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High Noon at 70

One of my favorite westerns was released in 1952 and in 2022, has turned 70.

High Noon has risen above so many of the other westerns made at the time. It still holds up today because, well, it’s simply a great movie.

The majority of interiors and exteriors were filmed on the Columbia Pictures Ranch in Burbank. There are a few locations in Northern California, outside of Hollywood that still exist, and I have visited most of them and sketched them too.

I returned to Warnvillie, a collection of houses, cows, and railroad tracks. This location is one of the most famous locations featured in High Noon and I wanted to sketch it again but from a different perspective.

Before I had attempted to assume the angle of cinematographer Floyd Crosby’s (yes David’s dad) camera, looking westward down the rails, longingly anticipating the noontime train.

It was here that the three outlaws (including Lee Van Cleef) wait the return of Frank Miller who has just been released from prison. It was also the location where Grace Kelly and Katy Jurado board the noontime train on their way out of Hadleyville. And only one of them succeeds. See the film, trust me, it’s worth the 85 minutes.

Sierra Railway passenger car No. 6 has been featured in so many westerns including High Noon. Producers like the wide windows that shows the background. The car is now stored the Jamestown Roundhouse.

This time, for my sketch, I sat just to the right of the tracks. Directly in front of me was the site of the Hadleyville Train Depot set, now gone. On the left side of the tracks is the only structure still standing from the filming in the summer and spring of 1951.

This is a corrugated roofed and sided structure that looks like it might have been a pump house. A little further down the tracks are three parallel concrete slabs which are all that remains of the Warnerville water tower, which is prominently seen in the film. The water tower, like the steam locomotives that once pulled freight on this line, are now long gone.

As the tracks lead off toward the horizon, in the direction of Oakdale, the hills remain very much unchanged from 70 years ago.

The train that pulls into Hadleyville at noon features Sierra No. 3 on point hauling the “movie train” consist of cars five and six.

Field sketch of Sierra No. 3 in her stall at the Jamestown Roundhouse.

The build up to the train’s arrival is one of the things that make High Noon such a great film. As the minute hand creeps towards noon, Fred Zinnemann and Crosby gives us portraits of the townspeople who nervously await the train, none more so than Marshall Will Kane, who sits at his desk writing out his lay will and testament. The three outlaws have been waiting for the arrival of Frank Miller, the man the Kane put away. The four of them will come into town with only one objective: to kill Will Kane.

A long pull on the whistle cord of Sierra No. 3 announces the arrival of the noon train and Kane will have to do all in his power, without the help of the citizens of Hadleyville, to save his own life.

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The Jamestown Roundhouse

There are very few roundhouses that still exist in the United States. There is one that still is intact and houses three of Sierra Railroads original steam locomotives.

These structures were built around a turntable and contained stalls where the steam locomotives where kept and served. Most where they obsolete on the age of diesel locomotives but Hollywood saved the Jamestown Roundhouse.

The roundhouse was first built in 1900 but burned down in October of 1910. It was rebuilt right after the fire and then enlarged in 1922 to have a total of six stalls. In 1922 a new turntable was built.

I’m the heyday of westerns, Hollywood needed steam locomotives, vintage rolling stock, and landscapes untouched by the 20th century. Sierra Railroads had all three in spades!

So I found a seat on some railroad ties and started to sketch the red roundhouse at Jamestown.

The Screen Queen, No. 3 in her stall at the roundhouse being repaired back to working order. To her left is Sierra 28, which is also being maintenanced .

The roundhouse itself was used in a few films. There have been three Oscar nominated films filmed on the Sierra: High Noon (1952), Bound for Glory (1976), and Unforgiven (1992).

Bound for Glory was a biopic about Woody Guthrie directed by Hal Ashby and the roundhouse was in a brief shot with Sierra No. 3 on the turntable. Above is a still from Bound For Glory. There a few things to point out about this still: to the right you can just make out the top of a yellow locomotive. This a switcher that is used to move locomotives and rolling stock around the turntable and yard. I believe it is switcher No.1638, (which is featured in the featured sketch), which would not be period with the time of the film. Also just to the left of No. 3’s exhaust is a building with white siding. This is the 1913 passenger depot that burned down two years after Bound for Glory was released. The roundhouse looks very much the same as the day filming took place here in 1975.

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Tracking Down an Iconic Shot: Warnerville

There is one shot that is used to create tension in the seminal western High Noon (1952).

The iconic shot looks down the rails towards low hills in what is supposed to be Hadleyville, New Mexico. This shot is used seven times at slightly different heights but is shot from the same position, looking west down the rails. Below is an example from the film:

A still from High Noon looking west down the rails of the Sierra Railroad.

