Empire Of The North: The Forming Of The Burlington Northern

Empire Of The North: The Forming Of The Burlington Northern (D-121)

Charles Smiley Presents

Format: DVD (Factory Pressed Silver Disc)

Length: 1 hour 31 minutes

Time Period: Early History to 1970’s. Plus some post- merger to BNSF 2001.

Locations: Systemwide

Sources: Many, 15 film credits alone. Charles Smiley has a video credit. Still photos and illustrations.

MSRP: 29.50

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.

burlington route steam locomotive steam engine

The 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! As I was in close proximity to GM&O circa 1972 on, that segment really was unexpected on a BN show. Icing on the cake.

Some 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 is offered, why not see Milwaukee Road?     Any overlaps are small portions of the lengthy programs.

There 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.

great northern emd sdp40 empire builder big sky blue train

Charles 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!

EMD E8A diesel locomotive stainless steel

Subject 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.


The 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.

Chinese Red CB&Q GP35

All the diesel makers that supplied the Hill Lines are discussed and on parade here. Some of the original paint schemes from the 2000 BN locos, are seen in early BN renumbering for ICC compliance. Watch 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. Many rare locomotives are viewed on ‘in service sequences’ in all types of terrain. There are terrific mountain railroad shots.

Custom 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!

Chicago, 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!

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

Northern Pacific has its share of time too. Big steam and first generation diesels abound. The North Coast Limited was the centerpiece of NP passenger service. Many NP shots.

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

Spokane, Portland and Seattle is the least known merger partner. It contributed many Alco locomotives to BN.

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.

One late segment showcases Chicago area railroads, in the early 1970’s. Packs a punch.

Fast forward to 2001, he provides a quick update to the BN story,and BNSF, in the contemporary era.

50 foot combo door jade green

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!

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 fine film for the entire family. Any train enthusiast will love this show. Unbelievably superior film about Burlington Northern. Nothing has been overlooked. Complete.

Also, there are some fine extended previews of other Charles Smiley Presents programs.

Empire Of The North: The Forming of the Burlington Northern  is an instant classic.                  It is an instant favorite too!

Rating: 5 Stars

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