Iron Will 1994

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Walt Disney Pictures

No less than three of my readers recommended this movie to me. Indeed, it is a train-laced adventure throughout and much deserving of the title, “Obscure Train Movie” as I had never heard of it before! Set in the winter of 1917, Iron Will is loosely-based on a Winter Carnival dog sled race from Winnipeg to St. Paul once sponsored by James J. Hill and the Great Northern Railway.

Two of the film’s stars are the hero Mackenzie Austin [seen above with his dogsled racing the train] as Will Stoneman (“Iron” Will…get it?) and Duluth & Northern Minnesota 2-8-2 #14.

Mostly filmed during a snowy and frozen-solid Minnesota winter (January through March 1993, Brrr….) around Duluth, this flick really makes you feel the COLD as you watch it. Prop up your feet with a mug of cocoa and enjoy!

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D&NM #14 marches along on a clear and cold day somewhere in the “Arrowhead” region of Minnesota. The little 1913 Baldwin 2-8-2 posed as several different locomotives by changing the front number plate (#807 is one number I was able to make out).

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Streamline Express 1935

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Mascot Pictures

Streamlined trains were all the rage in the mid-1930’s as railroads tried to shake their stodgy image of heavyweight Pullman train travel. Streamline Express has a plot very similar to my previously-reviewed movie, “Twentieth Century” (high-strung diva quits the New York stage / stage manager pursues to bring her back).

Starring Victor Jory as Jimmy Hart and Evelyn Venable as Patricia Wallace, the movie relies mainly on oversize sets depicting spacious accommodations on-board. I really dig the chrome and glass Art Deco set dressing on-board the train. Mascot put quite a little effort into this film — no creaking floorboards, for example.

Movie buffs will remember Victor Jory as the cashiered overseer of Tara plantation in Gone With The Wind.

Let’s check out the Streamline Express as it wobbles down the track!

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The highlight of the picture is the funky model the studio rigged up on some kind of monorail track. It looks like a cross between the original Pioneer Zephyr and a tuna.

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Posse 1975

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Paramount Pictures

Kirk Douglas (Howard Nightingale) and Bruce Dern (Jack Strawhorn) star in this off-beat Western from the cynical seventies. Outshining both of them is Virginia & Truckee 4-4-0 #11 (The Reno), built by Baldwin in 1872, and leading its little train of one boxcar and coach.

The movie itself contains a lot of political twaddle (Douglas is a sheriff running for governor), but the railroad scenes are outstanding with horse chases, gunplay, explosions, fireballs and leaping on and off a train moving in REVERSE!

Filmed in the Old Tucson western town (pre-1995 fire) and on Southern Pacific’s Hayden branch in Arizona, Posse will satisfy all your train action needs. Saddle up!

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A posse is in pursuit of the Reno as it churns along in the hands of that evil villain, Strawhorn. Are those flames shooting out of the boxcar? Explosions coming up, oh boy!!

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Sinister Journey 1948

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United Artists

Hopalong Cassidy (played by William Boyd) stars alongside the Southern Pacific Railway’s isolated 3-foot narrow gauge operation in the Owens Valley of California. This 59 minute Western featured the talents of SP 4-6-0 #8, built by Baldwin in 1907 for the Nevada-California-Oregon Railway. #8 came to the Espee narrow gauge in 1928.

There’s trouble on the “S.R.” line. VP Tom Smith, played by Stanley Andrews, has sent for Hoppy to troubleshoot and investigate all the accidents and mischief on his railroad. Much to the big shot’s dismay, his lovely daughter has taken up with a local brakeman who (gasp!) previously spent a little time in the slammer.

All signs point to the guilt of the ex-con, but who’s really responsible? Come hop along (groan…) and take a little tour of SP steam freight with three feet between the rails!

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As the brakeman frantically waves a “stop sign”, you can clearly see the locomotive’s actual smoke stack sticking up above the fake cabbage stack installed for this picture. Nice view of the mountains, water tower and various lineside shacks.

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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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