The Hooterville Cannonball

from Petticoat Junction


Hooterville Cannonball



Larry Jensen, from the Tuolumne County Film Commission (and Petticoat Junction scholar in his own right), has generously given me these photos and information about the real train to share with you:


"The Movie Railroads" book by Larry Jensen - pages on the PJ train

Photos of the real water tower & of the real train in the shop

Tuolumne County Film Commission promo brochure

The "Hooterville Cannonball" at Jamestown

Sierra R.R. No. 3 at Jamestown Roundhouse


Thank you for your contribution Larry!


Interesting facts about the train, click here


The most unique "character" in the Petticoat Junction cast is The Hooterville Cannonball, an abbreviated steam-driven train run more like a taxi service by its two engineers, Charley Pratt and Floyd Smoot. It is not uncommon for the men of the Cannonball to make an unscheduled stop in order to go fishing or pick fruit for Kate Bradley's menu at the Shady Rest Hotel. Occasionally, Betty Jo Bradley can be found with her hand on the Cannonball's throttle, as driving the train home from trips into town is one of her favorite pasttimes.

The Cannonball's usual speed belies its name (which was perhaps inspired by Casey Jones' locomotive), though it still manages to give its passengers a thrill while rounding the local version of Dead Man's Curve. Ostensibly, the Cannonball operates as part of the C. & F.W. Railroad. Exactly what the initials stand for is today a mystery. [Even Paul Henning, creator of the show, doesn't remember the inspiration behind them] It has been speculated that the initials are a writers' tribute to the Cannonball trainmen, as in the "Charley & Floyd Western", or some such thing (ironically, the final Cannonball engineer, in seasons 6 & 7, was named Wendell, but it is unlikely that the writers were precognitive enough to intentionally add his initial). Yet another theory is that it is a geographical reference, a la "Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe," in this case, perhaps "Chicago & Fort Worth."

The aforementioned Charley and Floyd are played by Smiley Burnette and Rufe Davis, respectively. Lester "Smiley" Burnette came into films with his friend, Gene Autry, whose radio vocals he had backed on guitar. Also a prolific songwriter, he was one of the most popular "B" westerners in the 30s and 40s. Rufe Davis was also familiar to western audiences, in part due to his riding as one of Republic's Three Mesquiteers through 11 adventures during 1940 and '41.

As for the Hooterville Cannonball itself, an 1890s steam engine, coal car, and mail/passenger coach, it had a most interesting history. The train actually used on the sound stage in the show was a mock-up, utilizing a plastic locomotive and cab shell that had been originally built for an early Marilyn Monroe film, Ticket To Tomahawk. The mock-up was modeled after a real train in Sonora, California, and was constructed when the production crew for the movie realized that the real train was too heavy for a mule team to pull across the desert as the script dictated. Harvey Dick bought the mock-up from Fox with the intent of placing it atop his Hoyt Hotel in Portland, Oregon, as a promotional gimmick. As fate would have it, Petticoat Junction's production supervisor, George King, spotted it on a studio lot while it was awaiting transport to Oregon and he made a deal with Mr. Dick, who rented it to Filmways, who also added a plastic baggage/passenger car and other mock-ups. [See article & photos of mock-up train] The train ended up promoting Mr. Dick's hotel all the more due to the prominent credit it received in the closing titles of the show for the loan of the locomotive, though ironically, it is the real locomotive, filmed on location in Sonora, that appears under the credits. All of the long shots of the train actually moving down the track are location shots of the real train, except for some in later seasons, when the location filming became too much of a chore. At that point, precise scale models of the train (as well as the Shady Rest Hotel, Drucker's Store, the train station, the water tower, and the train stop) were utilized. (These models were among the only items rescued from the set of Petticoat Junction when the show was canceled in 1970. They are proudly displayed in the home of Paul Henning) [see photos]. In addition to its tenure as the Cannonball, the same train was used as the rolling headquarters and home of Jim West in the hit series The Wild Wild West.


Learn more about the Petticoat Junction Scale Models in an article

written by Richard C. Datin, the man who created them.

Great Photos Included!

Click Here


Linda Henning, who played Betty Jo Bradley, shares her memories of the train in an interview with Dave Stein:

DS: Obviously, you had to learn how to run the train, to do this, to do that. Did someone teach you what to do?

LH: Well, there was a man who was a train expert. I don't remember his name, but he came to the set and basically gave us..."If you're moving ahead, this is what you do. If you're stopping, this is what you do." And so he gave us the basic movements so that we would look like we were doing the right thing, because there were train buffs who were watching the show, and so we needed to look like we knew what we were doing. So we did have instructions as to how. We didn't actually run the train, because the train we had, of course, was a mock-up kind of thing that could be opened up and filmed inside, but we did learn basically what you do. We had to learn what to do if you really were driving the train.

