On my last day in Lassen, I headed north through the National Park to sketch a cinematic railroad bridge. This bridge is called the Lake Britton Bridge and spans a finger of Lake Britton near Burney, California.
This bridge is featured in one of the most famous scenes in the 1986 film Stand By Me, directed by Rob Reiner (of All in the Family and Spinal Tap fame). Stand by Me was the third film he directed and was based on the Stephen King novella “The Body”. Reiner has also stated that Stand By Me is his favorite film. (I’m going with This is Spinal Tap.)
The plot is a “coming of age” story about four boys that go on an adventure along a railroad to look for a dead body (this is a Stephen King story after all). It featured young actors Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell (in his acting debut), and Kiefer Sutherland.
The bridge was built in 1955 on the McCloud River Railroad, primarily a logging railroad. The steel bridge is 450 feet long and is about 75 feet above the waters of Lake Britton. The bridge has now been stripped of rails and is no long in use. This part of the Burney branch was operational until 2005.
The bridge plays a prominent role in one of the most famous sequences of the film. It was one of the few sequences, according to Reiner, that was actually storyboarded.
In the scene, the four boys come to the edge of the bridge. And they wonder when the next train is coming. They contemplate taking another route that will take much longer but will be safer. (Safer never works in cinema). Two of the boys, Chris Chambers and Teddy Duchamp, start across the bridge. The two other boys, Gordie Lachance and Vern Tessio are reluctant to start across. Well I bet you can guess where this is going.
Gordie nervously looks down the rails. No train. He stoops and places his hand on the rail, he feels no vibrations. He stands up and slowly makes his way across the bridge. Vern is crawling on his hands and knees.
Gordie again stoops to feel the rail, gripping it tightly. He looks down the bridge and sees steam exhaust billowing above the trees. He stands and in slow motion, exclaims the famous line, “TRAIN!!!!”
And you will just have to watch the movie to see if they survived the ultimate train dodge.
I pulled off Highway 89, just after crossing Lake Britton, on a dirt road heading down toward the Dusty Campground. To my right was the red dirt graded roadbed that was the former McCloud River Railroad right-away. I parked on the former railroad and headed out to the bridge.
I picked my spot, right near the camera position in Stand By Me and I started to sketch. It was a beautiful day and the scene before was wonderful to add to my sketchbook.
August 2, 2016 8:50 AM
On an Oregon coastal drive on Highway 101 from Astoria to Florence, I came to the small town of Garibaldi (Population 779). To my surprise, this coastal town was home to a tourist railway, the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad.
It was in the morning and I was exciting to see an engine under steam, getting ready for the day. I took a few pictures of the 2-6-2 “Prairie” Type steam locomotive as is got ready to meet it’s consist of passenger cars for it’s days work.
It was only when I looked back at these images that I realized that this steam locomotive, the former McCloud River Railroad No. 25, was the same locomotive featured in the famous Stand By Me scene filmed at the Lake Britton Bridge.
This well know locomotive was brought in an out of service over the years and headed up many railfan excursions. One such exclusion was in 1955, to celebration the opening of the Burney line. Number 25 was on point of the Golden Spike excursion from McCloud to Burney. We could surmise that No. 25 was the first steam locomotive to cross the Lake Britton Bridge.
No. 25 was sold and in 2011 she was moved from McLoud, Ca to Tillamook, Or. She is currently running on the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad in Garibaldi.
To think that this minor piece of cinema history, built in 1925, had not been scraped or put on static display in some park but was still a living and breathing locomotive that pulls a trainloads of passengers up the coast of Oregon really puts a smile on my face.