The Runaway Caboose

Throw Carl From the Train!; or

Throw Mary From the Train

(a recap by Will Kaiser)

Title: The Runaway Caboose

Airdate: February 11, 1976

Written by John Hawkins

Story by Ernie Durham

Directed by William F. Claxton

SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: A runaway caboose.


DAGNY: While you were gone we watched two of the best Little House episodes I’ve ever seen.

ROMAN: You know, whenever we come back to this house, you guys either tell us you’ve seen the best Little House ever or the worst Love Boat ever.

DAGNY: Often it’s both.

WILL: We watched a Small Wonder this weekend too. It was just okay.

In case you’re curious, the two great Little Houses were both Mary stories: first, “The Bully Boys,” in which she destroys a kid’s face with her lunch-pail.

And second, “Whisper Country,” in which she convinces a nearby community to stone a witch to death. We’ll get to those in time.

Coming soon on Little House

Well, I don’t know if “The Runaway Caboose” is the best Little House ever, but I do love it and think of it as one of THE BIG CLASSICS (a subjective list, I’ll admit).

One other note before we begin: We were very happily joined for the first time ever by our daughter Amelia, who is home from college for spring break. In the past, she has not been much interested in Little House; but said she’d give it another try as long as she’s here. (Plus it was my birthday.)

AMELIA: So, does liking this show depend on how much you can tolerate racism?

ROMAN: No. Well, sometimes, but not really.

OLIVE: No. It always tries not to be racist. It just doesn’t always do it well.

Alexander was with us again too.

ALEXANDER: When is this set?

WILL: Well, 1882 as I’ve been tracking it, but that’s going to be retconned in a couple episodes.

ALEXANDER: So did Charles serve in the Civil War?

WILL: No he didn’t.


WILL: I don’t know.

In fact, nobody knows. More discussion of this point is coming soon.

Anyways, during the intro, we noted that Carrie was played by twins, and explained Dagny’s theory that it’s Carrie One that falls and Carrie Two that gets up.

We also wondered if while one twin was acting, the other just hung out on the set smoking and drinking with the crew.

Anyways, we open on Laura, Carl Sanderson (yay!), and Ol’ Four-Eyes – that is to say, Mary – looking at some literature under a shadowy tree. There’s something about the angle of the light that suggests it’s the fall to me.

It’s a picture book about trains; and we should have been tipped off that it was, since David Rose has been giving us chugga-chugga-chugga-type music the whole time. Composers generally love imitating trains, in my experience.

This is one of my favorites:

The book is called Railroad StoryBook, and it’s an old book indeed – though not quite old enough. It was published in 1907 by the McLoughlin Brothers company (known for innovations in color printing). 

The 1907 cover

The version the kids are reading seems to be a 1950s reprint.

The 1951 cover

Anyways, Carl, of an age where books about trains are basically pornography, is marveling as Mary tells of taking the Number Three to Minneapolis.

“And it had an outhouse on it and everything!” Laura screams. 

Previously on Little House

It’s not clear if this furtive perusing is happening before or after school. Whichever it is, they’re worried about being late and soon are on the road again. (It’s not revealed where John and Alicia are.)

The kids discuss a work trip Charles and Mr. Edwards are taking to Springfield, which is apparently where the train station is. (This was hinted at but I think not definitively stated in “The Pride of Walnut Grove.”)

Carl says he’d love to go along to see the train, but it’d mean missing a school day. Laura, always a resource for kooky schemes, suggests the three of them go along and claim it as “homework” since “we’re studying railroads.” As we’ve seen in the past, Miss Beadle is fairly permissive about Build-Your-Own-Field-Trip proposals.

Previously on Little House

Brilliant Laura says Charles is sure to say yes, because Mary can put her glasses on and “look serious” whilst asking. Carl says he doubts Mr. Edwards will agree unless Charles approves of the idea too.

