The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

April 7, 2013

Film producer to speak at historical society event

Canton man plans film about Ashtabula Train Disaster

Canton documentary filmmaker Leonard Brown says the budget for his film about the Ashtabula Train Disaster, “Engineering Tragedy,” has grown to $808,000 as a result of making production decisions that will give the film “a big cinematic feel all the way.”

Brown, who unveiled his plans for the film in Jefferson several months ago, originally planned to spend $500,000 on the production, which he hopes to air on PBS stations. Erie’s WQLN will get first shot at the documentary, which Brown plans to be a single, 90-minute episode. He said the change from a two-part production was made based upon feedback from stations.

“I don’t look at this as a negative thing at all,” Brown said in an e-mail. “If it works in their schedule better and if it ensures we get a ‘prime time’ slot, I think it is worth doing what they suggest.”

The documentary will use local settings, model railroads, interviews and actors to tell the story of the fiery 1876 disaster that claimed nearly 100 lives, including that of hymmwriter P.P. Bliss and his wife.

The Ashtabula County Historical Society will host a presentation by Brown on April 27 at 2 p.m. The location is 3137 E. Center St. (Route 20), North Kingsville, across from Greenlawn Memory Gardens. There is no charge for the presentation, but donations will be accepted for the historical society, said Rene Kistler, ACHS trustee.

Brown said that while his Jefferson, by-invitation-only presentation focused on the film and raising funding, his April 27 visit primarily will be about the disaster itself.

“Jefferson was all about the film; this is all about the story and history, with a little about the film,” he said.

He plans to bring to the event and display the Pacific Express train model that will be used in the production. Also, David Tobias and Fritz Kuenzel will display a portion of their collections of artifacts from the disaster site.

Brown has completed a pre-production trailer for the film and posted it on the website Only cash stands in the way of making the film a reality.

“We are still trying to raise all the production funds, and we have filed a number grant applications. Now it’s a waiting game to see how many we win,” he said. “That said, I’m still confident we will make this documentary happen. We do have a long way to go, but we have a great show, with great people on the team, a strong script with more educational elements for ‘PBS in the Classroom’ than you can shake a stick at. All these elements make it a very attractive project for grant providers.”

Brown said the newest addition to the production team is Justin R. Durban, a composer of cinematic music. His website is at

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