In Peterbilt, International Truck Stop, December 20199 MinutesBy Will ShiersMarch 10, 2020

Will Shiers continues his movie location treasure hunt, completing his search of Southern California for where Steven Spielberg‘s debut film, Duel, was shot.

Photo: Truck, car, train… Will he, won‘t he? The suspense!

The premise of Duel is beautifully simple: David Mann (played by Dennis Weaver) leaves home in his 1970 Plymouth Valiant Custom, en route to an early morning meeting on California‘s highways, when he tangles with an anonymous truck driver in a 1952 Peterbilt 281. Along each leg of the journey, the menacing Peterbilt is never far behind, as David makes his way from location to location along his route…

“If you think you can just take that truck of yours and use it as a murder weapon, killing people on the highway, you‘re wrong.”

David arrives at Chuck‘s Cafe at 90mph, skidding into the parking lot and destroying a picket fence in the process. In contrast, my arrival is rather more sedate, but I still attract plenty of attention. There are a couple of guys in the parking lot tinkering with an old Dodge truck, and they‘re extremely excited to see mine. They‘re even more impressed to learn that it has more than US$22,000 of options, giving it a cost price of US$74,435. Although the distinctive building is still standing, today it‘s called Le Chene – a fancy French restaurant – and not at all what you‘d expect to find in the desert.

Photo: Chuck‘s Cafe‘ has become a popular pilgrimage for Duel fans.

Over a glass of the local IPA (America gets a lot of stick for its beer, but these days there are some great alternatives to Bud and Coors), the barman gets out an old photo album. He‘s got some great shots of when the 100-year-old building was a filling station. He tells me that quite a few tourists visit because of the Duel connection. Just last week a German couple turned up, but apparently I‘m the first ‘Australian‘ (Will is, in fact, British! – Ed) he‘s met! Having ordered himself a ‘cheese on rye‘ and an aspirin, to his horror David suddenly notices the truck parked outside. This means the driver is in the cafe with him. He studies everyone, in particular their boots, and tries to second guess which one of them is hell-bent on killing him. He approaches someone, demanding that he stops using his truck as a murder weapon. But he‘s got the wrong man, and gets beaten up as a result.

“That truck driver is crazy, he‘s been trying to kill me.”

The tunnel scene is one of the most iconic parts of the movie. A yellow school bus has broken down in a gravel layby by the tunnel entrance, and the driver asks David to give it a push with his car. Reluctantly he agrees, and then gets stuck on the bus‘s bumper. At that moment we see the stationary Peterbilt‘s lights illuminate the tunnel. It‘s a tense moment. Although the tunnel hasn‘t changed at all, the layby is far smaller than it used to be due to half of it being lost to a quarry. In the movie the Peterbilt does a U-turn here, but the Ram can‘t. The other thing that‘s changed is the traffic density. Trying to recreate the scene by stopping the pickup truck in the tunnel proves to be a real headache. My next stop is a posh country resort by a railway line. The rural retreat is brand new, but the level crossing at the entrance isn‘t. It was a movie location. This is where the truck attempts to push the car into the path of a passing freight train.

“I‘d like to report a truck driver who‘s been endangering my life.”

Who can forget the Snakarama scene? This is where David stops at a remote desert gas station to make a 911 call. As he walks to the public pay phone the owner tells him to check out her collection of reptiles. While he‘s on the phone a young Steven Spielberg makes a surprise appearance as a reflection in the glass. Presumably this is a mistake, and not an intentional cameo. Suddenly the truck appears, and it‘s aiming for the phone box. David escapes a split second before the truck smashes the phone box to smithereens. Much to the owner‘s horror it also destroys her snake tanks, and suddenly David also has rattlers to contend with. Although there‘s still a gas station on the site, it looks very different today. And the grumpy owner doesn‘t approve of anyone filming anywhere near his property. Not that this stopped me!

Photo: The infamous tunnel.

“The highway‘s all yours Jack…I‘m not budging for at least an hour.”

Towards the end of the film David leaves the highway, finding a spot by a railway track that‘s completely hidden from the highway. He falls asleep, but is rudely awakened when a passing freight train sounds its horn. Initially he assumes it‘s the truck, but laughs hysterically when he realises his mistake. After many hours of looking I eventually find the exact spot. It‘s at the end of a rough dirt track. While I have no doubts that the Ram will make it down there, after all it has fourwheel drive, I‘ve noticed a couple of ‘No Trespassing‘ signs. In this part of the world they tend to shoot first and ask questions later, so I don‘t venture off the highway.

“You can‘t beat me on the grade. You can‘t beat me on the grade.”

Towards the film‘s climax there are some tense chase scenes. Despite having a V8 under its hood (and a top speed of 112mph), the one-year-old Plymouth is apparently no match for the Peterbilt‘s souped-up diesel. Initially David is correct in assuming that the truck can‘t beat him on the grades (of which there are many in this area), but that changes when the car‘s radiator hose blows. With steam billowing out from under the hood, the badly damaged car limps to the movie‘s final scene. Spoiler alert! The Peterbilt and the Plymouth both end up going over a cliff, but unlike the truck driver, David jumps out to safety at the last second. It‘s one of the most dramatic and exciting film endings ever. With the help of Google Earth I manage to find the exact spot where this was filmed, but unfortunately it‘s on private property, and a locked gate stops me from getting too close. Incredibly the truck‘s cab is still down there (there are some great pictures on the internet), but unfortunately it is too windy for me to fly a drone down there to see the remains for myself. And, as tough as the Ram is, I decide it‘s probably best not to drive it over the cliff. After all, I don‘t really want to get a reputation for destroying press test vehicles, especially not when I‘m planning a trip from Texarkana to Atlanta – eastbound and down!