Written By: Ken Hulsey
Any rail fan with even a basic knowledge of railroad history would certainly look at the title of this article and think that I made a mistake.
"Don't you mean 'The History of Burlington Steam Power?'" Would be the obvious question, believing that I was intending to write some long winded piece on the history of the Chicago Burlington & Quincy and their varied forms of steam locomotive power.
That, however, is not the case. I'm indeed writing about Burlington Northern steam power.
Now, before you get some wild ideas, that the CBQ, Northern Pacific and Great Northern some how merged in the 1940s, then split again, or that the BN had some covert steam program in the 70s that no one either knew about or forgot about, let me explain.
Their has been one steam locomotive in the history of railroading that has worn the name "Burlington Northern", though that locomotive actually didn't belong to the BN that came to be after the fore mentioned railroads merged into one.
Are you really curious now? Are you tired of all this 'beating around the bush?'
Okay, I'll come clean.
Almost all of you would certainly recognise Sierra Railroad's 4-6-0 locomotive #3. The old wood burning locomotive has been in hundreds of movies and television shows, including the "Lone Ranger", "Petticoat Junction", "Rawhide", "Death Valley Days", "Lassie", "Gunsmoke", "Bonanza", and "Little House on the Prairie."
Yes, that's right, the 'Hooterville Cannonball".
Indeed, it was this locomotive that once ran under the flag of the Burlington Northern......well on a TV show anyway.
For the 1971 episode of "Gunsmoke" called "The Bullet", the famed #3, was repainted and re lettered with the Burlington Northern name on her tender.
In that episode, the shows main character, Marshall Dillon (played by actor, James Arness) is almost fatally wounded by a black hat wearing outlaw, and has to be transported, by rail, from Dodge City to Denver where there would be a doctor who could save his life.
Now, why exactly, the crew of "Gunsmoke" would opt to name a train traveling from Kansas to Colorado, "Burlington Northern" was never formally explained (and people did ask back in the day) it can only be assumed that some Hollywood type, simply wanted to add 'realism' to the episode and took the time to find out which railroad ran the same route as the train that would be portrayed on screen. Well, in 1971, that would have been the BN.
Being naive to recent railroad mergers, and most certainly, railroad history, whoever it was that decided to go with the BN lettering, probably assumed that the railroad had been around for a hundred years or better.
Little did they know that the railroad, at the time, was only a year into it's existence.
That's just how Hollywood works.
Well let me tell you that after "The Bullet" aired in 1971, CBS received many a letter from confused rail fans, who also let their thoughts be known in the magazines of the day.
Okay, I know what you are thinking, 'a TV show? What? I thought that this was going to be about 'real' BN steam power?'
I get it. I kinda cheated. Their was never any 'real' BN steam locomotives, no green and white painted 4-8-4 'Northerns' with the company's logo on their tenders.
I just thought that it was an interesting bit to throw in on a Wednesday.
Oh, and as a side note. The famed Sierra Locomotive #3 is currently dismantled, and the California Railroad Museum has been raising funds to restore her. Read more about that - HERE