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1916 steam locomotive from Virginia City used in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

The two men are in dirty work clothes and stand inside a garage in front of the train, smiling for the photo.
Lucia Starbuck
KUNR Public Radio
Virginia and Truckee Railroad owner Tom Gray (right) and shop foreman Jared Bissen stand in front of the 1916 steam locomotive used in “Killers of the Flower Moon,” directed by Martin Scorsese, in Virginia City, Nev., on March 7, 2024.

There’s a local connection to Killers of the Flower Moon, directed by Martin Scorsese. It was nominated for 10 Oscars but didn’t take any home during Sunday’s 96th Academy Awards.

If you watched the movie Killers of the Flower Moon, you might have recognized something from Virginia City. The Virginia and Truckee Railroad (V&T) provided a 1916 steam locomotive and three passenger cars for the film.

The V&T crew brought the train from Virginia City to Carson City, disassembled it, and then trucked it to Oklahoma. Shop foreman Jared Bissen spent 28 days on the film set, keeping the boiler hot and the locomotive moving. And because he was an extra, he had to dress the part.

“We were directly representing a specific point in time. Being dressed in period and having everything looking like it should, it’s pretty important,” Bissen said. “Especially when you’re telling a story that important.”

The film follows the nonfiction book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, written by David Grann, depicting true events of white settlers who murdered members of the Osage Nation over their oil-rich lands in Oklahoma.

Although the train scenes were short, they still played an important role. Two of the main characters were both filmed traveling by train. Ernest Burkhart, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, arrived in Oklahoma via train, and Ernest’s wife, Mollie Burkhart, played by Lily Gladstone, rode the train to Washington D.C. to raise awareness about murdered Indigenous people, including her family members.

A passenger car is outside and covered in snow flurries. There’s snow on the ground and on the mountains in the background.
Lucia Starbuck
KUNR Public Radio
One of three passenger cars from the Virginia and Truckee Railroad used in “Killers of the Flower Moon,” directed by Martin Scorsese, in Virginia City, Nev., on March 7, 2024.

V&T Owner Tom Gray said the train used in the movie would’ve been pretty accurate to what people actually rode in the 1920s when the movie took place. Gray also said the timing of the filming worked out perfectly because of the pandemic, keeping some of his crew employed.

“COVID, we’re like, how are we going to survive? We can’t run trains. What are we going to do with employees, good employees?” Gray asked.

It’s not the first time a train from Virginia City has been on the big screen. V&T acquired luggage and a coach car from Gone with the Wind, directed by Victor Fleming. Gray would like to see movies being filmed on-site in Virginia City.

“The state of Nevada gives a lot of tax incentives. If you want an old town, Top Gun Naval Air Station, you want the most beautiful lake in the world, the sunrise,” Gray said. “We don’t have to green-screen anything.”

Gray said trains had a lot of meaning 100 years ago.

“When they pull into the train station, you have the steam, it’s a big deal. ‘The train’s here for the day.’ The new people visiting town are getting off,” Gray said. “The sheriff, the senator, grandma, the young man that just got back from World War I.”

And if you’re wondering, Gray plans to place a plaque on DeCaprio's seat in the movie.

Oppenheimer, directed by Christopher Nolan, won seven Oscars, including best picture. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist primarily responsible for creating the atomic bomb, married his wife Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer, born Katherine Puening, in Virginia City in 1940.

Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning political journalist and the host of KUNR’s monthly show Purple Politics Nevada. She is passionate about reporting during election season, attending community events, and talking to people about the issues that matter most to them.
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