A Hollywood urban legend dictates that The Wild Wild West and Petticoat Junction used the same locomotive. Like most urban legends, this one has a kernel of truth. Jensen clarifies the issue by explaining the lineage of the trains involved.
“The Wild Wild West ran on CBS from 1965 to 1969. After the pilot, CBS leased Virginia & Truckee Railroad locomotive #22 and two passenger cars, all owned by Paramount Pictures, for use in the first season’s episodes,” explains Jensen. “They were moved to the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad’s rural San Jacinto branch line, which served an air force base east of Los Angeles.
“Between June and August of 1965, black and white footage of the train was shot for many of the first season episodes. Between filming sessions, CBS kept the train on a siding at the small town of Menifee, with a full-time security guard protecting it.
“Locomotive #22 was built in 1875 for a railroad in Nevada that ran from Reno to Virginia City, via Carson City. Paramount acquired it in 1937 because old locomotives were becoming rare. It was first used in the 1937 film High Wide and Handsome starring Randolph Scott, Irene Dunne, and Alan Hale, Sr. The Wild Wild West was its last film job.
“Before returning the train to Paramount, CBS wisely had a crew shoot a considerable amount of color stock footage of the train, in anticipation of the show making it to a second season. They used this batch of footage from 1966 to 1969.
“To save money, studio craftsmen built replicas of two passenger cars on flat cars. The studio placed these cars on 250-300 feet of track on the back lot at CBS Studio Center in Studio City, California, where the show was filmed. Depending on the script, the producers could position the cars at a railroad depot set on one end of this short railroad or tow the cars into a grove of trees, adjacent to the Los Angeles River, to represent the countryside. The audience never saw a locomotive, except in stock footage that was used over and over. The Wild Wild West never used the Emma Sweeny – it was on lease to Petticoat Junction at the time.”
So, can viewers tell the difference between the Emma Sweeny and the Sierra #3? Probably, if the viewer is a train buff. Niederauer says, “If you look closely at the scenes of Petticoat Junction shot in the studio, you will see that the stack is different, the headlight is different, and the bell is in a different part on top of the engine. The Emma Sweeny is about 50 feet long. It sits in a steel pavilion next to our visitor center. We’re close to Mesa Verde, so we get about 600,000 visitors annually in this area, but only the train experts know that the engine is not real.”
The Sierra Railway #3 and the Emma Sweeny are fixtures in American popular culture. And every time audiences saw the Hooterville Cannonball on Petticoat Junction – either at the Shady Rest Hotel, in the theme song, or on a location shot – they saw Hollywood history.