Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
> MELODY RANCH

Autry Collects Locomotives, Plans Tourist Train Rides Around Ranch.


From the day he purchased Melody Ranch in 1952-1953, or very nearly so, Gene Autry intended to turn his Placerita Canyon property into a combination working movie studio and Western museum. He actively pursued that goal, collecting antique fire engines, narrow- and standard-gauge locomotives and train cars, and other Western memorabilia. He even planned to encircle the property with a narrow-gauge train to carry tourists. Hollywood gossip Louella Parsons predicted that Autry would be "followed by every small boy in town when he builds a railroad on his property," while The Signal reckoned he could be laying "the foundation for an Autryland setup like the Disneyland reservation."

Autry's hopes literally went up in smoke in 1962, but his dream didn't die. It just grew and moved — to Griffith Park, where the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum, now known as the Autry Museum of the American West, or simply The Autry, opened in 1988.


The boneyard, post-fire. Click for more.

Through the news articles below, we focus on the five locomotives he collected and brought to Placerita Canyon.

Actually, there was a sixth. What appears to have been chronologically the first locomotive he purchased, in 1955, didn't make it to the ranch. Known as "Tweetsie" for its bird-like whistle, it was the only survivor out of 13 narrow-gauge engines on the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad, which was obliterated by a flood in 1940. Railfans purchased it and put it to work on a short-lived tourist line in Virginia, the Shenandoah Central Railroad, but that line was wiped out in a 1954 hurricane. Then Autry purchased it along with three train cars (two from the Shenandoah, one from a line in Pennsylvania). Before he could ship them out West, a railfan named Grover Robbins Jr. convinced Autry to part with "Tweetsie" for the grand sum of $1 so the little engine could return home. Today (2018), "Tweetsie" is still running in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina where she is a beloved tourist attraction, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[1]

Over the next two years, Autry would purchase three narrow-gauge and two standard-gauge engines, beginning with a quarter-scale model of the Southern Pacific's 4-6-2 San Joaquin Daylight steam engine, fabricated specially for Autry by Bay Area tool-and-die maker George Reddington. Autry had seen one running in Oakland and wanted one like it. Another narrow-gauge engine was shipped over from Hawaii where it had been used on the Dole Foods pineapple plantation. As he added more locomotives to his collection, Autry bought more land, expanding his movie ranch to accommodate them.

After the 1962 fire, the locomotives sat derelict in the "back 40." Eventually, Autry started deaccessioning them. In 1972, he returned his first acquisition (the first locomotive that actually arrived), the narrow-gauge Engine No. 463 and tender from the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, to its place of origin. Today (2018) it still runs on D&RG's successor line, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, a tourist road in New Mexico and Colorado.

In 1979, Autry donated his even narrower-gauge (16-inch) model Daylight to Travel Town in Griffith Park, where it was named the "Melody Ranch Special." Six years later, it burned out its boiler and was sold.[2] (It was replaced in 1986 by a brand-new engine also named "Melody Ranch Special," which was not owned by Autry, although it pulls the original six-seat coaches that were built for Autry in 1956. They were later covered.[3])

In 1981, Autry donated his fifth and last locomotive acquired, the standard-gauge 2-6-0 Southern Pacific Mogul Engine No. 1629, to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, which had just rescued and moved the Saugus Train Station to Heritage Junction-Hart Park a year earlier. The Historical Society moved Autry's No. 1629 next to the train station in 1982 and restored it as a static display that can be seen today.

We don't know the disposition of his other two locomotives. Autry held onto Melody Ranch until his last horse named Champion (Champion III) died in 1990, after which he sold the property to veteran movie ranch owners Paul T. and sons Andre and Renaud Veluzat. No locomotive "lives" at Melody Ranch today; the locomotive seen in "Westworld" (2016—) is leased by the production company from the Fillmore & Western Railway.


1. "History of Tweetsie," Tweetsie Railroad Wild West Theme Park Adventure, Blowing Rock, N.C. (tweetsie.com), accessed October 2018.

2. "Description of Locomotives," The Griffith Park Train Rides (griffithparktrainrides.com), accessed October 2018.

3. Ibid.


Little Locomotive is Going West.

'Tweetsie' Sold to Cowboy Star.


