I always underestimate the amount of work it takes to get the multiple posts out covering the Haunted Trail of Tears each year. Thinking this is why I subconsciously put it off so long ha. The good news is the hard part is past. The prep/teardown (link here) and day walk (link here) posts have a ton of shots that all have to be processed and then I try to focus more on the details and backstory when presenting them. Today’s night walk post still has a ton of pictures which need even more work due to the limited lighting on the trail, however, I can just focus on the experience writing it up thanks to the those other two lead ins.
So, less words today, but hoping you enjoy a sampling from the big night. The Headless Horseman prop is the prop that gets the most attention throughout the night, both from our guests and us. The flaming pumpkin is quite the entertainer, but a hollowed out pumpkin full of kerosene in the woods takes extra caution.
Hit the jump to see the various sights on the Haunted Trail of Tears 2021
Never had a problem beyond overfilling it the first time and having to delay the lighting until it evaporated off the stand.
Now if I can just get him to actually throw it – now that would be cool – dangerous as hell..but definitely cool. Note the stand is being picked up more than the naked eye does due to the longer exposure. At distance it does look like it is being held by the prop.
Mainly have to worry about the wind knocking the pumpkin off .. worse towards the prop. The surrounding trees do cut a lot of the wind down and nature has a way of calming down once the sun drops. This year I took a video so you can experience the full effect.
Yep, the zombie horse has lights and sound effects as well!
Next up was the signature prop from 2020 – the Coffin Escape. The first year was a bit tricky for this prop, but during the off-season it went through a major update complete with new power source and improved mechanics. For some reason I forgot to take a still of it this year, but like the horseman, managed to take a video.
Unfortunately, the skeleton opening and closing the coffin from the left side got lost in the darkness. Check out the tutorial post for a better view of what it looks like at night (link here). Note, this year we added a sound board on it which worked out great. Note, I kept this close to the house as well so I could keep an eye on its new LiPo battery – those can be a bit sketchy.
Now time to start the decent into the valley. As noted in the day walk post, the trail is designed to start out tame and progresses in the scare department as you go deeper and deeper into the woods. This allows the smaller kids to enjoy the fun as well. The first prop I ever built greets everyone at the start.
Linda is a huge Minions fan so I picked this up for her a couple of years ago. It stays together quite well for the tiny fan they put in it.
Our older blow ups are starting to show their age and getting gaps in their nylon. As expensive as these larger ones are, they should definitely last a lot longer than they do.
Another one of the newer blowups with the smaller fans. Like the Minion, they seem to be doing well.
This one of Paul’s decorations and maybe one of the first ones he bought many years ago. Frankie is definitely leaking bad and we had to prop him up with trees to get it to stand up.
This ghost and the next have a lot of lights in them.
Being that they are white, they really light up the trail. These are placed at the steepest part of the hill so our guests can keep better track of their footing.
Paul has the ability to find some of the largest blow ups around. This pumpkin figure always surprises the little kids as it stands over 12′ tall. It is still the second largest air blown prop on the trail.
Paul’s dragon takes the award for largest decoration on the trail. This thing is huge – hope he picked this thing up on sale.
The witch circle comes next. The new LED heads were a great investment and makes this display one of our favorite custom developed props. Tried to get some detail on the witch bodies, but black outfits in a dark forest is a tough hall – ended up hitting it with a flashlight for the shot, but that diminished the effect of the glowing fire. Next year will probably add some background music of witches chanting and I already have a mechanism to make the kettle mist up. Throw a green light in there with it and it should look like a proper witch’s brew.
It’s truly scary when cats and dogs are getting along.
The dragon’s lair got a little more crowded this year. The daddy dragon was back in its usual spot…
.. but this year the Mini-Me dragon made its debut. Big thanks to my nephews and nieces that got me that for Christmas.
Bat boy was sort of a new prop for this year. It was actually a combination of two individual props that had already been out there. The rework of the Gargoyle Sentry (further down) resulted in a spare set of mechanical wings, so we slapped them on an old Posey frame.
This is another in Paul’s air blown prop collection. It is very bright so we always place it here in order to light the foot bridge just to the right of it – it is very dark here and don’t want any of our guests accidentally stepping off it.
