1522 on the set of TRUMAN

by George Rees, Jeff Schmid and Judy Koepke

The movie in this story is the Home Box Office (HBO) biopic TRUMAN about President Harry S. Truman starring Gary Sinese. TRUMAN is still available on DVD thru Amazon and elsewhere.

In 1995, HBO set out to make a movie about the life of Harry S. Truman - concentrating on events leading up to and during his time in the Presidency. A pivotal event in the movie was Truman's 1948 campaign for reelection which involved whistle stop campaigning around the country. To properly film this, a steam locomotive was needed and the Frisco 1522 was chosen. It also helped that the Museum of Transport had heavyweight sleeper and business cars which would look appropriate in a campaign train and could be made roadworthy for the film.

The plan was for 1522 to pull the 1522-A water car, both of her crew cars, Dan Maguire's Chouteau Club lounge car and the two Museum cars on the rear. The train would travel to Kansas City to be used for several days of filming after which the two Museum cars would be cut off and used elsewhere for filming by themselves. The two Museum cars would then make their way back to the Museum of Transport separately. Meanwhile, the 1522 would pick up some of the Burlington Northern (BN) executive train cars to pull a special 50th Anniversary of the Victory in Europe train full of WWII veterans from Lenexa, Kansas, into downtown Kansas City for a special ceremony. After that, 1522 and the crew cars/Chouteau Club would be parked at BN's Kansas City business car shops for a month until the start of BN's Heartland Whistle Stop tour across eastern Nebraska and all of Iowa. The tour would wind up in Galesburg, Illinois, just in time for the Galesburg Railroad Days festival before heading back home to St. Louis. 1522's arrival in St. Louis would be just in time for her display under the Gateway Arch at the city's Fourth of July festivities.

On the last weekend of April, 1522 was fired up and her train made ready for the trip. Since 1522 and train would be gone for over two months, the crew cars were stocked full of supplies and souvenirs. On Monday, May 1, the 1522 and her train repositioned from the Museum to BN's (formerly Chicago Burlington and Quincy) North St. Louis yard to be ready for her departure the following morning. On May 2, the train left North St. Louis headed north along the Mississippi to Hannibal, MO, where she was watered and serviced. Continuing on, the train turned west at West Quincy, MO, and crossed Missouri as far as Brookfield, MO, where she tied up for the night. The following day (Wednesday), she completed her trek in North Kansas City, MO.

Thursday, May 4, was the first day of filming. 1522 and train were moved to a siding in the country North of Kansas City where several scenes were shot. A metal framework was added to the engineer's (right) side of the business car rear side window so that lights and cameras could be used to film Gary Sinese at the writing desk at the back window on the left side of the car.

There were two main scenes to be filmed at this location. The first was President Truman sitting at the writing desk looking out the window and seeing a farmer plowing his field with a mule drawn plow. This was supposed to start Truman flashing back to his earlier days. The 1522 rolled back and forth on the siding while the scene was shot again and again but things weren't going well with the plow. The farmer operating it had a radio to coordinate with the movie people since he was off in the distance. The plow got stuck at least once and he had to request help to get it unstuck. He never got much plowed and in the movie, it actually looks like he is re-plowing something he already plowed just to make it work. The scene eventually used doesn't even have Truman looking at the plow - it is in the background as Truman looks out the rear of the train and starts his life flashback.

Second, the train is suddenly brought to a halt out in the middle of nowhere because the railroad has not been paid for running it. This had to be filmed several times to get the kind of stop the director wanted - firm and deliberate without throwing the President out of his chair. Engineer Jeff Schmid finally got the right combination of setting the train brakes to start the rapid slowing of the train followed by setting the engine brake to get the firm, jolting stop.

Additional scenes were also filmed here: The opening scene of the movie where Truman is taking a walk with his Secret Service agents past the 1522 and the scene where Truman's aide walks up with the porters to confront the 1522's fireman (an actor) about the train stopping. If you look at the fireman's hat, there is a big Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineer's union pin in the middle. This pin belonged to Engineer Jeff Schmid and he loaned it to the fireman actor for the scene. Some scenes also shot here have the fireman saying some rather derogatory things about the African American porters and Truman walking along the train with the porters but these scenes never made the final film.

On the set for the first day of filming - SLSTA Crewmen Wellie Lazier, Don Morice, Jeff Schmid and Gary Sinese as President Truman. Photographer unknown, from the collection of Jeff Schmid.

While all the film work was going on, some of the crew hung around the 'set' even though there wasn't much to see or do and they were not allowed near the filming. Many others took the opportunity to drive to Kansas City and visit the Steamboat Arabia Museum - a must-see if you are in the area. With filming complete for the day, the 1522 and train were moved north to St. Joseph where they were turned around and parked for the night.

The next day, filming of the train would be in the small Missouri town of Weston. Since this would be a whistle stop campaign scene, a lot of extras were needed to be the crowd of townspeople. I believe a lot of the small town Missouri scenes were also filmed there but the concentration today was on the whistle stop at the station with 1522.

