Black Train 2017

Universal Music Group

Domo arigato, Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi! I was researching future Obscure Train Movies and totally by accident, stumbled across this fantastic music video.

Mostly drone-filmed on the Nevada Northern Railway, Black Train features NN Ry.’s locomotive #40, a 1910 product of Baldwin Locomotive Works, towing a string of boxcars and caboose through the desert.

Of course, the entire thing is in Japanese, but every now and then, Tsuyoshi says, “Black Train” in clear English. Check him out above riding the front of the steam engine, and having the time of his life. C’mon, let’s review this video, the 4-6-0 and its consist!

This is my favorite screen cap of the engineer’s side of the train. #40 is towing four NN wood boxcars and a yellow caboose. More about them later. The nearby copper mines (Kennecott) were the railway’s raison d’être.

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Onion Pacific 1940

Paramount Pictures
A Max Fleisher Cartoon

It’s Popeye the Sailor (voiced by Jack Mercer) vs. Bluto (voiced by Pinto Colvig) in this 1940 cartoon send up of Paramount’s own epic movie Union Pacific 1939. In this black and white animation, it’s a race side by side on double track to win the state franchise (presumably to operate the railroad). Two steam engines (Bluto runs a 6-4-0, Popeye a 4-2-0) have to contend with choke points like a single track bridge and single track tunnel.

Being a cartoon allows many over-the-top gags and mishaps you simply could not do with real actors. Compared to a Warner Brothers Looney Tunes, the animation is not that great, but it’s fast with lots of action. I was able to review this picture from my Popeye The Sailor 1938-1940 DVD.

Now sit back and enjoy this train-laden feature from the early days of animation!

This sequence gets reused quite a bit as for much of the race, the two combatants are side by side, constantly trading the lead with each other. Notice animators left off one set of pilot wheels on Bluto’s locomotive making it a 4-4-0.

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Hello Dolly 1969

20th Century Fox

Well HELLO, Dolly! Pennsylvania Railroad #1223, a D16sb class 4-4-0 stars in this splashy, lavishly-costumed musical. Built in 1905 at Pennsy’s Juniata Shops in Altoona, PA for passenger service, this Belpaire-fireboxed beauty was painted up as New York Central & Hudson River Railroad (NYC&HR) #15 for the movie.

Along with a string of passenger cars, the high-stepping PRR #1223 was borrowed from excursion service at Strasburg Railroad and towed to Penn Central’s ex-NYC Hudson River line (east bank) for filming.

In addition to the opening credits, NYC&HR #15 and train featured prominently in a musical number 34 minutes into the picture. More about that later. All Aboard for Yonkers!

NYC&HR #15 struts her stuff along the Hudson River as small boys wave at the fireman in this nicely-framed shot.

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Railroadin’ 1929

Hal Roach Studios

Whilst grazing around on YouTube, I came upon this absolute gem of an early black and white talkie. Railroadin’ features the Little Rascals / Our Gang kids on location at Santa Fe Railway’s Redondo Junction roundhouse in Los Angeles.

The star of the show is AT&SF #1373, a 4-6-2 built by Baldwin in 1913 and scrapped in 1949. In addition, we catch glimpses of a whole bevy of steam locomotives at the roundhouse which I’ll try to sort out later in this review.

Many thanks to “chrisbungostudios” on YouTube for putting together a most useful “Filming Locations” video, which will be linked to further down in my write up.

It’s iron horses galore in the last golden days of the Roaring Twenties! Let’s check it out.

Santa Fe Railway #1373 belches copious amounts of black smoke skyward (sanding the flues) as it runs along a side track. Notice the string of boonie old “outside braced” wooden box cars in the background.

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Loaded For War 1944

Santa Fe Telefilm Recording

Wow, early first generation diesels star alongside Santa Fe Railway’s magnificent fleet of steam locomotives in this color film showing the AT&SF was doing its bit to help win World War 2.

As a vital link to the Pacific Theater, Santa Fe received the lion’s share of EMD FT diesel locomotives built before and during the war.

Let’s take a look at how one railroad hauled military, freight and passengers along with all the facilities needed to keep the system going. Santa Fe, All the Way!

An EMC E6 locomotive gets its slant nose scrubbed down as a Baldwin 4-6-4 backs up alongside; a 4 unit set of EMD FT’s pulls past a very smoky iron horse.

GM’s Electro-Motive Division designed the famous red and silver “Warbonnet” paint scheme as well as the more somber, but still classy blue and yellow for the freight FT’s.

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My Little Chickadee 1940

Universal Pictures

Sierra Railroad 2-8-0 #18 along with combine #5 and coaches #1 & #2, stars in today’s feature. The little Baldwin Consolidation, built for Sierra Railroad in 1906, received just 13 minutes of screen time, but what a cameo. A spectacular Indian attack highlights its trip from Little Bend to Greasewood through the untamed West.

Onboard, Flower Belle Lee (played by Mae West) and Cuthbert J. Twillie (played by W.C. Fields) ham it up in this spoof of western movies giving us a good look at the spartan but classic interior of the coaches (studio set).

It’s a wild ride under western skies for Sierra #18. Let’s check it out.

A. P. & S. Railway #8 (Sierra #18 in disguise) is pedaling furiously as it tries to outrun the Cleveland Indians. As it pulls out of Little Bend, we get a closeup of the tender and cab in this rods-down pose.

Does that short combine #5 look familiar? It is, if you’re a fan of Petticoat Junction. Combine #5 along with Sierra #3 was the entire consist of the “Hooterville Cannonball”.

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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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