Buster Keaton christens "Bathtub Rock" in a promo shot for "Three Ages" (1923)
Buster Keaton has one of the longest-spanning Iverson Movie Ranch careers of any actor. He first worked on the ranch in silent movies in the early 1920s, then returned in the 1960s for a guest spot on the TV show "Route 66."
His silent movie work — especially his 1923 feature film "Three Ages" — is much better known among Iverson aficionados than his return engagement for "Route 66." "Three Ages" stands as one of the classic Iverson movies.
Buster at Iverson Pond with "Route 66" stars George Maharis, left, and Martin Milner
But his "Route 66" appearance was classic in its own way, as the show mined Keaton's comedic talents to produce a fun episode of the often light-hearted drama series.
"Route 66": Buz (George Maharis), Tod (Martin Milner) and their babe-magnet Corvette
In case you're hazy on "Route 66," it was an early '60s CBS series that starred George Maharis and Martin Milner (later of "Adam-12"), along with an all-important third "character" — a jazzy Corvette.
"Route 66" episode "Journey to Nineveh" (premiered Sept. 28, 1962)
But in the episode "Journey to Nineveh" early in the third season, it was Buster Keaton and a big, scruffy dog who wound up catching a ride in the 'Vette. Coincidentally, Keaton was 66 years old at the time.
"Cheyenne Takes Over" (Eagle-Lion, 1947): The church at the end of the Western street
The church can be found in its share of movies, notably a number of low-budget Lash LaRue and Eddie Dean Westerns from PRC and Eagle-Lion filmed in the late 1940s.
"Along Came Jones": Gary Cooper and William Demarest arrive in "Payneville"
The Western street was born as the town of Payneville, built in late 1944 by Gary Cooper for his 1945 Western "Along Came Jones." It was the only movie the actor produced during his legendary film career.
The Iverson Western street looking southwest, with the church in place (ca. 1947)
The town wasn't "high end" by any stretch, but it was well-suited for both the B-Westerns of the late '40s and the kid-oriented 1950s cowboy shows that proliferated in TV's early years.
"Hoppy" (William Boyd) and Topper on the Western street in 1954 (Jerry England collection)
As the Western movies lost ground to TV in the early '50s, shows including "The Lone Ranger," "The Cisco Kid," "The Roy Rogers Show," "Hopalong Cassidy" and "Annie Oakley" would keep the place hopping.
"Whirlybirds" (1956): A flooded and crumbling Western street
But the town set was plagued by flooding whenever it rained, a recurring problem that caused headaches for productions trying to film in the town and probably fast-tracked the set's deterioration.
"The Roy Rogers Show": Pat Brady negotiates the flooded town in his Jeep "Nellybelle"
Production companies were pretty resilient back then. When "The Roy Rogers Show" arrived to find a flooded Western street during filming on the 1952 episode "Ghost Town Gold," the flooding was worked into the plot.
"Man in the Saddle" (Columbia, 1951): A muddy Western street
Minor flooding is visible in the street in this shot from the Randolph Scott Western "Man in the Saddle," filmed in April 1951. The shot brings back a bygone era when it would routinely rain in April in Southern California.
"The Lone Ranger" episode "Ghost Town Fury" (premiered March 28, 1957)
By the mid-1950s the Western town was in ragged shape and was being used mainly as a ghost town. Demolition of the set began by late 1957, and by early 1958 the Western street was gone.
"The Virginian" TV series: A lake on the Iverson Ranch, in the episode "Strangers at Sundown" (1963)
With the town out of the way, Joe Iverson turned a former headache into an opportunity, using the "flooding problem" to create a lake — or the illusion of one — on the same spot where the Western street previously stood.
"The Virginian" (1963): Wider shot reveals there's not much to the lake
The water feature could be shot in ways that created the impression of a larger and more beautiful lake, but when the camera pulled back, Iverson Pond, as it has come to be known, wasn't much more than a puddle.
