Author Archives: filmrailfan

Unstoppable 2010

20th Century Fox

Train hype! Wow, a major motion picture about modern-day railroading and “inspired by true events” to boot! Unstoppable is a railfan’s dream with a colorful variety of motive power from various short lines in the area around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

This flick takes it shape from a CSX Transportation freight train runaway event in May of 2001. Of course it gets the full Hollywood treatment with fiery explosions, helicopters, police and fire units in pursuit and impossible stunts — none of which happened during the Crazy Eights incident.

Instead of following along with the story, I’m going to enjoy myself and concentrate on identifying the locomotives, railroads and possibly the locations used. IOW, pick the best pictures and interpret. It’ll be fun!

Decorated for the fictitious “Allegheny and West Virginia Railroad” (AWVR) are locomotives 777 and 767. The nose of 777 looks like a BNSF Heritage II scheme. Both engines are GE AC4400CWs leased from Canadian Pacific Railway as power for the runaway train.

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Train to Tombstone 1950

Lippert Pictures

Oh boy, another C picture from Lippert Studios. Yippie yi yo ki yay!

Don’t let the title fool you. The star attraction is a Virginia & Truckee steam locomotive and two car passenger train filmed in Nevada in that road’s last days of operation. I was able to find several color pictures of this movie train as well as extensive details about the engine.

Coming in at less than an hour run time (56 minutes, 47 seconds), there’s plenty of action including TWO Indian attacks and a motley assortment of passengers including dance hall girls, a man of the cloth, a wheelchair-bound, but nubile young woman and her elderly, straight-laced companion, a traveling corset salesman and various ruffians and rogues.

Is there really $250,000 worth of gold (GOLD!!) in the baggage car? Read along and let’s find out!

V&T 2-8-0 #5 leads mail-baggage #23 and combination car #18 in an establishing shot that will be seen repeatedly throughout our feature. Judging from the snow-capped mountains and arrow-straight track, (and a quick peek at one of my Larry Jensen books), I believe the location to be somewhere between Carson City and Minden, Nevada. Lots of pacing shots, so there’s undoubtedly a paved road paralleling the railroad.

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Murder on the Orient Express 1974

EMI Films
Paramount Pictures

Merry Christmas! Our not-particularly-obscure movie takes place in December 1935 on board the luxurious Orient Express. Although the subject is rather grim for the holiday season, it’s a crackerjack who-done-it with an all-star cast of stage and screen — and snow plays a key part in the film.

As always, the brightest star from my point of view is the train itself. Pulling the posh coaches is SNCF #4353, a 1922-built 4-6-0 steam locomotive that is still with us. In order behind the engine are a baggage car, Restaurant car (#9), Sleeping car (#7), and a Pullman Lounge car #4163.

From Istanbul, Turkey, the train traveled through “Uzunkopru, Sofia (Bulgaria), Belgrade (Serbia), Zagreb (Croatia), Brod (Kosovo), Trieste (Italy), Venice, Milan, Lausanne (Switzerland), Bazel, Paris (France), Calais, with connections for London.”

Watch Hercule Poirot (played by Albert Finney) try to unravel a tangle of clues and suspects onboard an opulent occidental passenger train.

The engineman and his conductor come face to face with a snow-filled cut as #4353 simmers in the background; Poirot plays a little air-violin in his compartment, but all is not peaceful onboard. Nice fixtures and accoutrements, though!

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Shanghai Express 1932

Paramount Pictures

Like last month’s Union Depot 1932, I’d like to thank Danny at the Pre-Code.com blog for introducing me to yet another obscure train movie.

There are only two thespians I had previously heard of in this picture: Marlene Dietrich, of course, as Shanghai Lily and Eugene Pallette as Sam Salt. Mr. Pallette was almost instantly recognizable by his voice alone. Film goers may remember him as Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood 1938 (“Give me back my mutton!“).

The real star of the show was Southern Pacific Railroad #2428, a P-3 class 4-6-2 Baldwin-built steam locomotive. I believe this was the same engine used to represent two different trains. Pulling out of Peiping (Peking), the engine is numbered 4234, then the “hostage train” is numbered 2428. To further complicate things, there are only Chinese characters in the number boards to reference, but at least the wheel arrangement matches.

Anyhoo, let’s take a look at Hollywood’s interpretation of Chinese rail transport during an ongoing civil war. Hen hao, xièxiè !

Fixing to leave Peiping, the engineer looks back for the highball. Cab side lettering reads “4234” in Chinese characters; Later on in the movie, the engine characters are switched to “2428”.

Here is a link to sister SP locomotive #2429 to see what our film’s 4-6-2 looks like without the set dressing.

