Vignettes of the Burlington Northern, Volume 3


Producer: Clear Block

Timeframe: 1950’s- 1970’s

Locations: Washington, Montana

Sources: Ken Bealer, William P. Price

Length: 60 minutes


Burlington Northern Volume 3. The 1970’s BN. Contains introduction pre-merger film of: CB&Q, GN and NP. On paper, this one appears to be a big winner for Hill lines enthisiausiats.

Keep in mind. Clear Block Productions have proven to be inconsistent to me. They always talk a great game. Read on.


Program opens strong with some, hard to find vintage Burlington Route. End credits list William P. Price as a film source. I would bet, this was his film.


Great Northern is present, as well. A good shot here. Weak overall, inclusion for GN material.

This pre-merger section is the worthwhile portion of the video. Lack of a descriptive narration keeps it second rate.


Northern Pacific checks-in. A nice chunk of steam and diesel. Uh-oh. Here we go again! Solar flares (not). Familiar red/ yellow flaring , as seen in previous B&O Vignettes. Thanks Clear Block! More like Mud block in this case…
Well… That film is pretty old. Things should greatly improve on the newer 1970’s Burlington Northern film. Right?

Narration is very sparse on this show. My guess is the original notes, had little more then, general location and date. Nothing more is usually offered for the rest. Except the source. Ken Bealer. Have seen his name elsewhere. Doesn’t ring a bell. Certainly, not a negative one.

Truth be told. Another train in the rain.  These scenes appear to be a collection of outtakes. They look like remainders or rejects. They are pretty poor overall. I am extremely dissappointed in this DVD. I can’t believe this is out there, for sale!

Likely, this program could have been significantly improved, via some basic, post- production work. Contrast, color balance, brightness etc…

Too many scenes are washed out. Others have way too much sunlight bouncing off the train.


Oddly enough. This show uses more maps and on-screen graphics! Even a rudimentary chapter menu. As if to try and polish the show up a little bit towards respectability.

The actual train edits are rough around the edges. Quick cuts that seldom allow a viewer to see a boxcar. Often, the edits are jarring. It gets tedious.


Color balance is generally close to non- existent. Those bright and bold colors, of the 1970’s are shadows, of what they should be on the screen.


Most of the Vancouver shots are in rain. Too much of that! Sloppy presentation.

Live audio is really good in some scenes. Not enough to save this show.


Another observation regarding the editing decisions. Boring, same looking Amtrak consists are shown in their entirety. Feels like the filler that it is used for.


It is the bootleg quality presentation that ruins the enjoyment. Nice train Clear Block! Much of this show is nearly unwatchable!


I came here for BN freight. Hump yard gives a few box cars, at this distance. Little else for Model Railroaders. Pass on this one.


1979 was the year that Bealer went in search of still operating F units. One of the best looking scenes is this one. Rare in this show. Not all that great either.

Yakima Valley receives a very brief visit. This one minute looks good. I came for Burlington Northern… Why does this BN often look so crappy?


No way does this one receive a good recommendation.
If you are interested in a good, informative vintage focused Burlington Northern program. Forget this waste.
I normally do not do this…
However. Clear Block just wasted my money, time and effort. I will save you time, effort and your own money!

Just order the quality Burlington Northern: Charles Smiley Presents- Empire of the North. You may find this one and can be happy. Life is too short.


Vignettes of the Burlington Northern Volume 3.

Save your money on this dumb, overblown release.

Junk in the Trunk!!
Rating: 2 Stars


Extreme Trains: Overnight Traveler

Overnight Traveler- Extreme Trains

History Channel

Format:  2 DVD set

 Length: 44 minutes

Locations for episode: Chicago to Seattle.

Source: Extreme Trains- Season One

Host: Matt Bown

Updated and illustrated review.

Here is a single episode from the series called, Extreme Trains. Matt Bown hosted various shows in this set on railroading. A good collection of programs that are fine for beginners. Additional information that sometimes, can keep veteran railfans interested as well.

This is the story of the Amtrak Empire Builder. The modern version of a former Great Northern, premier passenger train. Viewers will experience the trip from, Chicago to destination at Seattle.

215Comprehensive  look at the contemporary era Amtrak passenger train. Coverage that features: equipment, employees, and the journey.

chicago union station tower                                           Chicago Union Station tower view.

james hillA fast-moving and varied presentation.  Historical aspects and modern operation are both well researched. This is very informative and fascinating journey, over a classic train trip. Rich in history with some great scenic vistas! A sidetrip to Steamtown for good measure.

MonocoqueCompare the 4250 horsepower of a single Genesis, to the 1500 hp of a 1950’s EMD F7A.

