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The film's opening credits acknowledge the "help of the Fred Harvey Company on many historical details" in the picture. The following written dedication appears at the beginning of the film, after the opening credits: "When Fred Harvey pushed his chain of restaurants farther and farther west along the lengthening track of the Santa Fe, he brought with him one of the first civilizing forces this land has known-The Harvey Girls. The winsome waitresses conquered the West as surely as the Davy Crocketts and the Kit Carsons-not with powder horn and rifle, but with a beefsteak and a cup of coffee. To these unsung pioneers, whose successors today still carry on in the same tradition, we sincerely dedicate this motion picture."
Although the story of the film is fictional, many of the pictured details concerning the establishment of Fred Harvey restaurants across the western United States in the late 1800's are based in fact. The first Harvey House opened in Topeka, KS in the late 1870's, after which many more were established along the Santa Fe rail line west to the Pacific coast. The opening credits indicate that the picture was based on Samuel Hopkins Adams' novel and on an original story by Eleanore Griffin and William Rankin. A Variety news item reported that a U.S. District Court judge ruled in Loew's, Inc.'s favor in a suit filed by former Santa Fe railroad man Clifford Funkhouser, who alleged that M-G-M had "pirated" his story about the famed Harvey girls.
An M-G-M News item found in the AMPAS Library production file on the film, and believed to be from 1944, notes that actress Ann Sothern was set for a starring role in the film along with Judy Garland. A January 1944 New York Times news item noted that Lana Turner would "most likely" be starred in the film. Although a December 1944 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Edward Arnold was cast in the part of "the big town boss," and although he was listed in the cast in the Hollywood Reporter production charts, he did not appear in the released film. According to M-G-M studio publicity information, "King Charles," the horse that Preston Foster rode in the film, was the same horse featured in the 1944 M-G-M film National Velvet (see below). Studio records also indicate that two years of research was completed to recreate the film's authentic sets and backgrounds of late nineteenth century New Mexico. Props for the Alhambra Bar and Dance Hall were rented from the Pony Express Museum. A February 1945 Hollywood Citizen-News article noted that two units were used to shoot background scenes. Some filming took place in Victorville and Chatsworth, CA, and in Monument Valley, AZ. According to modern sources, writer Hagar Wilde was assigned to the film. Modern sources also note that some scenes between Ray Bolger and Virginia O'Brien were cut from the final film, and that other scenes between them were never filmed because O'Brien's pregnancy was becoming noticeable.
Three Johnny Mercer and Harry Warren songs that were recorded for the film but cut before its release were: "March of the Doagies," "Hayride" and "My Intuition." Warren and Mercer received an Academy Award for their song "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe," and Lennie Hayton received a nomination for his musical score.