powered by AFI
DVDs from TCM Shop
In 1860, Kansas Pacific Railroad construction manager Calvin Bruce reads about the riots breaking out in Kansas City after Abraham Lincoln is elected president. When Cal and his engineer, Smokestack Clark, are forced to stop the engine car because of a break in the track, they are fired on by Janus, Stone and Max, three Confederate sympathizers attempting to prevent completion of the railroad. In response, Cal sends a telegram to Kansas Pacific owner Sherman Johnson, who consults with Gen. Winfield Scott of the Union Army Corps of Engineers in Washington, D.C. Although Scott is unable to send troops to Kansas because the Army is preparing for war, he does send Army Engineer Capt. John Nelson to work undercover as a civilian overseer, because the Army plans to use the railroad to mobilize troops and ordnance. Cal, his daughter Barbara, Smokestack and the fireman, Gus Gustavson, all of whom live in a car attached to the train, are dismayed when they receive a telegram that John is being sent to oversee the project, and believe that Johnson is attempting to replace Cal, a twenty-year veteran with the railroad. Smokestack, however, urges the Bruces to trust Johnson's judgment. The following day, John arrives in Rockwood, and intervenes when three men assault Southern sympathizer William Quantrill without provocation. That night, Quantrill secretly meets with his men, Janus, Max, Stone and Morey, and instructs them to hire on with the railroad, then sabotage construction to aid the Confederate cause. Quantrill's men are among many who sign up for work the next day, and John hires hunter Joe Farley as well, to work as a guard. Construction on the railroad resumes, but Barbara remains suspicious of John. When one of Quantrill's men deliberately trips another worker and nearly causes a serious accident, John fires him without delay. Cal sees the wisdom in John's action and that night, after assuring Barbara that he believes in John's good intentions, Cal supports John's plan to build derricks to help lay the heavy track. Barbara telegraphs their office manager Casey in town to order the supplies, unaware that Quantrill is eavesdropping on the telegraph line. When the train arrives with supplies and dynamite, Janus and Max stage a fistfight as a distraction. A sharpshooter hiding behind a promontory then fires on the dynamite, causing it to explode and kill a worker. John gives the frightened workers the rest of the day off, but many quit nevertheless. That night, John asks Barbara to move to town for her own safety, but she refuses until he reveals that the railroad will be critical to the Union Army in the approaching war. Planning to blow up the engine, Quantrill sends his gang to steal some dynamite from a warehouse. Although they knock out a guard and steal the explosives, the guard revives long enough to fire a warning shot, and the three men flee. John chases them alone on horseback and, after killing one man, grabs the saddlebag filled with dynamite and tracks the other two to a saloon. John finds the men quietly playing cards and threatens to fire on their saddlebags, terrorizing them into revealing the contents. He then has them arrested and announces to the rest of the patrons, who are primarily former railroad employees, that he will re-hire them at double pay if they return to work. The men enthusiastically accept. The next morning, John and Gus transport the railroad payroll by train, but are forced to stop because of boulders blocking the tracks. Gus is killed and Smokestack is wounded when Quantrill's men open fire on them, and the gunfight continues until John orders Smokestack to use the train to push the boulders aside. As the train nears the outlaws' hiding place, John throws a lighted stick of dynamite, thus killing the outlaws in the resulting explosion. As work continues on the railroad, the sheriff is killed one night when Quantrill's men break out of jail. Janus wants to avenge his friends' deaths, but Quantrill devises a new plan, in which they will attack the trains using Confederate army cannons. When the Kansas Pacific tracks are completed, the U.S. Army ships a cargo of ammunition, but the train and its contents are destroyed by Quantrill's cannon fire. John orders new track laid immediately, and receives a personal missive from Scott via Union Army lieutenant Stanton, who informs him that another trainload of ammunition and troops will arrive shortly. John conceives of a plan to prevent another ambush, and orders Joe to round up his guards. The next day, when Quantrill and his men open fire on the troop train, soldiers emerge and uncover their own cannons, with which they return fire. John then sends in his posse to attack Quantrill's men and Joe is wounded during the battle. John then kills Janus and arrests Quantrill, after which he signals the train to continue its journey. Later, John and Barbara seal their new romance with a kiss, and he promises to return to her after the war.