Our pirate greeter prop is new for this year. Ron was able to make us some really nice pirate themed sound bites that randomly play welcoming people to this year’s haunted trail. Got rushed this year as we completed this maybe a week before the event. Plan to add ribs etc., to give it a bit more body for the next haunting.
This barn owl was also new this year. I am absolutely stunned about how well these animal skeleton props are constructed. Took this one apart, added LED eyes and a sound board in the head. Whenever someone trips its sensor, real barn owl calls are played – if you haven’t heard what those birds sound like, take a listen sometime – bloodcurdling (link here).
This year’s volunteers did an awesome job of creating the skeleton themes. There are more shots of them taken in the day walk post.
Okay, now we’ve come to the Emerald Forest. Mentioned in the previous posts that this naming would become clearer during the night walk post. Well, her you go.
This is by far our guest’s favorite part of the trail – the easiest to produce on the trail, but the hardest to photograph. It basically consists of at least 12 of those Christmas light lasers that are placed around the entire perimeter of this opening in the woods. Imagine thousands of fireflies covering every inch of the area – our expensive cameras struggle with getting the shot as they really aren’t there of course.
Shocked when I saw the results from our new Samsung camera phones. Had Linda shine a little bit of light in order to pick up the spider display – the spiders all glow in the UV light, but the webbing is a little harder to see until you get up close … then it is too late ha!
Amazing what a fake fire light can do to set a spooky mood. The ghost effect captured on the tree was an unexpected bonus. Note, the white line on the left side – It wasn’t an electrical fire.. we added rope lights on the ground this year to help our guests navigate the dark woods. That ended up working great and plan on putting even more down for next year.
As you exit the Emerald Forest you start the journey down “battery row”. This is where you will encounter a large portion of purchased hanging props (check out the battery shot in the prep post)
We also have a lot of coyote/wolf props on the trail – it is always fun looking at the guest’s faces (especially the city-slickers) when the real coyote packs that roam the forest start howling at the moon.
Our dancing and singing ghost is a big hit.
The camera doesn’t do it justice, but this prop has a lightening theme that goes off in the head and hands.
There are a number of variations on this ghost theme. For a relatively simple prop (plastic head, throw in some LEDs and top it off with creepy white cloth) they look really nice against the black forest.
More of the rope lights – thinking about more red ones this year as it gives a really nice burning glow to the nearby props.
A number of the purchased props started moving to the fiber optics mode of lighting. I like it in the Christmas decorations, but on the fence with the Halloween props – doesn’t seem to have the same spooky effect.
A ground breaker set up near the cemetery – also a better look at our propriety sensors that control the triggering of all the props on the trail.
Now to this year’s new signature prop, the Gargoyle Sentry. I placed the link to the details behind this in the previous posts, but you can finally see the results of all the hard work Ron and I put in to make this happen.
When the sensor is tripped, the eyes light up and it spits fog. As it was cool that night, the fog ended up moving across and hanging low through the rest of the cemetery producing a very eerie scene as a whole.
Very pleased at how well the new stone platform looked. That was a lot of work to create that from pieces of insulation foamboard.
Dracula’s wings worked flawlessly this year – a big relief being that they were a bit finicky. For next year’s event I completely redid their circuit layout and put it in a waterproof box which should eliminate any further failure concerns.
The backlit zombies were another really easy to make custom prop that look awesome on the trail.
Not sure if I like the red one or the blue one better.
I am getting pretty good at making fake tombstones out of the foamboard. This is one of my fancier ones.
… and another one – next year I need to remind myself to make sure the skull accents are pointed the right way.
I’ll be repainting this next tombstone for this year. I started adding the black paint into the low points of the tombstones the year after I made this one. The contrast makes them easier to read in the limited light.
The ankle grabber in front was also reworked for this year so now that is weather bullet proof as well. In the past the hands were too low and kept getting caught up in the weeds/dirt below it. Moved those up a bit and it worked much better.
Saw this scene in a YouTube haunt walkthrough and immediately knew I needed to add it to ours.
The Grim Reaper is one of my first attempts at creating custom props. For a first version, it has stood the test of time. The lantern I picked up at Spirit really completes the experience as it has a sound card that plays creepy kids begging to get out.
