On the eve of the press conferences in Reno heralding the Mach 1 attempts, I arrive at the Reno Airport after spending the flight engaging in heavy and heated discourse with a geeky film buff about the aforementioned Spencer Tracy movie. I am heavily mythologizing not only the flick, but the actual location of Black Rock itself. He’s not buying it.
“Yeah,” I said with authority, “there is a coffee shop called ‘Bruno’s’ that is right across the street from the train station used in Bad Day at Black Rock. It has to be the same diner coffee shop where Spencer Tracy – with his only good arm – karate chopped Ernest Borgnine in the throat.”
“Well that can’t be,” the geek in the seat next to me sniffs, as he ramps his bifocals up the bridge of his nose. “I have the laserdisc in my library and on one of the Second Audio Programs the director, John Sturges, explains at length how they used these abandoned railroad tracks they found in Bishop, California for the train scenes. That fictitious coffee shop was actually a set on a back lot in Burbank.”
“I’m telling you they shot this film in Gerlach, Nevada. I’ve been there AND I’ve seen the movie. Spencer Tracy gets off the friggin’ train in Gerlach.”
“That sir is empirically impossible,” the geek bleats. “The production never set foot in Nevada. Rent the laserdisc.”
“Laserdiscs are Satanic.”
When the plane lands, en route to scoring a rent-a-car I go to the Information Booth in hopes of procuring a map of the Gerlach area – I’ve been there before, but this is the kind of terrain where you just don’t want to get lost. There is a kindly, slightly senilitic Chamber of Commerce croater behind the counter who asks me where I am headed. I tell him, “Black Rock,” so he says, “Lovelock, it’s right here, ” and he points to the town of Lovelock on the map.
“No,” I say, “ummm, Black Rock, out by Gerlach.”
“Ohhh; Tomahawk, it’s right here, just take I-80 east past…”
“No, no, no,” I interrupt and point to my destination on his map, crinkling it a little bit. “Black Rock, out by Gerlach.”
“O-h-h-h, Black Rock. That’s easy: Just take I-80 east to Fernley and take 447 north to Gerlach. It’ll take you right to the station where Spencer Tracy got off the train.”
“Actually,” I pipe up, “that movie was shot in Bishop, California and on a back lot in Burbank.”
“You have a nice drive, sir.”