THE LONE RANGER
On Track and Off: The Trains
What happens when a producer and director need three 19th-century American trains for several of the most
ambitious action scenes ever committed to film? "We build them," states Jerry Bruckheimer, "just as we built
several full-size ships for the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movies. There's no substitute for reality, and given what
we needed to do with those trains, the real thing was the only way to go."
The dilemma Bruckheimer and Verbinski
faced in preparing "The Lone Ranger" was
how to accomplish the mighty task of shooting
what was in the screenplay -- nothing less
than some of the most complex and hair-
raising train action ever devised. Possibilities
included creating miniatures, using CGI, or
utilizing extant period trains, but the trains
in the screenplay were so well defined and
such an important element of the drama and
action that only the real thing would do.
"When you go into the exacting mind of Gore Verbinski, who knows camera angles, speeds, tilts and duration
of shots, then it becomes very technical and specific," explains production manager Tom Hayslip. "As the trains
became a more important element of the movie, we started
worrying about how they could do what they were needed
to do. How can they go fast enough? How can they stop fast
enough? In a way, the trains became characters, much like the
"Black Pearl" did in the 'Pirates' movies. They lived, breathed,
worked, and failed us. Sometimes they would be great and
other times not. There was a lot of head scratching as we got
into the specificity of what Gore needed out of those trains."
The train department of "The Lone Ranger" was coordinated
first by Jim Clark, who brought years of traditional knowledge
to the task, and then by Jason Lamb and assistant train coordinator Luke Johnson, with their contemporary
engineering and logistics knowledge. The building of the two 250-ton trains, and the tracks on which they rolled,
was a remarkable collaboration between several of the film's departments and a major engineering feat by any
Originally, the production planned to utilize existing track in
a different part of New Mexico. Explains Hayslip, "They had
already started construction on Colby down in the southern
part of the state, which was chosen because there was already
some railroad track there that could be used. But upon scouting
it, we found that we would have to upgrade that track in order
to travel up to 30 miles per hour on it, as well as build extra
track and share it with the mining company that owns it. We
immediately shifted gears and started the process of building
our own track and trains."
The towns of Colby and Promontory Summit were built with
five miles of track surrounding them in an oval, along with
a couple of miles of double track so Verbinski could shoot
side-by-side train sequences. The construction of these
tracks required 16 weeks of building by Gandy Dancer, an
Albuquerque-based railroad and excavating service company
under the supervision of Joey Hutchens.
Gandy Dancer hauled in 3,889,425 pounds of the 33-foot rails,
bars, tie plates, and ties on 82 flatbed truckloads from Blythe,
California. A whopping 60,429 pounds of bolts, washers, and
turnouts were sent on two flatbed trucks from Kansas City, and 402,000 pounds of ties and spikes from Stockton,
California. Once the materials were collected, the company set to work building something akin to a whole new
railway line in the dusty Rio Puerco desert, and another mile of track also had to be laid for the Sleeping Man
Mine location in Creede, Colorado, for the additional train work there.
Back in a Sun Valley, California, workshop, Academy Award-winning special effects coordinator John Frazier
("Spider-Man 2," "Oz The Great and Powerful") was busy building two full-size trains to run on the new tracks,
the historic Jupiter and what came to be known as the Colby train, which was later converted into Latham
Cole's train, the Constitution. The trains were period authentic down to the last detail, except for two important
elements: first, the locomotives would work on modern hydraulic power rather than steam, and second, the
railway cars were all built like shipping containers, so that they could be lifted on and off the train chassis or the
flatbed trucks that comprised the road rigs.
"The trains have hydraulic hoses going up into the coal cars,
known as tenders, where we hide two 1000-horsepower
Cummins diesel motors," explains Frazier. "We have
special effect steam and black smoke to give the illusion
that they're period trains." Frazier built the locomotives
for the trains, while the art and construction departments
designed and built the 15 period railroad cars. Since the
locomotives were not actually powered by steam, he had
to be concerned about realistic smoke effects -- and how
to control them.