Minutes (or hours?) later, the three pop into the Ingalls barn, where Pa is making a shovel handle (or something?). 

Mary makes her pitch, sweetening it with a lie that they’ll get extra credit if they go. (I love Devious Mary.)

Devious Mary

Nevertheless, Pa is dubious . . . but then Laura says, with heavy emphasis, “But Mr. Edwards is letting Carl go.”

Carl gulps, and Mary whips her head around. 

Head-whippin’ ‘Mary

Now that she’s got Pa’s attention, Laura shakes her head sadly and says, “I guess he’ll be the only one getting extra credit.” 

Mary’s eyes bulge guiltily behind her goggles.

Guilt-goggled Mary

“Carl, what’d your ma say about that?” Charles asks.

Before Carl can say two words, Laura leaps in and says “She didn’t say anything.” I tell you, the wheels of evil are in overdrive in this one.

AMELIA: That kid is totally Olive.

And Charles is crushed beneath them. He says if both Mr. Ed and Grace approve, he’s on board too (if I may be permitted a train metaphor, uh huh huh huh huh).

Outside, Mary accuses Laura of lying, even though it was she who contributed the crock of shit about the extra credit. 

The script, by (“Fat”) John Hawkins, is really quite funny this time. Laura replies if they can get Mr. Ed to say yes, her statement will retroactively become true. With logic like that, she’ll be defending former Presidents before the Supreme Court someday.

Not even bothering with a no-confidence vote on Mary’s leadership, Laura assumes command of this special op.

And off they go to the Old Sanderson Place. (I’ll always think of it that way.) 

They come inside and call for Mr. Edwards, but he and Grace are in the bedroom, which Carl enters without knocking. (Not a great idea, kids.)

Carl immediately botches his ask, so Laura kicks him out of the way to salvage things.

Mary stiffly but adequately corroborates Laura’s version of events. (That’s how the leader of my old writers’ group viewed my style: stiff but adequate.)

Grace I think is smart enough to detect the lie; but she performs the role Laura foretold for her just perfectly.

Then we cut to Carl at the Mercantile, playing with a toy train on display. Willie appears and says that one’s a piece of shit compared to the deluxe model in his room.

Carl says he’s going to see and possibly ride in a real train soon. “Who cares!” says Willie.

I love Willie

Then Willie says, “Want to really see something?” As Bertie Wooster would say, I hope he keeps it clean.

Willie then sneaks Carl into the storeroom to show him his secret: a barrel of FIREWORKS.

A born businessman like his mother, Willie says he’ll let Carl have one in exchange for something cool. Carl offers his penknife, but Willie says he’d prefer aggies. 

The kid is fucking obsessed with aggies, isn’t he?

WILL: Does this scene remind you of a movie?

ROMAN: Drowning by Numbers?

WILL: Oh my God, no.

Drowning by Numbers, as you probably don’t know, is a fairly bizarre British art film by Peter Greenaway. It does feature a boy, called “Smut,” who shoots off bottle rockets every time he finds roadkill or other dead things. It’s great, actually, but it wasn’t the movie I had in mind.

Drowning by Numbers

Willie says Carl can take a rocket if he agrees to bring him two aggies tomorrow. 

No cash-on-the-barrel policy for him

We haven’t learned too much about Carl to this point, but apparently he’s absolutely fucking insane, because the first thing he does is take it home and shoot it off INSIDE THE BARN.

Whilst doing so, he also does grotesque things with his tongue.

It’s amazing the pile of hay he’s chosen as his launch site doesn’t ignite from the fuse alone.

The firework makes an enormous explosion – disproportionate to the size of the rocket, I’d say, but I’ll admit, I’m not much experienced with such things.

AMELIA: Oh, I know, it’s Merry and Pippin.

WILL: Yes, that was the movie I was thinking of.

ROMAN: And I’m sure it was Peter Jackson’s homage to Little House on the Prairie.