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HARRINSONBURG, April 25 — The Shenandoah Central Railroad, made famous by "Tweetsie," the chugging little locomotive with the bird-like whistle, has been sold to Gene Autry, the motion picture star, and will be moved to his studios at Hollywood, Calif.

C.G. Price Jr., vice president and general manager of the Shenandoah Central, which began operation at Penn Laird on May 30, 1953, and attracted 17,000 passengers in two seasons, in announcing the sale, said that the transaction with the star of the entertainment world was completed by telephone.

Mr. Autry, who had been in correspondence with Mr. Price, said he will come here in May to wind up the sale and make arrangements for transporting the locomotive and three cars to the Pacific Coast. He is creating a museum of early railroad equipment, fire engines, and other vehicles to be used in many of his television movies and other pictures.

The purchaser assured the owners of "Tweetsie," Mr. Price, Dr. Paul Hill, and Wade W. Menefee Jr., that the historic equipment will be well preserved by him so that railroad fans and other visitors from all the nation may continue to enjoy the unique narrow gauge train.

The October floods caused by Hurricane Hazel washed out much of the Shenandoah Central road bed and track. Damage to the line was to great that the owners decided that rebuilding would not be feasible. Cub Run, along which the track was built, reached the greatest height in the memory of oldest residents and took the fill and rails with it. Seven inches of rain and a twelve-hour period sent the stream on a rampage.

Shenandoah Central was one of the three operating railroad museums in the nation. The official opening ceremonies were held on May 29, 1953, and attracted railroad officials, railroad fans and others from many parts of the nation. Opening of the line received nationwide publicity.

The "golden spike" symbolic of the completion of the little rail line was driven by Major General Carl R. Gray Jr., then Veterans Administrator and a former vice president of the Chicago and Northwestern Railway. He was in charge of rail transportation in the European Theater in World War II, and General Manager Price served in his unit.

From Smoky Mountains

"Tweetsie" pulled a little train for years on the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina railroad between Johnson City, Tenn., and Boone, N.C., in the Smoky mountain country. This was next to the last narrow gauge operating passenger train in the East. Two of the cars were purchased from this railroad. The third coach was bought from the East Board Top Railroad of Orbisonia, Pa. This road still operates freight trains.

The road was built on the farm of Dr. Hill and extended from the station alongside Route 33 to a picnic grounds on the farm. There is a bridge over Cub Run.

News story courtesy of Tricia Lemon Putnam.




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Keeps Tradition Alive

Tweetsie's Returning — If She Can Find Home.

BLOWING ROCK, Sept. 17 ... The voice of "Tweetsie" will sound again in the Tar Heel hills, if she can find a home in them.

Lumberman Grover C. Robbins Jr. of Blowing Rock and Lenoir bought "Tweetsie's" steam engine, coal tender and three passenger cars from film and radio cowboy star Gene Autry thus summer and plans to move the narrow gauge train from Harrisonburg, Va., sometime in the fall.

If she does come back to Western North Carolina, she'll be the only active steam locomotive in the mountains and perhaps in the state.

Robbins says "Tweetsie" would be a rare tourist attraction in view of the decline of the old steam locomotive from America's railroads and the virtual disappearance of the narrow lines.

The standard-gauge four feet, 8½ inches wide Southern Railway System has replaced all its venerable coal burners with diesels.

On other lines, they're also being replaced rapidly.

"Tweetsie" will keep alive the old steam engine and the narrow gauge tradition which she helped uphold in her regular run between Johnson City, Tenn., and Crossnore.

Her run as a recreation train won't be as long as it was when she was in professional service.

But it takes a heap 'o housin' to make a home for "Tweetsie," and Robbins says he wants lo lay three to five miles of track for her.

Robbins reports he has been approached by people in Florida with what appears to be a good proposition. But, he says, he wants to keep the train in Western North Carolina, if it's at all possible.

Though he has a home at Blowing Rock, he says he'd consider any suitable location in the mountains — Asheville, Bryson City or any other point.

"Tweetsie's" three cars can carry about 150 people at a time, and in the two years she was operated at Harrisonburg as an attraction for visitors, she carried about 17,000.

At that, "Tweetsie" was located about six miles off the main highway.