Mono diagramMatt kicks off the show with a segment on the power for the Empire Builder. Two General Electric Genesis locomotives. The design is called a Monocoque. A single, lightweight shell that mounts to the chassis. The shell is akin to a load bearing aircraft fuselage. Check one of the diagrams shown.

loco pit matt eddieAt the Chicago Amtrak facility. Matt walks with an Inspector, underneath the eleven cars in the inspection pit. Safety is first and foremost. An overview of the preparation for the soon to be outbound train is complete.

conductorThe conductor is ready for an on time departure from Union Station in Chicago.

cabA cab ride contains a discussion on speed and safety features on the locomotive.

snowAnother fun sequence is Matt on a snowmobile, on the original (abandoned) Cascade Tunnel line. The early switchbacks are discussed with some more history of building the line.

cascade tunnelA feature on the 8 mile long Cascade Tunnel is a highlight.



A nicely done program. Good for the whole family. Quite different from the majority of standard train videos. Matt is a lively and hands on type of host. The many tasks that he tries do convey the hard work and care of Amtrak employees.

Rating: 4 Stars

Milwaukee Road West

Charles Smiley Presents Milwaukee Road West

Charles Smiley Presents

Format: DVD (factory pressed disc)

Length: 67 minutes + previews

Time Period: 1955-1978

Locations: Chicago to Seattle, Avery, Milwaukee, Missoula, Three Forks, Deer Lodge…

Sources: George Barnes, Bob Finan, John Pertos, Bo Golson, Gino Pagliaro

MSRP: 28.50

The Long Road to Extinction is the aptly named subtitle. Milwaukee Road’s last quarter century is examined, as only Charles Smiley Presents can do. An extremely high level of detail provides viewers a knowledge base of Milwaukee Road. Friends and rivals, are an important element to put the railroad in perspective. Plenty of color film from the additional lines will assist the narrative.

We begin in 1955. Steam and early diesels are the power. An intriguing look at different styles of tailcars around the passenger yard at Milwaukee.

Sourced from 8mm and Super 8 color films. Quality is good to excellent. While not always pristine images, they are interesting scenes. All the cameramen have good composition. Digital enhancements have those vintage scenes appearing as best as possible.

A number of scenes are from circa 1955. Chicago is a colorful showcase of railroads!

Check the dual pantographs raised near Butte, Montana. See Milwaukee Scrapbook by Charles Smiley for much more coverage, of the electrified territory.

Outstanding and accurate! Live audio is custom matched, to the various locomotive models. Multiple sources were listed for the sounds. Painstaking attention to detail.

Unparalleled, custom made maps, are one of the nice extras that are contained in all CSP shows. These are labor intensive, handcrafted illustrations. Referenced at key points throughout the presentation. Also, there is an extended preview section containing more titles of: mainline, electrics and trolley/ interurbans.

This 1917 built substation, at Avery is about to receive visitors. They will see the interior and hear the turbines startup. Who are the visitors going to be ????…….. all of us !

A PBS style of production, many facets of the railroad are revealed. Judicious use of: still photographs, memorabilia and fitting music, are combined to augment the program. Natural train sounds and  the electric power substation are memorable.

Narration by Charles Smiley is engaging and very informative. He is just as interested in the subjects as the viewers. This area is critical and sometimes overlooked by others. Poor narratives can detract from a good show. Charles always has amazing discussions.

Milwaukee’s famed electrified portions of the Pacific Extension are a major subject. Little Joes are a centerpiece. Fascinating segment of operation at an old roundhouse.

Eastbound Hiawatha engaged in a stub end station move. Note the beavertail observation.

This show has a large share of the other railroads, that operated in the same territories. Some of this footage overlaps with his releases. Each individual story does get elevated by inclusion of the films. If Great Northern or Burlington Route is discussed, let’s see it!

Cabooses are seen on many of the freights. A large supply in assorted roads. Fantastic. Wooden, Steel, Composite, Cupola, Bay Window, Wide Vision, Transfer. Collect them all!

Rock Island is notable with a chapter of this movie. A sweet assortment of early to mid 1970’s footage. Some decrepit diesels and trackwork are familiar reminders of 70’s era Rock Island. Alco, GE and EMD locomotives, are all here.

Monon Alcos are one of the rare inclusions. Butte, Anaconda & Pacific is another. All of the Hill Lines are included. Burlington Northern, Chicago Northwestern, and Union Pacific too. Indiana Harbor Belt even gets into the act! Louisville and Nashville. Montana Rail Link makes an appearance. Even more lines, in a plethora of paint schemes.

Milwaukee Road West has a wide ranging collection of vintage films. Easily could be subtitled, Railroads to The Pacific Northwest and more. The comprehensive show is a cornucopia of; some legendary and little known railroads. A ‘must have’ for Milwaukee Road fans. Rock Island and Electric aficionados take note, you are missing out.

Railfans and Model Railroaders will find this show to be enjoyable. It also serves as a fine reference resource. A definite, deluxe presentation that people can revisit with satisfaction.

Rating: 5 Stars

Chicago Odyssey Volume 2

Chicago Odyssey Volume 2

Green Frog Productions

Format: 2 DVD set

Length: 2 1/2 hours

Time period: 1962- 1973

Locations: Chicago area

Source: Emery Gulash (16mm)

This program picks up where Volume One left off. Emery Gulash and his cameras are at Chicago. The later time period offers up a timeframe that many will remember. If the 1950’s is before your time, by a decade or so, this will be the one for you.