Mr. Edwards and Grace rush out to the barn and extinguish the fire, which is I’d say miraculously small, considering the display we just witnessed.

EDWARDS: Well, it’s all out.

WILL: Did he say “Asshole out”?

Where the hell John and Alicia are, I’ve no idea. Maybe he’s got her trapped in the treehouse and is lecturing her about William Blake or something.

Grace screams at Carl and asks him what the hell caused the blast.

“A fireworks!” Carl screams back (which I find hilarious for some reason).

Grace responds, I would say, quite appropriately, shouting that the barn might have burned down or worse. She’s angry, but keeps her temper in check better than somebody else I could name.

Previously on Little House

Then again, that was a bigger fire.

DAGNY: This show has a lot of kids-setting-buildings-on-fire scenes.

AMELIA: My boyfriend did that. He set his school on fire.

WILL: Yes, you told us he’s an arsonist.


Anyways, Grace sends Carl inside.

Mr. Edwards doesn’t think it’s a big deal at all, which I find a little unbelievable. 

Grace clearly can’t believe it either. She says Carl needs a punishment and says Mr. Ed has been spoiling the kids rotten. 

DAGNY: She’s taking a hard line.

WILL: She’s actually softened since we first met her. Remember how she withheld sex until he started going to church?

Previously on Little House

She says if the kids’ behavior is never corrected, they won’t learn from their mistakes and will wind up ill-prepared for adult life (paraphrase). I more or less agree; you may not and that’s fine but we don’t need to go into it. (Please, no angry cards and letters.)

Reluctantly, Mr. Edwards says he agrees and will take the train trip away as a punishment.

Cut to Mr. Nelson the Gray-Haired Dude, whom we haven’t seen in a while, driving down the thoroughfare.

He appears to have a new hat

Mary, Laura and Carl are walking to school. (Seriously, where are John and Alicia???)

They’re discussing the bad news as the Kid With Very Red Hair skulks in the background.

Laura angrily rants the whole fucking thing is Willie’s fault, which is sort of true and sort of not. 

Right on cue, Willie comes running out of the Mercantile, and Laura hilariously knocks him to the ground.

Meanwhile, Charles, wearing Pinky, comes manfully striding into the Post Office. Grace tells him she’s changed her mind about Carl being punished, but now Mr. Edwards is being stubborn about it. Charles says he’ll see what he can do.

AMELIA: She needs to ask a man to do this?

BTW, Carl the Flunky passes by during this conversation. It’s Carls a-poppin’ this episode.


At the mill, we find Mr. Ed singing You Know What. 

Charles approaches and declares the work day is now over, so I guess the Post Office scene was taking place in the afternoon? I assumed it was morning for some reason. [UPDATE: I watched it again, and it definitely was morning.]

Previously on this episode of Little House

Well, never mind that. They discuss the Springfield trip, and Charles asks if Edwards has changed his mind about Carl. Mr. Ed expresses frustration about how he’s getting jerked around: first told to punish Carl, then criticized for doing it.

WILL: A fair complaint.

DAGNY: Yeah, but the other factor is he’s taken on a parenting role for older kids and isn’t sure what to do. It’s like coming in as a stepparent. That’s why he’s so stressed out about the whole thing. It’s very believable, actually.

Charles shrugs and says okay. You know, I think I’ve figured out what’s weird, and it’s that Charles isn’t wearing Pinky anymore. This couldn’t be a different day, could it? Or maybe something happened on the job and Charles had to change shirts mid-day? I would have thought if any shirt in the universe was indestructible, it’s Pinky.

Pinky (in a pic made entirely of Pinky pics)
Not! Pinky!

That night in the Sanderson house, someone sits mopingly reading by moonlight.

You’d think it was John – it’s so dark it’s hard to tell – but it isn’t. He must be in Minneapolis this week for the State Poetry Championships, and probably took Alicia with him.

