UNION – Just beyond the gates of the Illinois Railway Museum, crews from the NBC hit drama “Chicago Fire” prepared to tackle one of the series’ biggest accident scenes yet.
A train had derailed and crashed into a warehouse, crumpling up several cars and rolling a tanker.
And yes, there was fire.
Using about 150 extras recruited from the area, crews began filming Friday. Filming was expected to continue Monday through Thursday at the museum, 7000 Olson Road, Union.
Union might be a distance from Chicago, and its farm fields and country roads much less urban, but it served as an ideal setting for the scene, those involved said.
“This is one of the most amazing resources,” said Bob Hudgins, location manager for the “Chicago Fire” filming crew. “It’s a rare entity.”
With its capacity and equipment, the museum and its campus have the ability to serve as a locale for basically any time period, he said.
When film crews are looking for trains to use, they often call upon Union, Museum Director Nick Kallas said.
Those involved said the scene was likely one of the most elaborate to be filmed for television in that amount of time.
The scene is scheduled to air as part of this season’s seventh episode of “Chicago Fire,” which is based on the firefighters and drama surrounding the fictitious Chicago Firehouse 51.
Dressed in their fire and paramedic gear, the stars of the show chatted and awaited their scenes while the extras were led as a group to their staging area. Many tried to catch a glimpse of their favorite characters from the series.
“He’s looking good,” Kara Repsys of Crystal Lake said as she glanced over at Taylor Kinney, who plays “Lt. Kelly Severide” in the series. Kinney had sat down and propped himself against a tree to relax. All of the series’ regulars were nearby.
A fan of the show, Repsys brought her 7-year-old daughter, Lizzy, to be an extra. Lizzy became a passenger on the train.
“It’s been my dream to be on TV,” she said. “I like the camera.”
Her mother brought along homework for Lizzy to work on in between filming, having to temporarily pull her out of second grade at South Elementary School in Crystal Lake.
“I think as a parent you want to fulfill your child’s dream,” she said. “She talks about wanting to be on the Disney Channel. At 7 years old, this is something she’ll always remember. ... It’s neat this is in our backyard.”
Others came for similar reasons, to experience something unique that they might never get to experience again. Some were “walking wounded,” while others were without makeup.
Fans of the show Peg and Steve Wienckowski of Cary said they thought, “Why not?” when the casting call came out. Their children grown and Steve self-employed while Peg works part time, they took time off from work to participate.
“We just have our dog with her ankles crossed waiting for us at home,” Peg Wienckowski said. “This is something different, kind of cool.”
“Chicago Fire” crews had arrived earlier in the week to prepare the setting.
They added a makeshift front to one of the museum’s storage buildings, which provided the “Industrial park” feel they were looking to create. A car of the train was embedded in the front of the building, while others were strewn through a muddy, grassy field.
Modified only slightly, the train involved was a former Northwestern commuter train built in 1954 and in service until the early 1990s.
“These particular cars, people used to ride to work in every day,” Kallas said. “They’re trying to get that same effect, people riding to work and an accident occurs.”
He believed the scene was trying to somewhat re-create the 2008 train collision in Chatsworth, Calif., in which a commuter train collided with a freight train. That collision resulted in 25 deaths, but Kallas didn’t think the “Chicago Fire” scene involved fatalities.
He welcomed the film crews, just as he has done in the past with seven or eight other projects, including 1992’s “A League of Their Own” and most recently “Transformers 4.”
Crews for “Transformers 4,” expected to be released next year, were on set at the museum for two days a couple of weeks ago. The museum also served as the setting for parts of the pilot for the new ABC series “Betrayal.”
“I think the really good thing is the publicity and notoriety it brings to the county,” Kallas said.
“While McHenry County is known as a great tourist attraction ... we’re also a cultural community. We’re a part of that scene.”