George R.R. Martin has been a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico since 1979, and naturally, he became a fixture of the community. As explained in the recently released book “Unleashing Oppenheimer: Inside Christopher Nolan’s Explosive Atomic-Age Thriller” by Jada Yuan, one of the ways Martin wanted to display the love of his newfound home was co-founding Sky Railway, which connects a rail line between Santa Fe and Lamy, New Mexico for a variety of different kind of tours.
Because of Martin’s most famous works, the train cars for this particular company have elaborate paintings of dragons and wolves on the outside, which would certainly clash with the period setting of “Oppenheimer.” However, the insides of the cars could be redone to fit the period. So, to shoot these train sequences, they would hop aboard Martin’s “dragon cars” and shoot for the 40-minute trip from Santa Fe to Lamy, and then they’d just turn around and head back to where they had came form. Because this is a private railway, they had free rein to go back and forth as much as they needed.
Martin’s train cars weren’t the only ones used, though. They tracked down two vintage Pullman cars in Santa Fe, which were much more appropriate for things like dining and lounge cars, and since they didn’t have dragon paintings on them, they worked far better for exterior shots. Having two different sets of cars also meant they could distinguish between different train routes in the movie without actually moving locations. Major props to unit production manager Nathan Kelly for wrangling all of this together, a job that deserves far more recognition than it gets, because a director’s vision is only a vision unless there’s people on the ground actually making it happen.
Fun fact: Two of Christopher Nolan’s sons, Oliver and Magnus, can be seen somewhere on the train as passengers.