No, the mysterious figure is Carl. (Sanderson, not Flunky.)

I can’t tell what he’s reading. Looks like a printed grocery-store receipt.

“Hey, they didn’t give me the BOGO deal on the Progresso soup!”

Carl heads out to the main room, says goodnight to Grace and Mr. Ed, then exits. (He claims John and Alicia are already asleep.)

DAGNY: He’s wearing his jammies like Michael Landon.

Grace starts making unsubtle hints that he should take Carl. She asks if he saw Carl got an A on a test, and he says he did.

WILL: Continuity error. He can’t read.

OLIVE: Oh my God, he’s learning to read, he knows what an A looks like by this point.

Eventually, Mr. Edwards seems to get annoyed, and says he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. 

But then he pauses and says Grace better make some sandwiches, since he’s decided to take Carl along after all. Grace grins and the brasses blare a magnificent rendition of “Old Dan Tucker.”

AMELIA: Oh my God, that version of “Old Dan Tucker” is hilarious.

ROMAN: It’s actually mild for this show.

AMELIA: What do you mean?

DAGNY: It’s his theme song. He sings it in literally every episode, every occasion. He sang it at a funeral once!

AMELIA: Seriously?

WILL: Yeah, and most of his episodes have “Old Dan Tucker” arranged in every style in the score. Waltz, jig, fugue, you name it.

AMELIA: Well, it is a good song.

It is. You know, I recently heard the version by Burl Ives (who will appear as a guest star next season), and it’s more like the Edwards version than most of ’em are:

Of course, all this has been filler of a sort we don’t get much in TV shows today, with Fat John just playing for time until the real story can begin. But I like it. “Filler scenes” can give the writers opportunities to develop characters into three-dimensional people. It’s something today’s TV writers sometimes forget to do.

I mean, I’m not suggesting all the Little House on the Prairie characters are three-dimensional, of course! And thank goodness for that, right?

So on we go. When we come back from the commercial, we see a big huffing train engine, but it isn’t the Number Three! No, this one is the Sierra Railway 28 – not quite as big a star as the Number Three, but still featured in some interesting film and TV projects.

Tiny Carl, Laura and Mary come creeping around the front of the train. Why do kids love trains so much, I wonder? Ours did – the girls and I once took the Amtrak from St. Paul to Chicago and it was a highlight of their childhood, despite (or maybe because of) us not getting back until 4:00 in the morning when we were supposed to arrive home at like 6 p.m. Olive still asks if we could do another train trip someday. 

AMELIA: I think it’s the tracks, that you’re laying down a path to somewhere. Plus the size of them.

Other people have floated various scientific theories why.

Well, the engineer spies the kids goggling at the train and amuses himself by scalding them with boiling-hot steam. Nice guy!

WILL: He kind of looks like Con Stapleton.

The engineer laughs like a supervillain, but Pa and Mr. Edwards see it happen and they also laugh, so apparently there’s no harm in it.

There are a lot of railroad workers scurrying around, yelling at each other, and the like.

DAGNY: This is a lot of dialogue for redshirts. But I suppose they’re setting up for the disaster.

All the rail workers are played by hardworking bit-part actors who must’ve had back spasms from carrying their gigantic resumes around.

Sean McClory (146 credits)
James Chandler (86 credits)
Arch Johnson (144 credits)
Troy Melton (141 credits)
Larry J. Blake (269 credits)
Paul Bryar (382 credits)
Parley (yes, Parley) Baer (287 credits)

Pa and Mr. Edwards are unloading a crate from a company called Atlantic Forge. I can’t tell if it’s a real one or not. (The company, I mean. The crate appears to be real.)

The kids keep walking along the tracks, fantasizing about traveling to exotic destinations like California, Boston, and New York City. Carl says he’d like to go to China by train, but the Ing-Gals are like, there’s an ocean, stupid.

Poor Carl

When they reach the caboose, Carl starts playing with an external lever, then leaps aboard.

