All Aboard the Hooterville Cannonball! Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of “Petticoat Junction” (Part 2 of 5)

The Emma Sweeny played the Hooterville Cannonball in Petticoat Junction studio scenes shot at General Service Studios, now known as Hollywood Center Studios.  Frequently, these scenes featured characters boarding or getting off the Hooterville Cannonball in front of the Shady Rest.

20th Century Fox built the Emma Sweeny for the 1950 film A Ticket to Tomahawk.  Set in 1876, the film’s story pits good train guys against bad stagecoach guys.  A greedy stagecoach operator tries to stop a competing train from getting to Tomahawk on schedule.  A Ticket to Tomahawk stars Anne Baxter and Dan Dailey.  Marilyn Monroe has a smaller part as a showgirl.

Fox used the Rio Grande Southern #20 as the basis for the Emma Sweeney construction. “The model was so good, it could fool the experts,” said Hank Philips, retired fireman on the Rio Grande Southern #20.

Age caught up to the Emma Sweeny, though. Currently, it is undergoing a restoration supervised by George Niederauer, President of the Durango Railroad Historical Society.  Niederauer recognizes the unique history of the Rio Grande Southern #20 and the Emma Sweeny.

“Based in southwestern Colorado, the Rio Grande Southern operated from Durango to Ridgway.  Schenectady Locomotive Works in New York built #20 in 1899 for the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad as its F&CC #20 – the Portland,” states Niederauer.  “It is a ten wheeler (4-6-0) with 42-inch drivers and 16”x20” cylinders.  It weighs 85,000 pounds and operates at 180-psi boiler pressure.  After F&CC was flooded out in 1912, #20 was sold to the Rio Grande Southern in 1916.  It retained #20 for its designation.  Presently, it is being restored at the Strasburg Rail Road in Pennsylvania for the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, Colorado.

“The Emma Sweeny wasn’t built like a real locomotive, though,” says Niederauer.  “Parts are gone, so reconstructions need to be made.” says Niederauer.  “Water deteriorated the wood and the tender that holds the water was made from fiber board that decays in the elements and needs to be replaced over time.  We will replace it with a modern material that’s stronger. Larry Jensen donated copies of studio drawings to us.  They are invaluable in tracing the Emma Sweeny’s genesis and restoring the locomotive to its original state.  Just about a year ago, I went to Los Angeles and visited Fox for further research in the studio archives.  They supplied photos and allowed me to go through the archives for microfilm pertaining to the Emma Sweeny.”

Jensen had the drawings thanks to a connection at the Fox studio.  “The father of a friend of mine worked at Fox for decades, alongside a gentleman whose name now escapes me.  By 1978, this gentleman had risen to become the head of the property department at the studio,” explains Jensen.  “He oversaw everything, including the original set of Emma Sweeny construction drawings.  There were more than 100, created during the summer of 1949 by a team of draftsmen that measured the real RGS #20 in Durango.  As a courtesy to the son of an old friend, we were allowed to borrow the drawings over a weekend.  We had a blueprint shop make copies.  I toted that big bundle of paper through many moves, for more than 30 years, until George provided the perfect home for them.”

Niederauer’s passion for restoring the Emma Sweeny with his team showcases the locomotive’s importance in Hollywood history.  The Durango Railroad Historical Society outlines the pedigree of the Emma Sweeny on its web site, www.drhs315.org, including an explanation for a hotel credit during the Petticoat Junction closing theme.

About ten years after A Ticket to Tomahawk premiered, Ted Bower bought the Emma Sweeny from 20th Century Fox.  The DRHS states that the purchase price was $1000-$1500.  Bower displayed the Emma Sweeny at a Culver City gas station located on Culver Boulevard, then sold it to Harvey Dick, owner of the Hoyt Hotel in Portland, Oregon.  Dick leased the Emma Sweeny to Paul Henning for its performance as the Hooterville Cannonball, hence, the reason for the following credit:

Train Furnished By

Barbary Coast

Hoyt Hotel

Portland, Oregon

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