It was a flood in 1940 that sent "Tweetsie" into professional retirement, except for a brief revival produced by the transportation emergencies of World War II.

In spite of campaigns by the people who loved her, "Tweetsie's" working days ended when the Interstate Commerce Commission granted her owners permission to discontinue her runs.

A poem was written about her, and even in the impersonal, businesslike atmosphere and bloodless statistics of the ICC's Washington headquarters, she's known as "Tweetsie."

The poem ends with a prayer to bring "our little train back."

Now, 15 years after the flood, "Tweetsie" is coming back, if she can find a home.

And though her equipment might not be the same that opened the way to isolated Boone back in the World War I era, it's the same spirit that made "Tweetsie" known far beyond her terminals.

[Caption]: "Tweetsie" Will Return to Western North Carolina to be a public attraction, if she can find a home. Here she is, running on her narrow-gauge (three feet wide) track at Harrisonburg, Va., pulling her coal tender and three antique passenger cars. The cars are heated by old-fashioned pot-bellied stoves. The man standing by the steam locomotive is Grover C. Robbins Jr. of Lenoir and Blowing Rock, who bought "Tweetsie"' from cowboy star Gene Autry this summer. The name "Shenandoah Central" on the cars will be changed to "Tweetsie," Robbins says. He and some friends operate "Tweetsie Jr.," a miniature train, at Blowing Rock.

News story courtesy of Tricia Lemon Putnam.



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Narrow Gauge R.R. Units Arrive Here

Units of the narrow gauge railroad train which Gene Autry recently bought from the Denver & Rio Grande arrived in Newhall this week. A little coal-carrying tender, loaded with fuel, was the first to come. Tuesday night the engine came in. Both were loaded on flat cars, which were placed on the team track siding at Newhall. The narrow gauge rolling stock looks like any old-fashioned steam-propelled equipment, except that the axles are only about three feet long. The engine is a 2-8-2 with the drive wheels inside the frame. The tender is a little dumpy affair, but piled high with that unfamiliar California fuel called coal.

The train will be taken to the Melody movie ranch in Placerita Canyon and added to the other old-time vehicles which the western movie magnate is collecting.



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[Photo Story.]

[Caption]: CHOO-CHOO TRAIN STARTS TRUCK RIDE — Western movie magnate Gene Autry takes delivery of the first units of Denver & Rio Grande narrow gauge train equipment purchased for his Melody Ranch. While not large, the engine is a powerful one for mountain grades, and so built that it will take sharp curves. With coal still in the tender it is quite ready to steam up and start pulling again.

[Story]: With no more apparent effort than a man leaning over and picking up a match, two giant travelling cranes Friday latched on to a 65-ton steam locomotive, held it suspended in air until a railroad flatcar could be replaced by a giant, low-bed truck.

And even as a crowd was gathering at the Market street crossing of the Southern Pacific, the truck rolled out and away with the locomotive. A similar process took place with the tender. The big transfer job was handled by the Belyea Truck Co. of Los Angeles.

Both units went out to Gene Autry's Melody Ranch Western street.

The narrow gauge equipment had been purchased from the Denver & Rio Grande railway in Durango, Colorado. The tender arrived some time ago; the engine, the first of the week.

At the Melody Ranch, Johnny Pettinger had bulldozed a roadbed and a Southern Pacific section crew had laid down a 350-foot stretch of track on the west end of the lot. The giant trucks and cranes unloaded their weighty burdens in much the same way as they had picked them up.

And now Mr. Autry has the most important units of a railroad train for use in some future western episode involving railway banditry. At the ranch it was said that the "head-end" units were the only ones purchased from the D&R.G. but that cars were on the list for acquisition at some later date.

The engine had been in active service on a mountain run up to the day it was decommissioned and loaded for shipment to Newhall. The water was drained from boiler and tender tank, the connecting rods removed, and the unit started on its way.



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[Brief.]

Gene Autry will be followed by every small boy in town when he builds a railroad on his property. He has acquired a track from the Denver and Rio Grande line and bought an engine and three coaches.

News story courtesy of Tricia Lemon Putnam.


Model Railroads Profitable Hobby for San Leandran


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SAN LEANDRO, June 20 — George A. Reddington, 47, figures he'll have to bolt the door of his tool and die shop to keep from becoming a railroad tycoon.

