Wednesday, December 30, 2020

One star rises in east, as storied rail sets in West

'Ticket to Tomahawk' features 1950s movie stars, last few trains on Rio Grande Southern Rails

By Rob Carrigan,

Some of the last trains on Rio Grande Southern rails were movie stars. And as new star was born, rolling stock and locomotives rolled down the track for one last time.

The 1950 American western musical comedy film "Ticket to Tomahawk," directed by Richard Sale and starring Dan Dailey and Anne Baxter was released by 20th Century Fox. Marilyn Monroe appeared in one of her earliest roles, though she was un-credited at the time of the film's release.  

In the movie "Ticket to Tomahawk," the daughter of a railroad executive, Kit Dodge Jr. (Anne Baxter) is a no-nonsense gunslinger, but she finds that she could use a little help when she has to compete with Dakota (Rory Calhoun), the ruthless representative of a stagecoach company. Handsome and smooth-talking traveling salesman Johnny Behind-the-Deuces (Dan Dailey) turns out to be just the ally that she needs, as she attempts to defeat Dakota in a race that pits train against stagecoach.

The steam locomotive that stars in the film, known as Emma Sweeny, was actually Rio Grande Southern #20, a 3-foot-gauge 4-6-0 Ten-Wheeler built by the Schenectady Locomotive Works in 1899. 

To appear older, it was dressed up with a false smokestack, headlight, and various other parts. It was also given a colorful paint scheme. The scenes of Emma Sweeny running under steam were shot on the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad's Silverton Branch (now the Durango & Silverton Railroad) north of Rockwood, Colorado, and a shot of the train crossing a large trestle used the Rio Grande Southern Railroad's Lightner Creek Trestle.

"Emma Sweeny" on the Highline.

For the scenes where the locomotive is pulled by mules while off the track, a full-size wooden replica of RGS #20 was built, as the real locomotive would have been too heavy for the mules to pull. The mules pulled the model over parts of Molas Pass and on Reservoir Hill, which is now the site of Fort Lewis College.

When filming was completed, the replica changed hands several times, eventually being used in Petticoat Junction as a studio stand-in for the Hooterville Cannonball. The "real" Hooterville Cannonball was Sierra Railway #3, a larger standard-gauge Ten-Wheeler.

The wooden Emma Sweeny model was later put on display in Jackson, California, still in its Hooterville Cannonball appearance. In 2011, it was donated to the Durango Railroad Historical Society, which has restored the model to its Emma Sweeny appearance and placed it on display at Santa Rita Park in Durango.

The RGS finally threw in the towel and filed with the Interstate Commerce Comission for abandonment on April 24th, 1952, after 60 years of operation. Most of the track was pulled up by 1953.

In 2020, Rio Grande Southern #20 returned to operation, having last run in 1951. It was restored over a 14-year period and made its public debut on August 1, 2020. It is now operational and resides at the Colorado Railroad Museum.

Rio Grande Southern narrow gauge caboose number 0409. Creator: Richardson, Robert W. Relettered caboose for movie "Ticket to Tomahawk." Photographed: Rico, Colorado, November 17, 1951. Western History Department, Denver Public Library.

Rio Grande Southern narrow gauge locomotive, engine number 20, engine type 4-6-0
Creator(s): Richardson, Robert W. Distant head on view, at station. Photographed: Rico, Colorado, May 23, 1951. Western History Department, Denver Public Library.

Rio Grande Southern narrow gauge locomotive, engine number 20, engine type 4-6-0
Creator(s): Richardson, Robert W. 2-car freight train. Photographed: between Rico and Montelores, Colorado, May 23, 1951. Western History Department, Denver Public Library.


Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortenson; June 1, 1926 – August 4, 1962,  American actress, model, and singer became famous for playing comedic "blonde bombshell" characters, she became one of the most popular sex symbols of the 1950s and early 1960s. She was a top-billed actress for only a decade, but her films grossed $200 million (equivalent to $2 billion in 2019) by the time of her death in 1962. Long after her death, she has continued to appear as a pop icon. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Monroe sixth on its list of the greatest female screen legends from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Cross-country Christmas and cosmic Colorado connections

 "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

___ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

We all have our holiday traditions but nothing is seeped more in the tradition of winter activities than the town known as the birthplace of winter sports in America. Once again Lake Placid is bringing back traditions of ol.' The High Peaks Resort is resurrecting the Lake Placid Yule Log tradition hailing from the time of Melvin Dewey's Lake Placid Club, says High Peaks Resort in the Winter of 2011. photo of Yule Log provided by the High Peaks Resort and used with permission of the Lucretia Vaille Museum, Palmer Lake, CO  

Two Christmas towns share the magic across the country

 By Rob Carrigan,

Lake Placid, New York, and the Colorado Springs area share some history, the same type of terrain —and if nothing else — a Christmas town feeling.

