Eccentric Engineer 1976

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Universal Television / NBC

The Adventure of the Eccentric Engineer was an episode during NBC’s one season of the Ellery Queen television show from 1975-1976. Making a cameo (he gets bumped off right away) is Ed McMahon as Lamont Franklin. Here he watches his model trains operate dressed up as an old time steam locomotive engineer.

The rub is that Lamont/Eddie McMahon (as my wife calls him — long story) quit his job at his own successful company to “go play with trains at home”. Everyone thinks he’s gone nuts. But not so fast! Why would someone bump this guy off? What’s so important in that train room? Let’s come along and find out!

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Ellery Queen (played by Jim Hutton) breaks the fourth wall and challenges the viewer to guess who did the murder. In the background is the magnificent O gauge layout built (I’m guessing) just for this episode.

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Breakheart Pass 1976

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Metro Goldwyn Mayer

Great Western Railway #75 stars in this mid-1970’s thriller filmed along the spectacular Camas Prairie Railroad in Idaho. With the story taking place in Utah, GWR #75 and equipment are painted up for the fictitious Wasatch & Nevada Railroad. The little 2-8-0 gets a fake cabbage stack and subdued paint scheme (they even paint the drivers mineral red).

Featuring a rather high body count (by my estimation, approximately 84 including two carloads and caboose full of soldiers), Breakheart is definitely not a family movie. BUT…all the essentials are here for a classic obscure train movie. A runaway train. Big fight atop train. Indian attack. A little cheesecake (provided by Jill Ireland). Aaaand an exploding baggage car. Let’s check out this mess of a storyline and just enjoy the railroad and scenery!

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Throw Papa from the train! A stunt double dummy gets the heave-ho as W&N #9 crosses a tall trestle.

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Twentieth Century 1934

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Columbia Pictures

The film’s namesake refers to New York Central Railroad’s crack express train, The 20th Century Limited. Unfortunately, most of the train “action” occurs onboard (thus on a set) in a Pullman sleeper and adjacent lounge car.

On the positive side, John Barrymore (as Oscar Jaffe) and Carole Lombard (as Lily Garland, aka Mildred Plotka) not only chew the scenery, they steal every scene they’re in. It’s a madcap, screwball comedy masterpiece. Let’s take a ride on the NYC…

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NYC #5319, shown in this montage, was a 4-6-4 Class J1e Hudson that would have, indeed, pulled the Century. Sadly, NYC did not see fit to preserve any examples of their famous Hudson class steam locomotives (or their Mohawks, or their Niagaras…), scrapping the lot of them.  Bastards.

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Holiday Affair 1949

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R.K.O. Radio Pictures

I first heard about this movie…from a magazine! As a long-time subscriber to Classic Toy Trains magazine, I was delighted when my December 2016 issue featured a film which used a Lionel train set as a pivotal plot device. As its title implies, Holiday Affair is a Christmas-themed love story with the twist of a little boy discovering the joy of an O-gauge model train set.

Starring Robert Mitchum, a 22 year old Janet Leigh and Gordon Gebert as little Timmy, the picture is an obscure train movie from the post-World War 2, golden age of Hollywood. I had to get my own copy on DVD.

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The December 2016 cover of Classic Toy Trains magazine (Edited by my good friend, Carl Swanson) features a well-written article by CTT Senior Editor, Roger Carp about Holiday Affair.

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Snow 1963

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British Transport Films

Whilst nosing through yet another online list of train movies, I came across this short film from Great Britain. Snow (1963) documents British Railways’ struggle coping with the Big Freeze of 1963. Even though I don’t normally review foreign films, some themes are universal. Like dealing with copious amounts of the white stuff. As a bonus, steam engines were still plentiful on BR at the time, with most of the footage in color. Break out the shovels and wedge plows and let’s get to work.

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The milk must go through! Looming through a steam cloud of its own making, Tank Engine 80072 saunters up to the platform to take on a load of moo juice. This 2-6-4 “Standard 4” tank engine (built at Brighton Works) was rescued from the scrap heap and beautifully restored to operation by a dedicated group of enthusiasts.

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Man of the West 1958

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Metro Goldwyn Mayer

Cooper Dooper! Gary Cooper stars as Link Jones in this CinemaScope oater as a reformed outlaw heading to the big city to hire a school marm for his small town. His checkered past nearly catches up with him at Crosscut, Texas where he boards the train to Fort Worth.

Man of the West features just 21 minutes of railroad action at the beginning of the movie, but what a view! Sierra Railroad #3 and its consist are beautifully gussied up inside and out. Let’s climb aboard the train with Coop and see what happens.

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Sierra #3 all decked out as the “Fort Worth & Chihuahua Railroad #3” for this picture, makes a water and wood stop. Bad guys are waiting nearby...

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Night Freight 1955

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Allied Artists Picture

Night Freight is a B&W B movie, train-laced from start to finish. Starring a couple of General Electric 70 ton switchers (#600 & #602), this picture’s exteriors were filmed on the Modesto & Empire Traction Company Railroad in Modesto, California.

Forrest Tucker plays Mike Peters, the M&ER Railroad general manager/troubleshooter. His rival is the local trucking company owner, Haight (Hate, get it?) played with wonderfully slimy menace by Thomas Gomez.  Movie fans may remember Gomez playing the gangster Curly in Key Largo.

To further queer the mix, Mike’s alcoholic brother Don (just back from the war), is dating a little cocktail waitress Wanda (Barbara Britton) — who soon takes up with Tuck in a messy love triangle. Let’s roll and check it out!

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M&ER #602 is stopped by a red fusee on the tracks…placed there by one of the bad guy’s henchmen (can’t do nothing without henchmen).

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