The Iron Horse 1924


William Fox Presentation
US Version 149 minutes

John Ford’s epic directorial masterpiece (epic usually means over two hours in length) about the building of the first transcontinental railroad in the United States.

This mostly-forgotten silent picture featured a remarkable amount of location shooting, hand-building of the railroad across the prairie, hostile encounters with disgruntled Indians, even a little boy-girl romance thrown in.  At almost 2 1/2 hours, the film moves along surprisingly well and Ford did a pretty decent job with historical accuracy.  Continue reading by clicking on the link below…and enjoy!


Location shooting also meant they got snowed on!  Construction locomotive #1 shivers in the winter wonderland of “North Platte, Nebraska”, part of the construction camp scene built by filmmakers out in the boonies.


During the early construction phase of the movie, we start with scenes on the Central Pacific, showing Chinese workers clearing the way through the Sierra Nevada mountains.


Cutting a tunnel through solid rock; PUSHING a steam locomotive over rugged terrain towards the construction zone.


Meanwhile back in Nebraska, Union Pacific crews are aligning tracks the old-fashioned way.


OK, I doubt there’s much drilling going on across the prairie, but the chanting helps the crews with heavy, repetitive tasks (like straightening and tamping track).


Indian attack of a westbound train; piling ties on the right-of-way works every time.

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The Super Chief lets fly with an arrow; In no time at all, the train is peppered with projectiles as the Indians raid the train.

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The railroad calls in the army to help protect the workers;  Soon solders stand guard with muskets stacked neatly nearby for the workers in case of future Indian attacks.

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Moving day!  Most of North Platte is loaded up and its denizens make the long trek to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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Building the railroad carries on; How about setting rails in place by hand? No mechanical tampers or CWR track renewal machines back then.


Uh-oh, those pesky Indians are back;  Surrounded!  It looks like the end-of-track gang is finished.


But wait!  Our hero Dave Brandon (played by George O’Brien) has uncoupled old #22 and is flying back to town for help!


After rounding up all able-bodied men (and women — including the saloon’s dance hall girls), #22 races west to battle the maurading tribes.


Brandon and his sweetheart Miriam Marsh (played by Madge Bellamy) prepare to shoot it out with the entire Cheyenne nation – that’s “Buffalo Bill” Cody in the buckskins (played by George Waggner).


After fierce battle, the rescue train backs down to the settlement with a very subdued crowd on board.


Promontory Point, Utah!  The Central Pacific and Union Pacific are about to meet at last.


Original locomotives used?  Not exactly.  Both CP #60, The Jupiter, and UP #119 had been scrapped by the time of filming and it was UP #119 present that date at Promontory Point, not UP #116 as depicted.

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Dave and Miriam together again as West meets East.


Leland Stanford of the Central Pacific trots out the golden spike; Say Cheeeeese!

As my first viewing of this picture, I was very impressed.  The location shooting really gives you a sense of what the workers went through (you can see their breath in many scenes).  I appreciate the effort made down to the smallest details (beat up, old wooden freight equipment, elderly steam engines, unballasted track, spectacular backgrounds in almost every exterior shot, etc.  If you haven’t seen The Iron Horse yet, grab yourself some popcorn and stream it the next rainy night.  D-O-N-E!

Here’s what IMDb has to say about The Iron Horse:

If you have ANY information about this movie, please contact me at:


About Lindsay Korst

Webmaster, Blogmaster, Ferroequinologist - Lindsay Korst works 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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3 Responses to The Iron Horse 1924

  1. Great post, thanks!


  2. theabandonedcarousel says:

    Thanks for this excellent recap of the movie + screenshots. I believe it is the CP Huntington standing in for the Jupiter, at least in parts of the film. When the movie premiered at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in 1925, the CPH was actually parked in the courtyard of the theater to help promote the film. Great blog!


  3. Pingback: C. P. Huntington | Train & Theme Park History | The Abandoned Carousel

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