"The Lake Placid Club opened in 1896 and fostered the concept of a winter sports haven to guests that still draws in visitors today. From 1911 through 1980, the Yule Log continued bringing community and families together as part of the Lake Placid Club's rituals. With the conclusion of the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics, the Lake Placid Club closed and with it, took its Yule Log custom," says information from High Peaks Resort in the Lake Placid area.

"Now, 32 years later the Yule Log custom has been resurrected and brought in all its finery to the High Peaks Resort where everyone, young and old, is encouraged to seek and find this symbol of light," says High Peaks Resort's owners, when the Yule Log was brought back to life in 2011.

According to High Peaks Resort Director of Marketing Lori Fitzgerald, at the the time,  the 7 ft 'x 8 in birch log was  decorated with a big red bow for all to seek and find, as part of the annual Lake Placid Holiday Stroll.

"Custom dictates that a piece of the Yule Log is saved and then used to start the fire for the next year's log. In 1934 two residents of Palmer Lake, Colorado sent for a splinter of the Lake Placid Yule Log and held their first event that year. This year's log was started from a piece of the Palmer Lake, CO Yule Log which ties back to the original Lake Placid tradition. So the Lake Placid Yule Log has come full circle and now High Peaks Resort hopes to share splinters of this historic custom with other communities."

According to the Palmer Lake Profile – 1920 to 1972 portion of the updated Marion Savage Sabin’s book “Palmer Lake: A Historical Narrative,” the Depression brought many hardships, the W.P.A., and little growth to Palmer Lake. But it also brought us the Yule Log celebration.

“An old English custom was adopted in 1934 which has far-reaching effect on the town and its residents,” the book holds. “At the suggestion of Miss Lucretia Vaile, Miss (Evalena) Macy and the young people of the church (Little Log Church) sent for a splinter of the Lake Placid Yule Log in New York and organized the first Palmer Lake Yule Log ceremony.” 

North Pole near Pikes Peak

Another Christmas connection between the Lake Placid, N.Y., and the Pikes Peak area has to do with Santa.

"It was announced on March 10, 1955 that a 25 acre Santa’s Workshop was planned to be built on the slopes of Pikes Peak. The village was to be identical to the one built in Lake Placid, NY. The village in NY was designed by Arto Monaco, a former Walt Disney artist. In the 1940’s an eight-year old girl told the artist what she believed Santa Claus’ home and village looked like. Mr. Monaco then translated her image of the magical land into blueprints for an actual village," according to history information from

"A village of 12 alpine buildings was in the plans to be constructed. A home for Mr. & Mrs. Claus, 3 workshops, a blacksmith shop, gate house, reindeer barn, souvenir shop, show house, Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard and a miniature chapel with nativity."

One of Sants's Gnomes

One of the main attractions is a frozen North Pole that is in the center of the village. No matter how hot the temperature the pole remains frozen. A small lake enhances the village setting. Water winds a course over 2 waterfalls into the lake and then out onto a water wheel.

June 16, 1956, that young girl’s dream came true when Santa’s Workshop/North Pole opened for the season. Our Santa (Howard P. Meehan) certainly didn’t need any extra padding when wearing his red suit. He was 5’6 ½” tall and wore a size 54 suit!

Rufus Porter, James Gamble and Mrs. Gamble. 

"College girls in colorful gnome costumes were stationed in the artisan, souvenir and toy shops. Costumes were fashioned in grays and greens that blended into the woodland setting at the workshop. It wasn’t an easy task to become one of Santa’s 50 gnomes. You had to meet very strict qualifications to even be considered. Santa’s gnomes had to be 5’ to 5’3” tall; 105 to 110 lbs.; reddish or dark hair; large eyes (preferably blue); dimples and be “quick of step” and enthusiastic. All gnomes were chosen with careful judging by a Denver charm school and had to pass aptitude tests in dealing with the public," according to the local North Pole's history.

Kids feeding the kids!

"Rufus Porter was Santa’s hurdy-gurdy man. While Rufus played his hurdy-gurdy, his pet monkey would politely tip his hat when people dropped pennies into his cup. Coins collected in the cup were combined with money from the wishing well to provide gifts for the needy and orphaned children at Christmas time. Storybook characters, Red Riding Hood, Miss Muffet and BoPeep were also on hand to tell their stories to children who stopped and chatted with them," if you subscribe to Santa's Workshop lore.

White deer, goats, sheep, burros, ducks and peacocks roamed the park to the delight of young and old. Special food and bottled milk were available for guests to feed the animals.

James Gamble and "friend."

