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