Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020 – Prep and Setup

Well, the time has come for the massive end of the year summary stats padding.  If there is one set of posts that have a dramatic impact on those numbers it is the Halloween Haunted Trail Project posts that have the biggest impact – specifically in the number of images used during the course of the year.  Probably not an extremely relevant number for my readers, but one I have been keeping since the beginning in my yearly assessments.  If nothing else, it is a barometer for how productive I was.   It goes hand in hand with the word count.  Was the ratio of words to pictures in the ballpark as I am sure my readers prefer the pretty pictures to my ramblings.  The Haunted Trail posts are always skewed to the pictures due to the size of the event.  So, without further ramble, let’s hit the trail.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Oops, before we hit the trail, we need to talk about all the prep work that comes with putting this event on.   Linda and I had long debates on whether we were going to hold the annual party this year.  As you know, the pandemic had taken its bite out of the year and we were not sure whether we could pull this off and keep everyone safe.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Hit the jump to learn what it is like behind the scenes at the Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears

More importantly, would anyone be willing to come with fears of being put in contact with a carrier.  The debate went on for weeks.  One day it would be on and the next day new thoughts we should just skip until next year.  Not being able to come to consensus between ourselves, we decided we would let our friends decide.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

After drawing up plans to keep everyone safe, we sent out a request to our regular guests and asked them what they thought of the plan and the critical question, if we built it, would they come.   Although there were some individuals that didn’t feel it was worth the risk.  What we didn’t expect was the overwhelming positive feedback.  I think people were ready to get out of the house.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Actually, it was more about finally getting a chance to see friends.  A lot of our invites are predominantly through work contacts.  Since March we have been remote and there has been very little opportunity to engage each other outside of a remote meeting from time to time.  Based on the feedback and the numbers, a decision was made to hold the trail.  Now the hard part begins as it was time to start getting prepared.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

For ease, I brought all the storage bins out of the outbuilding to the basement.  This would allow us to work on building the props and handling any electronic repairs that needed to be done.  Always amazed at how many things break between the events.  This is likely due to the wear and tear of getting everything pulled out of the woods and stored away.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Every night we would be in the basement unloading tubs and assembling the props.  There was also a lot of new prop building going on – we will save the specifics of that for more detailed project posts.  The more we worked on it, the more it started looking like Spirit’s Warehouse.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

The hardest part is getting all the batteries installed on the props and in our proprietary heat sensors we use to control the triggering.  Hundreds of batteries are needed to power all the props and each sensor needs a 9V.  The first picture in this post is just a fraction of the overall needs.  Most times we can get 2 or 3 events out of the same batteries which keeps some of the costs down.  This year there were some changes that had us concerned about how much we could rely on older batteries – will cover the changes in a later post.  This meant we had to rely on primarily new batteries which upped the overall party cost.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Need to give Linda big credit here.  As I was still working during the day and she was retired, she offered to install all the batteries. This took days as you generally have to unscrew the battery compartment on the prop, install the batteries, screw the battery compartment back on, open up the sensor, install the 9V, replace the sensor lid and then the all important testing.  Imagine having to listen to a crap load of Halloween sounds non-stop for days.  Very appreciative of her assistance – will be interesting to see if she volunteers for that task next year ha!

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

The other big task during the prep is getting all the Poseys built and dressed.  I have been doing this for so long now I can usually put them together in my sleep.  Over the years I have been able to refine the design to make the build and tear down easier and each year I add a new design element based on the previous year’s experience.  Changes for this year included permanently attaching the feet and making sure all the joints were screwed in tightly – last year we left body parts strewn out along the trail as we were hauling everything down.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Then there are all the repairs needed to get the broken items ready for the trail – every year there are a few casualties that just cannot be fixed and have to be discarded or repurposed as part of another prop.  Fortunately, all the new props coming in are always more than the losses.  Once everything was ready to go, we had to start staging everything out in the woods.  Usually, we have to haul them in small batches to a stream that cuts through our property – then hand carry all the items over a foot bridge to their desired location.  A friend of ours retired earlier in the year and offered me his trailer which I scooped up immediately.  This allowed me to load up more props at one and drive them across the foot bridge via our utility vehicle and drop them off at the exact location.  HUGE TIME SAVINGS!