In reality the scene was shot on the Sierra Railroad at Milepost 16 in Warnerville, California. It was here that film crew built the Hardleyville Depot set, which is now gone. There was once a water tower which was featured in the film and this is maybe why they chose this location for the set. The water tower, which was a mainstay in the era of steam, is now gone but the concrete foundation and a small building still remain from the time High Noon was filmed here in September of 1951.

The concrete foundation is all that is left of the water tower at Warnerville. The small red building in the background still stands after 70 years. This shot is looking northeast.
Warnerville looking west toward where the noontime train would be arriving. In the foreground, to the right of the rails, was the location of the Hadleyville Train Depot set. The little red building on the left of the tracks still exists.

Warnerville is not really a town. It consists of a few farms and houses, a grade crossing, and a railroad siding. While it would be great if there was an interpretive sign pointing out the cinematic significance of this location but alas, there is none.

This still from High Noon shows the approaching noontime train, in this case the Screen Queen Sierra No. 3. The water tower and the small building that still exists are to the left of the line. The low hills in the background looks very much the same.
A still from High Noon of Sierra No. 3 pulling into the Hadeyville Depot set at Warnerville.

In the film Nigh Noon, three rough looking gunman arrive at the train station to await the arrival of the noontime train (hence the name High Noon). They are waiting for Frank Miller, who recently has been released from prison. He is coming back to exact revenge on the marshal (Gary Cooper) who put him away.

Among the three gunman, who gaze down the track expecting the noon train, is an actor making his screen debut. He does not speak a single word in High Noon, although he blows a few bars on the harmonica. This actor is Lee Van Cleef. He is best known as the “Bad” in Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” (1968).

I arrived at the intersection of Warnerville and Crabtree Road at the Sierra Railroad grade crossing. It was 70 years ago that this location was used in High Noon. The area is a bit different from that time but it is very much the same in other ways. The line of hills had not changed much, except for an almond grove creeping up one of the hillsides (I chose not to add it to my featured sketch, sketcher’s license after all.)

I stood in between the two rails and sketched the approximate position of cinematographer Floyd Crosby’s camera. The rails looked a bit rusted enough so I was not expecting a westbound freight anytime soon. But I still checked my back from time to time because the Sierra Railroad is still an active branch line.

My only companion was a black cow grazing on grass across the road. She raised her head in between foraging and peered, without judgment, at Corvidsketcher.

Well how do you really judge the judgement of a cow after all?

A shoutout goes out to Jeff and Sarah of History Hunters for letting me know about this forgotten filming location. Thank you! Their youtube channel can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/jbenziggy

Here is a photo of my sketching position. If you compare the movie sill from the top of the post, you will notice that the distant hills look very much the same today.
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The Sierra Railroad: The Movie Railroad

So many films have been filmed on the Sierra Railroad that it is known as the “Movie Railroad”.

The railroad originated as a branch line connecting the Central Valley, where the mainline is located, to the Gold Country to the east. The construction of the railroad started in 1897 at the Southern Pacific Depot at the town of Oakdale. Seven months later the line reached Jamestown, 41 miles away. In 1899, the line was extended to Sonora, the county seat, and by the turn of the century, the line ran further east to Tuolumne.

The former Southern Pacific Depot at Oakdale. This is where the railroad started. The building now houses the Cowboy Museum.

The town of Jamestown was where the Sierra Railroad established its headquarters and it’s maintenance shops. This part of the railroad now exists and is preserved as Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. The roundhouse still stands and it houses three historic steam locomotives that still are operable today. The star of the roundhouse is Sierra No. 3, a 2-6-0 Mogul type locomotive that is considered to be the most photographed locomotive in the world. She was built in 1891 in Patterson, New Jersey. This locomotive has a look that appealed to Hollywood and heyday of westerns. No. 3 appeared in over 100 films and television shows over the years including My Little Chickadee, High Noon, Bound For Glory, Little House on the Prairie, Petticoat Junction, Back to the Future III, and Unforgiven.

Three movie stars in their stalls at the Jamestown roundhouse. Number 28 and 34 where featured in Hal Ashby’s film Bound For Glory. No. 28 is the only steam locomotive in service and now heads the seasonal “Polar Express”. The sound of the Polar Express in the movie of the same name where recorded from Sierra No. 28.

The Sierra Railroad and No. 3 have appeared in three movies that where nominated for Best Picture: High Noon (1952), Bound For Glory (1976), and Unforgiven (1992). Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven won Best Picture, Best Director (Eastwood), Best Supporting Actor (Gene Hackman), and Best Editing (Joel Cox).

A sketch of Sierra No. 3 from July 30, 2015.
On my visit to the Jamestown Roundhouse, No. 3, the Screen Queen was in the process of of having her boiler repaired and was in a few pieces.
The Sierra Railroad shops and yard in Oakdale. The yard was used as a filming location for Hal Ashby’s biopic of Woody Guthrie, Bound For Glory. The railroad is still in operation today a runs a few freight trains per week.