Reddington, who has just completed his third quarter-sized replica of the Southern Pacific Daylight, is becoming something of an expert on operating models, and as a result he can't get his work done.

"It's the model railroad fans mostly," he explained. "They find out that I'm building moving model; they just drop in, and the first thing I know the entire day is shot."

Reddington's latest train is a two-ton mechanical prototype of the Daylight's locomotive, complete with cars that can haul 16 adults.

It has been purchased by cowboy star Gene Autry for his "Melody Ranch" development at Newhall in Southern California.

Reddington, who lives at 7154 Estabrook Circle and has his shop at 859 Estabrook St., got into the model train business when he was an instructor at Modesto Junior College.

"I found I had a lot of free time on my hands, so I decided to tackle a model train which would be an operating replica of a real locomotive." he said.

Reddington worked after hours and found that most of his class was staying and working with him.

He left teaching during World War II to serve in the Merchant Marine and later went to work as a machinist for a local calculating machine company.

In his spare time he built another model railroad; and later, when he went into business for himself, he began the first of his "Daylight" models.

It took six months to design and a year to build and is now operating on a daily schedule at Peralta Playland near Oakland's Municipal Auditorium.

Autry saw it in operation at Oakland and ordered one for his ranch.

The train will reach a speed of 40 miles per hour and haul a load of 27 tons. When it was packed aboard a truck for shipment south, Reddington sighed.

"Now I'll get back to the tool and die business," he said.

News story courtesy of Tricia Lemon Putnam.



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Hearing Discloses Marvels to Come

[Excerpt] (d) Gene Autry applied for more territory under M-1 adjacent to his Melody Ranch in Placenta Canyon. Gene has bought two more old railroad steam engines, one from Hawaii and one from the Esspee. With his D.R.&R.G. narrow gauge hog, Gene now has the makins' of a railroad museum, which, as diesels replace steam, will be sought after more and more by movie and TeeVee cameras, and which just may be the foundation for an Autryland setup like the Disneyland reservation.

Yessir, it's plum wonderful. The Signal money is on Gene Autry.



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SIGNAL TOWER

Another Autry Choo Choo

The railroad department of Gene Autry's Melody ranch in Placerita Canyon will get its third steam engine and its third set of railroad tracks soon.

Tuesday a small, old-fashioned yard switch engine was put on the Newhall side track. It will probably be unloaded today and trucked out to the Ranch, said Ranch Manager Brousseau.

The engine is the first one of standard gauge to be acquired. Two narrow gauge engines are already on the lot — the first, a Denver & Rio Grande hog, and the second a pineapple plantation engine purchased two months ago in Honolulu. This has even a narrower gauge. So three sizes of track are necessary, one for each hog.

The last engine is a real old timer. It has the old square steam chest slide valve cylinders and inside link gear motion. It is of the 2-6-2 wheel arrangement and has a slope-back tender. To bring the engine down from Pittsburg, Calif., where it was stored, they had to cut the piston rods off at the cylinder. Faintly the engine shows the lettering

"LONG BELL LUMBER CO."

It looks like the Melody Ranch is going to wind up as a railroad steam engine display establishment. Owner Autry, who has as long a business head as anybody on the West Coast, foresees the day when any kind of steam powered railroad motive equipment will be an historical curiosity, and he aims to have as many of them on hand as possible when the movies and the TeeVees begin to holler for steam hogs.

We hope that Gene will eventually get one of the big 4-8-4 Daylite engines and also one of the huge 4-8-8-4 Mallets that used to hammer through Newhall, belching black smoke and white steam to high heaven.


Model Excursion Train Planned at Autry Ranch


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Plans for a future development of Gene Autry's Melody Ranch in Placerita Canyon, which will bid for rivalry with Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, became known this week, with the arrival of another old steam engine to be added to his growing collection at the ranch.

His engine came into Newhall last week, and was to have been moved out on Saturday, but one of the giant hoisting cranes busted a hamstring or something, and the transfer job had to be postponed until Monday morning. The new accession, former Southern Pacific engine No. 1629, is the biggest yet to be purchased by Autry, and brings the total number of his old-time steam hogs up to five.

