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COBWEB CORNERS: This model has wooden looks, but that's OK

By Mel McFarland

       This may amuse you if you are an old movie fan. I was off to Durango recently and dropped in to see an old friend, Emma Sweeny. Maybe you know Emma for her movie role, or even her stint on the old TV series, “Petticoat Junction.” She is in her "upper 60s" now; those roles were when she was young.
       I have seen her before, a couple of times, and had a friend of mine from England with me. He was quite familiar with her work. Sitting in a pavilion in Durango's Santa Rita Park, just across from the railroad yards, she looks quite well. She has suffered a bit of neglect since her movie and TV days, but is starting to perk up again.
       Emma is a full-size model of a railroad locomotive. Built mostly of wood, she was used as an exact-scale stand-in for the real thing in the 1949 20th Century Fox movie, “Ticket to Tomahawk.” Her nickname for the movie was Emma Sweeny. Her engineer was played by Walter Brennan (Mr. Sweeny).
       The movie's actual engine was a then-operational 1899 steam locomotive, now owned by the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden.
       In the movie, the railroad is racing to Tomahawk (actually Silverton), but a mountain blocks the way. The engine has to be dismantled and its parts moved
The Emma Sweeny model, built mostly of wood yet intended to closely mimic an actual steam locomotive, is pulled along during the filming of "Ticket to Tomahawk" in 1949.
Courtesy of Durango Railroad Historical Society and 20th Century Fox
by hand. Because wood is lighter than metal, the model's parts were easier for the actors to carry.
       After the filming, the Emma model was moved to California and stored until a stand-in was needed for another real steam engine. After “Petticoat Junction” ended, the model was again stored. It was eventually sold to a restaurant, where it sat outdoors, slowly losing parts and rotting!
       In 2010 it was sold to a group of men in Durango, who had just restored a real steam engine that had been in the movies, too. Durango had been used in the "Ticket to Tomahawk" filming.
       She is slowly becoming Emma Sweeny again. Many of the wooden parts have been re-created, but others are actually real locomotive parts. This summer a sailing ship is being painted on the sides of her coal tender. She is painted in all her colorful movie tones. On TV she was just black and gray!
       Not quite finished, Emma looks better each year. She would be happy to see you if you drop into her park in Durango.

(Posted 8/9/16; Opinion: Cobweb Corners)

       Editor's note: Local historian Mel McFarland has been writing his Cobweb Corners column in the Westside Pioneer since 2004. To see past columns, go to the Pioneer's Archives. Either look for desired articles under the Cobweb Corners category for any year, or search by keywords in the Find box.

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