Carl’s fatal error

Laura and Mary protest, but he rolls his eyes and says, “Girls – no one will care!” Then, to buttress this argument, he adds a “Toot toot!”

It’s no “Hyah!”, but it’s not bad either

In the caboose, Carl immediately tries to break a lamp, but fortunately he’s stopped by Mary.

Carl wisely informs Mary everything on a train is indestructible. (So Laura immediately tries to break the lamp as well.)

I didn’t know much about the formal purpose of a caboose, but apparently it served as a combination office, kitchenette, and sleeping chamber for the train staff. And indeed, we can see a desk, a stove, and some berths by the back door.

Carl opens a closet door and starts pulling out the workers’ clothes, whilst Mary starts practicing gymnastics on some rungs on the wall. 

This is getting out of control fast

Carl has a couple opportunities at this point to look up Mary’s dress, but fortunately it’s not that kind of show.

Or is it?

Just when we thought that was bad, we see the caboose detach from its hitch or hook or whatever it is and start rolling gently away.

For the first time, we get a good look at the sign on the side identifying the line as the “St. Paul Minneapolis Manitoba Railroad” – indeed a real historic railway, and, if this story does in fact take place in 1882, as we’ve been tracking, the correct name by which the line would have been known at the time

DAGNY: You know, I’m the only person here who’s lived in St. Paul, Minneapolis AND Manitoba.

The line was originally called the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, and would later become the Great Northern Railway. We’ll have more Minnesota rail history, in case you’re the sort of person not bored by that (or even if you are), further into the story.

Inside, the kids haven’t realized they’re moving. Carl is now digging through a box marked DANGER. When Mary snaps at him, he snaps back.

Hilariously, he and Laura are wearing the train employees’ hats.

Then Carl helps himself to the kitchen stores.

He’s a bit of a worry, isn’t he?

The train rolls faster, and Brainiac Mary finally notices.

Finally-noticin’ Mary

On the ground, a youngish blondish mustached worker sees the caboose flying by.

Youngish Blondish to the rescue!

Back at the station, Charles is doing all the work unloading the freight car whilst Mr. Edward blathers about Carl. 

Charles asks Mr. Ed to please work while talking, and Mr. Ed replies, “Well, these stories have gestures in ’em.” 

OLIVE: Ha! That’s totally you, Dad.

Youngish Blondish comes running up screaming about the runaway caboose.

AMELIA: Why did he say TWO kids? You could clearly see all three of them.

He also addresses the engineer as “Mr. Nelson.”

WILL: Why is the only Irish character named Nelson?

All the workers run around frantically for a while.

Unfortunately, when they try to fire up the train, it won’t go. Now THAT definitely tracks, as it were, with my Amtrak experience.

The conductor says they’ll have to “wire Tower Junction” to stop the runaway car. Now, there is a Tower, Minnesota, and it did have a Tower Junction railroad stop in the olden days.

Tower Junction (date unknown)

Unfortunately, it’s more than 300 miles from Springfield in real life.

The caboose roars on, Carl’s little face staring out the window.

I’m not a physicist, but I wonder how likely it is a rail car could ever build up such speed if it “escaped” from a station like this.

Then a wagon driver, who if you look closely you can tell is Mustache Man, nearly drives into the path of the caboose at a crossing. The horses veer away at the last minute, rolling the wagon and tossing Mustache Man hard onto the gravel almost under the train’s wheels. Without a cut (!), Mustache Man leaps to his feet and mimes some oh-consarn-it-type attitudes.

AMELIA: Holy shit! That was amazing.

WILL: Yeah, the stunts are great on this show.

ROMAN: Mustache Man is especially good at them.

Mustache crash!

For fun, we backed it up and watched it a couple times.

WILL: Do you think stuntmen suffer from severe body problems when they get old?

