Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Knott's Golden Spike Ceremony, January 12 1952

Digging through my main box of miscellaneous ephemera, I found this nice program from the dedication of the railroad at Knott's Berry Farm, on January 12, 1952. All these years later, the big trains are still one of my favorite things at Knott's! 

So... here's the cover. I wonder who was able to attend this event? Were people invited? Were visitors to the park allowed to enjoy the festivites? My guess is "yes" to both. Since the community of die-hard train fans was relatively small, I'm also wondering if any notable Disney people were there that day (although Disneyland would not come along for years)?

The program provides a brief history of the Denver Rio Grande locomotive, and the usual list of music and speakers that one might see at an event like this. It looks like a mercifully short ceremony! I wonder if there is any surviving record of Water Knott's' remarks?

I scrounged some photos of the event from the interwebs, and they are kind of fun. Look at that crowd gathered in front of the Calico Saloon! It's like Disneyland on a slow day in 2017. Being January, there are lots of coats, hats, and babushkas. The stand of eucalyptus trees looks so great! 

Looks like there was even some drizzle, but that didn't seem to bother most people. Notice the TV camera on that makeshift wooden support. Arthur Fonzarelli was there! Also notice the sign for the short-lived "Mark Smith Horse Show". 

Among the invited guests was actor Sterling Hayden, who was starring in a 1952 movie called "Denver and Rio Grande". That's him, pounding in the golden spike - perhaps you will remember him from his role as Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, in Stanley Kubrick's "Doctor Strangelove".  The lovely lady is Kasey Rogers, also in "Denver and the Rio Grande" - she had a long and successful career, appearing in many movies and television programs. She played Larry Tate's wife Louise in "Bewitched", and was memorably strangled by Robert Walker in Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers On a Train". Criss cross!

Was there really a ceremonial golden spike? Does it exist in a collection somewhere? Can I have it for free?

First of all, the guy's name is "Sterling", and yet he is driving in a golden spike. Who's idea was that? They should have asked 7 year-old Goldie Hawn to do the honors. I hope Mr. Hayden didn't hit Kasey Rogers' fingers.

And finally, here's perhaps my favorite photo, with Walter and Cordelia Knott posing next to their newest toy, dressed in period costumes. Or maybe that's just how they dressed on an average day, who's to say. They had some lean years in their early days - I'll bet they never imagined that they would have the success that came to them through hard work and good ideas.


Nanook said...


This type of event (especially back then), along with the program are so much fun.

How handy that Denver and the Rio Grande was released by Paramount Pictures, and Paramount at the time also owned TV station KTLA - that you'll notice can be seen shooting the ceremonies in the 3rd & 4th images. I'm guessing the front-end of what appears to be a truck, just sticking its nose into the right-hand edge of the 3rd frame is very-likely the KTLA remote truck.

Thanks, Major, for sharing these fun images.

Scott Lane said...

Strange Fonzi would show up at an event full of squares. There weren't any teenage girls to fawn over him. Not even a shark to jump!

Steve DeGaetano said...

Ah, my second-favorite railroad!

Engine No. 41 is a class C-19 with a 2-8-0 wheel arrangement, built by Baldwin in 1881--making it possibly the oldest regularly operating steam locomotive in the country! The photos posted show it with a gaudy paint scheme and a big diamond stack and box headlight, but several years ago the crew was permitted to paint it in a more-authentic black with a graphite smoke box (although the black is glossy and not matte). The engine was originally named "Red Cliff," but that was changed a few years ago to "Walter K." (I prefer Red Cliff, but that's just me).

Alonzo P Hawk said...

I was always a big fan of Knott's Railroad (still am). They continue to do a great job with the guests. The mock train robbery and such. I have a great picture of my (then) 12 yr old daughter holding up the robbers with their own gun next to the locomotive. Good times.

These are great photos Major. Thanks for posting.

Chuck said...

"I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids."

That, and trains. My day is complete. Thanks, Major.

Steve DeGaetano said...

Major, I do seem to recall seeing the shiny golden (or more likely brass) head of a spike on one of the rails in Calico Square. Maybe someone can confirm this dim memory?

Chuck said...

Steve, I can confirm that you have that dim memory. Whether or not it's accurate is another thing entirely.

K. Martinez said...

Had no idea Sterling Hayden participated in any event at Knott's. He's one of my favorite actors. I really like the pic with train locomotive and Ghost Town water tower. I'd imagine in that POV the Calico Mine Ride would appear there in later pics. There's indeed something special about the Calico Railroad at Knott's. And still enjoy the train robbery to this day. Nice post today. Thanks, Major.

Chuck said...

Steve, in all seriousness, if there wasn't a Golden Spike before, there appears to be one now.

Steve DeGaetano said...

Thanks Chuck. That pretty much looks like what I remember! (dimly)

TokyoMagic! said...

Speaking of spikes, Fonzie's cousin "Spike" appears to be lurking in the background of that last photo!

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, that IS handy. I did notice that KTLA was there, but did not know that it was owned by Paramount.

Scott Lane, The Fonz was a big fan of steam trains, which you would know if you read the 7,000 page authorized biography. Some fan YOU are.

Steve DeGaetano - 1881, that is impressive. Either Rutherford B. Hayes or James A. Garfield was President. Billy the Kid was shot, and the gunfight at the O.K. corral both happen that year. Amazing that we can still ride a train from those days! I certainly admire Walter Knott, but I prefer the name “Red Cliff” as well.

Alonzo P Hawk, how did your daughter get the drop on those grown men?!

Chuck, General Ripper was a true patriot.

Steve DeGaetano, I always wondered if a real golden spike was used back in the old days - solid gold, not that cheap gold plate junk! I seem to recall reading that a pre-drilled hole would be prepared, and the gold (or whatever) spike would quickly be moved to some place more secure. Like my place.

Chuck, you display a remarkable knack for… something!

K. Martinez, I love those big trains at Knott’s, but it is a bit disappointing to ride them, only to find that most of the view is a wooden fence 10 feet from the window. Still, I hope they are never removed.

Chuck, that looks like “goldette” - better than real gold! My four ex-wives had goldette wedding bands.

Steve DeGaetano, without having ever seen it, that is pretty much how I imagined it to look!

TokyoMagic!, how many cousins did Fonzie have, anyway? Chachi should be enough for anyone. Then again, there are those big Italian families...

Unknown said...

Well a fine initial post and a great series of comments just serves to remind me of how much I need to get back to visit, but thanks to all and sundry....