Read Stan’s great account of how he came to create Choo Choo. All of the panels from the original artwork follow.
Oct. 12, 2010
Thanks for the kind words about Choo Choo. I enjoyed creating it because it not only allowed me to drive the Choo Choo, but to race one of my own design on a fantasy track vaguely resembling Le Mans. And of course win the race, get the champagne and the babes...before getting hit in the face with the wet mop.
It all started back in 1937. I was a four year old kid in Ventura, California, and was entranced by the daily passing of the Southern Pacific Daylight. It would appear in late afternoon, at first a bright light rounding a distant coastal point. Then came the white smoke blasting skyward, and the white face of the boiler and the keen black paint job with the red and orange stripes. I didn’t know then that it was considered the most beautiful steam locomotive in the world. I just knew as it approached I had to run out to the front of our house, stand on the sidewalk and wag my right arm up and down madly to signal the engineer to go, go, go! And as that magnificent monster thundered past, the engineer, always an old guy in blue and white striped overalls and a red bandana waved back! Wow! And blew the whistle! Double wow!! Then I could see sophisticated adults in dining car windows racing past towards exotic places (L.A.). I vowed that one day I too would drive the Choo Choo.
The Southern Pacific DaylightFast forward to 1959. I had spent many nights racing my 356 Porsche Speedster on a winding Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood Hills. I had memorized the road and thought I had become pretty good. I had not killed myself. But I needed an acid test: I entered time trials at Willow Springs. I quickly learned that the only thing I have in common with Sterling Moss is our initials. I was told by informed persons that if I sank a wad of money into an MG-A and raced every weekend, I might become a competent driver. That way I might become competent enough to drive along with all the other competent drivers back in the pack. Then one day, with luck, I might come in third.
Fast forward to 1975. My wife and I bought and moved on board a Turkish caique gaff ketch. Three years of driving a go-kart around the world in the ’60s, and ten years of driving a 356 Porsche Continental coupe in the Swiss Alps in the ’70s had jaded my taste for driving on overcrowded roads. So we lived on the water, cruised the yacht throughout the Mediterranean during the summer and moored her in marinas during the winter. This allowed me to produce articles and cartoons for magazines in my on board studio.
But in 1980 change was in the air. The golden renaissance years of wild satirical humor of the ’70s, exemplified by National Lampoon magazine, was fading fast. Mega-Corporations were buying up magazines and cutting costs for fast profits. Road & Track Art Director Bill Motta was still buying. But I wondered how long this erstwhile magazine would remain vital? I figured I better do a biggie while I had time. But what? I remembered the Daylight, Mulholland Drive, the acid test, the Swiss Alps. And what’s the greatest race track? Le Mans!
I went to work. I had been a hot rodder in my teens. Ran a chopped deuce coupe at El Mirage. So, naturally, the first thing would be to chop and channel a steam locomotive! Muscle. GM Design Director Bill Mitchell always said “Get some muscle in those designs, kid!” Alright, good, giant steam cylinders out wide and far up front. And design the mother of all cow catchers; long, low and wide to aerodynamically press the front wheels down on the tracks. Run blue racing stripes over it all. Load it up with throptics*. I tried manfully to get in an early Bentley blower sticking out front, but no room, cow catcher, so why not some crankshaft-like throptics, and gold plate ‘em? And enlarge the drive wheels, giant ones, scary mothers spinning out flames! And white hot flames blasting out an aerodynamic smokestack, and get the monster drifting, coal car spilling coal chunks and, we’re on our way!
Same with the “track”; rails, lots, compose ‘em, wherever they looked good. A locomotive spins out into the dirt, have the tracks follow like skid marks criss-crossing right through the hay bales. The Mulsanne Straight would be straight alright—straight down so locomotives can get up enough speed—at least 250 mph—to zoom up the 1,000-ft high speed loop and not fall off. Yes, and champagne served at pit stops when changing the “Non-Skid” steel drive wheels. Blue elephants in the crowd, surreal hot dog stands, a conductor looking ragged and angry as if he’d been run over a few times, “Texacoal”, “Firesteam” and “Acme Coal” advertising banners. All of it, the whole thing, as big and mad and colorful and detailed as I could make it!
The final art took four months to produce.
Hope you enjoy the ride.
*throptic, noun: a design or a devise created to look as if it serves a functional purpose, but in fact has no purpose other than to make the object on which it is attached to look esthetically better.
P.S. from a subsequent email from Stan:
Ah yes, those wonderful nights racing in the Hollywood Hills. They also served as inspiration for Cyclops’ Night Out, and other fantasies I suppose.
I also vividly remember a pal driving us off a cliff in a Morgan into the Topanga Canyon. I glanced at him to see how he was going to save us at the last second. He had his arms over his face bracing for the crash. We went over...but landed hard on an outcrop about 20 feet down. No injuries. But the Morgan was wasted. On either side of us was a steep drop off. That's the kind of circumstance that gets one believing in God.
Same with storms at sea. We got caught in a Sirocco about half way between the Turkish coast and Cyprus. Had to run with it, back to Turkey. But not too quickly else we make landfall at night. So during those 30 hours at the wheel I talked to every god I could think of, and invented a few just to make sure. We obviously survived. But later upon examination I found the starboard steering cable had worn about 90% through. Had it broken when we were surfing 20 ft. seas, we might have not been as lucky as we were with the Morgan. Ah, memories...