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‘Come ride the little train that is rolling down the tracks…’

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‘Come ride the little train that is rolling down the tracks…’

One of the locomotives at Railtown 1897.

Photo contributed/

POSTED January 28, 2012 1:38 a.m.

Do you remember Uncle Joe who moved kind of slow when the train pulled into the Shady Rest on Petticoat Junction?

Recall the steam locomotive that got airborne in Back to the Future?

They are just two of the hundreds of movies and television shows that have had scenes shot right here in the 209 at one of California’s most unique parks – Railtown 1987 State Historic Park.

Located about 90 minutes away from Manteca on the way to Sonora, Railtown 1897 is a “working” state park featuring numerous historic railroad buildings, tracks, turn-of-the-century machinery, modern and historic railroad equipment, a working turntable, and the unmistakable ambience of the past.

That in itself is appealing to movie and TV production teams in the hunt for steam engines they need for scenes.

But the real clincher might just be the following description on the website:

“The route of the Sierra Railroad extends from the semi-arid San Joaquin Valley floor at Oakdale through amazingly varied countryside to the hilly, heavily forested terrain of Tuolumne County. In between, the railroad passes through sparsely populated areas capable of representing the classic West, deciduous forests typical of the Allegheny Mountains, tallgrass prairie, high plains, and pine forests typical of the upper Mid-West and plains. The terrain ranges from sweeping open vistas to twisting curves through deep cuts and over high fills. There are many different vantage points from which to frame action on this railroad, and the railroad is long enough to suggest journeys of great distances.”

Think “Little House on the Prairie”. “High Noon” and the “Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again” among other big and little screen epics that have been shot in the unique landscape of Stanislaus and Tuolumne counties using engines that are part of the collection at   Railtown 1897 State Park.

For the record, The Sierra No. 3 locomotive as well as Sierra coach No. 5 were used to create the Hooterville Cannonball.

The film history of Railtown 1897 also includes “The Virginia.” It is significant as it was the first talkie filmed outside of a movie studio.

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park is open Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Hours change when April rolls around until the end of October when they change to 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

To get there from Manteca take Highway 120 East to the Yosemite Junction. Instead of turning east toward Yosemite keep going north on Highway 108 to Jamestown and follow the directions to Railtown 1897.

Admission is $5 for adults while ages 6 to 17 are $3. Children 5 and under are free. Park admission is included if you buy a train ride ticket.

Train rides depart on the hour from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Train ride/admission tickets are $13 for adults, $6 for ages 6 to 17 while those 5 and under are free.

The six-mile, 40-minute ride takes TV fans from the 1960s past a familiar landmark - the water tower from “Petticoat Junction.”

— Dennis Wyatt
managing editor

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