DAGNY: I don’t know. I think they really learn to fall and tumble as safely as possible, like a gymnast. I bet it’s just like any other athlete, more individual injuries than long-term body damage.

Anyways, inside the caboose, Mary looks like she’s going to puke.

Motion-sickness Mary

The caboose slows slightly as it climbs a small hill. The kids run out onto the back platform, where Carl and Laura scream for Mary to jump. (If she survives, presumably they intend to follow.)

WILL: It’s Throw Mary From the Train!

DAGNY [as ANNE RAMSEY]: “Ooooweeeeeennn! . . .”

Back in Springfield, the conductor says the lay of the land won’t slow the caboose down enough to get the kids off, but it likely won’t crash. 

I’ll say the actor, Arch Johnson, does a very good job selling the urgency of the situation.

Johnson was in far too many things to list, but I’ll just point out he got to work with women both Wondrous and Bionic.

Arch Johnson (center), with Lynda Carter (right)

The conductor’s plan is for the switch operators at Tower to put the caboose on “the Mankato line,” which is “uphill all the way” and will slow the car to a stop. (The line it’s currently on, according to the map, is the “Springfield/Sleepy Eye Loop.”)

But the guy admits the flaw in his plan is that they haven’t yet received a response to their telegram to Tower.

He estimates the caboose is currently in “Cedar Creek.” (Again, there is a region in Minnesota called Cedar Creek, but it’s nowhere near Springfield or Walnut Grove.)

Cedar Creek

Then we cut to Tower Junction, where we see the telegraph operator is outside washing his clothes in a bucket.

AMELIA: Watching the telegraph is this guy’s only job, and he can’t do it?

WILL: Well, in those days people died in huge accidents every day, so they probably wouldn’t think it was that big a deal to slack off.

Charles says he wants to take a shortcut to Tower on a horse, though the conductor says that’ll be very difficult going. 

Then the rail workers reveal a new wrinkle: A train will be departing Sleepy Eye soon, carrying “J.W. Diamond, president of the railroad himself,” and if it isn’t stopped, it’ll be on a direct collision course with the caboose.

DAGNY: Hey, this is just like The Gilded Age!

WILL: It is. I’m sure that’s Julian Fellowes‘s tribute to Little House on the Prairie.

The Gilded Age

But when they try to reach Sleepy Eye . . .

Charles says that does it, he’ll take one horse to Sleepy Eye and Mr. Edwards can take the other to Tower.

Cut to Charles racing on a black horse (Bunny?) across a field. They must have taken Mr. Edwards’s wagon and horses rather than the Chonkies (odd, since they’d be returning with a heavy load of freight).

Back on the caboose, Mary deduces that the wheel on the platform is the brake. (If they have in fact been studying trains at school, wouldn’t they have figured this out earlier?)

Then she and Carl argue idiotically about which one gets to operate it.

CARL: “Boys are stronger!”

AMELIA: Oh, whatever. Throw Carl from the train.

The three of them ultimately wind up trying together, but either it’s locked or they just aren’t strong enough to turn it.

Then we get a montage of Charles racing, the Springfield telegraph operator, um, telegraph-operating, and the Tower telegraph clicking away while the switchman empties his clothes-washing tub.

AMELIA: What did he wash them in? Shit-water?

Back on the caboose, the three kids are in the overlapping zone of being terrified and actually thinking this is kind of fun.

AMELIA: The two girls are really good together. You can tell they must have liked each other in real life.


We talked about behind-the-scenes stuff for a little while at this point. Nothing pertinent to Walnut Groovy.

Meanwhile, in Sleepy Eye, J.W. Diamond is making a speech to a small crowd.

(Mr. Edwards’s poker buddy Ben Slick appears to be attending in the back. He must have moved to Sleepy Eye.)

Diamond is apparently based on the real executive of the St. Paul Minneapolis Manitoba Railway, James J. Hill – called the “Empire Builder,” and still a notable name here in the real Minnesota. 

