Cinema’s Bikeway: Row River Trail

The Row River Trail has a rich Oregon film perigee. I have previously posted about the railroad being used in Buster Keaton’s masterpiece The General. This location, then the Oregon, Pacific and Eastern Railroad, was used again in the summer of 1985 for a classic coming-of-age story.

But first, to really explore the trail, I needed a bike. And so it was that I stood before Rainy Peak Bicycles, five minutes before 10 AM, waiting for the shop to open. The shop, on Main Street, is a mere five blocks from the start of the Row River Trail. The shop mainly repairs bikes but because of the popularity of the Row River Trail, they have a side hustle renting bikes.

But before I go on any great, or not so great, undertaking, I draw a map. In this case, the first ten miles of the Row (rhymes with “cow”) River Trail. Here I have noted milage and some of the locations I wanted to see, such as the location collapse of the train trestle from The General, which was the single most expensive shot in silent film history. Unfortunately getting to the spot requires trespassing on private property so I was not able to sketch the scene (and I did not want to get shot in the attempt).

I started off on the trail and it was easy going because it was a railroad grade and relatively flat. The first mile or so was used for a large number of the shots in The General. The next landmark I was looking forward to seeing was at milepost 3: the Mosby Creek Bridge.

The Mosby Creek Bridge was where the adventure begins in Rob Reiner’s classic film Stand By Me (1986). Back when the movie was filmed, railroad tracks spanned the bridge that crosses Mosby Creek and the four boys walk onto the the tracks here, and cross over the bridge on their journey to look for the body of Ray Brower (the film is based on Stephan King’s novella The Body). The bridge looks very much the same as the day when production occurred here in the summer of 1985. Today the rails have been replaced with asphalt and it is now a popular hiking and biking trail.

After crossing the bridge, the Row River Trail heads east in a straight section. It was along this straight section of the railroad that the first train dodge scene was filmed in which the character Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman) attempts to dodge an ongoing freight train.

I pulled over and pulled out my sketchbook and pencil bag. I stood in the middle of the the trail, assuming the perspective (and camera angle) of Teddy Duchamp, played by Corey Feldman. In 1985, he was looking down the rails to an oncoming steam freight train. The locomotive used in the shot was a 2-8-2 #19 which was built in 1915 and at the time was leased from the Yreka Western Railroad in Northern California. Luckily Teddy was pulled from the tracks by Chris, played by River Phoenix.

Riding a bike on the Row River Trail was one of the highlights of my summer break. The freedom of self-propulsion, the surrounding cinema history, and the beautiful scenery made this a memorial experience.
These Oregon Film Trail signs were a great help. This one is alone the shore of Dorena Lake near where the campfire scene was filmed in Stand By Me. Oh and later that day I did visit Brownsville, filling in as the fictional town of Castle Rock.
This the the bridge featured in the end of Stand By Me. This leads to the town of Brownsville, or which stood in for the town of Castle Rock in the film.
This perspective of Brownsville, is seen at the beginning of the film when Gordie Lachance (played by Wil Wheaton) walks down the street.

Stand By Me Bridge

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 Lake Britton Railroad Bridge is now without rails. It will someday be retrofitted as a walking trail, part of the Shasta Rail Trail. This is looking in the direction in which the train was coming.

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.

The photo is taken close to where I sketched the bridge. Note the barrier and barbed wire to prevent Stand By Me fans from recreating the run across the bridge. That does not stop them from adding some cinematic graffiti to the landmark.
I added this to my sketch. It’s refreshing to see some graffiti that does not contain a load of four letter words, unlike the film, Stand By Me!

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.

McCloud River Railway No. 25, under steam, getting ready for morning passenger service on the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad in Garibaldi, Oregon. This is the steam engine that comes barreling down on the four boys on the Lake Britton Bridge.
It is fitting that this piece of Stand By Me history ended up in Oregon because the majority of the film’s locations were filmed in Eugene, Brownsville, Junction City, and Cottage Grove, Oregon. One major difference between the novella and the film was that it’s setting was changed from Maine to Oregon.