"Overland Trail" TV series (1960): The stage struggles to traverse the puddle
Even so, the pond flourished from 1959-1963. Along with "The Virginian" and "Overland Trail," everyone from Burt Reynolds to "Bonanza" and Audie Murphy to "The Rifleman" and the Three Stooges filmed there.
"Route 66" (1962): The gang arrives at the Iverson Pond
And we can add Buster Keaton and the "Route 66" crew to that list. Their shoot for "Journey to Nineveh" took place almost entirely at the pond, where the script called for Buster and the boys to do some fishing.
Behind the scenes on "Route 66": The crew works out details for the fishing sequence
Anyway, the puddle that was Iverson Pond worked well as a fishing hole when the "Route 66" production team turned up in June 1962 to shoot "Journey to Nineveh."
"Along Came Jones": Arriving at the Western street from the southeast
During the years when the Western street was standing, Hidden Rock was positioned next to the town set's small barn. It was off the main drag, kind of hidden out back, hence the name.
At this late stage in his career, his face was as expressive as ever.
Buster Keaton in the "Twilight Zone" episode "Once Upon a Time" (1961)
The comedy legend had already been making the rounds of some classic TV dramas. This shot comes from his 1961 appearance in a time travel-themed episode of "The Twilight Zone."
Uh-oh: Maharis and Keaton find a rowboat
The "Route 66" fishing trip was going smoothly until the boys decided to try out a rowboat they found. (Spoiler alert: If you don't want to know whether the boat sinks, read no further!)
Zooming in on the background for a better look at the rocks
By now, Hidden Rock and Cooper Rock are "old friends."
"Montana Incident" (1952): Pond Rock and the General Store
When the Western street was still standing, Pond Rock was situated at the northeast end of town, next to the walkway in front of the General Store. The store was outfitted with saloon signage for "Montana Incident."
Promo still for "Wee Willie Winkie": Shirley Temple, right, Pond Rock, Smooth Hill and the India Fort
Back in 1937, before the town was built, Pond Rock had a photo op with Shirley Temple during filming on "Wee Willie Winkie." The stone building seen here is part of the large India Fort built for the movie.
"Rawhide Rangers" (1941): An early version of Iverson Pond
Even in those pre-Payneville days, there were times when the Pond was a pond. One of the best examples is in "Rawhide Rangers," filmed in May 1941. The buildings seen here as the Texas Rangers headquarters — and reflected in the Pond — were originally another part of the "Wee Willie Winkie" India Fort.
"Under Texas Skies" (Republic, 1940)
At other times of the year the area was bone-dry. Here's Pond Rock again, with nothing around it but cowboys and trail dust in the Three Mesquiteers movie "Under Texas Skies," filmed in late summer 1940.
"Route 66" (1962)
Back on the road to "Nineveh," Buster managed to lose his pants. I don't think this shot made it into the final edit.
Joe E. Brown and Buster Keaton: Promo still for "Journey to Nineveh"
Along with Buster, "Journey to Nineveh" featured a guest appearance by another comedy legend: Joe E. Brown.
"Shut My Big Mouth" (1942): A splotchy green Range Rider Rock at top right
Joe E. Brown had his own track record on the Iverson Ranch, highlighted by his starring role in the Western comedy "Shut My Big Mouth."
Also in the cast of "Journey to Nineveh" was Jenny Maxwell, because with all those old fogeys around, the episode needed a young blonde.
Edgar Buchanan in "Journey to Nineveh"
As if it didn't already have enough star power, Edgar Buchanan is in the episode too.
"Tales of Wells Fargo" episode "The Prisoner" (1958): Edgar Buchanan and Dale Robertson
Buchanan didn't make it out to Iverson for the fishin' hole shoot, but he put in his share of work on the ranch during his career. That's him on the left, at Lash LaRue's Arch in "Tales of Wells Fargo."
Corvette News, September/October 1962: "Route 66" writeup
"Journey to Nineveh" received some interesting coverage in Corvette News, which did an in-depth feature on "Route 66" in fall 1962. You can click here to read the writeup on the show's visit to the Iverson Ranch.