The Littlest Hobo

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People often have memories, dating back to childhood, of things that, for unknown reasons, made a big impression on them. In my case, it is an obscure 1958 children’s film called The Littlest Hobo.

Here is a synopsis from Amazon:

While beloved collie Lassie captivated TV viewers, this simple, sweet-natured film, shot all over 1950s Los Angeles, follows a clever German Shepherd who hops off a freight train and soon rescues a lamb bound for slaughter. Along the way, the canny canine outwits the cops, a dog catcher and some predatory bums, even arriving at a soup kitchen as the preacher welcomes his “lost sheep.” He also helps a wheelchair-bound girl take her first steps and earns his woolly pal a gubernatorial pardon. Improbable? More like irresistible. So much so that The Littlest Hobo graduated to lasting fame in two popular Canadian TV series across two decades, first-time director Charles R. Rondeau became a prolific helmer of episodic TV, and young lead Buddy Hart would go on to play Chester Anderson on Leave It to Beaver. Buoyed by a breezy, jazz-inflected score by Ronald Stein and the lovely tune “Road Without End,” sung by Randy Sparks, The Littlest Hobo, long out of circulation but happily back to win over a new generation, is the doggonedest charmer ever.

And here is a more thorough version from Turner Classic Movies:

A German shepherd dog named London accompanies a hobo to Los Angeles aboard a freight train. After getting a bath from the railcar washer, London helps clean up at a nearby hamburger stand, but decides to move on when the hobo takes a job there. Later, while strolling down Wilshire Blvd., London is drawn to a striking French poodle, but is distracted by a passing truck carrying a young boy, Tommy, weeping over a lamb. London follows the truck to a slaughterhouse, where, realizing the lamb’s fate, the dog rescues him. Startled, the workers at the meat plant contact the police, who pursue the animals but lose them in a junkyard filled with abandoned streetcars. Coming upon an evangelist on the street preaching about “the lost lamb”, the animals are given food and spend the night in the mission. The next day London and the lamb, Fleecie, continue on and find themselves near the mansion of Governor Malloy. The governor is consulting Dr. Hunt about his young daughter Molly, who is confined to a wheelchair. Dr. Hunt tells Malloy that Molly must regain the desire to walk again. London leads Fleecie near Molly and pretends to attack the lamb in order to provoke the child into walking. Frantic to save Fleecie, Molly stands up and takes several steps toward the animals before collapsing. Her cries draw her father, but frighten Fleecie, who runs away. The police soon recapture the lamb and return it to the slaughterhouse. Malloy, however, has put a search out for Fleecie to please Molly. The Malloys find Fleecie and save the lamb just in time. Meanwhile, London locates Tommy and guides him to the governor’s mansion to show the little boy the happiness Fleecie has brought to someone else. Content that Fleecie is safe and cared for, Tommy departs, escorted by London, who remains with the boy a short while before again answering the call of the open road.

This was very much a low-budget film, which made great use of striking outdoor locations, in Southern California rail yards and on Terminal Island, where hundreds of LA interurbans and streetcars were stacked up like cordwood. Being just the right age for this film when it was new, these scenes remained vivid in my memory. In some shots, you can actually read individual car numbers.

Unfortunately, this film was unavailable for many years. Now it has been released on DVD, and after a wait of more than 50 years, I finally had a chance recently to watch the film again. Sure enough, for me, the most effective scenes in the film are the ones shot on Terminal Island, where Pacific Electric “Hollywood” cars were piled up alongside H and K-series streetcars from Los Angeles. Some say there were still car bodies there as late as 1966. Interestingly, a few cars were dumped into the Pacific Ocean off Redondo Beach, in order to create an artificial reef.

The film’s success led to a couple of long-running Canadian TV series, which I have not seen.

Here are some screen shots from the 1958 film, featuring the various railroad locations that were used as backdrops. To these, we have added some additional pictures from Terminal Island that we found on the Internet.

And while the great majority of LA’s streetcars and interurbans were already on the “scrap heap of history” by 1958, they did run for a few years longer before their final abandonments, the PE until 1961 and LA streetcars in 1963. But even then, that was not really the end.

In the years since 1963, electric transit in Los Angeles has made a comeback in a big way. And, thanks to a recent successful ballot initiative, LA’s system seems likely to continue to grow and expand for many years to come.

-David Sadowski


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Additional Photos

Stacks of carbodies signal the end of rail service in Los Angeles with these former Pacific Electric streetcars neatly arranged at a Terminal Island scrapyard. (Jack Finn Collection)

Stacks of carbodies signal the end of rail service in Los Angeles with these former Pacific Electric streetcars neatly arranged at a Terminal Island scrapyard. (Jack Finn Collection)

Pacific Electric Railway streetcars stacked at a junkyard on Terminal Island, March 1956.

