Tag Archives: Steam Locomotive

Sleepers West 1941

20th Century Fox

What could be more fun than a Fox “B” picture mostly taking place on a train? Private dick Michael Shayne (played by Lloyd Nolan) is transporting a surprise witness to a trial in San Francisco. Along the way, Shayne has to sort through plenty of onboard suspects who would like him (and his incognito witness) to not reach the courtroom.

If this plot sounds familiar, it was reused at least twice in 1952’s The Narrow Margin and 1990’s Narrow Margin.

Most of the onboard action takes place on sets, but there’s plenty of live train scenes including use of a Santa Fe Railway locomotive and depot location I could actually identify.

Even a “B” picture can have great, detailed scenes if you’ve got access to 20th Century Fox’s resources. Marble ticket counter, chandeliers, neon signs and arched track gates.

Can you spot the one little error in the train departure board? On most railroads, Denver to San Francisco would be considered westbound and thus the train should have an odd number. As an Amtrak conductor once said, “The odds go to San Francisco”.

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The Sting 1973

Universal Pictures

New York Central Railroad’s famed 20th Century Limited is the setting for a key portion of today’s movie review. Leaving New York City at 4:15pm and arriving Chicago at 9:00am, Westbound train #25 was a Pullman-only heavyweight train when the movie takes place (September 1936).

Train scenes were filmed in Chicago at Union Station, LaSalle Street Station, and the 43rd Street “L” station. There were also a few, brief railroad shots filmed in the Los Angeles area.

The onboard sequence appears to have utilized a heavyweight “section” sleeper made up for daytime configuration. They could have been using studio-owned passenger cars or even a set for this.

Let’s take a ride on the Century!

A view inside Henry Gondorff’s (played by Paul Newman) bedroom. Painted apple green, I really dig the fixtures and Pullman washcloths, but that huge liquid soap dispenser looks out of place somehow.  Exterior of LaSalle Street Station in Chicago.  It seems mighty dark for the train to be arriving at 9:00am!

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Empire on Parade 1957

Empire Photosound, Inc.

We sing the song of a railroad! Narrator Roger Krupp waxes poetic during this 40 minute film extolling the history and present day operations (circa 1957) of the Great Northern Railway.

Empire on Parade features the westward journey of freight train #401 from Minneapolis to Seattle and the industries and agriculture it serves along the way. We also get many views of the GN’s flagship Empire Builder passenger train.

It’s a festival of first-generation diesel locomotives including representatives from EMD, Alco and Baldwin.  In color.  So let’s take a journey during the hey-day of the post-war Big G.

The Empire Builder is about to drop a semaphore signal somewhere in the Montana Rockies. Note the 3 short Great Dome coaches and 1 large Great Dome lounge car which helps date the film after late 1955.

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The Polar Express 2004

Warner Brothers

Ah, Polar Express.  A 21st Century classic Yuletide movie and the fund-raising savior of tourist railroads everywhere.  The soft-focus animated film featuring a magic train and steam locomotive on its way to the North Pole, Christmas Eve.

And WHAT a locomotive! Can you get any more Christmassy than Pere Marquette #1225, a “Superpower” 2-8-4 Berkshire built in October 1941 by the Lima Locomotive Works? Filmmakers used actual blueprints of this steam engine to assist animators along with recorded sounds made by PM #1225.

Hey, Christmas (12-25-2020) is coming up soon, so climb aboard with a bunch of other lucky kids and ride with conductor Tom Hanks to (maybe) see Santa away up North. All Abooooooard!!

How would you like to see this pull up your street? I love the rounded-end heavyweight observation car with Mars light and P.E. drumhead. Better hold onto that golden round-trip ticket real tight, son…

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Support Your Local Gunfighter 1971



United Artists

James Garner is riding the narrow gauge rails of the Denver & Rio Grande Western (D&RGW) Railroad in this Western spoof follow-up to 1969’s Support Your Local Sheriff!

Train scenes in this film were brief, but feature 4 different steam locomotives, one of which I’ve not been able to positively identify. A big shout out to Larry Jensen whose “Hollywood’s Railroads, Volume 3” book helped me identify one engine used on the CBS Studio City (CA) lot.

As usual, I’ll concentrate on the railroad scenes in my review, even though the movie itself is great fun to watch — back when Tinseltown knew how to make an enjoyable, entertaining picture.

Let’s take a trip on the 3-feet-between-the-rails Rio Grande railroad. Highball!!

 

D&RGW #478, a narrow gauge K-28 class 2-8-2 Alco class of 1924, leads a short train of “Grande Gold” and silver coaches along the Animas River on the Silverton Line.

Helicopter shots of this train were used at the beginning and ending of today’s reviewed movie.
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The Train 1964

United Artists

While not particularly OBSCURE, (Trains Magazine rated it the #1 greatest railroad film, evah), this black & white MOVIE is chock full of TRAINS from start to finish. So, two out of three ain’t bad.

