Hogan’s Heroes Tree Stump Adventure

Well, since we first explored this camp that one Sunday night, it has become our favorite set on all of our backlots. The Desilu lot is much different than MGM Lot 2. It is layed out like a big ranch. Lots of open space, nature, and many single story exteriors that you frequently see in the background of Andy Griffith, and a huge list of TV shows.

MGM lot 2 is a metropolis of sorts, all crammed in, as efficiently as possible. Huge skylines tower above the fences to the real world, beyond. Desilu is much more rustic. The only part of Stalag 13 you can see from Higuera avenue are the guard towers that stick up behind the chain link fence and the grassy knolls that help disguise the camp.

Stalag 13 is different. MGM Lot 3 had a prison camp, Dachau, for the Twilight Zone. Deaths Head Revisited. Combat used it; 12 O’clock also filmed it as a prison camp. But, stalag 13 has been the same set for the same show for close to a decade. Only a rogue Mission Impossible episode has penetrated these fences—that was as a third world prison and not as Colonel Klink’s inescapable stalag.

Inside the camp is a couple of tunnels used for establishing entry in and out of this stalag. Me and my pals fancy the guard towers, of which there are three. All of them nicely overlook the stalag and the Baldwin Hills beyond. The same hills we look down on from the camp are now our backdrop. Like a reverse camera angle.

Reruns can be found everyday, so we watch an episode then sneak into the camp and follow the footprints of those who preceeded us. It is as if time bridges itself, while we reflect backwards.

This camp is nestled into surroundings that keep all other sets obscure, making you feel that this is all by itself. You walk in one doorway and out another, but you’re still in the stalag. The doorways of most sets are passages to other lands… not here.

This afternoon, after school, this set is where we feel like hanging out. Pat and I make our way from St. Augustine’s to Desilu. We make our entry inside, from the La Ballona creek. Cutting through Gomer Pyle’s barracks, we make a stunning revelation… Stalag 13 is no more. All the wooden barracks are gone. The guard towers have been moved to the western street and Klink’s office is gone.

I want a dog house from Stalag 13 kennel (of which there are six), but as we get closer, we see that they are gone. I am very sad… but I think of one more place where a cool prop may still exist: The entry where the tree stump may still exist.

It’s still there! I feel an urgency to grab this… but how?   

It is very akward, tree stump akward. Real size, except this one can be lifted. It has sat at this location for a decade and today it’s going to leave…. somehow.

Things come together quickly. In a barn on Western street, we find a steel wheeled flat bed cart to move things like this.Next… a rope would make a great handle. Lucky for us, rope exists all around the backlot in every thickness imagineable.

So, we have our make-shift caravan, as we pull it up to the tree stump. Workers are still clearing the stalag for another show that is going to build a set on this site. This lot is going to get busy. No one notices or cares what we are doing.

All the paths and roads are dirt, surrounding this area, so I’m glad Pat is with me. We jockey this stump off its placement above its tunnel, where it sat forever!

It fits perfectly on our rig. This iconic movie prop is on the move… slowly!

We pass through whatever is left of Stalag 13, for the last time, and then through a gate that leads to Gomer’s Camp Henderson. I pull the rope, as Pat stablizes the rear end of this slow moving sight.

We pause in front of Goober’s gas station, wishing that we could grab a bottle of pop, like Opie frequently did.

A dramatic pause, you could say, as my tree stump sits next to a gas pump while we sit on a bench next to an empty soda fridge. We ponder the next step…

We now face the most difficult part so far… going down a steep embankment that puts us onto a cement path that runs along the creek. We remove the stump from the cart and jockey it down this ramp. It is very heavy and if we mess up, it could end up crashing into the deep end of the creek.

But little Irish Pat does not give up. Nor do I. We have sucessfully left the property with this full sized tree stump, whose top opens up to get inside. We head towards Culver High School with our cool prize.

This happens to be where we need to cut through to head to my house. It is mostly level here. One straight shot through the faculty parking lot. It must look odd. We are headed down the home stretch now. Just a few residential blocks to go.

We have to cross a major Boulevard: Culver. We will have to cross in front of an audience of cars and pedestrians. I say to Pat, jokingly, “I hope there are no cops sitting at the red light as we cross.”

People stare, wondering what in the world they are seeing, as we try to get across as quickly as possible. I shout, “school project… just never you mind.”

Funny thing is, most everybody has seen this on TV, as we go down the home stretch, or shall we say Huron. A crowd is following me. Now understand, seeing me come home with movie stuff is a common sight and does not usually gather a crowd. But this is quite a picture.

Gerald, Jimmy, Todd, Danny, and the rest of my neighborhood friends all happen to pop up out of their homework assignments see to this steel wheeled train rumble down the sidewalk, with me as the engineer. Ohh, it’s Donnie is all, with his latest prop.

