Tag Archives: Union Pacific Railroad

Switchback 1997

Paramount Studios

I first heard about this movie from a blog! Many thanks to James Tiroch and his Cinetrains site for providing a wealth of information about the two locomotives used in filming AND their disposition afterwards.

Despite the snazzy “Grande Gold” graphic (see below image) splashed across their flanks, these are NOT Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW) locomotives! At the time of filming, Union Pacific owned D&RGW and would not allow use of their equipment. Movie makers simply leased a couple locomotives and painted them up the way they liked.

And WHAT a couple of engines they are! Two former Southern Pacific EMD-built (1970) SD39’s #5319 & #5325 dressed up in Rio Grande “speed lettering”. Let’s check out this film on the “Main Line Thru The Rockies”.

A pair of Rio Grande diesels is about to enter a tunnel deep in a Colorado canyon. These Espee SD39’s in disguise were frequently renumbered to represent different trains. Notice the cabside number location has been painted out. Here the lead unit is “2010” and the trailing unit is “234”.

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Appointment With Danger 1950

Paramount Pictures

Let’s hear it for the Post Office! Or to quote from the film’s opening with triumphant march music playing in the background: “We’re proud of our Post Office, because we have confidence in its efficiency”. Well, things have changed a bit since 1950, but back in the day….

Many thanks to reader Mark Herrmann who tipped me off about this film noir goodie. After purchasing the DVD, I researched it and discovered train scenes filmed in Indiana AND Southern California. In addition to Alan Ladd (who plays the tough-as-nails Postal Inspector, Al Goddard), there are small parts played by Jack Webb (“My name’s Friday”) and Harry Morgan as two gang henchmen. That’s Al stepping off the caboose above.

As always, I’m gonna concentrate on the railroad pulchritude and leave the plot and gangster genre for others who may follow. C’mon, let’s check out trains from NYC, Pere Marquette, C&NW, Pennsylvania and Union Pacific railroads!

Gary (Indiana) Union Station was a beautiful structure when constructed in 1910 – as well as a pivotal plot point in this movie. Located between the New York Central and Baltimore & Ohio mainlines, both roads were served by this two-story edifice.

In these two views, we get a look inside and out of the passenger terminal. The depot still exists, but is literally a shell of its former self. That’s a 1949 Checker Cab (Thanks, big brother Mark!).

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Sudden Fear 1952

RKO Radio Pictures

A cross country train trip on a through sleeping car is the highlight of today’s feature. Believe it or not, back in the 1950’s, you could ride from New York City to Chicago, then on to San Francisco (Oakland) in the same sleeping car. Other railroads also offered similar coast to coast service.

What we see on screen (and out the window) is a wonderful mish-mosh of various railroads — some that would definitely NOT be on our movie’s NYCBurlingtonD&RGWWP routing.

Myra Hudson (played by Joan Crawford) is a successful playwright whose smash hit is running on Broadway. Whilst riding the train out of New York, she spots Lester Blaine (played by Jack Palance) boarding at an intermediate stop. Myra had rather abruptly dismissed Lester from her play. Well. This might be a touch uncomfortable.

Palance turned in a wonderfully-creepy performance in this picture and Crawford… oh, those scary eyebrows. No wonder she wound up portrayed in the campy horror classic, Mommie Dearest. “Tina!! Bring me the axe!”

Anyway. It’s film noir on a train and that’s always a winner. Remember The Narrow Margin, anyone?

Can’t have a noir flick without smoke. Through the haze we see the studio’s recreation of Grand Central Terminal.

Note in the background, Track 25: Commodore Vanderbilt (Train 67) and Track 24: State of Maine Express. Myra would have taken Train 67 which carried the through 10-6 sleeper.

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Webs of Steel 1926

Anchor Film Distributors

Wow! This obscure, little gem is just PACKED with railroad action. While many/most of the early B&W movies I have reviewed (such as Murder in the Private Car 1934 and The Block Signal 1926) were filmed on Southern Pacific or Santa Fe rails, Webs of Steel was filmed mostly, if not entirely on Union Pacific Railroad (UP) in the Los Angeles area.

