In an article first printed in the Salisbury, Rowan County, North Carolina and reprinted in the Fairplay Flume on page 10 on August 6, 198(last number not present) under the subheading Bailey Day, Helen tells of her love of the railroad, making the Engine #9 film and her time in the Marines.
Quote Helen, “The Colorado and Southern narrow gauge ran from Denver to Leadville, and it was failing and naturally the railroad wanted to take it out. My grandfather helped to build the track. We got our food, news, everything from the train, it meant everything to us.”
“I just loved trainmen, too. All my romantic images and dreams were of trainmen...I would hang over the fence and wait for them to wave at me as the trains went by.”
Then about 22, she went to a pawn shop and got a Bell and Howell movie camera and she set out to film the train. Mrs. Tatum filmed the last run of the railroad in April, 1937, but began filming it and other scenes of the town in 1933.
A year after the film was finished, Helen showed it to a Denver convention of railroad buffs, and the president of the National Railroad Historical Society was there. He told her she “just had” to come to the group’s national convention in Chicago and show the film – but the group had no funds to pay for transportation.
“I took a thirty-day leave from my job as teacher at the Long Meadow School and bought a ticket to Chicago. I had $7.50 left in my pocket.” She stayed in Chicago,
where she sought out train fans to view the film and met Mac Poor, an author who had written a history of the very train she had filmed.
Then in 1942 she decided to join the Marine Corps. “For a kid out of the mountains, it was the best thing I ever did in my life,” Mrs. Tatum said. “Why did I join? Well, people used to wonder, my mother wanted me to be a schoolteacher, but I started out to be a theatre organist...I won a scholarship to Loretto Heights College in Denver to study organ. I thought that would just be it, to get to sit up there and play that big organ while the movies were going. But in comes sound pictures, and there’re no jobs for a future theatre organist. My mother said to get my teaching certificate that I could always teach.”
She did volunteer work until the Marines began accepting women in 1943, when she became one of the first women sworn into the officers program in Chicago. While she was in the Marines, she met Tom Tatum. They were married in 1949, when Mrs. Tatum was thirty-eight.
In the mid 1950s while Mrs. Tatum was stationed in El Toro, CA. she and her husband decided to put sound to the silent movie. Although it had been almost twenty years since the film was made, she wanted the sound to be authentic. She discovered Knotts Berry Farm in California had a steam train similar to the old Colorado and Southern. The film narration was based on Mac Poor’s book. The film shows her father cutting ice with a rotary saw and the Long Meadow School, where she taught. In 1961 Major McGraw retired from the Marines.
When her husband Tom died suddenly of a heart attack, memories made it too painful to stay in California. She bought a camper-truck and took off for Bailey. She liked to travel the country meeting people and showing the film. “This film had led me into more crazy places,” Mrs. Tatum said. “The children just love it.”
She told the children to take pictures of things and write on the back what it is. “Maybe in fifty years you’ll have a cat and a camper too,” she would tell them.