This prop is about to make its way into my bedroom, where it will sit for the next seven years, until I move out. I have a secret museum developing. Every kid that comes over is so jealous and as the years go on, it gets better.

After I moved out, at age 20, my dad put it outside, where it rotted, inside and out. It is wood framed, with a composite outer skin, typical in set and prop building. It broke down over time and no longer exists… 50 years after.

If you ever wondered what happened to that iconic stump… now you know the final journey of the iconic tree stump!


This road leads you to Stalag 13 and to the tree stump.



The picture above is where Stalag 13 stood. The shed in the distance was next to Klink’s office and the water tower. Barracks’ rooftops and cots sit below, removed from the stalag.


We sat parked here for a bit, planning our next move. The gas pumps and soda machine have since been removed.

Here is a link to little known facts about Hogan’s Heroes:


All stories written and lived by Donnie Norden
Edited by DQ







It’s a Backlot Toy Chest World!

I have done it. I have successfully navigated all the Culver City Backlots. Those are MGM, lots 2, 3, 4, 5. Now Desilu is an everyday option. Perfect for a Tom Sawyer hookie day. 

Lot 3, at MGM, is a 67 acre wonderland with exterior sets ranging from multiple western streets; a huge lake and jungle; New Orleans, and France. There are winding roads that appear to go on forever. Cobblestone has that unique sound when wheels or horse hooves go over it. Its different in here.

One side of the fence is magical, the other side is reality… and far too serious. But you must dare yourself to visit the magic. It is forbidden. Trespassing is what the studio calls it.

Well what fun is life without risk? I was born ready!

Holes in the fence happen…naturally and artificially. Climbing is easy when you’re a kid, so getting in is easy. The rush begins immediately. Generally, you hide…every chance you can. Slow and steady. No clocks here. These lots have movie production prepping or shooting, all the time. Night and day. Weekends are generally just a guard and a big empty lot.

MGM does not use dogs. Desilu was the last backlot to conquer, because of K-9 patrols. Lot 3 should be patrolled by dogs. It is almost twice the size of all the other backlots. But, thankfully they are not. They leave it up to old men who take turns driving a jeep that carries a salt rock gun. Yes, you can be shot!

First, they have to find you in this labyrinth; that’s why we pick and choose the paths most off the beaten trail. There are false fronts, or sets all over.

Hiding behind the sets…and in many cases, in the sets, is the key to successfully avoiding unwanted meetings in security. It sounds intimidating because it is. Most people shy away from danger and never see how cool this club can be.

Lack of challenges puts security in auto-pilot mode. We even see them nap, often… I told you they should go with dogs!

I recognize equipment that was on Lot 2…now at Lot 3. The backlot world is interchangeable with many moving parts, literally. The Rat Patrol moves their squad back and forth down Overland, the public street that connects these lots, depending on what village or train station they are attacking. Combat did the same, as did Garrison’s Gorillas, starring Ron Harper.

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Combat was canceled in 1967, but the crew jumped on to Garrison’s Gorillas. More quality war TV.

The Rat Patrol, starring Christopher George, followed that ill-fated but really cool TV show and had a bit more success. J.D. Flowers does special effects for all these shows. Constantly blowing things up…safely!

I met him when my career started and we talked all about MGM days. A toast to Mr. Flowers… an effects legend. In one of the more fulfilling days I’ve had, I was able to connect dots from a decade prior.

I have a Combat board game, and a Rat Patrol lunch box. I live for this stuff.

I even ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwiches out of my Rat Patrol lunch box…inside the the real German half-track from the Rat Patrol series. And I drank my Kool-aid out of my Rat Patrol thermos. I live my lunch pails. How many kids do that?image.jpg

I have yet to be chased here, at Lot 3…and don’t want to. I have run into trespassers who warned us this happens here…getting shot at, that is. It hurts badly I am told. Try to avoid that; your choices are… keep a lot of distance… cut and run like a jack rabbit and criss cross…so they can’t aim strait. Doorways are your friends, but don’t get in a building where you’re trapped. Words to live by. 

Jimmy, my best pal, and I, are like a modern Lewis and Clark.  The same harsh but rustic surroundings. They dealt with Indians. We deal with guards. Both will scalp ya. But like them, we successfully map this wild frontier.

In fact, this is where you would film Lewis and Clark. Anything you can imagine can happen here. It’s where the right side of your brain can enjoy itself. Creative time and space for your mind. Not the dribble you get brainwashed with at school.

There is a lot across from Lot 3. It is Lot 5. A simple rusted chain link fence tries to contain what is plainly within sight and within reach. It is a field with planes from WW2 littered about…

Bombers, and fighters planes…some German ones sit rusting, waiting for their next Hollywood battle. Real planes and real stories…now retired to be MGM props. What kid would not dig this. My personal toy chest… Planes that once glorified the sky are now littered around the backlots.