DS: Did you ever get a chance to see the actual train?

LH: Yes. When we went to color the third year of the show, we had to refilm everything, of course, in color, so we went up to Sonora, which is not too far from Sacramento, California, kind of right in the upper middle of California. At the beginning of the gold rush country, there's a whole highway called the 49er Highway that leads you through the whole gold rush area, where all of the different towns that were involved in the gold rush were, and Sonora is right at the beginning of this, and that's where the water tower is, and that stands today with the sign that says "Petticoat Junction" on it.

DS: So I guess you have fond memories of the train.

LH: Oh, I loved it. It was part of the show. That train was a character, and of course, very vital to the valley where we were. My character, especially, thought of that train as a person.


Excerpted from the article on Petticoat Junction in Television Chronicles Magazine #5

Written by Bill Groves and Saryl T. Radwin

Based on interviews by Dave Stein    

The train, Locomotive No. 3, which starred as the Hooterville Cannonball, now resides at the California State Railroad Museum at Railtown 1897 in Jamestown, California. The Museum was kind enough to send me this information:

Now we'll take a look at our "Movie Star". Way back in March 1891 this 4-6-0 "ten-wheeler" rolled out the door of the Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works in Paterson, New Jersey. It was built for the Prescott & Arizona Central as their second #3 (the first had been surrendered to the Atlantic & Pacific [Santa Fe] for a debt owed). On its arrival in Arizona, the #3 was named for the P&AC treasurer W. N. Kelly, whose name was proudly misspelled beneath the cab windows. Within a few years, Kelly's boss, Thomas S. Bullock was out of business. Thomas Bullock packed his baggage, Locomotive #3 and some rail and headed west.

Upon his arrival in California, Bullock quickly teamed up with Prince Andre Poniatowski and San Francisco financier William H. Crocker and on February 1, 1897, the Sierra Railway Company was formed. The railroad wasted little time in getting track built to the Mother Lode. In her early career, #3 was the biggest locomotive on the line, so her initial domain was in freight service. When Baldwin built 2-8-0, #18 joined the Sierra roster in 1906, #3 moved into relief roles, filling any extra need for freight, passenger or helper chores.

Locomotive #3 is not a stranger to the wrecking crew, suffering from four wrecks, the last being a spill above Sonora in 1918. A wreck caused by the collapse of a trestle in 1899 (in the Red Hills area) sent her to the Southern Pacific shops in Sacramento for major repairs. It would be another 9 decades before she ventured off Sierra rails again, this time to return to Sacramento, but now to participate in Railfair '91, a task she repeated in 1996!

As the depression dawned on Tuolumne County, the need for back-up power on the Sierra was sharply diminished as new locomotives had replaced all but two of the Sierra's first generation steamers. The year 1932 found #3 retired and parked on a turntable lead outside the Roundhouse. She might have stayed on that turntable lead if it hadn't been for the fellows from Hollywood, who had started chartering Sierra's "old time" trains for movie work in the 'teens.

Amazingly, locomotive #3 was not scrapped during World War II and by 1947 she was out of retirement and back in the Roundhouse for a return to active duty.

As we fast forward to today, here she sits, over 100 years old and waiting for another call to service for any special train or movie call. Her film credits are in the dozens. Being one of the most photographed locomotives in the world. Most of us have grown up with this locomotive, she has been the first real "choo-choo" countless children have seen in her starring rolls in Petticoat Junction, Lassie, Gunsmoke, Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie. The older fans have seen her in the 1927 movie The Virginian or High Noon. Her recent rolls include Back to the Future III, Unforgiven and Bad Girls.

Built new for Prescott & Arizona Central as 3rd #3, owned by the Car Trust of Park Place Commercial Co., and leased to the P&AC, which ceased operations in 1893. #3 was placed in storage. Relocated to Stockton, CA in 1896 and to the Sierra Ry. in 1897. It was converted by the Sierra Ry. to oil, circa 1900. Retired in 1932, after appearing in six movies. Restored to service 1947-48 for more movies, TV, and excursions. Transferred to Railtown in 1982. Still in use at the present time for special occasions.


Engine Number - 3

Dia. of Drivers - 55"

Engine Type - 4-6-0

Cylinder size - 17" X 24"

Locomotive Builder - Rogers

Weight in Lbs. - 100,000

Builders Number - 4493

Boiler Pressure - 160

Year Built - 1891

Learn more about the history of this special train by visiting

the museum's website.

Click here for more information.



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