However, the prize possession is not any of the steamers on tracks at the west end of the Melody lot but a model Southern Pacific passenger train outfit on an 18-inch track gauge, which is now in one of the scene docks at the ranch and which will be placed in actual service late this summer, as a part of the Autry plan to open the ranch to the public in the fall.

This train, consisting of a perfect Pacific-type passenger engine, all ready to steam up, a tender and three passenger coaches, was purchased recently from a builder in San Rafael, Calif., at a reported price of $25,000.

TRACK UNDER WAY

Bulldozers are now at work on the Melody Ranch, grading a 3,400-foot right-of-way and bed for a quarter-size rail loop which will wind around through the ranch, and will allow "excursions" to be run. The cars will accommodate 72 adults or 100 kids.

The track will not only run past all of the interesting buildings on the old western street, but special corrals and pens are to be constructed to be filled with horses, cattle, buffalo, deer and other western animals for [...] of the excursionists as they [...] under steam propulsion.

As an old railroader, Gene takes a special interest in railroad history and old-fashioned railroad equipment, and just possibly may be one of the few sources of this type of movie property in future years.



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SIGNAL TOWER

Romance Returns Briefly.

The diesel hogs are better, no argument about that. They've got more power, they waste practically none of their fuel in billowing smoke and hissing steam. They can be run for a fraction of the cost of steam hogs. They require no water tanks or coal tipples or oil reserves.

But dad blame it, they got no romance.

You don't turn, stop and watch them as long as they're in sight. You don't hear the ripe, musical clang of a big brass bell — there's just a little tinkling, like Mrs. Gotrox summoning the butler. And the whistle, ah, that rich, deep, prolonged musical major triad, sounding anear or afar, but always sounding melodiously. That's gone, too.

And what's in its place?

A nasty, raucous, ear-wrecking blat or beep.

What we started out to tell was about old Southern Pacific steam hog No. 1629, which Gene Autry bought, and unloaded Monday from the side track at Newhall. This was an honest-to-goodness old relic, 2-6 type, with inside link valve gear. But it had a bell, and the kids quickly found it out. That bell rang continuously until the cranes hoisted the engine onto a lowbed truck, and the engine started on its way to Melody Ranch.

Just proves that kids as well as old folks like the steam engines.



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Autry Acquires Old 'Iron Horse'

Ancient S.P. Engine Slated for Museum

A "star" in some 20 movies made in Southern Arizona has gone to Hollywood and Melody Ranch. Engine No. 1629, a steam locomotive of 1900 vintage, once a faithful servant of the Southern Pacific, is now the property of Gene Autry, famed movie star and owner of Melody Ranch.

In a letter to the Arizona Daily Star, Autry explained that he bought the old engine to have it for use in pictures of the days when steam engines were the motive power of the nation's railroads. He also wanted the engine as an exhibit piece.

Autry is planning to make Melody Ranch a museum of the Old West. The ranch, which is an ideal western movie set, already has a vast assortment of western relics of all types. Some day Autry will open it as a museum, and then Engine No. 1629 will be one of the centers of attraction.

"Most of the railways are junking all of their steam engines," Autry says, "and going to diesel. If this continues, it will be only a matter of time until it will be almost impossible to find a steam engine for use in a movie where the story relates to that era. I had the opportunity to pick up locomotive No. 1629 from the Southern Pacific to add to some of the others that I have."

The old engine was built in 1900 by the Schenectady Locomotive Works, N.Y., and was put in service by the Southern Pacific in December of that year. It was retired from active duty about a year ago. Its last years were spent on the Tucson division. In 1946 it did a stretch on the Southern Pacific of Mexico.

Loaded for a trip and under full head of steam, the old engine weighs 175,000 pounds. It has been used in both freight and passenger service but was too light for the heavier hauls. Its movie career began on the Tucson division, where it was loaned to several film companies for pictures of the old West. Its future as a movie star is now assured on Autry's ranch, which has been used for western films since the days of William S Hart. Autry bought the ranch in 1952.

In his letter, Autry let it be known he is also looking for fire engines of the earlier days, the old horse-drawn steam pumpers. Tucson has one, purchased with a city bond issue of 1908, but it is not for sale.