The trains were driven from a computer inside of the cab, and if Verbinski was filming inside of the locomotive,
the controls were moved back into one of the cars. However, a real train engineer was needed to control the
braking system, so that in case of an emergency he could override the safety brake, which was the only control
not computerized. And although Frazier engineered the trains
to go 30 miles per hour, when more power was necessary,
modern diesel locomotives were put in play to either tow or
push the period trains. "Our trains are basically movie props,
so we didn't want to wear them out," notes Frazier. "So we
used our trains in big, wide shots, and when the camera was
tighter or inside one of the cars, the diesels were put into
In terms of design, production designer Crash McCreery points out that the trains in "The Lone Ranger" are "built bigger than they actually were in that time period,
because Gore wanted to give audiences a sense that these things were beasts tearing through the country. The
Colby train was a utilitarian passenger train, but Cole's train, the Constitution, was much more elegant, and it
was fun to design his lounge and dining cars -- it had to be a very opulent, masculine environment."
Art directors Domenic Silvestri and Naaman Marshall were assigned to work only on the trains, and they took
their inspiration both from history and the needs of the fictional film. As such, they definitely took liberties with
the two vehicles that met head-to-head at Promontory Summit for the Golden Spike ceremony on May 10, 1869.
As Silvestri notes, the film's Jupiter train, aka Central Pacific No. 60, "is relatively close to the real thing," but the
Constitution diverges from the historic train simply known as Union Pacific No. 119. "The Constitution is tied to
the character of Latham Cole, so it's more about his character than being historically accurate. We looked at a lot
of photographs of the period when designing the Constitution, and Gore wanted it to be big and mean-looking, a
black and silver coal-burning villain as opposed to the wood-burning Jupiter." The locomotives of the Jupiter and
Constitution were authentic down to the last detail, including the plaques adorning their exteriors.
Set decorator Cheryl Carasik made certain to decorate the interior of the railroad cars with objects that would
swing to the motion of the train, even down to curtains with trim on the edge especially chosen for their
movement. As for Latham Cole's personal train cars, Carasik
admits, "They're a little over-the-top for a man, but Cole is
The final, massive action sequence of the film also required
specially designed trucks to tow railroad cars during the
road rig work. "The third act train sequence traverses many
different looks," explains Hayslip. "It starts in the desert, then
goes to high scrub, then down to low hills, then foothills,
and on to alpine. Of course, we weren't able to find rail track
traversing all those looks, so we thought early on that we
could instead bring our train into those environments. The road rigs are our actual train cars, lifted off and placed
onto flatbed trailers, some of them up to 75 feet long."
With extensive need for actors and stunt players to perform on the roofs of the trains, platforms had to be built
on the sides of the railroad cars, with camera-mounted Technocranes capturing the action. "But once we got all
that stuff on," Hayslip continues, "we still had to get down the road. So we've got a 10-foot-wide train, 6-foot-
wide Technocrane platform on one side, and ballast -- usually big water barrels -- to keep it steady on the other
side. Meanwhile, some of those rural roads we shot on were only 22 feet wide, so we would be clearing the trees
by maybe two inches."
To Armie Hammer, working or even observing the road rigs was nothing short of awesome. "When you see the
rigs working their way down a highway, almost 100 feet long and followed by support vehicles and police cars
behind them, it's breathtaking. After about an hour of shooting, all the townspeople are lined up on the side of
the road, never having seen anything like it. Just the magnitude of it is amazing."
All that was needed then were actors crazy enough to actually stand on top of trains moving upwards of 40 miles
per hour down mountain roads with hairpin curves and long drops below. Luckily for Gore Verbinski and Jerry
Bruckheimer, they found them. Says William Fichtner, "I'll tell you one thing... it gets your heart rate going. It's
great, thrilling, takes your breath away, but yeah, a little scary." In one scene, Ruth Wilson, as Rebecca Reid, is
dragged by Fichtner as Butch Cavendish to the top of the train. "Bill spins me around and threatens to push me off the side of the train," she recalls. "So I've got one foot on
and one foot off the train, going about 30 miles per hour. It
was incredibly exhilarating!"
Adds Barry Pepper, who plays the film's eccentric Captain
Fuller, "Just driving up and down through the mountains and
forests, seeing this amazing scenery, doing all these gunfights
as the trains are careening around these corners -- it was
absolutely incredible. You get the real rush of wind coming in,
branches hitting the side of the train, people bouncing and
rattling all over the place, lanterns swinging, and it's just alive
and electric. It's something you just can't create on a soundstage. It was incredible what Gore pulled off. I mean,
he had Johnny Depp running on top of the train, with me shooting at him through the ceiling. It was a testament,
too, to what Disney was willing to do to change the paradigm of the cowboy movie. The Western will forever be
changed after this; it will set the gold standard much like 'Pirates of the Caribbean' did with that genre. That's
what Jerry, Gore, and Johnny do, and it's amazing to be a part of it."
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