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Friday April 12th 2024

The General | 1926

The General location: Cottage grove, Oregon
The General location: Keaton and his crew stayed at what was the Cottage Grove Hotel: East Main Street, Cottage grove, Oregon: Goblin Valley, Utah | Photograph: Wikimedia / Visitor7

Buster Keaton's classic is based on real events during the Civil War (also filmed, straight, by Disney in 1956 as The Great Locomotive Chase), when Union soldiers stole a train from Atlanta, Georgia, and attempted to drive it to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Striving for authenticity, Keaton wanted to use the real train, which was then exhibited at the since-demolished Chattanooga Union Station, but Tennesseans didn't take kindly to their history being the subject of a comedy and refused permission.

You can see 'The General' locomotive (that's the real one, not the one used in the film) at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, 2829 Cherokee St NW, Kennesaw, Georgia.

The railroad finally used for filming was the now-abandoned Oregon Pacific & Eastern Railroad line at Cottage Grove, off I-5 about 20 miles south of Eugene in western Oregon.

Keaton and his crew stayed at the Cottage Grove Hotel, which now boasts a mural celebrating the event. Disappointingly, you can't stay there anymore. The building is now the residential Cottage Grove Hotel Apartments, 811 East Main Street at South 8th Street.

The towns of 'Marietta' and 'Chattanooga' were huge outdoor sets built for the film only a short distance away, but most of the filming used the stretch of line just to the northeast of Downtown Cottage Grove. Now the rail lines were removed, their path has been turned into the Row River Trail, a 14-mile, paved, National Recreation Trail.

Other movies filmed on the railway include Rob Reiner's adaptation of Stephen King's Stand By Me, with River Phoenix, and Robert Aldrich's 1973 Depression-Era drama Emperor of the North, with Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin.