What's the most you've ever won in a card game? For us, the answer is probably a handful of matchsticks. For Ben Calhoun, ace gambler of the Wild West, the biggest pot was an entire railroad, the Buffalo Pass, Scalplock, & Defiance Railroad. There was just one catch — the railroad line was not complete.
That's the setup of Iron Horse, an underappreciated Western that ran for two seasons in 1966–68. It was the second leading role for star Dale Robertson, who had already established himself as an action hero to boys and men with his gunslinging ways on Tales of Wells Fargo (1957–62). A bona fide tough guy, Robertson showed off his fisticuffs, wit and charm as Calhoun, as the gambler tries to complete his railroad.
Here, Robertson teamed up with rising stars Gary Collins and Ellen Burstyn — not to mention a historic locomotive, an adorable raccoon and string of memorable guest stars. But more on that below…
It has loads of wonderful actresses.
Academy Award winner Ellen Burstyn (then billed as Ellen McRae) was cast in the second season as Julie Parsons, girlfriend to Ben Calhoun. But in season one, the gambler-turned-baron bedded a string of beautiful women. Calhoun hooked up enough to make Captain Kirk jealous. Those guest stars included Ahna Capri (Enter the Dragon), Arlene Martel (Star Trek), Karen Black (Easy Rider), Sharon Ferrell (Hawaii Five-O), Julie Gregg (The Godfather) and more.
Scotty is in it — with a Scottish accent!
Yes, indeed, James Doohan appeared in two episodes (beginning with the pilot film, Scalplock) as Scrimps, the manager of the railroad foundry. You know him best as Montgomery "Scotty" Scott of Star Trek, but the actor was not Scottish. He was from Western Canada. Yet, here he was, doing his "Scotty" accent on another series — in the same TV season!
There are even more great guest stars.
The list of guest stars goes on. We particularly love Gene Hackman in "Leopards Try, But Leopards Can't." Also keep your eyes peeled for future Seventies stars such as Bill Bixby, Ed Asner, Gavin MacLeod and Dabney Coleman.
There's even a pet raccoon on the show.
Calhoun rides a horse named Hannibal. That's expected. This is a Western, after all. But the wildlife gets a little more exotic with Ulysses, the pet raccoon of sidekick Barnabas Rogers (Bob Random). He's named after President Grant. Let's just hope he doesn't see Daniel Boone's hat elsewhere on H&I.
The train itself is even a Hollywood celebrity.
The Sierra Railroad No. 3 "played" the lead locomotive on Iron Horse. It was a famous machine. You might know it best as the Hooterville Cannonball on Petticoat Junction, or perhaps from its service on The Wild Wild West. This legendary Hollywood train also appeared in cinematic classics like High Noon and… Back to the Future Part III.
Dale Robertson was a true cowboy.
After starring in the series J.J. Starbuck in the late 1980s, Oklahoma native Robertson left Hollywood behind. He dreamt of owning a ranch, so he purchased one in his home state, in Yukon, just west of Oklahoma City. A true rancher, Robertson scoffed at actors from the East Coast who tried to play cowboy. He said "you could spot them by the way they walked around a horse," according to his obituary in The New York Times. He passed away in 2013.