Empire Of The North: The Forming Of The Burlington Northern



Producer: Charles Smiley

Timeframe: 1900- 2001

Locations: System

Length: 1 hour 30 minutes

Sources: 15 (film)

A very comprehensive program by the multi- talented Charles Smiley. The Burlington Northern merger of 1970 was a huge merger. Major railroads combined: Great Northern, Burlington Route, Northern Pacific and Spokane, Portland and Seattle into the BN. Subsidiary lines such as: Colorado and Southern, Fort Worth and Denver are included.


Historical aspects and the focus on past rail barons such as: James Hill of Great Northern and E.H. Harriman of Union Pacific make a worthy basis for this story. James Hill became known as The Empire Builder. Teddy Roosevelt becomes a trust buster. The remaining merger roads are effectively covered as well.

vlcsnap-2019-11-23-17h22m40s785The high-flying Charles Smiley is a generous host. There are many assorted views, and often relevant talks about other railroads. EL, GM&O, DRGW,  PRR, WP, MILW, ROCK, UP, SP, ATSF and more!

vlcsnap-2019-11-23-14h20m31s649Burlington Northern was merged in 1970.

vlcsnap-2019-11-23-15h10m03s938Charles backs up into the early mergers. That pre-dated the later, even larger ones. His attention to detail, is what sets his programs apart. Charles does the narrative.

Audio soundtrack, is an accurate one. The locomotives that are passing by the viewer, are the sounds that one hears. An EMD is correct, as is a GE, or an Alco. Musical background is used elsewhere.

An assortment of; period photographs, illustrations and other items, are used in a PBS style presentation.

vlcsnap-2019-11-23-14h24m21s851Some people correctly make note of overlapping footage in some CSP shows. This is needed to ‘tell the story’ of a given railroad. As the prototypes connect and interact, so do the stories. As Milwaukee Road interaction or implications, is discussed, why not see Milwaukee Road?

vlcsnap-2019-11-23-14h55m10s725There is a chapter menu on this DVD. All Charles Smiley releases are manufactured  glass mastered DVD’s. Highest quality and better durability are another bonus of CSP.

This E9 is before, the orange/white,  highway style nose stripes.

vlcsnap-2019-11-23-14h17m15s980Charles continues with his winning style of presentation. Much like a PBS broadcast quality program, these shows are some of the best available train videos. His thorough,  detailed discussions provide seemingly limitless information. Inside information often brings points to light of how railroading has evolved. Fascinating!

vlcsnap-2019-11-23-14h39m34s136Subject features are in a plentiful supply. Viewers will come away with historical knowledge of wide-ranging subjects such as: Panama Canal, Ralph Budd, Western Pacific’s Inside Gateway, CB&Q Zephyr, World War 2, California Zephyr, Baldwin, Alco, and plenty of additional.

vlcsnap-2019-11-23-14h12m50s528Northern Pacific dome car view.

vlcsnap-2019-11-23-17h35m27s863The cornucopia of trains is nearly overwhelming. You will need multiple sessions of viewing this show, to take it all in. All digitally re-mastered and painstakingly added natural sounds make for great sequences. Mainly 8mm color, with limited black and white footage.

vlcsnap-2019-11-23-17h29m57s031All the diesel makers that supplied the Hill Lines are discussed and on parade here.

vlcsnap-2019-11-23-14h21m00s519Original paint schemes from the BN locos, are seen in early BN renumbering for ICC compliance. Note the removed signboards on this ex: Great Northern.

vlcsnap-2019-11-23-14h29m38s185Look for the small lettered/ renumbered units.The BN roster was vast, and there is just so much to see. Color film from the 1950’s to 1970’s, is very satisfying.

vlcsnap-2019-11-23-14h41m45s777Many rare locomotives are viewed on ‘in service sequences’ in all types of terrain. There are terrific mountain railroad shots.

Checkout the former Spokane, Portland and Seattle unit. An Alco Century, spitting fire!

vlcsnap-2019-11-23-15h32m09s775Custom made maps are always a highlight bonus on a CSP release. This show provides looks at system maps for multiple railroads. They are shown as needed, to enhance a discussion. Local maps are used to facilitate understanding of a specific area.  Kudos!

vlcsnap-2019-11-23-14h32m11s559Chicago, Burlington & Quincy has nice coverage. Ralph Budd and his successful introduction of the speedy Zephyr rolls film back to 1934.  An array of vintage film goes right along with the story of the CB&Q. Stainless steel Zephyrs, Black & Gray ‘Everywhere West’ and later Chinese Red color schemes are … everywhere!

vlcsnap-2019-11-23-14h28m39s642Great Northern provides some spectacular backdrops for those trains. James Hill is shown as the force behind the creation of Great Northern. The mountainous crossing  of the line across the wilderness. Alcos are seen in the 1950’s- 1960’s. Main supply from EMD, were the bulk of the Hill Lines.


NP leads a feature set on steam locomotives. Much color footage and a transition to a CB&Q steam sequence with extra screen time.

Cascade Green, Black and White of the Burlington Northern are a change from the complex earlier paint schemes of the old roads. First generation power is abundant. Newer locomotives and repainted cars spread the new BN image.


The special feature on Western Pacific’s Inside Gateway is a movie within this movie. Keddie Wye and area are visited. Old, smoke belching Alcos, mix with 1st and 2nd generation EMD power. Much scenic footage and raw diesel power to savor. Close-up views put you trackside, in this mountainous region. WP plus BN locomotives pulling vintage freight trains.

vlcsnap-2019-11-23-14h55m59s419One late segment showcases Chicago area railroads, in the early 1970’s. Eyeball this Gulf, Mobile & Ohio local. The Plug, used to run behind chicken wire F3A units! 


Classic freight cars and named passenger trains are the right ingredients for excellent trainwatching. Rare Alcos lead the way on some trains.This is a railfan’s delight!


Fast forward to a 2001 update. A few minutes in the BNSF era. This scene of street running at Fort Collins, Colorado.


This program is one that is hard to step away from. You never know what is coming next! If you only could own a single BN train video, this is the one to have.


A nice variety of predecessor caboose schemes. GN big sky blue.


The Burlington Route caboose was easy to spot, even when repainted. 


Empire Of The North: The Forming of the Burlington Northern.

This show  is an instant classic. An instant favorite!                

Rating: 5 Stars

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s