12 O’clock High was a Fox TV show; it had its tags on a fuselage indicating that it was a rental for that production. This is a plane museum. Across the street on Lot 3 is a train museum. A real steam engine pulls passengers half way around the Lot. The Harvey Girls, starring Judy Garland, capture this in the song “Aitchison-Topeka.”

This defining number sang by Judy, herself, captured for eternity what backlots are about. History goes backwards here, but it’s captured on film for us to enjoy today. I still get goosebumps when I see scenes and productions that used my old sets.

“Willoughby, next stop is Willoughby,” shouts the conductor. That is a Twilight Zone episode, starring James Daly. In this episode, shot at our little train station at Lot 3, James succumbs to the corporate grind and dreams of of this backlot town, called Willoughby. He wants only to live the simple life that exists inside these fences. This train stops at Willoughby.

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That episode describes how wonderful my life is becoming. I live in Willoughby! 

Inside these studio fences is an unmistakable sense of history. You feel it, see it, it exists. Magic!

I am catching on, that inside these fences is a time machine of history—created where I am standing. One side of the fence is the harsh reality of school, responsibility, and expectations to succeed. But inside these fences, time merges…not a care in the world.

Time you learn to appreciate stuff not taught in school: a special time that you hope never disappears.

So, put on your tennis shoes and grab your fishing pole… we got a huge lake inside… Are you coming?

Written and lived by Donnie Norden








Hogan’s Heroes


hogsn heroes car pictures - Google Search

My first excursion into the Desilu backlot is with a handpicked group of friends that are willing to potentially deal with a pack of dogs… Volunteers anyone?

Easier than I expected, I recruited five accomplices. We confirmed dogs exist from the hills above, but not that often. When work takes place on the backlot, dogs are not present. We will roll the dice on this night.

Finally, this Sunday night after the TV airing of Hogan’s Heroes on network TV, we executed a plan we have rehearsed for over and over. We would go inside under the cover of darkness. Climbing a rusted fence post with a viscious dog picture on it. That puts us in a deep grassy hillside lined by large eucalyptus trees. The moon is crescent shaped giving us very little to see. It takes awhile for our eyes to adjust to this complete darkness.

The camp in its entirety presents itself. All the POW barracks, a water tower, a German shepherd kennel with 6 dog houses. All recognizable in the dark hue.  And of course, Colonel Klink’s office.

We were in no-hurry. We are sneaking into a iconic set that may be guarded by dogs.

We stare down from the grassy knoll over-looking the stalag. It is inspiring. My friends and I, are looking for any signs of life in this dark setting. Particularly of interest, are the dogs are on duty!

We sit for an hour convincing ourselves that it will be safe to go forward… our first objective, the guard tower next to the Stalag 13 main gate. There are two at the main gate. A red and white guard shack sits next to the one we picked. Real barb wire surrounds this set from this angle, and the main gate itself is closed.

We gather the courage to exit our observation point and run to the nearest guard tower. One of three overlooking the stalag, and scurry up it’s ladder. We our just outside the camp fence looking directly at Colonel Klink’s headquarters.

We have seen this tower for years, standing tall beyond the chain link fence that seperated us all this time. Now we are here!

This is a truly satisfying accomplishment. Up in this guard perch we can see more of the camp, and we feel safe from dogs. The worst that can happen up here is we could get trapped all-night until work begins tomorrow morning, on this lot.

We would rather surrender to humans than to face a pack of angry shepherds. We ponder now what move makes sense next on this backlot chess board. We want to sneak beyond this main gate fortress. Like Bob Crane and his band of merry heroes, we also, plot to break-in to stalag 13.

All our previous exploits were on MGM backlots, so this is not our first backlot rodeo. But, MGM has no dogs.

It is always fun to explore the unknown. Night-time makes it much safer not seen but… 10 times more SCARIER!

Just a kid living inside the world of his TV.

To be continued…

Story written and lived by Donnie Norden…


It’s the early 60’s…. Gunfire can be heard… everywhere!

As I play in my backyard, I ask my mom, “where’s all that noise coming from?” She answers, “MGM… It’s a block away.” They film Combat there. That’s what you’re hearing.”


Well, this plants a seed in my young, fertile mind. In the days and months ahead, my neighborhood friends and I will walk the studio fence line, peeking through the holes in the fence, looking for Sgt. Saunders, better known as Vic Morrow, the star. He is my hero.

We can see smoke, and explosions. We hear gunfire…direction is given through commands using megaphones. We and are completely awe struck. We want so much to see what is happening on the other side of the fence, but this will take time, as we are young, and a bit overwhelmed. We are happy with this experience, for the moment, but can’t even imagine what is next…


Written and lived by Donnie Norden…