Mind you, it’s a foreign film, which I usually don’t review, but The Train features so many explosions, spectacular derailments and is steam locomotive-propelled throughout, I just couldn’t pass it up.

Burt Lancaster, American accent intact, stars as the engine driver Labiche (pronounced Labeesh) — more about his funny last name later.

So come on, all you World War 2 buffs, let’s check out how the railway workers of the French Resistance take on the Germans in this gritty, over-exposed iron horse opera.

Colonel Franz Von Waldheim (played by Paul Scofield) is the art connoisseur who has looted a trainload of paintings from the Musee du Jeu de Paume and intends to take it back to Germany for ransom (“enough to equip 10 panzer divisions”).

How come English stage actors seem to make the most sinister and convincing stiff-arm saluting German officers?

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Choo Choo Bob 2008

Birdhouse Holdings / Qubo

It’s The Choo Choo Bob Show!! Roaring out of the Twin Cities of Minnesota comes this fun little (each episode is but 12 minutes long) children’s show — all about trains. There is a great article about the show HERE, which describes how it came to be. The show even has its own clubhouse and store in Saint Paul where episodes where/are filmed.

Each episode features a live action video of real railroading and for the purposes of this review, I have chosen the Milwaukee Road #261 steam engine trip.

Choo Choo Bob (played by Sam Heyn) and Engineer Paul (played by Paul Howe) take a ride down the Mississippi on former CMStP&P (now Canadian Pacific) tracks aboard the beautiful Cedar Rapids Skytop observation car.

Oh, yes. See the show’s logo at the top of this page? That image of a diesel locomotive looks familiar to me. We’ll be revisiting that image later on in this review. All Aboard!

Milwaukee Road S3 class 4-8-4 #261 (built by Alco – Schenectady in July 1944) gallops along at track speed whilst back in the Skytop, Bob and Paul enjoy the view. Friends of 261 operates and maintains this Minneapolis-based locomotive and train.

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The Greatest Show on Earth 1952

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Paramount Pictures

The circus traveled by rail as demonstrated in Cecil B. DeMille’s Technicolor masterpiece of 1952. Winning the Oscar for Best Picture, this is the film that made Charlton Heston a star.

For this review, I concentrated on circus scenes that had trains in the background. Some highlights include an Atlantic Coast Line (ACL) steam locomotive and caboose, a Pennsy GG-1 electric and a elaborately-detailed scale model of the two circus trains.

Our review begins 19 minutes into the movie as the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (RBandB&B) prepares to leave its Winter Quarters in Sarasota, Florida.

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It took hundreds, if not thousands of people to operate the circus. As wagons of equipment are loaded piggyback-style on the left, performers and support staff prepare to board the passenger train on the right.

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The General 1926

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United Artists

Buster Keaton’s masterpiece from 1926 is both a silent picture and black and white, which makes it about as obscure a train movie to modern audiences, as can be. Based on the true-to-life Andrews Raid during the Civil War, location shooting took place on the Oregon, Pacific & Eastern railroad near Cottage Grove.

Filmmakers were able to discover three 4-4-0 locomotives in Oregon to use for the movie. They were:

OP&E #4, built by Cooke Locomotive Works in 1886. This became W&A #3, “General”.
OP&E #5, built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1881. This became W&A #5, “Texas”.
OP&E #1, built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1881. This became USMRR #8, unnamed.

Chock full of railroad scenes featuring some incredible stunts by Keaton, I had a difficult time chopping down over 200 screen caps to a manageable 64 for this review.

Our story begins in 1861, Marietta, Georgia….

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…where a despondent Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton) has been denied enlistment, account being too valuable as an Engineer on the Western & Atlantic (W&A) Railroad. As he rests on the main driving rod of the 4-4-0, a hostler moves General into the shed.

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Other Men’s Women 1931

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Warner Brothers

Southern Pacific Lines and their subsidiary San Diego & Arizona (SD&A) gave movie-makers carte blanche in filming this railroad-themed motion picture. The star of the show is a chunky little 2-8-0 SD&A #103, a C-8 class steam locomotive (Baldwin 1904). There’s a host of other Espee steam power seen in passing to keep things interesting.

Lots of action (this being a Warner’s picture) including crewmen on the car tops, bailing off and on moving trains, a couple fist fights in the cab and an actual side-swipe wreck of two trains. Future big stars, James Cagney and Joan Blondell make brief appearances in minor roles.

So let’s climb aboard and see Southern Pacific Railroad in all its glory as it rolls through Southern California in the early 1930’s. Highball!

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SD&A #103 trundles through the night with a long string of Pacific Fruit Express refrigerator cars bearing both Southern Pacific and Union Pacific markings.

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