Crook started going out on weekends and visiting hot spot locations, unusual railroads, and Northeast short lines. At this time he was based in New Hampshire and so had a lot of options for those kind of railroads near him. It is from this time period that we get “St. Lawrence & Atlantic”, “Guilford on the B&M” and “Springfield Terminal”.
Hitting Hot Spots all over the Country…
Tired of New Hampshire winters and looking for new railroad targets near home, eventually Peter moved his family and Highball Productions to somewhere warm… moving the operation to Tucson Arizona. And so he began shooting Southwestern railroads in earnest. It’s at this time that we see “Hot Spots 11, Tucson”, and “Santa Fe across Arizona”. At the same time Peter, a Brit, being a subject of the Queen, had easy access to Canada. Peter became enamored with Canadian railroading, shooting many great Canadian railroad programs, including award winning programs such as “A Rocky Mountain Winter” and “Canadian Pacific, Heart of the Rockies”. Also notable from north of the border is the 2 disc set that features a cab ride from Field to Revelstoke, “177 Cab Ride”.
…And the World!
Peter, being from Britain, and used to traveling to Commonwealth countries, also began putting together quite a stable of programs on railroads from around the world. Those programs include railroads in New Zealand, India, Java, Indonesia, Britain, Germany, and even Romania. A few favorites are “Sweet Steam”, “Tranz Alpine Express and Taieri Gorge Limited” and “To the Top of the World by Steam”. Peter was an early Blu-ray adopter and many of these shows can be found on Blu-ray.
After the attack on the United States on September 11th, 2001, Peter became a citizen of the United States. Of course he continued to make railfan videos! Through 2014 Peter created another 150 shows! In 2014 Peter sold Highball Productions to a group of railfans who moved the company to Indianapolis, Indiana.
Highball Moves and Grows
Peter was ready to retire, but railfans were not ready for him to retire. He was persuaded to do a few more programs for the new owners. “Chile’s Colorful Narrow Gauge Mining Railroads” is one of those programs. For that show Peter traveled to the high desert to catch railroads that shut down soon after he was there. These are scenes that can not be repeated!
Under new owners, the number of programs put out by Highball Productions has declined (Peter had been putting out six a year, a very aggressive schedule) but new programs are still coming out. New programs such as “611 Returns to Steam” and “Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard” have been well received by the railfan community. In 2017 Highball Productions purchased Pentrex. Highball and Pentrex consolidated web operations under the Pentrex web address.
Highball Productions has long been one of the giants of the railfan video market. With over 260 shows there is a lot to discover under the Highball banner. And now, with the acquisition of several other producers, Highball is bringing more programs to more railfans!
Highball Productions Fan Favorites
Like any producer, railfans have made a few Highball programs favorites. Unlike some producers, Peter was interested in, and was able to keep up, with modern railroading and so, for instance, fans of GEVO units could see them featured in “Winter on the Arizona Divide, BNSF’s Seligman Sub”.
Fans of vintage steam on modern rails also got the Highball treatment in “Midwest Challenger”. One of Highball Productions consistent sellers has been “Gears in the Woods, Shays at Cass”. Another steam mainstay for Highball Productions has been “The Silverton Train” which follows the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad from canyon to cliff.
The Highball Productions “Salute” series is also a perennial best-seller. In this series we see “Salute to the Warbonnet”, “Salute to Conrail”, and “Salute to the Southern Pacific”. One of the newer programs that is proving to be a favorite is “Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard”. It is a bit different in that it has no narration; it follows along with a yard tour given by Union Pacific personnel. You get to hear and see the tour as it progresses. Views of the shop area and from Centennial Tower, plus a brief aerial view of the yard, are some of the highlights of that program.
The Future? Very Bright!
So where does Highball Productions go from here? After purchasing other producers like Main Line Motion Pictures, Valhalla Video Productions, Donner Rails, WB Video and Midwest Video Productions – and then merging with Pentrex – the future looks bright for the combined company, and therefore for railfans around the world.