Apparently tobacco is or was a large crop in the area as there is a large tobacco warehouse at the west end of town near the station. This building was taken over by costuming and makeup and this is where all the extras were prepared for their day's part. Some of us on the crew were able to walk through it that morning while we waited for the train to arrive and it was very busy. The train station at Weston was all spiffed up with a small news stand set up by the tracks and various other props set up around it. A local high school band, dressed in period uniforms, was in place on the end platform. Some old autos were scattered around in the background although it was noted that one of the Buicks used as a prop was actually a '49 - not quite correct for a movie scene in 1948. Oops!

The plan was for the 1522 and train to roll through Weston, back into the siding south of the station, and sit there while filming took place. I think I may have been the one to wonder aloud if the film crew would want a photo run-by of the 1522 and train blasting through town, rather than just slowly rolling by and backing in. The idea was passed to Jim Schwinkendorf, the BN representative with our crew, who took it to the film director. Obviously, the idea was a good one as suddenly cameras were repositioned around to record this run-by. 1522 and the dispatcher were both contacted - dispatch didn't have any issues and, of course, we were always up for a good photo run.

On the train, Engineer Jeff Schmid and Fireman Willie Webster were running along with several spectators in the cab. Jeff got word back to the crew cars to button up the train - no problem for us as we were used to that during photo runs. There was, however, a problem in the cab - Jeff and Willie were wearing appropriate period railroad attire but the rest of the people in the cab, SLSTA crew and the BN pilot engineer, were either in SLSTA uniform or modern clothing. When they got close, Jeff told them to kneel down behind the firebox so they were out of shot. Jim Merkle, always the card, asked what they should do while they knelt and Jeff told him, "Pray!"

The impromptu run-by was a complete success. 1522 and train blasted through at track speed and were shot from at least 2 angles. The run-by was so impressive that it was used not once but THREE times in the final movie! The camera on the engineer's side was barely clear of the track and one of the gals manning it later told all of us she nearly had an orgasm when 1522 went thundering by!! That vantage point film was used twice. The camera on the fireman's side was a bit further away and captured not only the train but part of the station as well. It was also the side in the sunlight so it had a much better display of the 1522.

Frisco 1522 fans may notice in the movie that 1522's whistle does not quite sound like normal. Was it overdubbed by the film company? No, her whistle was safely stored in one of the crew cars. A CB&Q whistle, with a slightly different sound, had been installed on 1522 in preparation for her run across Iowa on the former CB&Q tracks.

With the run-by complete, 1522 and her train backed into the siding to put the open platform of the business car up close to the station. The extras were all gathered around the car's platform - mostly. Since 1948 was being recreated, many of the African American extras were standing off by themselves in a small group well away. A golden retriever kept running through the crowd - it can be seen chasing some children and even coming up to one of the actors in the movie as he walked by. I remarked to one of the film people how well trained that dog was and was told it was not a special dog at all - it was a pet of one of the film people. The dog had the run of the place and was behaving very well with everyone. We crew in uniform had to be careful to stay out of the way and out of shot!

The rest of the day was actually quite boring. The same scenes need to be filmed over and over again from different vantage points. The high school band kept playing the beginning of the Missouri Waltz over and over. This was the official song of Missouri and was often played whenever President Truman made an appearance. Ironically, he never really cared for that song at all and, after hearing it for about 25 times, I'm not sure I blame him. All of us on the set that day probably still think the entire song lasts 30 seconds and is followed by "CUT!!!"

A couple of other interesting things. We set up the souvenir tent well away from the shooting but didn't do a lot of business. However, one lady in charge of a large group of the film crew came over and bought a case of our hats for all the people on her crew. I was going to give her a small discount for buying that many but she wouldn't hear of it. We also got fed a very nice lunch from a fancy catering truck - I recall one of the choices was shark. The only caveat we had was that the film people needed to eat first so they could get back to work so we had to cool our heels for a while. I don't think the extras were fed nearly as well.

The 1522 eventually uncoupled the two Museum cars from the train and departed south back to Kansas City and the business car track. A diesel appeared and coupled onto the Museum cars for the rest of their day's shooting. One of the final scenes filmed was of Truman boarding the train and being handed the famous newspaper with the headline: DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN! This scene actually happened in St. Louis Union Station in 1948, but some artistic license was allowed for the movie. As he holds up the paper, the train starts moving away from the crowd with a jerk. I do remember that they tried very hard not to make it jerk like that but it did anyway. Unfortunately, the diesel's engineer forgot to shift the reverser on one take and the train started back toward the crowd. Fortunately, it did not go very far and everyone was able to step clear.

The Museum's cars were used for more campaign stop filming in the Kansas City bottomlands area but the 1522 was not part of that. Scenes where Truman is addressing a large crowd among a bunch of old, brick factory buildings were shot there. In addition, the movie crew shot numerous scenes of Engineer Jeff Schmid in the cab moving the engine controls. We believe these were shot in the North Kansas City Yard and were only showing his hands so the background didn't matter. Unfortunately, during one take the camera and tripod fell onto Jeff but he survived. None of the scenes made the final cut.

HBO released the film around Christmas time that year. The crew wanted to watch it as a group but it wasn't easy at the time to find a venue with HBO. Finally, we found a meeting room at a local Residence Inn and enjoyed the film there at its premiere.

SLSTA Engineer Jeff Schmid and Gary Sinese as President Truman, wrapping things up for the night on the siding. Photographer unknown, from the collection of Jeff Schmid.

Return to 1522's Home Page