Chief J.H. Freeman of the Tucson Fire Department said yesterday that representatives of both Walt Disney and Autry had made inquiries concerning the possibility of buying the old steamer.

"But we don't want to sell it," the Chief said. "Just now we have no good place to store it, and it is out in the rodeo vehicle storage area. Every now and then we bring it in and put it in shape. We fired it up awhile back, and it still pumps."

News story courtesy of Tricia Lemon Putnam.



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SIGNAL TOWER

Treasure.

The Trem Carr-Monogram-Hickson-Melody Ranch in Placerita Canyon has always appealed to owners with the collector's instinct.

The late Ernie Hickson was not only a collector but a scholar, and a good deal of his material was literary — old newspapers (if you can call any newspaper literary), old manuscripts, and all that sort of thing.

Gene Autry, the present owner, is also a collector, and Jack Brousseau, his ranch foreman, is not far behind Gene in that respect. One of the projects cooking at Melody Ranch is a modern museum of old-time things.

Gene collects all sorts of things. You will find in one Melody Ranch shed an old-time steam fire engine, the kind that used to be pulled to fires by three hosses galloping abreast. You will find an old-time hook 'n ladder, with a long rope fastened to the front axle for the firemen to lay hold of and run to the fire. You will find old-time steam railroad engines, and goodness knows what else. Gene picks them up all over the country as he sashays around.

The latest addition to the collection is an old movie projector — the kind those first old nickelodeons used when they put movies into empty dry goods store rooms and charged a nickel a show for kids.

This projector has a date 1902 on it. It was turned with a hand crank, and Mister Brousseau says these old projectors could turn any number of frames per minute they wanted to, and turn them steady, too. Illumination was supplied by a carbon arc light which must have made the lamp housing pretty hot before the show was over.

And where did they find this movie treasure?

Why, up in the attic of one of the old western buildings on the western street of Melody Ranch.


'Melody Ranch Special' Chugs Along


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The "Melody Ranch Special" is one of the most popular trains at the Travel Town Museum at Griffith Park.

Purchased from Gene Autry's Melody Ranch in Newhall, the train has been in operation at Travel Town for about six months.

Mr. Autry had the train at his ranch since 1958, said Fred Hertwig, the curator of Travel Town.

"It's a favorite ride — live steam, wham-o! enthused Hertwig.

The ¼-scale engine has seven passenger cars, and rides are $1 for adults and 75 cents for children. Admission and parking are free.

"We're a railroad center of the West," continued Hertwig, regarding the museum, which is run by the Los Angeles City Recreation and Parks Department.

Besides being a home to dozens of old steam engines from the glory days of the Iron Horse, Travel Town now has the "Melody Ranch Special'" operating six days a week from 10-4 p.m.

Operating every Saturday in the Travel Town museum building from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. is the East Valley Lines Model 'N' Gauge Club, which provides the public with a complex of working miniature railroad displays. Persons may call Travel Town at (213) 662-5874 for information on birthday parties.

Next door, the L.A. Live Steamers Model Train Club operate their scale steam engines for youngsters to ride free through the Live Steamers Area just off Crystal Springs Drive. The engines are fired up every Sunday from 11 a.m - 4 p.m.

A replica of the Southern Pacific "Daylight Special," a miniature diesel, runs daily from 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., until 6:30 p.m. weekends and holidays. Located in the southwest corner of the park near Riverside Drive and Los Feliz Boulevard, the seven-minute ride moves along a 1¼-mile track. Persons may call (213) 664-6788 for group rates and reservations.


MELODY RANCH CATEGORIES:
• 1952-1962 Pre-Fire
• 1962 Fire
• 1962-1990 Post-Fire
• Veluzat Era 1991—

MELODY RANCH
1952-1962 Pre-Fire

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Brochure 1950s

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Aerial & Story 1957

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Train Collection

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Main Street

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Mexican Chapel

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Buildings Late 1950s

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Hacienda ~1962

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Hoppy Invitation 1953

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Champion Comic Cover (1955) Signed by Artist


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Wichita 1955 (Mult.)

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Man From Del Rio 1956 (Mult.)

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Gunsmoke 1956

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Gunfighters of Abilene, 1960 (Mult.)

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Soraya, Ex-Queen of Iran, 1960

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