Emery Gulash is an original master of train videos. He was out doing these splendid films at just the right time. Who knew that so much of all this, would pass into history? Maybe Emery knew, having witnessed the disappearance of steam. An extremely well-traveled man. Here we visit Chicago in multiple trips. Various years have us see some of the changes in the ten years of railfanning at this mega hub of United States railroading.

These are top shelf films from this master cinematographer. As usual, Green Frog has excellent production values. A fine script, good edits, and lovely film.

By the way, there are quite a few Odyssey titles that are reviewed on ATVR. Fine series!

Bob Carrera’s narration is informative and interesting. Natural sounds are included at the right moments. A few missed identifications on locomotives. Only noticeable to those that are aware.

A chapter menu divides by years and locations.

Film quality is superb. Besides the clarity of the 16mm film, it is all color. The colors are well balanced. The images are very clean. Excellent audio compliments the film.

Many of the classic roads that served Chicago are presented in this volume. ATSF, BN, CB&Q, CNW, GM&O, IC, Rock, Milw, GTW, C&O, B&O, EJ&E, PC, ICG, Soo, IHB, South Shore, and Amtrak. Others get cameos like Southern Pacific and Union Pacific.

Let’s begin with the first disc highlights of this 2 DVD set.

April ’62 begins with Milwaukee Road and Chicago and Nortwestern action at Noble Street Tower. Some old ‘400’ CNW equipment is seen. The CNW commuters looked about  the same, up until the early 1980’s. At Deerfield, Milwaukee Road freight with orange/maroon F-units and an RS-3. Rondout Jct., with Milwaukee Road and EJ&E centercabs.

January of 1963 and zero degrees show why Chicago is too cold in the winter.

March of ’67 at Joliet. GM&O Abraham Lincoln and a Santa Fe freight on a cold, March day. GM&O, The Limited climbs a grade.

May ’70 at Morton Grove. Milwaukee passenger trains. This part drags the show. CNW at Wilmette. More passengers and double deckers. Repetitive.

Milwaukee Road F7’s in orange/ black lead a thru freight. A local with an SW7 moves next.

Burlington Route passengers are now BN, but you can’t tell. A BN painted E8 leads a mixed consist, at Hinckley. More BN freight trains, in various paint are viewed.

At Lemont, the GM&O with the Abraham Lincoln rolls thru town. The stone station dates from 1853.

Grand Trunk Western puts on a parade at Oak Glen. Old green/ gold runs with newer black/ orange. Both resemble owner Canadian National paint schemes.

Blue Island is a very busy crossing. Much action is seen here. Indiana Harbor Belt, Grand Trunk, and B&O. Rock Island shows up too. A Milwaukee Road freight, a Penn Central train and a couple of B&O switcher transfers. Lots of first generation power. Classic freight cars complete the satisfying chapter.

Back to Gulf, Mobile & Ohio in Lemont.

Burlington Northern is still a new entity. The renumbered units are still in original owner paint.

Emery frequented Lemont. Santa Fe was another railroad that ran through Lemont. Emery picks up some warbonnet F’s on a passenger train. Joliet was further out on that line. Emery shoots plenty of action at Joliet. He gets the El Capitain behind some FP45 units. The San Francisco Chief arrives behind F7’s. A trio GP20’s were on point of a freight. A classic Santa Fe caboose brings up the markers. There is more at Lemont. Check the ATSF train sattion there.

Willow Springs is a short sequence. This was the next town up the line from Lemont. Five GP20’s on a manifest freight train. Super Chief behind FP 45’s. Yes, they are warbonnets.

Illinois Central green electric cars look like antiques! Illinois Central provides a surprise, with a freight. A South Shore electric crosses this Kensington Junction. Another surprise is an IC E8A, lettered for Central of Georgia, with a passenger train.

Griffith Jct. has some more action. Grand Trunk trains and C&O GP9’s on a freight.

Amtrak in Transition shows the ragtag collection off cast off equipment in early times. Back to ICRR in Chicago. New and old electrics. Passenger cars, and freight. Good chapter.

That concludes this great first disc. This is the best one in the set, by a longshot!

Here is most of disc 2…… Passenger trains.

A long segment of the old CTA on the Dan Ryan….yawn.                                                  Soo Line has a single freight train, with a single locomotive.                                             Soo Line has one more freight, much later.

Illinois Central Gulf in ’73, provides some badly needed balance here. Even the vintage TOFC train looks great. SW’s pull a transfer, with a red ICRR side door caboose.

Burlington Northern at busy Clyde Yard, not Cicero yard with a single freight.

Back to the passenger trains around the city. Some fine shots, Rock Island, Penn Central E8’s with refurbished Amtrak cars. A few impressive bridges add interest on this otherwise, excessive passenger segment. Light engine moves are sweet!

While the first disc is well balanced with some passenger emphasis. The second disc almost lacks freight entirely! Too bad. The freights in those years are real classics.

The breakdown on this set. Great first disc. The second disc is much too heavy on the Amtrak transition. A rather repetitious second disc. Still, it is all Emery Gulash.

Rating: 4 Stars

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