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.

Our picture begins with T&W #1 charging along the Animas River on the D&RGW Silverton line. Two great runby views through Colorado’s incomparable scenery. The entire consist is the diminutive 4-6-0, a baggage/combine car and caboose.

Close up of the schooner sailing ship on the 4-6-0’s tender. “Route of the Bloody Basin Cannonball” graphic on the short train’s caboose.  I like how they worked a tomahawk into the T&W logo.

As the engineer puts Emma through its paces, the fireman feeds wood into the firebox as flames lick outward into the cab. The train approaches a wood trestle.

Sitting behind the worried conductor, traveling salesman “Johnny Behind-the Deuces” (played by Dan Dailey) belts out a tune on his ukulele. The Cannonball safely crosses a high bridge, but all is not well.

Henchmen of the local stagecoach line (who want the traffic for themselves) plan to sabotage the newly-built railroad at every turn. Looking like something out of a Road Runner cartoon, the henches leverage an almost perfectly-round boulder into the path of Emma Sweeny.

A beautiful close up of the cab of T&W #1 as the crew dismounts to figure out how that boulder wound up on the tracks. “Musta come from up there…”.

Part of the movie left off HERE

Finally, the Bloody Basin Cannonball makes it into Epitaph, Colorado to the cheers of the grateful townspeople. This is actually the D&RGW depot in Silverton, Colorado.

The elevation (according to the depot sign) is 9,318 feet above sea level — which is considerably more than the population — which I can’t quite make out… ;p

There’s a snag, you see. A large chunk of the railroad has not been built. BUT. Their charter specifies they MUST run a train with a paying passenger over the ENTIRE line all the way to Tomahawk, Colorado…in order to fulfill the terms of said charter SO….


Much to his chagrin, Drummer Johnny has been recruited as the aforementioned paying passenger (they tie him to the boiler of RGS #20 to avoid any plans of escape). That’s love interest-for-John, the tomboyish deputy sheriff Kit Dodge, Jr. (played by Anne Baxter). She cleans up nicely, later on.

Again to the huzzahs of the civic-minded locals, Tomahawk and Western #1 makes it’s way towards the wilderness and its namesake, Tomahawk.

Notice the Emma Sweeny is being pulled down the dirt street by a team of horses! This is the section of movie where filmmakers employed a plywood and fiberglass replica of T&W #1. This replica was later used in the TV show, “Petticoat Junction“.

After its career in movies was over, the replica was placed on display in Jackson, California. Later, it was fully restored to its original Emma Sweeny dress and brought “home” to Santa Rita Park in Durango, Colorado where it resides today (as seen above).

The train and its entourage stop for the night. Dance Hall girls put on an impromptu show, much to the delight of the grizzled crew. Johnny performs a high-steppin’ number with yellow-clad Clara, an as-yet-unknown actress named Marilyn Monroe.

The next day, engine and caravan make their way through the valley. Engineer and fireman are busy keeping the locomotive shined up and looking good.

The bad guys are still at it. Just ahead, they blow up a curved wood trestle in a spectacular display of pyrotechnics. Now, how will they get to Tomahawk?

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the travelers are attacked by the local Indians. Circle the wagons! Here we get some terrific views of the replica locomotive in good light.

The second night out, the entire crew (and ersatz T&W #1) find themselves at the Indian village. One of their party dazzles the Redskins with some patriotic fireworks — yes, the four Chinese characters say, “Happy New Year”. Thanks for the translation, hunny!

So impressed are they with the pyrotechnic display, the local tribe agrees to help carry parts of the dis-assembled Emma Sweeny through the mountains.

Notice:  Marilyn can’t resist a look at the camera.  

Upon reaching Dead Horse Point, Emma Sweeny and her entourage once more encounter rails. T&W #1 is quickly re-assembled, fired up, thoroughly cleaned by those snazzy dance hall girls and ready to go.

Those Henchmen don’t give up so easily. Just as the Engine starts off, a turncoat boots the fireman off the engine and takes off down the track. Well, at least he’s going in the right direction…

Anyways, all the way to Tomahawk is a series of spectacular stunts including a horseback pursuit, fist fight on the locomotive and guns a-blazin’.

Through rocky canyon and verdant forest, the steam engine races along. Finally, in desperation, the bad guys shoot holes in the boiler of Emma Sweeny. The 4-6-0 comes to a halt outside Tomahawk, unable to go any further.

Spunky Kit stands on the running board and rallies the troops. As the welcoming committee arrives from Tomahawk, they are quickly convinced to extend the town limits out to where Emma rests — JUST as the deadline approaches. Huzzah! Charter fulfilled!

Time passes. Back in Epitaph, Kit and Johnny tied the knot and got busy. 5 daughters! Conductor Johnny just catches his caboose (a very nice mixed train carrying passengers & freight) as the credits roll.

Wow. I sort of overdid it on this review, but there were just so many great train scenes, I couldn’t resist.

Epilogue:  “Emma Sweeny” has recently been restored to operation (July 2020) decorated as Rio Grande Southern #20. It’s current home is the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden.

Here’s what IMDb has to say about A Ticket to Tomahawk:

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




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