Museum train chugs into 'Wild, Wild West'

This Just In . . .

March 02, 1998|By Dan Rodricks

Remember "The Wild, Wild West"? It was one of the coolest television shows of the 1960s. Now Warner Bros. is turning it into a movie, starring Will Smith - can we call him "Baltimore's own" yet? - as James T. West, Kevin Kline as Artemus Gordon, Kenneth Branagh as the diabolical Dr. Loveless, and William Mason as the train.

Make that the William Mason, Baltimore's own.

Until last week, the classic mid-19th-century steam engine had been sitting in the B&O Railroad Museum. Now it's out of the big house for service to Warner Bros., which begins production on "The Wild, Wild West" next month.

This is one of the William Mason's best assignments ever. Whenever special government agents James T. West and Artemus Gordon went on assignment in the old West, they went in their own special train - a locomotive pulling two cars. West and Gordon plotted their capers in that train; they entertained the ladies in it. That means the William Mason should have a starring role.

Its first stop, however, is at the Pennsylvania Railroad Museum in Strasburg, where it will be rebuilt for full and safe operation, according to Dennis Fulton, the B&O Museum's director of special services. Warner Bros. will foot the bill for boiler, flue and wheel work. The William Mason, built in 1855, has not operated under its own power since 1962. Its rehabilitation in Strasburg will make it operational for several more years.

From Pennsylvania, the engine will be hauled to Arizona or New Mexico for location filming. "They are not sure where exactly yet," says Fulton. "Some place with a lot of red sand and high plateaus." Harold Dorsey, a museum mechanic, will baby-sit the William Mason while it's on location.

When the William Mason left Baltimore last week, it did so on a flat-bed trailer so low to the road the engine appeared to be running on its own power directly behind the truck hauling it. The New Jersey trucking concern that took the engine to Pennsylvania pulled it up on the low bed on railroad tracks. Motorists on the Beltway and Interstate 83 might have been startled by the sight. At least one was, and called TJI to holler about it. "It was only about a foot and a half off the ground when they took it out of here," Fulton chuckled. "It looked like it was going down the street on its own."

For the making of "The Wild, Wild West," directed by Barry Sonnenfeld ("The Addams Family," "Men In Black"), the William Mason will haul a baggage car and a fancy office coach being built for the movie. Once the filming is completed and the William Mason returns to Baltimore, it would be cool-to-the-nth-power if it came back with those cars and the museum was allowed to put it all on display, timed with the release of the movie next year.

With its cast and director, the movie ought to get a huge release.

According to early reports on the script, special agents West (Smith) and Gordon (Kline) are hunting the evil Loveless (Branagh), who is plotting to assassinate President Grant (I don't know who plays him) and take over the United States with his secret weapon, the Tarantula. The Wild, Wild West Movie Page (on the Internet via says: "Romance, humor, fantastic weapons and devices, and hair-raising confrontations and escapes bring this big-screen version of the warmly remembered series into the 1990s with a bang."

What's not to like? (George Clooney turned down the part of Artemus Gordon, master of disguises, but Kevin Kline is hardly a slouchy second choice.)

Fulton says there's a possibility that one scene of "The Wild, Wild West" will be filmed in Baltimore, possibly at the old Mount Royal Station. If that happens, the William Mason might return to the museum on its own power. And if that happens, there will be a big party in downtown Baltimore.

"The Wild, Wild West" will not be the William Mason's film debut. Walt Disney borrowed it in 1955 for the Civil War epic "The Great Locomotive Chase."

Last year, the museum's Lafayette locomotive, a 12,000-pound tender and two vintage passenger cars left Mount Clare for a cameo role as President Van Buren's inaugural train in "Amistad." The Lafayette is back on display at the museum, decorated exactly as it was for the movie. Information: 410-752-2490.

'Sunny' outdoors

This Just In: Sales of Israeli gas masks at area Sunny's outdoor-goods stores have tripled in recent weeks. I hear it's because of the anthrax scare of about 10 days ago and the conflict with Iraq. Sunny's is great. I like it for hiking boots, rag-wool socks, thermal henleys and heavy-wool lumberjack shirts. I bought a Coleman tent there a while back. The chain has been trying to shed its military surplus image for a few years

now. It's not called Sunny's Surplus anymore. But apparently, whether we're preparing for snowstorms or biological terrorism, Baltimoreans still turn to Sunny's for those "special items."

Face west

Sykesville, in Carroll County, always begins town meetings with a Pledge of Allegiance, facing the flag at Town Hall.

A moment of silence follows. Anticipating a large crowd for last week's meeting, Mayor Jonathan S. Herman scheduled the session in a spacious, but flagless, hall at Springfield Hospital Center. With an audience of about 100, he did not deviate from standard practice. "Face Sykesville where we know there is a flag and say the pledge," he asked. Everybody turned to the west, repeated the pledge and observed a moment of silence.


Bumper sticker spotted Friday evening by a TJI reader: "Honk if you've been subpoenaed by Kenneth Starr."

Pub Date: 3/02/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.