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The Texas Rangers 1951

Columbia Pictures

Sierra Railroad #18 is the star of today’s feature film. This 1906 product of Baldwin Locomotive Works is painted up in a pleasing maroon and gold “Texas Central” scheme. Numbered #44, the little 2-8-0 was back dated with a box headlight and cabbage smokestack. Sierra #18 is still with us having recently (2021) been purchased with the Fred Kepner collection by the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad.

The real train action doesn’t get started until the last 10 minutes of the movie. It’s a little fuzzy (free on YouTube dontcha know), but packed with action including a big fight in the cab of the locomotive. Train robbery? Check. The payroll on board? Yep. Posse of lawmen waiting in ambush? You betcha. Innocent women and children blown to bits? Well….no. That’s Blazing Saddles.

Can a reformed outlaw find true love alongside a steam locomotive at the depot? Let’s find out!

Undercover Texas Ranger Johnny Carver (played by George Montgomery) makes his way along the tender for the final showdown with the bad guys. All that wood is just for show as I’m pretty sure #18 was an oil-burner.

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Union Depot 1932

First National Pictures

I think I heard the word, “swell” about a dozen times in this movie…which made me giggle. It’s kind of corny, but relevant slang for the times. Now, before I get too carried away here, I want to thank Danny at the Pre-Code.com blog for tipping me off about this movie. His review of this flick was a great inspiration and help in understanding what the heck was going on.

For a picture mostly filmed in the studio, Union Depot had a respectable train allotment including two Southern Pacific steam locomotives I could identify, a named Pullman 12-1 sleeper and the pre-LAUPT Southern Pacific Central Station to name a few. And let’s not overlook the enormous Union Depot set itself built in the studio — which would be re-used in many more upcoming movies.

Joan Blondell (Yowza!) plays chorus girl Ruth Collins alongside the rakish Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. as hobo/bum Chick Miller who cleans up nicely (literally) before he meets his gal pal.

Let’s go down to the station and see what’s happening. All Abooooooarrrrd!!!

Joan turns on a dazzling smile as she and Doug discuss travel plans. In the background is the Union Depot soundstage which included offices, a cafe, bathrooms, waiting room with wooden pews, numbered gates to trains and columns. Lots of columns.

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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.

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Terror on a Train 1953

Metro Goldwyn Mayer

This started out as a movie I was reviewing on YouTube. Halfway through grabbing screen caps, they took the video down, so I went out and bought the DVD. MUCH better scans that way. The title is rather misleading. The original name, “Time Bomb”, is more accurate as this movie evokes suspense rather than terror.

Filmed in Great Britain, Glenn Ford stars as the Canadian bomb expert Peter Lyncort, recruited to (hopefully) find and disarm a saboteur’s incendiary device on a trainload of mines headed to the Royal Navy at Portsmouth.

Even in the misty murk of a black and white picture, I was able to identify no less than four English steam locomotives. French actress Anne Vernon plays the saucy wife of Glenn Ford, “Janine”, so the movie is not a complete weinerfest. Diffusing a bomb has got to be a perishable skill. Let’s see if ol’ Peter still has what it takes…

Here’s a movie poster for the original title. It looks like Glenn Ford is throwing a football; LOTS of interesting detail on the EXPLOSIVES placard.

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Loves Labor Won 1948


20th Century Fox
Terrytoons Studios

Here I come, to save the daaaay! Yes, it’s Mighty Mouse once more battling Oil Can Harry for the affections of lovely Pearl Pureheart.

This train-laced, Terrytoons animated short, is done in a wonderful, fake-opera, melodramatic style with MM (our hero) belting out tenor, OCH (our villian) singing bass/baritone and PP (our damsel in distress) warbling soprano.

The art work is right up there with Warner Brothers for quality and the animators did a great job with backgrounds and interiors. Lots of action and enough asides and adult-gags to keep it interesting.

On with the show!

Wonderfully-detailed coach interior right down to the red-plush seats and pot-bellied stove; Standard old-fashioned steam locomotive about to change into an anthropomorphic object at the hands of Oil Can Harry.

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Western Pacific Agent 1950

Lippert Pictures, Inc.

What better way to showcase Western Pacific Railroad’s spanking new streamliner (the California Zephyr) than shoehorning train footage into a Noir B picture?

The opening credits and first three minutes of this movie feature the CZ both inside and out with location shooting on Altamont Pass, Feather River Canyon and the WP Sacramento station.

This 72 minute potboiler tells the story of WP Special Agent Rod Kendall (played by Kent Taylor) who is tracking down the mad killer Frank Wicken (played by Mickey Knox).

All Aboard!

Is that Jack Benny talking to the statuesque blonde in the Vista Dome? ………WELL! Nah, no idea who he is, but his gal pal is actress Vera Marshe; Led by WP #801, an EMD A-B-B set of 1947 F3 locomotives worth 4500 hp, the California Zephyr glides into Sacramento. Quite a crowd on hand ready to board.

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