Eighteen year old James Gamble was Santa’s puppeteer. Gamble’s show featured his 30 Magical Marionettes. Visitors young and old delighted in Gamble’s “family:” Sam Peabody, a bedraggled lush; Lavenya May Sprayberry, the buck toothed ballerina; Carmen, a sultry dancer who shimmied and shaked; Oscar, a hand puppet dragon; Mr. Bones, a skeleton who comes apart and a chorus line of can-can girls. Gamble designed and made all his marionettes and his mother, Mrs. J.C. Gamble designed the wardrobes.

Mine Ride

1958 brought Santa’s Workshop’s first “rides.” The Mine Ride was the first to be added to the park. Later in the season the Stage Coach and an authentic Fire Engine were featured. And different features were added later.

"Santa’s Workshop has grown through the years, but pure enjoyment of the Christmas spirit has remained the same for the past 61 years," says recent park information.

But Christmas was just a warm-up for items shared in the tale of the two cities.  Lake Placid and the  Pikes Peak area had other cosmic connections.


Friday, December 18, 2020

Holiday ditty is music to my ears

Composer Johnny Marks

In the holiday season, I sometimes take a load of grief from others concerning my position as a skeptic, and lack of holiday cheer. In efforts to counter that image, I offer the following: 

 Who wrote "Run, Run Rudolph?"

By Rob Carrigan,

One of my favorite Christmas songs is the Chuck Berry rendition of "Run Rudolph Run." It sounds like it was made for Berry. 

Most sources say it was written by Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie, but there is some debate regarding authorship. Published by St. Nicholas Music (ASCAP,) the song was first recorded by Berry in 1958 and released as a single on Chess Records. The song is a 12-bar blues, musically similar to Berry's very popular and recognizable song "Johnny B. Goode," and melodically identical to his song "Little Queenie", the latter of which was released shortly after, in 1959. Marks owned and managed St. Nicholas Music.

The original record credited authorship to Berry's music company (Chuck Berry Music, Inc.) and Brodie. Only in subsequent releases did the writing credits go to Marks and Brodie (and even then, this was not always the case, as multiple later releases by the label credited the song simply to Berry). Marks was the songwriter of the thematically similar, but musically different, song Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. All cover versions of Run Rudolph Run by other artists have since credited the song to Marks and Brodie (as published by Marks's St. Nicholas Music (ASCAP)).  In it, the song never listed Marks or Brodie as a songwriter, only Berry's music company.

For comparison purposes:
Little Queenie
I got the lumps in my throat
When I saw her coming down the aisle
I gets the wiggles in my knees
When she looked at me and sweetly smiled
There she is again standing over by the record machine
Oooh, she's looking like a model on the cover of a magazine
Why she's too cute to be a minute over seventeen
Meanwhile, I was thinking
She's in the mood
No need to break it
I got the chance
I oughtta take it
She can dance
We can make it
Come on Queenie
Let's shake it
Go, go, go, Little Queenie
Go, go, go, Little Queenie
Go, go, go, Little Queenie
Won't ya tell me who the queen's
Standing over by the record machine
Why she's looking like a model
On the cover of a magazine
Yeah she's too cute to be a minute over seventeen
Meanwhile, I was still thinkin'
If it's a slow song, we'll omit it
If it's a rocker, that'll get it
If it's good, she'll admit it
Come on Queenie, lets get with it
Go, go, go, Little Queenie
Go, go, go, Little Queenie
Go, go, go, Little Queenie
And ...

Run, Rudolph, Run

Out of all the reindeers you know you're the mastermind
Run, run Rudolph, Randolph ain't too far behind
Run, run Rudolph, Santa's gotta make it to town
Santa, make him hurry, tell him he can take the freeway down
Run, run Rudolph 'cause I'm reelin' like a merry-go-round
Said Santa to a boy child, "What have you been longin' for?"
"All I want for Christmas is a rock 'n' roll 'lectric guitar"
And then away went Rudolph, whizzin' like a shootin' star
Run, run Rudolph, Santa has to make it in town
Santa, make him hurry, tell him he can take the freeway down
Run, run Rudolph, reelin' like a merry-go-round
Run, run Rudolph, Santa's gotta make it to town
Santa, make him hurry, tell him he can take the freeway down
Run, run Rudolph, I'm reelin' like a merry-go-round
Said Santa to a girl child, "What would please you most to get?"
"A little baby doll that can cry, sleep, drink and wet"
And then away went Rudolph, whizzin' like a Saber jet
Run, run Rudolph, Santa's gotta make it to town
Santa, make him hurry, tell him he can take the freeway down
Run, run Rudolph, I'm reelin' like a merry-go-round

Probably foremost in Marks' many works is "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which was based on a poem of the same name, written by Marks' brother-in-law, Robert L. May, Rudolph's creator. A television film based on the story and song first aired in 1964, with Marks composing the score. 

