Bad Day at Black Rock 1954

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Metro-Goldwyn Mayer

Wow, what an opening! Southern Pacific Railroad hosted one of the most spectacular railroad-themed opening credits ever done for a movie. The star is an SP passenger train in splashy “Daylight” dress led by a pair of equally classic “Black Widow” EMD F units.

Helicopter shots, distant shots, pacing shots were all added by associate producer Herman Hoffman after principal photography had ended. Test audiences had been unimpressed with the rather bland movie opening, so MGM rented a couple trainsets from Espee for filming on SP’s “Jawbone” line near Lone Pine, CA.

Once again, I am grateful to IMDb Trivia and particularly James Tiroch at Cinetrains for details about the railroad operations. The comments from Cinetrains/The Black Widow of Black Rock were extremely helpful in identifying the equipment used.

Let’s take a look at the zenith of Southern Pacific passenger cars led by silver-nosed freight engines as they barrel through the desert.


In a pacing shot, EMD F3A #6151 and EMD F7B #8149 are towing an articulated chair car (note the single truck between the two cars).

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The picture begins with a distant shot of the train against the vastness of the California desert. Suddenly, the train is rocketing towards us at a crazy angle.

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You want Black Rock? We got Black Rock! Coming and going shots of the 6151/8149 trundling past copious amounts of big black boulders. Note the unique “baggage-elevators” on either side of the car doors. These would be opened at station stops, passengers placed their bags inside to be lifted up to aisle level, saving time during boarding. Pretty cool innovation by SP and used on their San-Francisco to Los Angeles “Daylight” trains.

From the comments on Cinetrains, I discovered their were TWO separate train consists used during filming. 6151/8149 led one trainset and 6386/8127 led another. More about that second consist later.

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6151/8149 roll under a rocky ridge. This is the view just before BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK appears on the screen. Nice view of the same consist passing some more rocks in a down-on shot.

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Gleaming nose shot of 6151 passing through a cut; distant shot of the train passing thru an arid wasteland; going-away shot with our only full view of the observation car.

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The helicopter film crew gets up close and personal with SP #6151. Isn’t that a fantastic paint scheme on the snout of the F3A? Note the single note, “blat” air horns on the roof.

The train was actually running in reverse with the helicopter chasing. Later the film was reversed so it appeared the train was getting dangerously close to the aircraft.

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A storm is brewing as the train rolls ‘neath turbulent skies. Could this be a portend of a Bad Day?

Notice the exhaust stacks on the first passenger car. I believe this is the second consist led by 6386/8127.

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Yep, SP #6386, an EMD F7A is hurtling towards the camera after crossing a bridge. This location is just north of the Lone Pine, CA depot, which can barely be seen in the background.

A ham radio operator with the call sign of KJ6KO put together this marvelous web page about the remnants of the Jawbone line and Black Rock movie locations.

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Overhead shot of “Black Rock” as the train approaches. The entire town was built as a set about a mile north of Lone Pine, CA. As the camera looks down the street, we get a clear view of the locomotive numbers. The cabless unit is SP #8127, an EMD F7B. The colorful consist comes to a stop at the little depot.

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It’s Spencer Tracy!! Assisted down the steps by the porter, Spence has a look around. The porter climbs the steps with step-box in hand as the conductor waves a highball.

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SP 10311 flashes past as Spence is confronted by the station agent (trains don’t usually stop here). I can’t quite make out the second number, but that rounded observation car looks great in the sunlight.

In the second picture, what do you suppose that silver circle is by the conductor’s knee? A speaker?

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In the final railroad scenes, Spence walks from the tracks across the dusty main street. The station agent gets on the blower and tells the townspeople that trouble is on the way!




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Well, mission accomplished, justice served and all that (nice assortment of old automobiles!) and Spence is back at the depot waiting for his train out of town. It’s the 6386/8127 consist again — still going northbound. Note the beautiful 5-chime Nathan airhorn on the cab of 6386 as the train pulls in.

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The porter is glad to see Spence again as he clambers up the steps. The conductor waves a highball and #6386 leads its charges down the track as the credits roll.

Filmmakers did an outstanding job packing so much colorful train action into just a few minutes of screen time. BTW, the movie itself is definitely worth an evening’s viewing — quite the drama. LIN-Z says, “Check it out!”

Here’s what IMDb has to say about Bad Day at Black Rock:

If you have ANY information about this movie you’d like to share, please contact me at:, or leave a comment.  Thanks and enjoy the blog!



2 thoughts on “Bad Day at Black Rock 1954

  1. Pingback: Case of the 12th Wildcat 1965 | More Obscure Train Movies

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