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.

All Aboooooard! The train conductor (played by Percy Helton) waves a big highball, but is pulled out of the way by an onrushing Charlie Cowell (played by Harry Hickox). Anvil salesman Cowell is just steps ahead of an angry lynch mob who made it plain, “we don’t want no more traveling salesmen in Brighton!”.

A couple notes. First, it looks like a flat board painted as a three axle truck is covering the actual wheelset. Second, Brighton, Illinois is located about 35 miles from St. Louis, Missouri (on the former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad) and is nowhere near Iowa.

As Cowell makes his way down the aisle, we get our first glimpse of “Professor” Hill with his back to the camera. “Wherever the people are as green as the money…friend.”

The train starts with a jolt, spilling the drummers every which way. Soon enough, a salesman (Max Showalter) starts up the chant. “Cash for the merchandise… Cash for the button hooks…” in rhythm with the train’s gathering speed.

I love all the sample cases up in the luggage rack!

Wister’s Balsam & Wild Cherry
Tri City Apothecary Co. Foreign Leeches, etc.  Eew. Sounds nasty.
Fowles Humor Cure
Webster’s Dictionaries Unabridged

The “Whaddiyatalk” guy; Just look at all that detail including gold scrollwork on the wooden posts; “Hill??” Nice water cooler behind Max; “And the piccolo, the piccolo…

Scant views of OR&LC #85 during the Rock Island “chant” (dare I say, rap?). I found one color shot of the Hawaiian 4-6-0 (built by Alco-Cooke in 1910) when it still resided in Griffith Park.

Oahu Railway & Land Company Locomotive #85 has since been repatriated to Hawaii and is currently undergoing a cosmetic restoration.

From the website of the Hawaiian Railway Society comes this image of OR&LC #85 as well as a plan for its cosmetic restoration.  You can find more information about the Oahu Railway & Land Company by visiting their website.

Three axle truck rolling along; “Yessss Sir…Yessss Sir…”

“But he doesn’t know the territory!!” The train stops suddenly (rookie engineer) once more, sending the traveling salesmen flying. “River City — just crossed the state line into Io-way. Cigarettes illegal in this State!”

Meanwhile, Cowell continues to pontificate about what he’ll do to Hill someday. Realizing the jig is up, Hill makes a hasty retreat and waves farewell to the traveling drummers.

I love the oval windows, vestibules and lacquered wooden sides of the CHAIR car.

Now on the studio backlot, Hill accosts the US Mail-toting station agent, but gets only stoic silence (“Iowa Stubborn” begins playing). In the background is a single box car #39095 of the fictional “The W&I Line”.

Our final railroad shot is of the River City depot. Note there appears to be only one track (underneath the box car) with a very substantial bumper post at one end. In addition, a large berm appears to bar any trackage to the East (from where Hill just rode in on the train).

I know. Only a real train geek would notice such things. Guilty as charged.

Anyways, it was a fun “train movie” to review, mostly filmed in the studio to be sure, but well done with good attention to period detail. “Gentlemen, you intrigue me. I think I’ll have to give Iowa a try!”

Here’s what IMDb has to say about The Music Man:

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!




3 thoughts on “The Music Man 1962

  1. MilwaukeeNotebook

    Great write-up. The “Cash for the merchandise” song starts the movie off on a high note and while the rest of the film is woefully short of trains it’s full of other fun details, such as the poor salesman who has to tote around a stupendously heavy sample case of blacksmith anvils!



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