Screen Gems Television
“Come all you rounders if you want to hear, a story ’bout a brave engineer…”. Alan Hale, Jr. stars as Casey Jones in this early television series which ran on independent station KTTV in Los Angeles for one season (1957-58).
I was able to obtain the entire series on DVD, but for the purposes of this review will concentrate on the pilot episode, “Night Mail” — which seems to have the most train action per square foot. Indeed, Night Mail features a race between two rival railroads AND footage lifted directly out of the 1950 movie, “A Ticket to Tomahawk”.
Sierra Railroad #3 and Rio Grande Southern #20 are the 4-6-0 steam locomotive stars in this action-packed show. Let’s take a closer look.
It’s amazing what you can do with a little trick photography. Here we see two versions of Sierra #3 racing itself with a split screen. In these shots, there always seemed to be a tree or something vertical to break up the “seam”. Different appliances (fake headlight, smokestack, etc.) completed the illusion.
The episode starts right off with a side view of RGS #20, a narrow-gauge 4-6-0 named Emma Sweeney. For comparison, I include this admittedly fuzzy screen capture from A Ticket to Tomahawk.
Alice and Bobby are trackside to greet Casey as he pulls up with the Cannonball. Elaborate tender graphics which roughly resembles the above tender shot of RGS #20.
The Midwest & Central Railroad wants the mail contract from St. Louis to Fort Worth to bring in some much-needed revenue. Here we see Casey and Bobby “oiling around” and preparing for the trip. A single mail sack is entrusted to Casey for the test trip. These views feature Sierra #3.
At the same time, the Southern and Panhandle Railroad receives a similar mail sack for the race. IMHO, the S&P RR has a MUCH cooler graphic and name on the side of the cab. Swamp Tiger! I believe this is also Sierra #3.
Pow! And they’re off! Both contestants start at precisely the same time as USPS officials fire their pistols.
The Cannonball Express is here represented by RGS #20 rocketing along the Animas River in Colorado. One of the spotting features I discovered to tell the engines apart: RGS #20 has the bell located between the steam domes whereas Sierra #3 has the bell forward of the two domes.
The Swamp Tiger churns along with its short consist. Cab shot of engineer & firemen of the rival train.
Henchman from the S&P RR have stacked an imposing-looking pile of logs in the Cannonball’s path. Naturally, gunfire is exchanged with Conductor Red Rock firing back for the good guys. Cab shot as Casey backs the train out of harm’s way.
Sierra #3 gets a good run at it and blasts through the barricade.
Alan Hale, Jr. striking the classic engineer pose. Uh-oh. At Crest Junction, the bad guys have burned up all the wood intended for the Cannonball! What to do? Well, let’s start stripping all the surplus wood out of the trailing cars…
Mind you, Sierra #3 was an oil-burner, so all that wood is just for show. ;p
At Welton Crossing, the Cannonball stops to — get this — construct a switch and connecting track to put them on a faster route. During the race.
Amazingly, the scheme works and the Cannonball is fast approaching the overconfident crew of the Swamp Tiger.
More Steam! shouts the Skipper as boiler pressure (psi) is dropping.
Great shot of the little train pedaling along furiously. Nearing their destination, the Cannonball takes advantage of the double track to overtake the Swamp Tiger.
Slowly the Cannonball pulls ahead as the two trains (on a split screen) race down the track.
Reaching Fort Worth just ahead of the Swamp Tiger, Casey alights with the mail bag. Hurrah! We win!
Too late, the Swamp Tiger arrives with their mail bag.
Yay! To the victors go the spoils as the credits roll.
A full size replica of RGS #20 Emma Sweeney was built for A Ticket To Tomahawk. This replica was used in filming Night Mail and later on would also star in the television series, “Petticoat Junction”. The above pictures are this replica in the movie and now reposing in Santa Rita Park in Durango, Colorado.
Here’s what IMDb has to say about Casey Jones – Night Mail:
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