Luckily, there's no such danger here. Billed as "a nostalgic look at the history of the American railroad as told in story and song by the legendary Johnny Cash," Nicholas Webster and Dyann Rivkin's documentary was originally filmed and aired in 1974. Just shy of an hour long, it uses a variety of narrative devices, including elaborately staged re-creations of historic events and defining moments in train history. We see the first-ever trainjacking, in which Northern soldiers posing as Southerners stole a train from Big Shanty, Ga., and tried to flee up north with it. Victorian paper-doll diagrams describe early experimental trains, including some powered by sails and horses. A rogue's gallery of characters appears along the way, from train robbers, hobos, cowboys and workmen to robber barons and railway financiers.
It's not a completely smooth ride. A segment on steel-drivin' man John Henry plays like a karaoke video. And the ending feels a bit like an Amtrak commercial. But it's worth enduring any rough spots just to see Johnny Cash, dressed in ever-rotating tuxedos, singing train songs while hanging off antique steam engines, riding in boxcars and sitting around a campfire. It's like having the Man in Black personally guide you through a railway museum. And that's pretty cool.