The Journey of Natty Gann 1985

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Walt Disney Pictures

I had always heard about this movie in passing, but had never actually watched it until just recently for this blog review. Filmed in the wilds of British Columbia, we are treated to TWO Canadian-built steam locomotives, Canadian Pacific #3716 and MacMillan Bloedel #1077, rolling through incomparable western panoramas.

From Depression-era Chicago (in the 1930’s), this flick is the story of a young girl’s journey to join her father in Washington State where he has found a hard-won logging job. Natty Gann (played by a 15-year-old Meredith Salenger) faces many challenges and perils along the way and befriends both a fellow traveler, Harry, (played by a 19-year-old John Cusack) and, of all things, a semi-tame Wolf (played by Jed), as she treks west.

Much of Natty’s expedition is accomplished hobo-style, hopping freight trains and dodging the wrath of the railroad bulls. As a result, there is a fairly large proportion of train action in this movie. Come along for the ride!

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CP #3716 rolls over a nice, little steel truss bridge in British Columbia. I swear I’ve seen this spot somewhere along the British Columbia Railway, ex-Pacific Great Eastern mainline, from North Vancouver to Squamish and on northward.

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Twisted Rails 1934

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Imperial Productions

Filmmakers in the early days of Hollywood, found nearby railroads the perfect tableau for exciting movies.  Trains provided hefty size, motion, smoke and steam, action, and an inevitable excuse to use dynamite! 1934’s Twisted Rails follows the same pattern as my previously-reviewed movies such as Dynamite Denny and Red Signals.  In this case, “The Wrecker” is causing havoc out on the Santa Fe Railway.

Let’s play along and see what action! thrills! excitement! turn up in this early talkie along the high iron.

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One of the chase scenes occurs at the Santa Fe roundhouse in Redondo Junction (Los Angeles). Here we see a couple of 3700 class 4-8-2 Mountain types built by Baldwin between 1918 and 1924.

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Continental Divide 1981

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Universal Pictures

John Belushi’s penultimate (fancy word for “second-to-last”) movie featured a kaleidoscope of early Amtrak era equipment. Reporter Ernie Souchak (Belushi) is chasing his love interest Nell Porter (played by Blair Brown) cross country as they journey from Chicago to fictional Victor, Wyoming by train.

The film’s final 14 minutes contain scenes of 3 different Amtrak locomotives and early “Heritage Fleet” passenger cars resplendent in Amtrak Phase I red, white, blue and silver paint. To top it off, the picture’s last moments (Victor, WY) were filmed in little Cedar Falls, Washington on the now-abandoned Pacific Extension of the Milwaukee Road. Climb aboard and watch John Belushi play it straight (no wild comedy — this is mostly a chick flick) westbound on Amtrak.

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Ernie (Belushi) hustles trackside alongside Amtrak sleeper #2552 “Brooklyn Bridge”. This car started out life as Rock Island Railroad’s #632 Rampart Ridge for service on such trains as the Golden State Limited.

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3:10 to Yuma 1957

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Columbia Pictures

Not as well known as 1952’s High Noon, 3:10 to Yuma features a Southern Pacific Railroad Class M-4 Alco 2-6-0 steam engine and train. Filming of the railroad scenes during the movie’s exciting climax occurred in and around little Elgin, Arizona on Espee’s former Patagonia branch — long since abandoned.

From what I’ve researched about this film, no one seems to know for sure exactly WHICH SP 2-6-0 was used. In the picture, the engine is lettered as X62 for the “Yuma and Benson Southern Railroad”, as is the rest of the train (stock car, coach, baggage car, caboose).

Despite having less than 5 minutes of screen time, the Espee consist highlights the climax and resolution of the movie’s conflict.

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Y&BS X62 trundles into town wreathed in steam. The entire train can be seen in this shot as it pulls into fictitious “Contention City”, Arizona.

Merriam-Webster.com defines contentious as, “exhibiting an often perverse and wearisome tendency to quarrels and disputes”. A questionable thing to name your town after, but certainly appropriate to the film’s plot.

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How The West Was Won 1962

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Metro Goldwyn Meyer

Filmed in glorious Cinerama with a 3 camera setup, this epic film was a star-studded masterpiece of the Hollywood craft. Of more importance to us, are the two steam locomotives and their accompanying rolling stock which graced the movie in the “The Railroad” and “The Outlaws” segments.

Virginia & Truckee #11, “The Reno” (At the time, owned by MGM Studios) was brought out from California to near Rapid City, South Dakota for the “Railroad” construction scenes.

Magma Arizona Railroad #7, (At the time working at the Magma Copper Mine) was filmed on home rails during the movie’s climactic “Outlaws” chase scene and shootout.

Let’s check out two iron horses as they gallop through some eye-popping Western scenery.  Highball!

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Disguised as “Verde & Rio Grande Railroad #7”, this 1917 2-8-2 Baldwin product and train trundles through the cactus-laden Arizona desert.

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Midnight Limited 1940

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Monogram Pictures

Jewel thieves are working the Montreal train! Yes, foppish rich-o’s are being relieved of their ice at an alarming rate in this shadowy B-picture from Monogram Studios (motto: We make crappy films and we don’t care).

Mostly filmed on sets, Midnight Limited features 3 separate train journeys, a damsel in distress, one dramatic red herring, lots of men in snappy hats, and a little gunplay at the climax. It’s so bad, it’s good. Shall we take a peek inside? I double dog dare ya!

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It’s kinda pathetic when the best images from a movie come from the posters in the theatre lobby; The headline says it all. Surely the railroad has SOMEONE on the job…

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Trading Places 1983

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Paramount Pictures

While not generally thought of as a train movie, Trading Places uses an Amtrak journey along the Northeast Corridor (NEC) from Washington D.C. to New York City as a key plot device.

Even though most of the interior train shots appear to be sets, there are plenty of fast runbys, external views of sparkling new Buddbuilt Amfleet cars and a brief scene inside Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. It’s NRPC in the 1980s. Check it out!

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In the opening credits, we get a brief glimpse of the Tropicana Orange Juice train on elevated right of way through Philadelphia. F.C.O.J. (frozen concentrated orange juice) would figure significantly in the film’s story.

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