James J. Hill
His house is arguably the most famous mansion in the state

Mr. Diamond is attended here by his nerdy, nepotism-benefiting son. (Also apparently based in reality! – though the real Louis W. Hill was only 10 years old in 1882.)

Louis W. Hill, who did ultimately serve as the company’s board chair

For all the bad rap the Gilded Age rail magnates get, it sounds like J.J. Hill was a demanding but not really terrible guy, as far as such people go, anyways. And in the Little House universe, Diamond is depicted as long-winded but essentially a good egg. 

Meanwhile, Charles races on his horse, and the caboose rockets on. It’s quite exciting, at least by 1970s 7+ TV series standards.

Charles ‘n’ Bunny

Inside the caboose, Mary is once again nearing a breakdown, castigating herself for not jumping to her death earlier.

Self-castigatin’ Mary

Carl now gallantly admits the actual responsibility is his, and then they bicker about that. Laura might opt for El Dive-O herself if they keep this up, and I wouldn’t blame her.

Bickerin’ Mary

Finally Laura tells them to shut the fuck up already, since it was in fact everyone’s fault but hers. She shouldn’t be so cocky. After all, if not for her, they’d be listening to the Bead tell them how to correctly operate a caboose brake right now.

AMELIA: Wait, do they ever find out about them tricking their dads into letting them go?

ROMAN: No. That would be a great twist at this point, though. They’d call off the whole rescue.

Back in Sleepy Eye, J.W. Diamond blathers on and on whilst his employees roll their eyes. (And one of them is played by the same guy who plays Ben Slick. There are a lot of separated-at-birth twins in the Little House universe. But I suppose with all the adoptions, that’s bound to happen.)

The workers complain the train is never going to get off on time at this rate. One of them, obviously the company’s publicity rep, points out it’ll be bad optics if Diamond’s own train is late.

The conductor reluctantly interrupts the president’s speech with an all-aboard. Diamond frowns, but then apologizes to his audience, “Time and tide and railroads wait for no man.” (The “time and tide” expression apparently dates back to the Thirteenth Century! Not the railroad part, though.)

On the train, Diamond’s son, apparently named “Herbert,” says, “Dad, I thought I was going to get to read my speech this time,” and the two of them bicker for a while. Herbert speaks in a very Muppety voice.

AMELIA: This poor guy. He’s my favorite now.

(Oddly, the actor playing him is not identified in the credits. Yet another indignity.)

And so, despite the likelihood Diamond would unintentionally save the kids by delaying the Terror Train, it unfortunately departs on schedule. Actually, it departs early!

(If you look to the upper right-hand corner as the train pulls out, you can see what I think is a deer running into the woods!)

Hard to see in the stills, but it happens at 33:28 if you’re interested

Meanwhile, Charles and Mr. Edwards race across country, and the caboose rolls past what I think are telephone poles, but which in the context of the show I suppose are holding telegraph wires. (Did they look exactly the same?)

Edwards arrives at Tower Junction and screams at the idiot doing his laundry. “Lord have mercy!” he screams back; then “Oh, Lordy!”

DAGNY: This guy talks like Don Knotts.

Interestingly, in Charlotte Stewart’s memoir, she says she once went out on a date with Don Knotts, but it didn’t go anywhere.

But before they’re able to flip the switch, or whatever, the caboose comes and goes.

WILL: You know, this is just like The Sweet Hereafter, about the runaway schoolbus. I mean, with a happier ending.

DAGNY: My God, no it isn’t. It’s more like a Road Runner cartoon.

WILL: Ha! Yeah, I can see Wile E. Coyote standing on the tracks with a stop sign and getting run over.

DAGNY: Yeah, and then his body’s imprinted from the tracks and he walks away like an accordion or something.

In Sleepy Eye, Charles comes racing in. (And yes, David does use his terrifying slide whistle again.)

