Finders Keepers 1984

CBS Theatrical Films / Warner Brothers

This movie was originally brought to my attention courtesy of Erik Stenberg (September 2019 email). It’s as obscure as a train movie can get, filmed out in the wilds of Alberta and British Columbia. Canadian locations meant we are treated to a wonderful Budd-built pocket streamliner of ex-Canadian Pacific cars pulled by a couple former-Canadian National, GMD FP9A diesels. All this glorious passenger equipment courtesy of VIA Rail Canada, who also whomped up a garish “AMrail” paint scheme for the F’s.

The plot and storyline are preposterous, but we’re not here to critique that. Similar to Silver Streak 1976, it’s “Let’s pretend Canada is the U.S., cause it’s cheaper to film up there”.

My apologies for the really fuzzy screen captures — taken off a YouTube video, dontcha know. Enjoy!

Our movie train of 7 cars (including two domes) soars high above Old Man River in Lethbridge, Alberta. For comparison, I include this modern day image from Google of a CP freight train.

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Night Train To Paris 1964

20th Century Fox

It’s New Year’s Eve and former OSS agent Alan Holiday finds himself riding the Boat Train along with a bunch of swinging members of the “Bear Ski Club”. Alas, no bare ski bunnies appear in this film. Damn. Although mostly filmed at Shepperton Studios, the train quotient is adequate including some brief scenes loading the passenger cars onto the ferry.

My favorite set is the discotheque car with lots of dancing and noise and adult beverages. This stage doubles as a place to hide out from various rowdies and officials looking to do Agent Holiday serious harm or incarceration.

If this is starting to sound like a James Bond knock off, you’re right. Methinks Fox was trying to cash in on United Artists’ hugely-successful spy caper franchise.

Anyway. Let’s enjoy the train scenes for what they’re worth and perhaps beam on a few lovelies along the way. Tous à bord!

“Night Ferry for Paris, Brussels, Azusa and Cucamonga, now leaving on Track 2. All Aboarrrrrrd!”; 16 years before he appeared in Airplane! 1980, Leslie Nielsen (as Alan Holiday) was honing his comedy chops alongside Aliza Gur (as Catherine Carrel), the former Miss Israel 1960. Rahr-RAHR!

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North by Northwest 1959

Metro Goldwyn Mayer

A spotless New York Central “lightning-stripe” EMD E8A #4044 has just pulled the 20th Century Limited into Chicago’s LaSalle Street Station.

25 fabulous minutes of North by Northwest features railroad-related goodness including Grand Central Terminal in New York City, a ride up the Hudson River onboard the Century, dinner in the diner, and a train-to-waiting room tour of LaSalle Street Station.

Add to the mix Cary Grant (as Roger Thornhill) and Eva Marie Saint (as Eve Kendall) and you’ve got romance, suspense and intrigue galore. So, Watch Your Step and Welcome Aboard!

“Tell me, what do you do besides lure men to their doom on the 20th Century?”

As Roger Thornhill fondles his Gibson, Eve Kendall (Rahr-RAHR!) coolly appraises the handsome gent in the horn-rimmed Ray-Bans. Sparks are sure to fly in car 3901, Drawing Room E!

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Sleepers West 1941

20th Century Fox

What could be more fun than a Fox “B” picture mostly taking place on a train? Private dick Michael Shayne (played by Lloyd Nolan) is transporting a surprise witness to a trial in San Francisco. Along the way, Shayne has to sort through plenty of onboard suspects who would like him (and his incognito witness) to not reach the courtroom.

If this plot sounds familiar, it was reused at least twice in 1952’s The Narrow Margin and 1990’s Narrow Margin.

Most of the onboard action takes place on sets, but there’s plenty of live train scenes including use of a Santa Fe Railway locomotive and depot location I could actually identify.

Even a “B” picture can have great, detailed scenes if you’ve got access to 20th Century Fox’s resources. Marble ticket counter, chandeliers, neon signs and arched track gates.

Can you spot the one little error in the train departure board? On most railroads, Denver to San Francisco would be considered westbound and thus the train should have an odd number. As an Amtrak conductor once said, “The odds go to San Francisco”.

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The Music Man 1962

Warner Brothers

One of my favorite musicals from the days of yore featured a short, but eclectic train scene immediately after the opening credits. In the studio, filmmakers utilized a cutaway side view of an old time railroad coach (the movie takes place in 1912). Along with regular conversation, the song, “Rock Island” is performed by the traveling salesmen. This implies a ride on the Rock Island Railroad or a visit to Rock Island, Illinois, neither of which actually happens.

In addition, we are treated to small snippets of Oahu Railway & Land Company locomotive #85 (seen below) which is presumed to be the motive power for the train. During filming, OR&LC #85 was located at Travel Town in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park.

Let’s take a trip from Brighton, Illinois to River City, Iowa by train and meet Professor Harold Hill! (played by Robert Preston).

