The Phantom Express 1932

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Majestic Pictures Corporation

A mixture of nicely-detailed train models and Southern Pacific steam power highlights this early talkie. Engineers and Fireman along the “Southwestern Pacific” railroad are freaking out because they see what appears to be an oncoming train, slam their engine into emergency — derailing from the sudden stop, then having the “Phantom Express” mysteriously vanish.

Our star of the picture is SP #4311, a 4-8-2 Mountain, Class Mt-1 (Alco-Schenectady) used at Espee’s Los Angeles roundhouse for daylight scenes.

Come along and look at some classic railroad fare from the early 1930’s!

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SP #4311 smokes it up alongside SP #4329, a fellow 4-8-2 Mountain, Mt-3 class. The train indicators on 4311 display “101”.

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Bite The Bullet 1975

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Columbia Pictures

Gene Hackman and Candice Bergen star in this 700 mile horse race loosely-based on an actual event in the early part of the 20th century. Of more interest to us is the extensive use of the newly-created (1971) Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad including a steam-driven “chase train” for the horse riders.

Former Denver & Rio Grande Western #483, a K-36 class 2-8-2 1925 Baldwin product shines in its gaudy paint scheme (including gold rally stripe around the smokestack) as it leads “The Western Press” special.

Many famous sights along the C&TS are visible including Tanglefoot curve, Lobato trestle, the yard at Chama, the snowshed on the wye at Cumbres Pass to name just a few. Let’s dive right in and take a journey on the former D&RGW narrow gauge!

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C&TS #483 poses at Cumbres Pass in its gold and red trim (even the driver counterweights are red). Just to show off, the engineer spun the drivers a few times for the camera.

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The Brave Engineer 1950

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Walt Disney Pictures

It’s the Legend of Casey Jones as whimsically interpreted by the animation gods at Disney Studios during their heyday. The cartoon is narrated by Jerry Colonna with musical soundtrack provided by The King’s Men.

This animated short is action from start to finish with all sorts of barriers to Casey bringing the U.S. Mail in on time. Floods, livestock, damsels-in-distress, train robbers and villains — nothing can stop our brave hero! But what about that oncoming double-headed freight train up ahead? Let’s enjoy a fresh look at an old-time American hero!

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Casey is aghast his train might be late as he is continually checking his gold pocket watch; Casey’s 4-4-0 engine #2 snorts and rears up on its haunches as it prepares to rocket off down the track.

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Von Ryan’s Express 1965

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Twentieth Century Fox

Eleven years after Frank Sinatra appeared in Suddenly, he starred in yet another railroad movie. Filmed in Italy, Spain and the studio back in Hollywood, Von Ryan’s Express is the tale of WW2 Allied prisoners commandeering a train and making a run for neutral Switzerland.

Frank plays the anti-hero, USAAF Colonel Joseph L. Ryan who leads the onboard train revolt in this action-packed war picture. Lots of scenic train vistas, fiery explosions, and even a little cheesecake in the form of Italian actress, Raffaella Carra.  I say we take a train ride with Frankie and escape from those pesky Krauts!

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Engine 51 sweeps over a magnificent arched viaduct as it heads north to Germany with its trainload of Allied prisoners.

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Hurricane Express 1932

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Mascot Pictures

A 25-year-old John Wayne (as Larry Baker) stars in this 12-part serial that was whittled down to a more palatable 80 minutes for the DVD.

In a nutshell, “The Wrecker” is out to cause accidents on the L & R Railroad and Larry is determined to catch him — especially since his father/engineer gets killed in one of the accidents!

There’s quite a lot of railroad stuff to see and it’s a good snapshot of operations around Los Angeles on the Southern Pacific Railroad in the early 1930’s.

As you might expect with an old B&W from the beginning of the “talkie” era, the print and pictures are pretty blurred. Thus, apologies for my fuzzy screen captures!

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Conductor waves a highball from the rear observation car of an SP train (note wooden sides, big rear picture window and truss rods visible).

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Picnic 1955

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Columbia Pictures

Chock full of train scenes from start to finish, the movie Picnic was filmed trackside on numerous locations in Kansas. Starring William Holden (as drifter Hal Carter) and Kim Novak (as the town beauty, Madge Owens), this movie shows a slice of 1950’s railroading long-since vanished.

Towering grain elevators load wheat the old fashioned way….into 40 foot boxcars! Yep, no covered grain hoppers in sight and we get a glimpse of the first generation diesels that hauled it all to market.

Let’s take a gander at how railroads so nicely fit in the background of this not-so-obscure train movie (which won two Oscars – Art Direction, Film Editing).

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Trains and Grain! That pretty much sums up this view of Missouri Pacific #35053 with the “buzzsaw” herald and “Route of the Eagles” slogan as a bank of grain silos rise in the background.

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So You Want A Model Railroad 1955

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Warner Brothers Pictures

Coming in at 8 minutes and 32 seconds, “So You Want A Model Railroad” is a comedy short all about the “dangers” of model train addiction. This film points out that during the postwar boom, many model railroads ostensibly purchased as a Christmas present for little Junior, were soon taken over by their fathers.

George O’Hanlon stars as the Lionel-crazed addict Joe McDoakes, whose obsession gradually takes over house and home in his insatiable quest to expand his railroad empire. In desperation, his long-suffering wife Alice (played by Jane Frazee) goes on a radio show seeking advice from the host, “Mister Agony” (played by Arthur Q. Bryan).

It is a model train-laced extravaganza of Lionel in its prime (see how many accessories and models you can identify). All aboard the O scale express!

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With a self-satisfied smirk, Joe looks around at the counter of a well-stocked hobby store. Notice the Lionel poster in the background has been cropped to read, “ONEL TRAINS” (with Magne-Traction). Later on in his career, O’Hanlon became the familiar voice of George Jetson!

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