Realizing the train’s already gone, Charles gets a new horse the best way possible: by grabbing a random rider off his and stealing it.

AMELIA: He already had a horse!

WILL: But his horse was tired out.

DAGNY: Yeah. He wouldn’t want to have to do a True Grit.

Actually, the rider he takes the horse from isn’t that random – it’s Ben Slick again.

Charles tears across the prairie to a quite thrilling arrangement of the Little House theme.

Then we get a commercial break. When we come back, Charles catches up to the train. 

AMELIA: So Charles is going to save the day?

WILL: You’ll have to wait and see. But yes.

Somebody else pointed out that the train’s black smoke indicates it’s fired by oil rather than wood (as suggested in the stories). I’ll take their word for it.

Charles is able to jump onto the train. He rushes through the passenger cars – everybody screams, I suppose thinking they’re being robbed.

The conductor chases him, quite ineffectually.

AMELIA: He’s got little dinosaur arms.

Charles climbs up and over all the rest of the cars.

He reaches the engine, but the engineer and Ben Slick’s twin also think they’re being robbed and don’t listen. 

Charles fights the two and manages to throw the brake lever. How he knows which one it is, I have no idea. Maybe he took the Bead’s adult-education class on the subject.

Or maybe he didn’t, because nothing seems to happen. Actually, maybe he just released this train’s caboose!

Coming soon on Little House

But the caboose appears on the horizon and the engineer leaps into action.

The train comes to a very quick stop, which I’m pretty sure does not happen with trains.

 The engineer throws it into reverse.

WILL: Hey, there’s the car!

I had heard you can see a modern car driving at some point in this one, and sure enough, here it is.

On the caboose, the kids see they’re rocketing towards the train and run out to try the brake wheel again.

Now this bit is very well handled. Charles climbs out onto the front of the engine and screams for the kids to get back inside or they’ll be killed when they collide. At first the kids don’t notice him, then they can’t hear him.

AMELIA: How is blowing the horn helping?

ALEXANDER: Maybe it’s on an automated timer.

Finally they understand. And when the collision hits, the train has picked up enough speed where there’s no damage to either it or the caboose.

Eventually they’re able to slow everybody down to a stop. Mr. Edwards arrives, and all the kids are happily reunited with their pas.

DAGNY: This is like the time Mimi saved the other kids from the river.

AMELIA: Well, it’s a little different, because then Roman was actually TRYING to drown us all.

Meanwhile, J.W. Diamond, having apparently gotten the gist of what’s happening, runs alongside the stopped train, yelling praise at the workers as he goes. 

DAGNY: The rail employees all come off well in this one. Well, except Shit-Water Guy.

Diamond climbs aboard the caboose, first asking if everybody’s okay. He just sort of laughs the situation off, which I don’t quite buy, but whatever.

DAGNY: He’s nicer than the guy on The Gilded Age, that’s for sure.

A jewel amongst Diamonds

Carl accepts the blame, because he yanked a lever in the caboose.

“It’d be a strange young man who didn’t push and yank when he had the chance, huh?” says Diamond.

DAGNY: Oh my God! WHAT? He did NOT just say that. . . . Come ON, Little House!

“I’ve done it myself!” he adds.


They throw the train into reverse again, I guess with the intent of returning to Sleepy Eye. I’m not sure why they don’t just press on to Springfield, since that’s where everybody but the caboose needs to go, but I guess Sleepy Eye’s probably closer.

The music rises magnificently.

DAGNY: The score was excellent in this one.

WILL: Yeah. Amelia, you should do the paper for your Film Music class on this.

And that’s it. Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum!

STYLE WATCH: Charles appears to go commando again.

THE VERDICT: Even with the filler, this one’s very exciting. A very simple idea, perfectly executed.

UP NEXT: Troublemaker

Published by willkaiser

I live in the Upper Midwest. My name's not really Will Kaiser, but he and I have essentially the same personality.

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