Coal Miner’s Daughter 1980

Universal Studios

This movie review was inspired by one of my favorite monthly publications. Kalmbach’s Trains Magazine (October 2021, page 28) published an article about the steam locomotive used in 1980’s, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”. I picked up a DVD of this excellent movie, but WAS disappointed in the lack of train screen time in the actual film.

Fortunately, the Trains article and a little web-searching revealed a bounty of pictures and information on our locomotive d’jour: Canadian Pacific Railway 4-6-4 Class H1c #2839 “Royal Hudson” built by Montreal Locomotive Works in 1937. At the time of filming, the #2839 had been restored to operation and was used in the Southern Railway’s steam locomotive program. In addition, Southern provided a series of 3 bay coal hoppers and passenger cars for use in the picture.

Railroad filming locations included Pardee, Virginia and Blackey, Kentucky. Moviemakers even built an authentic depot to represent Van Lear, KY. This station was later moved to Duffield, VA where it exists today in private ownership.

Let’s visit deepest, darkest Appalachia and watch Southern #2839 star in a pivotal scene of Coal Miner’s Daughter.

Southern #2839 is briefly seen during the opening credits as Loretta Lynn (played by Sissy Spacek) canters along on horseback.

The story begins with Doolittle Lynn (played by Tommy Lee Jones), just out of the Army, bouncing across the tracks in his red 1948-1952-era Jeep (Thanks for the I.D., big brother!). After re-crossing the tracks, he pulls up to a building just as the coal miners are getting off their shift.

If you look in the background of the first picture, you can see the studio-built depot in the background. These scenes were filmed in Pardee, VA on the Interstate Railroad.

On a bet, Doolittle attempts to drive his jeep up a steep incline as Loretta watches — fascinated. In the background of each screen capture are Southern 70-ton coal hoppers. For comparison, is this prototype photo of SOU #72663 – from the Dan Bourque collection.

In another view at the Pardee coal tipple, we can see at least one 100-ton, 3-bay coal hopper, SOU #350475. I found a similar HO-scale model of the hopper at this link.

To get an idea of the filming locations, I have included a Rick Johnson map from the Trains article.

At the 38 minute mark, are some railroad tracks (no trains) filmed in Blackey. Blackey is northwest of Pardee across the state line into Kentucky. These tracks are a branch line of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.

40 minutes in — is the “farewell depot scene” (as I call it). Loretta’s dad, Ted Webb (played by Levon Helm) waits with Loretta at the studio-built Van Lear station. If you look in the background past Sissy Spacek, you can see the crossing and crossbucks where Tommy Lee drove his jeep earlier. Thus the location is again at Pardee, VA.

Note: The lower-quadrant depot semaphore is a fake as well — there are no rods attached to operate the blades!

“I ain’t never gonna see ya agin” says Ted as ominous black smoke pours from the locomotive, a la “Shadow of a Doubt”.

This is where SOU #2839 makes her big appearance. The 4-6-4 comes charging past the embracing father and daughter in a fine display of smoke and steam. Note the “SOUTHERN” neatly painted on the side of the tender.

From the Trains article are views of filming at the station with #2839 approaching (Jim Sistline, Sam Dunaway collection) and the Van Lear depot moved to Duffield, VA, where it is in private hands (Ron Flanary photo).

Four views of the #2839 during her lifespan:

  1. Black and white view from 1958 in service at Lambton, Ontario on August 30, 1958.
  2. Railfan excursion on the Southern Railway at Salisbury, North Carolina ( just before filming began. Notice some of the passenger cars are the same ones used in the movie.
  3. The current location of #2839 back in Canadian Pacific dress is Sylmar, California. The 4-6-4 resides at the Nethercutt Museum.
  4. Rapido Trains even made a well-received model of various Royal Hudsons.

In the final “train” scene, a 1955 Ford Mainline (thanks again, Mark!) comes flying over the tracks as Loretta and Doolittle make their way to the big time in Nashville.

There are four preserved “Royal Hudsons” in existence. I have ridden behind and visited the #2860, now a beautiful display at the West Coast Railway Museum in Squamish, British Columbia. #2860 could conceivably be put back in service with some shop time but, alas, that takes a great deal of money.

Many thanks to:

Trains Magazine, October 2021, Page 28 “Proud to be a coal miner’s Royal Hudson”.
by Ron Flanary with Sam Dunaway.

Here’s what IMDb has to say about Coal Miner’s Daughter:

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!



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