This must have been one of the last pictures taken of OR&LC #85 under steam as it dropped its fires for good in 1961. Check out that funky running gear on the 4-6-0! This is what is known as an “outside frame” steam locomotive. Other examples of outside frame engines can be found on the former Rio Grande narrow gauge lines in Colorado.

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The Addams Family 1964

Filmways Television

When Classic Toy Trains magazine (May 2020 issue) arrived in the mail, a single photograph (see above) on page 12 caught my eye. A fellow by the name of Larry Osterhoudt had created a replica of the Lionel layout seen in the 1960’s TV series, The Addams Family. I was intrigued.

Doing some research on the show and its use of model trains yielded a plethora of videos and a wealth of information about the subject. It turns out there were TWO layouts used as filmmakers had to reconstruct after the um, explosions, during the train wreck scenes. The train board itself is chock full of Lionel operating accessories.

Let’s take a peek at some fascinating Lionel “hardware” as it goes through its paces.

As a Lionel Lines steamer flashes by in the background, a Minneapolis & St. Louis EMD GP7 is approaching the camera pulling a single passenger car.

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The Sting 1973

Universal Pictures

New York Central Railroad’s famed 20th Century Limited is the setting for a key portion of today’s movie review. Leaving New York City at 4:15pm and arriving Chicago at 9:00am, Westbound train #25 was a Pullman-only heavyweight train when the movie takes place (September 1936).

Train scenes were filmed in Chicago at Union Station, LaSalle Street Station, and the 43rd Street “L” station. There were also a few, brief railroad shots filmed in the Los Angeles area.

The onboard sequence appears to have utilized a heavyweight “section” sleeper made up for daytime configuration. They could have been using studio-owned passenger cars or even a set for this.

Let’s take a ride on the Century!

A view inside Henry Gondorff’s (played by Paul Newman) bedroom. Painted apple green, I really dig the fixtures and Pullman washcloths, but that huge liquid soap dispenser looks out of place somehow.  Exterior of LaSalle Street Station in Chicago.  It seems mighty dark for the train to be arriving at 9:00am!

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Race for a Life 1913

Keystone Film Company

This 108 year old movie was a lot of fun to research and learn about. Just 13 minutes in length, Race for a Life tells the tale of a fair maiden chained to the railroad tracks by a spurned villain and cad in the best melodramatic, indeed, over-the-top fashion.

The star of the show was AT&SF #492, a 4-6-0 oil-burning, passenger steam engine built by the Rhode Island Locomotive Works in 1900.

Filmed along the Santa Fe Railway in and around Inglewood, California, I was actually able to obtain a picture of the depot used in filming and AT&SF #492 in more contemporary times.

There’s even an early scene of what became known as the “Keystone Kops” pedaling along furiously to the rescue on a railroad handcar. C’mon, let’s take a closer look at this ancient, silent flicker.

Damsel-in-distress Mabel Normand breaks the fourth wall and stares into the camera as she remains firmly affixed to the right-of-way. Poor Mabel. Will no one save her?

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A Ticket to Tomahawk 1950

20th Century Fox

I actually reviewed Tomahawk back in the early days of Obscure Train Movies — It just wasn’t much of a review. Today, I hope to do a better job revisiting A Ticket To Tomahawk in all its Technicolor glory. This is the movie that put the Durango and Silverton D&RGW narrow gauge line on the map. Not only did people come to ride the little train in Southwestern Colorado, moviemakers returned to film other pictures too numerous to list here.

The star of the show is Rio Grande Southern #20, 4-6-0 3-foot narrow gauge steam locomotive. #20 was originally built for the Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad in 1899 by Schenectady Locomotive Works (Alco). For its movie appearance, RGS #20 was decorated in a colorful paint scheme and named “Emma Sweeny” as Tomahawk & Western Railroad #1.

Just look at all that detail! Red and gold paint accentuates the green Emma Sweeny signboard. Antlers on the headlight box and white “extra train” flags flapping in the breeze. In another view, Emma poses in good light near Silverton.

Apologies for the fuzzy screen caps. AFAIK, Fox never released Tomahawk on DVD, so I had to make do with an aftermarket product.

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Empire on Parade 1957

Empire Photosound, Inc.

We sing the song of a railroad! Narrator Roger Krupp waxes poetic during this 40 minute film extolling the history and present day operations (circa 1957) of the Great Northern Railway.

Empire on Parade features the westward journey of freight train #401 from Minneapolis to Seattle and the industries and agriculture it serves along the way. We also get many views of the GN’s flagship Empire Builder passenger train.

It’s a festival of first-generation diesel locomotives including representatives from EMD, Alco and Baldwin.  In color.  So let’s take a journey during the hey-day of the post-war Big G.

The Empire Builder is about to drop a semaphore signal somewhere in the Montana Rockies. Note the 3 short Great Dome coaches and 1 large Great Dome lounge car which helps date the film after late 1955.

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