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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 standard.

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 play."

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 over-the-top."

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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