The 1939 movie “Stagecoach” gave Dad the idea for this Old West photo. He envisioned a silhouetted stagecoach with the mountains in the background. It sounds simple, but it required an enormous amount of planning.
Dad relied on his friend Red Wolverton for the stagecoach and horses. Red is well known in the photo and movie industry. He, his family, his horses and stagecoach all appeared in the 1993 movie “Tombstone”, among many other Westerns. With the utmost confidence Dad chose Red to supply and drive the stagecoach for this shot.
Red brought the coach and team to Mendoza Canyon, Arizona early in the morning the day of the photo shoot. Not too long after arriving, the sky opened up and a gully washer let loose above the canyon. Water filled he sandy wash, normally bone dry, and it rose so high Red couldn’t navigate the stagecoach across it to the photo shoot location. Everyone cooled their heels for an hour or two waiting for things to settle down. Red even did a little cowboy cooking while he waited.
Once conditions improved, the whole crew crossed the wash and got ready for the photo. Dad chose the location for the mountains in the background, not because it was a well-used road. So Red set up practice runs with the horses to get them used to the newly created path they were going to travel.
Right before the shoot started, Dad and his assistant tied cheesecloth bags loaded with Fuller’s Earth to the wheels of the stagecoach. Prop masters and special effects folks frequently use Fuller’s Earth in the movies because of its nice tan color. It sure looks like natural dirt.
For our shoot, each time the wheel made a turn, it would hit the bags of dirt and release dust. In addition to the wheel bags, Dad spread Fuller’s over the path the horses would travel. The flying dust reflected the sunlight, helping to make light beams visible for the naked eye.
After a long, sometimes frustrating day, everything finally came together for the shoot. The sun moved lower in the sky. Dad got his cameras ready for stagecoach action. He used two Nikon FTN camera rigs for this session. One camera sported a 50mm lens and the other used a 85mm lens. Dad ensconced both cameras in plastic bags to protect them from the dust.
In the end, Dad only had three passes of the stagecoach to get the action and the light just right. The final image pleased him, though. He successfully took the photo he envisioned and turned it into a real Old West photo.
He was so happy with the shoot, he didn’t mind when back at Red’s ranch his assistant hosed a thick brown layer of grime off his clothes with a garden hose. Even then, the clothes didn’t look so great, but he didn’t really care. He had more Old West photos to create.
If you enjoyed reading about the Evening Stage, check out these images from our Old West gallery.