Denver and Rio Grande 1952

 

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Paramount Pictures/Nat Holt Productions

It doesn’t get any better than narrow gauge steam in the mountains for the serious railfan.  This movie is loaded with colorful railroad action culminating in a spectacular head-on collision of two trains.

Filmed mainly on the Durango and Silverton D&RGW narrow gauge line, this little-known Technicolor gem showcases three-foot gauge steam engines trundling through the eye-popping scenery of the Colorado Rockies.

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D&RG #268, a C-16 class 2-8-0, leads a mixed train past a small shelter.  This beautiful location is along the Animas River in Colorado on the line to Silverton.

The picture begins with a wonderful look at 1950’s era operations on the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad.  F units galore.  The California Zephyr in its heyday.  Royal Gorge.  Big Ten curve.

Let’s take a look at some of these “modern day” scenes:

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D&RGW 5621 EMD F7A and D&RGW 5511 EMD FTA on freight trains.

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D&RGW 6001 Alco PA-1 descends the “Big 10 curve” eastbound towards Denver.

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D&RGW 5534 EMD F3A on a passenger train and D&RGW 5524 EMD F3A leads the California Zephyr up the Front Range out of Denver.

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D&RGW 5481 EMD FTA in the Royal Gorge; California Zephyrs pass under cloudy skies.

Our story begins as two rival railroad track gangs (D&RGW and CC&SJ “Canyon City and San Juan”) are battling one another for possession of one route through the Colorado mountains.

The D&RGW (good guys) are led by Surveyor Jim Vesser (Edmond O’Brien) and General Palmer (Dean Jagger) whilst the CC&SJ (bad guys) are helmed by McCabe (Sterling Hayden) and his eeee-vill henchman, Johnny Buff (Lyle Bettger).

D&RGW #268 C-16 class 2-8-0 is still around and on display at Gunnison, Colorado.

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The engineer of D&RG #268 “joins the birds” as his train nears a rockslide (said rockslide was triggered by a well-thrown dynamite stick by the CC&SJ miscreants); General Palmer comes up from his private car as the DRGW crew starts clearing the slide.

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Engineer Moynihan (Paul Fix — Star Trek connection!) shoots the breeze with Jane Dwyer (Zasu Pitts) from the cab of D&RGW 268; Linda Prescott (Kasey Rogers) tips off leering henchman Johnny Buff and Sterling Hayden of the D&RGW’s plans. 

As secretary to General Palmer, Linda Prescott had all sorts of insider information that she foolishly passed on to the CC&SJ.  I include this picture purely for Johnny Buff’s toothsome smirk at Prescott.

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Building the Denver and Rio Grande through the mountains.

Sterling Hayden and the boys try everything.  They rob the payroll.  They get a court injunction to stop D&RGW construction.  Nothing works for long.  Finally they steal a train (apparently you can just wave your arms in a “washout” signal and the train will stop).  Hayden and Johnny Buff load their henchman onboard and they set off to stop General Palmer’s train headed to Denver.

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“That’ll do, D&RG #319”; Nice shot of “the bad guys train” passing a water tower.

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D&RG #319 stops to pick up more henchman; Sterling Hayden takes a belt of the demon whiskey while Johnny Buff eggs on the rabble.  Check that funky green caboose!

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D&RG #319 rolls up to the unsuspecting telegrapher at “Swallows” (looks like Silverton);  With his hat at a rakish angle (must be the whiskey), Sterling Hayden looks on as his minions take over the telegraph station (note the battery acid containers? to power the telegraph).

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General Palmer rallies his troops to head out and take back the railroad; Ed O’Brien and the boys (with D&RG #268 as a respectable background) sneak up on the bad guys.

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Sterling Hayden bails off the 319 engine; the 268 engine does the same and now both trains are headed for a cornfield meet.

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OK, this is what you’ve been waiting for.  Filmed live (no miniatures and no second takes), the director used two, old, soon-to-be-retired locomotives; Note the pyrotechnics behind the trains went off a split second BEFORE the actual crash.

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Kaboom!  The trains collide in a spectacular display of smoke and flame.

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The aftermath. 

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Somehow, someway, Ed O’Brien hooks up with the “treacherous tomato” Prescott at the end of the picture.  Our final D&RGW shot is the California Zephyr heading off into the distance.

Some very useful and interesting websites I found that helped with researching this movie:

The Utah Rails website has a wonderful description of the early F unit paint schemes on the Rio Grande:

 http://utahrails.net/drgw/rg-diesel-paint-schemes.php

Lots of interesting details about the filming locations in this movie.

http://www.drgw.net/info/DenverAmpRioGrandeMovie

And, of course, here’s what IMDb has to say about Denver & Rio Grande:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044954/

If you have ANY information about this movie, please contact me at:
Lindsay.Korst@gmail.com

THE END

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About Lindsay Korst

Webmaster, Blogmaster, Ferroequinologist - Lindsay Korst works part-time for a nationwide home improvement center after a 20+ year career supporting computer users. A resident of the Seattle area since 1976, he has had a life-long interest in railroads, particularly those in the Pacific Northwest. He is an enthusiastic participant in the Great Northern Railway Historical Society. He and his wife reside in Redmond, Washington.
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2 Responses to Denver and Rio Grande 1952

  1. Pingback: Union Station 1950 | Obscure Train Movies

  2. Pingback: Breakheart Pass 1976 | Obscure Train Movies

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