More specifically, we are treated to a whole slew of oil-burning, beefy 2-8-0 Class C-57’s, lettered for UP subsidiary LA&SL (Los Angeles & Salt Lake).

The heroine of this silent flick is the plucky Helen Webb (played by Helen Holmes). Actress Holmes came from a railroad family and did all of her own stunts in this movie as well as a string of other railroad-related pictures.

Two UP 6000 series 2-8-0’s are blasting along during the elopement scene. Helen and her beau (the engineer) are trying to stay ahead of the second 2-8-0 bearing her father — who does not approve of this joining! Sparks are sure to fly (groan…) when Dad catches up with them.

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Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid 1969

20th Century Fox

Having won 4 Oscars, today’s movie is hardly obscure, but the use of three, count ’em THREE steam locomotives makes this a flick worth reviewing. Filmed on the Denver and Rio Grande Western (D&RGW) narrow gauge as well as an obscure Mexican 3-footer, there is a tasty selection of railroad hype to sink our teeth into.

D&RGW K-28 2-8-2 Baldwins 473 and 478 are the big stars along with some studio-constructed baggage cars and D&RGW replica coaches 330, 335, 336 as well as business car B-7.

The main actors? Oh, them. Paul Newman played Butch Cassidy with Robert Redford as The Sundance Kid.

Grateful thanks to Larry Jensen and his magnificent book, “Hollywood’s Railroads – Volume Three – Narrow Gauge Country” for being my go-to source for all-things-railroad in this classic Western.

So grab the dynamite and let’s go rob a baggage car or two. Stick ’em up!

There’s lots of leaping in this movie. Here we see The Kid jumping from car to car in the second hold up and making like a bird, bailing off the cab of #473 in the third robbery.

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Onion Pacific 1940

Paramount Pictures
A Max Fleisher Cartoon

It’s Popeye the Sailor (voiced by Jack Mercer) vs. Bluto (voiced by Pinto Colvig) in this 1940 cartoon send up of Paramount’s own epic movie Union Pacific 1939. In this black and white animation, it’s a race side by side on double track to win the state franchise (presumably to operate the railroad). Two steam engines (Bluto runs a 6-4-0, Popeye a 4-2-0) have to contend with choke points like a single track bridge and single track tunnel.

Being a cartoon allows many over-the-top gags and mishaps you simply could not do with real actors. Compared to a Warner Brothers Looney Tunes, the animation is not that great, but it’s fast with lots of action. I was able to review this picture from my Popeye The Sailor 1938-1940 DVD.

Now sit back and enjoy this train-laden feature from the early days of animation!

This sequence gets reused quite a bit as for much of the race, the two combatants are side by side, constantly trading the lead with each other. Notice animators left off one set of pilot wheels on Bluto’s locomotive making it a 4-4-0.

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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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Union Pacific 1939

Paramount Pictures

Cecil B. DeMille’s “epic” (translation: well over two hours long) film about the building of the first transcontinental railroad did everything in a big way. Big stars, train wrecks, Indian attacks and a messy love triangle for starters. Union Pacific utilized FIVE different steam locomotives — so many trains, in fact, Paramount had to obtain a railroad operating license from the Interstate Commerce Commission.

Doesn’t sound very obscure, does it? But…1939 was a long time ago and black and white turns many people off, so let’s just imagine obscurity and review it anyway. It really was a fascinating railroad movie to study.

Many many thanks to Larry Jensen and his book, “Hollywood’s Railroads, Volume One” for helping me identify the locomotives and passenger/freight cars used — most of which originally came from the Virginia & Truckee Railroad in Nevada.

As is my wont, I will concentrate on scenes where trains are involved. Camera…ACTION!

The movie premiered in Omaha, Nebraska over several days in April 1939. The recreation of the May 10, 1869 golden spike ceremony at Promontory, Utah was actually filmed near Canoga Park, California partially as a media event to promote the film.

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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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