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Engineering Tragedy Film Project

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We need your help! We started researching a lost story in American history in 2012.  This documentary, Engineering Tragedy: The Ashtabula Train Disaster, tells the story of the events surrounding the bridge collapse in Ashtabula, Ohio, which took down a luxury train in 1876, killing 97 of the 170 passengers.  We cover the design and building of the bridge, the disaster, and the investigations that uncovered the causes of this horrible tragedy. 

The Ashtabula Bridge was built and collapsed in the historical context of the tensions between the first big business in America, the railroad industry, along with the people who used the railroads and  State and Federal governments that had no desire to regulate them. During this time of great industrial growth and technological development, people were both fascinated and fearful of the many new innovations that were claiming to make their lives easier. However, the lack of regulatory oversight of steam trains, steamships, and bridges, coupled with experimentation and huge expansion, led to an accident rate that aroused great alarm for the American public. For the first time in American history, the country was not being led by elected politicians, but by the captains of industry. The loss of ninety-five lives in a small city off the shores of Lake Erie stunned the entire nation! Ashtabula forced our nation to look at safety issues because of the public outcry brought about by the national press. This was not just one more railroad accident or bridge failure; it was a foreshadowing of the coming Populist Movement of 1891. People were demanding the government take action regarding the railroad’s abysmal safety record. Changes were made and laws were passed because of Ashtabula. This disaster was a crucial moment that fueled change in the relationship between big business, government, and the public. Every movement needs a rallying point: The Ashtabula bridge collapse was one of those moments.

After learning all the details, we knew this was a story that had to be told. After several years of research, we wrote a script in 2014. We pitched the show to several grant funding organizations which helped us get started.  In 2015, PBS liked this documentary so much that they picked it up even before we started filming!

In 2019, we began filming even though we had not yet raised all the funds we needed. We have filmed in a number of wonderful locations. With careful budgeting of limited funds, using all volunteers, and with companies coming alongside to donate food, supplies, and equipment we are 80% finished with filming. Help us complete this documentary to bring this lost story back to life. 

Check out our website to learn more about the story and our filming.

All the funds we are raising will go directly to the hard costs of filming and post-production animations and effects.  We are dedicated to finishing this documentary by the fall of 2020. It will air on WQLN, our PBS sponsoring station first, and then sent to American Public Television for national distribution.

Sneak Peek Video #1: 
Sneak Peek Video #2: 
Sneak Peek Video #3 (Rough-Cut multiple scenes) - 
Movie Magic - Burning Train Car Video:

The Big Dig Video (Not in Documentary, but shows other work we have been doing towards research) 

Thank you for your help!


  • David Corts
    • $1,000 
    • 4 yrs
  • Anonymous
    • $500 
    • 4 yrs
  • Andy Stevenson
    • $50 
    • 4 yrs
  • Mike and Jeanne Cassidy
    • $50 
    • 4 yrs
  • Debbie Weinkamer
    • $50 
    • 4 yrs


Len Brown
Canal Fulton, OH

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