Those that have been following the March Haunt here at Intrigued are already aware that I discovered a huge gap in last year’s post cycle. I completely forgot to put the traditional recap of our annual Haunted Trail of Tears event. Not sure how that happened and I can’t even us the work crutch now that I’ve crossed my 1 year retirement anniversary. Admittedly, there was a giant sigh when this came to light as it is daunting work to get the images ready for such a post. The good news is the background tasks for the prep and tear down phases is now complete. Time to get that checked off my to-do list!
Each year the first item on the project plan is to open up all the trails in our woods. Since we have a large number of guests that attend, we want to make sure the trails are easy to walk, free of downed obstacles and even more important, falling hazards addressed. Adding to the importance is the fact the event happens mostly in the dark with little to no ambient light. The month leading up to the date requires a lot of time on Big Orange.
Mow all the grass/weeds down, haul off dead trees, smooth out the mole highways and cut back the god-awful invasive Multiflora Rose – a constant pain in my ass. At least our Locust Trees drop their thorns within the perimeter of the tree where the Rose sneaks under cover of night and plants itself where it can inflict the most pain. After a month of hard work and buckets of blood loss, the trails are in good enough shape and ready for a final mowing a couple of days prior to the big date.
During this same timeframe, night activities turn to prop prep. All the tubs have to be brought down from their storage racks in the outbuilding and those requiring assembly and/or batteries are brought down to the basement. That also brings on one of the bigger reoccurring expenses for the event – BATTERIES. Took this picture of a small portion of the required DC power. I stopped counting when I got to 100 9Vs, 35 AAAs and then 245 AAs.
Hit the jump to go behind the scenes at the Haunted Trail of Tears! (don’t be scared, we turned the lights on)
We used to get two years out of each battery, however, now that the event spans across two nights, the batteries get sucked down pretty good and rough guess 40% are fully drained – the recycling stores are always shocked when I bring them the empties ha! Unfortunately, all the Halloween gear has to be packed to minimize space vs keeping a logical grouping (all the clowns together, zombies, spiders etc.). The motto is “fit every cranny”, which means each tub has to be opened and sorted.
All the larger Poseys have to be assembled (they are designed to tear down into the smallest space possible). It takes a solid 2 weeks just to get the pieces organized and screwed back together – I always tell Linda there isn’t a chance in hell someone tries to break into our house at this point – a flashlight shined through a basement window would scare the crap out of them.
Most of the work was already done when this picture was taken, but the back half of the basement is used for battery production. Every prop has to have the required batteries installed and then each proprietary prop sensors needs its own 9V. NOTHING is more annoying that dealing with those child safety screws and often those are not replaced.
Once all the batteries are inserted, each prop and prop sensor is tested and repairs made as needed. It is time to start packaging for delivery to the trail. Each year we create a master plan on how the trail is going to flow and what themes are going to be where. Each area is given a specific number and corresponding tubs labeled. No longer worried about space, beyond being able to close the lid so we can stack them on the trailer. Posey’s go to trail assembled so that frees up a lot of space in the tubs.
So you wanna hold a Halloween event…well, start investing in these now!
Guests are always amazed we run the entire trail on two external circuits. It used to be one, but we had a new well drilled in the valley so I dropped a power line in while they were trenching the water lines. This reduced the need for a lot of extra cords – yes, the above pile is less than it used to be and doesn’t count the cords my partner in haunt brings over (basically double that easily) hehehe. All the main trunks are put down first (heaviest gauge) and then the prop feeders are added as needed during the build work.
We have a large gully between the house and the trail site. We used to haul everything in my truck down to that point and then hauled it from there. Now that I have a decent bridge built (do not trust a truck on it), I can haul straight through with the utility vehicle and a trailer – big time savings as I can drive right to the spot labeled on the tub and drop it off – days ahead of the event.
Linda is ecstatic she doesn’t have to hang on the back of our old ATV anymore. She was the big push to switch. You can get a feel for how the trails look from these shots. It gets thicker as you move farther into the woods.
Most of the props I build are able to withstand quite a lot of punishment, but there is a limit when it comes to all the servos and wiring that are attached. For some, we give them a little extra care and they get driven down individually.
Linda is always thrilled during those times – as you will see later on.
Mother Nature has a way of making sure there is hard labor needed prior to every party. For a number of years, I was literally building at least one new bridge every other year. That has subsided with the last one I built, but the rains took a toll on my foot bridges this year and needed one needed to be shored up – last thing I want is someone losing their footing. We also put up a lot of caution tape to keep people away from the natural hazards side drop offs and the large stream that runs through the middle of the property.
Load after load is taken down to their drop zone.
Sometimes, the local zombies are nice enough to give us a hand – LITERALLY. Okay, that was a cheap joke, but they are much better drivers than you would expect.
Another “I am thrilled” Linda shot. She denies it, but pretty sure I heard her press the accelerator all the way to the floor right then.
I am absolutely shocked that I only have one picture of my brother Ron in the shots I had – definitely need to fix that next year – he is a godsend to the event. He is my constant mentor on the electrical circuits year round and comes down on the weekends leading up to the party to help get the props ready, troubleshooting and building the trail. I cannot imagine being able to get this all done without his help. Note, he is the one in the hat below ha!