First version Posey frame here. I’ve come a long way since then, but they still work for building out the zombie horde – thankfully zombies are usually thin ha!
The grave digger prop was one of two that experienced a mechanical failure the night of the event. Guessing it was due to the rough trip down into the valley, but two of the three servos that control it malfunctioned. That left just the head to move back and forth. It was designed to move the lantern and raise the left arm when the sensor was tripped.
Good news, it is in the lab right now getting the finishing touches on the required fixes.
Paul’s dead Beatles prop was once again nestled in the zombie containment area. Long live the Stones!
This would be the other prop that experienced a failure that night. Once again, the trip down to the valley probably jarred it. The head and body will move randomly when it is all working correctly. I ended up removing its chest plate for the second night and that seemed to address some of the servo issues to get us buy. It has already been completely reworked and hardened for next year.
Along with the Gargoyle Sentry, Injection Freddy was another signature prop creation for the 2021 trail. Yes, it was intended to be a play on the Covid vax craze that was going down in the real world.
For a static prop, this next Posey zombie has a nice scare factor. Linda picked up that really nice mask for me, put a Posey frame under it and then hit it with a creepy green light. Planning to add a sound board next year to really amp up the spook.
The dancing zombie prop was another one that was reworked for ’21. Definitely hardened for the trail and improved the linkages to give it a smoother, more realistic zombie sway.
I seem to have lost my mind..wait, where the hell is my body.
Once again, the Posey demons were busy making sacrificial offerings to their overlord.
“Hey, what do you want for dinner, bone in leg or human wings.
A throwback to my early education years – nothing is scarier than a pissed off nun – trust me, I know. Word has it they feast on little girls.
Time for some clowning around. The custom Clown in the Box is also a favorite for our guests. Camera phone let me down here as it couldn’t focus on the rotating clown head. The other side of the box has an ‘I’ on it – you get to decipher the hidden message.
Damn clowns – you evil.
Hugz the clown failed in its primary mission of scaring the crap out of my great niece (long story, don’t ask or judge me hehehe). I made it tall, I made it creepy, hell, I even added a decapitated head and the only thing it seems to conjure is selfie after selfie from our guests. Maybe my friends (and extended family) are just not normal.
Welcome to the first Posey prop I ever made – the serial killer clown. I made this the same year as the Grim Reaper – both are fixed position Poseys. Since then the line has been upgraded to include joints, fast assembly couplers and servos. Still, not bad for a near 13 year old prop.
Ned is a signature prop built for the previous year’s trail. As you’ve probably come to expect, it got some improvements over the year and is working really nice. Another opportunity to add a sound board for next year.
My partner in haunt (Paul) has quite a collection of his own and remembering whose is whose was getting to be difficult when we intermixed them. Paul had a great idea to just dedicate one of the paths to his various decorations and that has helped tremendously in build and tear down phases. We still have our blown ups together and a few other props, but those can be easily sorted out. This next set of images are from his path, starting out with the scarecrow.
He must have been triggered when I took this shot – normally he is leaning over the candy bowl and jerks up and starts screaming when you reach for the candy. Our repeat guests have started to wise up on that little scare and usually stand back and let an unsuspecting kid go for the spoils.
I did not get a good picture of the little girl sitting on the tombstone in his cemetery. She was ordered online and didn’t show up until the second day of the event. Those that came only for the first day missed out on a very creepy prop. She playfully kicks her feet, turns her head back and forth while saying some very frightful sayings. Think Paul has her in the full video at the end of this post if you want a better idea of what she does.
Oh, should probably point out the additional lighting we have on the trail. Paul made a number of torches to help throw light into the darker areas of the trail. He used small glass beer bottles, put a tiki wick in it and then filled it with kerosene. He also made stands so they wouldn’t tip. There is a slight fire risk, but they have been really well behaved for the last several years and definitely helps throw extra light. If you are curious, the large stream is right behind this scene so we have plenty of water if something goes wrong.
His happy skeleton family was a new scene for this year. Those glow in the dark skeletons really pop when hit with UV lights. This couple is just lounging around, drinking a few beers and keeping an eye on their kids playing with rats and snakes (just beyond the image to the right). Note, if you haven’t figured it out yet, we use a LOT of UV light to really make the props stand out against the blackness.