Pacific Electric Railway streetcars stacked at a junkyard on Terminal Island, March 1956.

The final resting place. National Metal and Steel Corp., Terminal Island, Long Beach, California. Notice the stacks of Pacific Electric street cars in the background. May 1959. (Robert Vredenburgh Photo)

The final resting place. National Metal and Steel Corp., Terminal Island, Long Beach, California. Notice the stacks of Pacific Electric street cars in the background. May 1959. (Robert Vredenburgh Photo)

Pacific Electric street cars waiting to be scrapped. National Metal and Steel Corp., Terminal Island, Long Beach, California. May 1959. (Robert Vredenburgh Photo)

Pacific Electric street cars waiting to be scrapped. National Metal and Steel Corp., Terminal Island, Long Beach, California. May 1959. (Robert Vredenburgh Photo)

Pacific Electric red cars awaiting demolition on terminal island in Long Beach, CA.

Pacific Electric red cars awaiting demolition on terminal island in Long Beach, CA.

It's 1958 at the Terminal Island scrapyard where Los Angeles Transit Lines (and in this shot, Southern Pacific) units go to die an inglorious death. Three LATL (ex-Los Angeles Railway) units sit atop one another while being framed by former SP heavyweight cars. (L. Swanson Photo, Andy Goddard Collection)

It’s 1958 at the Terminal Island scrapyard where Los Angeles Transit Lines (and in this shot, Southern Pacific) units go to die an inglorious death. Three LATL (ex-Los Angeles Railway) units sit atop one another while being framed by former SP heavyweight cars. (L. Swanson Photo, Andy Goddard Collection)

Los Angeles Transit Lines (ex-Los Angeles Railway) car no. 1159 sits atop other units at the Terminal Island scrapyard. The image is dated November 2, 1958. (L. Swanson Photo, Andy Goddard Collection)

Los Angeles Transit Lines (ex-Los Angeles Railway) car no. 1159 sits atop other units at the Terminal Island scrapyard. The image is dated November 2, 1958. (L. Swanson Photo, Andy Goddard Collection)

Pacific Electric "Hollywood Cars" stacked for scrap on Terminal Island, near Long Beach.

Pacific Electric “Hollywood Cars” stacked for scrap on Terminal Island, near Long Beach.

AWAITING DESTRUCTION--Old Pacific Electric cars are piled up like toys at junkyard on Terminal Island, awaiting dismantling to become scrap metal. (Los Angeles Times Photographic Collection)

AWAITING DESTRUCTION–Old Pacific Electric cars are piled up like toys at junkyard on Terminal Island, awaiting dismantling to become scrap metal. (Los Angeles Times Photographic Collection)

Scrapping at National Metals on Terminal Island circa 1956.

Scrapping at National Metals on Terminal Island circa 1956.

Los Angeles streetcars at Terminal Island.

Los Angeles streetcars at Terminal Island.

(Ralph Cantos Collection)

(Ralph Cantos Collection)

Decommissioned former Pacific Electric streetcars are stacked prior to scrapping on Terminal Island. The date is February 23, 1956. (Alan Weeks Photo, Alan Weeks Collection)

Decommissioned former Pacific Electric streetcars are stacked prior to scrapping on Terminal Island. The date is February 23, 1956. (Alan Weeks Photo, Alan Weeks Collection)

Abandoned former Pacific Electric streetcars get piled high at the Terminal Island scrapyard in the 1950s. (Jack Finn Collection)

Abandoned former Pacific Electric streetcars get piled high at the Terminal Island scrapyard in the 1950s. (Jack Finn Collection)

Marine biologists inspect the street cars to be used in artificial reef pilot projects in 1959. (Photo, Artificial Habitat in the Marine Environment, Department of Fish and Game, University of California, 1964)

Marine biologists inspect the street cars to be used in artificial reef pilot projects in 1959. (Photo, Artificial Habitat in the Marine Environment, Department of Fish and Game, University of California, 1964)

A U.S. Navy salvage ship lowers an unknown trolley or streetcar into the Pacific off Redondo Beach / Palos Verdes in September 1956. (Photo, Artificial Habitat in the Marine Environment, Department of Fish and Game, University of California, 1964)

A U.S. Navy salvage ship lowers an unknown trolley or streetcar into the Pacific off Redondo Beach / Palos Verdes in September 1956. (Photo, Artificial Habitat in the Marine Environment, Department of Fish and Game, University of California, 1964)

Marine biologist Charles H. Turner inspects a submerged trolley in the South Bay, July 1959. (Photo, Artificial Habitat in the Marine Environment, Department of Fish and Game, University of California, 1964)

Marine biologist Charles H. Turner inspects a submerged trolley in the South Bay, July 1959. (Photo, Artificial Habitat in the Marine Environment, Department of Fish and Game, University of California, 1964)

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