The other linchpin in the Haunted Trail is my partner in haunt Paul. We’ve been putting this extravaganza on for over 13 years. He enjoys Halloween as much as we do and also spends a good portion of the year building and acquiring props for the trail. Paul also plans and runs all the extension cords on the trail (which means he is also giving blood thanks to the Multiflora).
Probably a good time to mention this event does take its toll on me physically. You might notice from the pictures as the days get closer I start getting thinner and more exhausted looking – sleep is limited and far between at this point and typically I’m still training for an October trail race which doesn’t help the situation. Was still feeling good during the witches assembly phase.
Starting to get the cemetery area built – the new Gargoyle Sentry (link here) was already put in place.
Time to bring down Ned (link here).
Decided to add in some wider shots for this phase of the effort. Oftentimes we are focused on a particular prop and we forget to try and capture more of the overall feel. Pieces are starting to show up in the cemetery, yet far from done.
Same area, but from a different angle. This is actually the turnaround point of the trail before you head back into the thicker trees – also the part where the props start get more adult oriented (bloody).
Just another shot looking back into the partially built cemetery.
Added this shot because it shows a new element for the trail this year. Paul and I have continually struggled with laying out the trail in such a manner that nobody gets lost or gets short-changed by taking a wrong turn. It can get a bit tricky navigating in the darkness regardless of how familiar you are with the woods. This year we tried using rope lights on the ground to help people get around. Number one rule – NEVER cross a rope light and you should be fine.
It also had another plus as it added more overall light to the area. Some of the guests are really used to the city lights and taken back by the shear darkness beyond what moonlight can pry through the canopy.
You are looking at the clown section – nothing and mean nothing is scarier than a creepy clown hanging out in the woods. It is well know I absolutely hate clowns – ironic in the sense our trail has quite the infestation.
It is the morning of the event and I am damn tired. Stress levels are pegged worrying about power, all the new props working and the fact I’m always trying to get everything turned on before the guests start arriving – that is at least 100 props that have to have their sensors turned on and any power issues fixed – one year we lost an entire circuit 30 minutes before the party started – ended up being a bad splitter – never would have expected that hunk of plastic would go bad, but 29 minutes later we had it isolated and swapped out just in time.
Oh, and I have to get the flaming pumpkins carved for the Headless Horseman. Tired and hacking away with a large knife – not a good combination.
Things looking good now. Did a quick run through of the “kiddie” area to make sure all the air blown props are upright. We set up the trail so everyone can enjoy at least part of it. The deeper you go, the more adult oriented it gets. Parents can choose what level they want their kids to be exposed to – we take no responsibility for any resulting nightmares (kids or adults) and secretly high-five whenever we see tears – there is a reason our trail was given that name hehehe.
This next shot does show one drawback of our woods. Our house sits on the top of a large valley. There is a large elevation drop to the big stream and then the rest of the property climbs back up out of the valley on the other side. Most of haunted trails meander along the flats in the valley, but you still have to go up and down a rather big hill to start and end. We warn the guests they will get some exercise and so far everyone has made it. This is the reason I have no issues with the big hills during the ultras – I have the perfect training grounds (that is just slight plateau in the middle of the hill, it shoots up after that and then drops more as you go the other way)
Okay, the event happens now and there is an upcoming post that will take you through the day and another through the night walkthroughs.
Figured I’d go ahead and touch upon the post event effort. Up until maybe 4 years ago, the event staging was done the day before and the day of. Guests would arrive starting at 5pm and as soon as the last one left (usually well after 2 or 3am), the tear down would start as we had to get all the props to safety before bad weather came. Since then, our new prop sensors are waterproof and have a switch to quickly turn the prop off. Now that the trail has grown in size and extended to two days, we can afford to take longer to get it all pulled up – usually a week now. If nothing else, we need the rest – working with limited sleep to get it ready, holding the event and then trying to get it pulled out of the valley that night was brutal (again, big thanks to Ron and Paul on all those front). We also have a growing army of volunteers that have been helping put the trail together. Again, without them, not sure this could happen – at least at this scale.
One of the reasons for going with the zone labeled tubs is I could point a volunteer to a tub and they could focus on putting up the props any way they wanted in that area – always enjoyed seeing their creativity!
In general, the tear down is a little easier – you do not have to be as careful with everything as they all have to be disassembled for storage anyway. There are few signature props that still need additional care – another Linda’s annoyed face.
A trailer full of dead clown bodies – “honest officer, look at them, they were clowns for heaven’s sake, I did society a favor….why are you cuffing me”
One thing we learned early on with the trail is the valley gets damp at night, even if it doesn’t rain (like it did the last two years). The first year we put some props away when they were still damp – big mistake. Now we haul them to the outbuilding and let them dry out for at least a week before we start breaking them down. This just one of the three bays that get filled up in this process. After that week, we pull all the batteries, disassemble every prop as much as possible and practice our spatial relationship skills to get them back in the same number of tubs they came out of… and hopefully find space for all the new additions we made!
Hope you enjoyed a little bit of the behind the scenes work required to put on our Halloween event. It is a lot of work, but Halloween has always been my favorite time of the year and based on the feedback we get, our guests really enjoy the night(s) out. Good friends, good drinks and a night of frights and scares – what more would you want out of life (besides less clowns ha).
Be sure and catch the detail walkthroughs that will be heading your way soon.
Stay Calm and Haunt On!