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

It also minimized the damage the rough trails usually inflict on the props.  It still takes days to get everything staged to where the props will be placed.  Big thanks to Sung and David for coming and helping out.  We lost some of the usual help thanks to Covid and those two took up a lot of the gap.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

My partner in haunt Paul was up for the task again this year so he was out putting all his props out as well.  Another big help was my brother Ron.  Once again, he was gracious enough to come down the week before the party and help with all the prep work.  He is also the brains behind a lot of the electronics and sensors and is able to help with all the wiring/soldering and repair work.  He might actually enjoy the work as much as I do – must be some defect in our genes ha.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Some props are too fragile to be thrown on the trailer.  Those all have to be delivered one at a time to their trail destination.  This usually means Ron has to hold on to it while I drive the UTV down the trails.  Makes for some great pre-trail pictures.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

The Nightwings are always a pain in the butt to get down there.  Not only are they huge, their articulation linkages are quite floppy forward and back – almost acts like a real bat wing.  Also means I have to drive nearly blind making that part of the prep quite.. well, let’s go with humorous.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

This year Ned got a makeover based on it failing during the event last year.  This made his structure a lot stronger, but still not willing to risk putting it on the trailer.  Looks like Ron was trying to fend off a nasty looking spider skeleton … with a smile on his face.  Eventually we get everything staged to its specific areas.  Oh, for my own reference next year, I placed labels on all the tubs as to what area they belonged in – this worked out very well as the props were grouped correctly and I could drive around dropping them off without having to get out to inspect what was in them  and take pieces out and put in different locations – definitely do this again next year.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Once staged, the next phase kicks in.  Oddly enough, this is the most work and the most fun.  It takes a lot to get everything in place, wired where needed and staked or tied down to prevent the elements from destroying it.  The fun part is being able to be creative on the various scenes.  The trail is huge and meanders with multiple paths throughout the woods.  We want decorations along the entirety of that path so you always have something to enjoy along the way.  It also provides a guide as to the path we want you to take – just go from prop to prop. There is one large open area in the middle we use as a 360 degree Halloween explosion.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

In case you are not familiar with the trail, we set it up so it gets scarier as you go.  This allows parents to monitor how much they want to expose their children to – when it gets to scary they can cut the walk short and get their kids to safety.  You are looking at the early part of the trails here which are intended to produce less nightmares.  We do not want the tears coming until later in the walk hehehehe.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

I don’t know about these supposed “birders” and their affinity towards CATS!

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

We have tubs and tubs full of skeletons and bones.  A lot of times someone else is in charge of putting them out and always cracks me up when I see the end products.  Can’t remember if Ron or I put this one up – this scene cracks me up every time I see it.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Tried to give more of a full trail view in the post this year.  Usually we have prop specific stage shots and it is hard to get the whole trail perspective.  These shots show some of the progress as the build was taking place – there will be tons of props added before we finish.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Starting to come together.  This shows the multiple paths that are used.  This zombie area can be one of the scarier parts when it goes dark – as mentioned parents can opt to avoid this area and take another, less nightmare, path to the right.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

Looks like I had a shot of that path as well – this is the third path to the right.  There is actually another path to the far left that can be taken which Paul uses for most of his props.  One thing we always struggle with is the lack of ambient lighting on the trails at night.  The tree canopy is thick and being in the country when it goes dark – it goes completely black.  Definitely a plus from a scary perspective, but we do not want our guests getting lost or worse, getting injured because they took a wrong turn into the streams or various drop offs in the valley.  The lights produced by the props themselves help some.  I also made new battery powered LED spotlights to shine on dangerous areas.  It worked better this year – still need to work on other ideas.

Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears 2020

This is only a small fraction of the overall build.  Just wanted to give you a feel for what is involved.  Getting all the props ready took a good solid 2+ weeks to get done.  The trail staging, running all the electrical cords, placing all the caution tape and the actual building took over a week.  We lucked out with some decent weather leading up to the party allowing for the extended build.  The weather does become a factor during the party – more on that in the coming posts.

Stay tuned for the day walk through and the then the always popular night version.

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