When the action-adventure film Unstoppable opens in theaters on November 12, sharp-eyed observers may notice a few familiar pieces of railroad rolling stock. Part of the filming was done on the Wheeling & Lake Erie using its locomotives and passenger coaches owned by the Orrville Railroad Heritage Society.
Unstoppable, starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine, is about a runaway train. The story is loosely based on a May 15, 2001, incident involving a CSX locomotive No. 8888 and 47 cars that got out of Stanley Yard in Toledo and rolled along the Toledo Branch until railroad personnel could attach a locomotive to the rear of the train and slow it enough to enable an employee to get aboard the No. 8888 and set the locomotive’s brakes.
Some of the filming for Unstoppable was done on the Wheeling property in Brewster and elsewhere along railroad lines. A trailer for the film that has been showing in theaters for a few weeks shows the noses of what clearly appear to be W&LE locomotives.
Coaches 103 and 104 from the ORHS were used in the filming. In the film, those coaches are filled with school children on a outing. The train they are riding is headed toward a railroad yard that is also in the path of the runaway train.
W&LE Locomotives were painted by the movie personnel in the Wheeling’s car repair shed in at the Brewster shops. The shed was modified as a paint shop by enclosing the open sides with plastic sheeting and installing the necessary lighting, ventilation and other equipment.
Some filming involving Mr. Washington was done in Brewster, but much of the movie was filmed in Olean, New York. Glenn Bowman and John Harding of the ORHS were on site in Olean to assist with the car maintenance if needed.
One morning as they arrived on the set Olean, they noticed smoke rolling out from under car No. 103. Upon further investigation they determined that no fires were imminent. It was simply testing of “special effects being conducted.
Bowman and Harding also spent two days filming in the small Pennsylvania town of Eldred. This site offered some nice scenery as well as giant mosquitoes in hordes of not smaller than one million at any given moment.
Harding said that to witness the constant attention to detail and the movement of hundreds of people and the needed props and power sources was an education. There were always sandwich trucks and beverages available at any time during the 16- or 17-hour days. The “base camp” food service area was a sight to behold every day.
Leg of lamb? “No problem. Right here, sir.” Harding said he remembered a railroad official saying “If you ever have the opportunity to be involved in a movie, don‘t!
Harding said he and Bowman felt pretty lucky being involved with the making of Unstoppable, but could see where the strict safety concerns of the railroads involved were not at all a prime consideration of the film crews.
Some information in this article was taken from the ORHS newsletter.