Though he was Jewish, Marks specialized in Christmas and holiday songs and was born in Mount Vernon, New York. A graduate of McBurney School in New York, NY, and Colgate University and Columbia University, Marks later studied in Paris. He earned a Bronze Star and four Battle Stars as a Captain in the 26th Special Service Company during World War II.  

In addition to his songwriting, he founded St. Nicholas Music in 1949, and served as director of ASCAP from 1957 to 1961. In 1981, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Marks appeared as an imposter on the December 11, 1961 episode of the game show To Tell The Truth. Impersonating the owner of a herd of reindeer, he did not receive any votes. After the true contestant was revealed, Marks identified himself as the composer of "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer".

 Christmas songs by Johnny Marks

  • Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer – 1949 (inspired by a poem by Robert L. May, Marks's brother-in-law)
  • I Don't Want a Lot for Christmas - 1950
  • When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter – 1952
  • The Night Before Christmas Song – 1952
  • An Old-Fashioned Christmas – 1952
  • Everyone's a Child at Christmas – 1956
  • I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day – 1956 (words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, adapted by Marks)
  • Run Rudolph Run - 1958
  • Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree – 1958
  • A Merry, Merry Christmas to You – 1959
  • The Santa Claus Parade – 1959
  • A Caroling We Go - 1966
  • Joyous Christmas - 1969
From the 1964 NBC/Rankin-Bass TV Production Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer
  • A Holly Jolly Christmas – 1965 (separate single release), 1964-65**
  • Jingle, Jingle, Jingle – 1964
  • The Most Wonderful Day of the Year – 1964
  • Silver and Gold – 1964-65**
  • We Are Santa's Elves – 1964
  • There's Always Tomorrow - 1964
  • The Island of Misfit Toys - 1964
  • We're a Couple of Misfits - 1964

Burl Ives released "A Holly Jolly Christmas" and "Silver and Gold," two songs he sang as his character Sam the Snowman, as singles for the 1965 holiday season, the year after the TV production. 

Blues legend Chuck Berry.


Saturday, December 5, 2020

Palmer Lake as a Christmas town

Yule Log marks the way back through the years,

and forward to the future

By Rob Carrigan,

Ritual gives comfort and provides bearings to navigate a changing world. For many years, I have marveled at the Palmer Lake customs of searching for the Yule Log and the separate fanfare and ceremony of lighting the star. It truly has established the little berg as a "Christmas Town," of national and international renown.

Each year, new memories and fresh markers are formed in the hills around Palmer Lake, providing a way back on the trail to something ancient, and empowering and wonderful — all in the name of Christmas and community. 

"The familiar custom of burning the Yule log dates back to earlier solstice celebrations and the tradition of bonfires. The Christmas practice calls for burning a portion of the log each evening until Twelfth Night (January 6). The log is subsequently placed beneath the bed for luck, and particularly for protection from the household threats of lighting and, with some irony, fire. Many have beliefs based on the yule log as it burns, and by counting the sparks and such, they seek to discern their fortunes for the new year and beyond," notes American folklorist Linda Watts.


As early as 1725, Henry Bourne sought meaning and understanding ritual of the Yule log.

"Our Fore-Fathers, when the common Devices of Eve were over, and Night was come on, were wont to light up Candles of an uncommon Size, which were called Christmas-Candles, and to lay a Log of Wood upon the Fire, which they termed a Yule-Clog, or Christmas-Block. These were to Illuminate the House, and turn the Night into Day; which custom, in some Measure, is still kept up in the Northern Parts. It hath, in all probability, been derived from the Saxons. For Bede tells us, That [sic] this very Night was observed in this Land before, by the Heathen Saxons. They began, says he, their Year on the Eight of the Calenders of January, which is now our Christmas Party: And the very Night before, which is now Holy to us, was by them called M├Ždrenack, or the Night of the Mothers … The Yule-Clog therefore hath probably been a Part of those Ceremonies which were perform'd that Night's Ceremonies. It seems to have been used, as an Emblem of the return of the Sun, and the lengthening of the Days. For as both December and January were called Guili or Yule, upon Account of the Sun's Returning, and the Increase of the Days; so, I am apt to believe, the Log has had the Name of the Yule-Log, from its being burnt as an Emblem of the returning Sun, and the Increase of its Light and Heat. This was probably the Reason of the custom among the Heathen Saxons; but I cannot think the Observation of it was continued for the same Reason, after Christianity was embraced. …"

Following are some photos, particular to Palmer Lake,  I have come across over the years, and taken myself. I return to them as not only a reminder of where we have been, but as a guide to where we hope to go.