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MARINATING A COLUMN BY MIKE MARIN

Classic TV shows sparked train fascination

Saturday, March 29, 2014 - 12:01 am

During one of PBS’ recent pledge weeks — which seem to come around at least once a month — I caught a special titled “Trains Around North America.”

If you are into trains (and who isn’t?), this is a highly entertaining look at historic steam engines still traveling scenic railways in the U.S. and Canada, from British Columbia to the Adirondack Mountains and a dozen spots in between, not the least of which is the Grand Canyon.

I am a sucker for anything involving trains. Thinking back, it probably stems from watching those three Bradley sisters, Betty Jo, Bobbie Jo and Billie Jo, skinny-dipping in the water tower at Petticoat Junction with their petticoats hanging over the side of the tower (cue the chorus of young people shouting, “What’s a petticoat?”).

I can still picture cranky Uncle Joe (a-movin’ kinda slow) yapping with the engineer and conductor of the Hooterville Cannonball. (Last time I checked, you could still catch episodes of “Petticoat Junction” early mornings on Me-TV, if you’re fortunate enough to subscribe to a cable system that carries it.)

Maybe my fascination started even earlier than that with the late ’50s TV show “Casey Jones,” starring none other than Gilligan’s buddy, the Skipper himself, Alan Hale Jr., as the legendary engineer of the Cannonball Express. (Are we seeing a theme here in locomotive naming conventions?) “Casey Jones,” now there was another cool theme song!

The big screen has also had a long line of great train flicks, from classics such as “The Great Train Robbery” to the more recent “Unstoppable,” a great edge-of-your-seat thriller starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine. If you want a bit of hilarity thrown in — and who doesn’t? — try “Silver Streak,” the best of the Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder collaborations.

Mike Marin is a cranky curmudgeon who, when hes not yelling at kids to get off his lawn, likes to complain about the sad state of popular culture, especially as seen through a TV screen. His email address is marinating@tribune.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.