Mentioned in the day walk that his new coffin lady has the deadest eyes I’ve ever seen on a prop. Not sure what they modeled them from, but they nailed it. For a basic prop (no animation, or sound), that decoration gave me the willies. Just realized I forgot to mention the ground hornets’ nest we discovered right across from this prop – that was a bitch to take care of right before the guests arrived – Paul ended up getting stung like 8 times until he realized what the hell he had just stepped in.
Already uneasy from the coffin girl, the next thing you see on his path is a giant Pennywise. The torches fogged up the area making it even creepier than it already was. The mask and outfit are bad enough, but to have various clips of the movie playing from a speaker inside the body is just pure evil. The head randomly moves as well. Get me the hell out of there.
Paul has an eye for the props that will leave a lasting impression. He picked up the twins on sale at Spirit a few years back. Holy crap, if you were not getting nightmares already from Pennywise, you are sure to have night sweats after hearing what these two girls would say. “Daddy told us we had to play outside… he was tired of having to clean up the blood (followed by evil laughs)” was one line that still sticks in my head. Again, another prop that really benefits from the UV spotlights.
You can try to run from the twins, but that just brings you right into his hangers. He hits most of his props with neon spray paint so they really react to the black lights. I liked the effect so started doing this with my props as well.
Another hanger guarding the woods.
It is hard for the camera to really pick up the lighting without going too dark or blowing it out. Lately we have seen the new camera phones really struggle with the amount of UV that is tossed around on the trail. Granted that isn’t something you have to deal with during the rest of the year ha!
Paul repurposed his Herman Munster prop and turned it into a giant werewolf. Think Herman burned out his servos, so he just swapped costumes for another he picked up. Hard to tell in this shot, but it was set back a little bit off the trail behind some saplings which obscured it until you were right on it. We heard more than one gasp when a guest’s flashlight would come across it.
Right past the Werewolf is Paul’s signature scene. You really need some context to understand it. If you are an avid fan of the Twilight Zone, you probably already know about Talky Tina (there is a short clip here). His Tina will raise up, look around and start saying her classic lines from that show. Twilight Zone music is also playing in the background to help set the mood. Might want to keep you small children from watching that clip ha!
Lastly, we always have some form of haunted Christmas display. Mentioned this in the day walk – more of a statement against the corporate marketing creep pushing Christmas as early as possible – sick and tired of seeing Christmas decor out before our favorite holiday has had its proper due.
That is officially the end of the trail folks. There are a lot of props and features that I skipped over figuring I had already burned right through your browser’s image catch with what I did show. Plus, we like to keep some surprise element for our guests – can’t give away all our scare secrets ha. We did put in a new party patio with fire pit off the back of our house for the 2020 event. Always fun to watch how long it takes our guests to notice the flames have eyes.
Each year Paul takes a number of images and video from the event and puts together an awesome video we share out to our guests and use as marketing material for next year’s event.
We are always surprised by the number of people that get back to us after watching the video and mention they missed this or that when they walked the trail and can’t wait to check it out next year.
The trail is a lot of work, but Paul and I are brothers in haunt and enjoy every minute of it. I do not want to call it a wrap until I extend my appreciation for the tremendous amount of help we get each and every year. First off, Linda has been an absolute trooper through all of this. I wasn’t kidding, prop planning and building goes on the entire year (I joke the only break we take is the two days of the actual event). Imagine having to walk down to your basement or into my den and having to deal with mechanical linkages, electrical circuits and half built props scattered about. Then she handles all the planning for the guests (food, drinks, cooking etc.) in between my constant requests to help get the props down into the valley. Truly blessed. Ron is another big reason this event is so successful. He helps me throughout the year with technical circuits and comes up with some great ideas to add to the trail. A few weeks before the haunt, he spends the weekends helping me assemble the decorations, troubleshoot broken props, work up new additions and then, surely already tired, helps build the trail – he is also the one that is running around down there trying to get everything turned on before the guests come while I try to shower and get ready to greet the arrivals (I AM ALWAYS LATE no matter how many days in advance we start). Then there are the many volunteers that offer their time to come and help with the build. I am not going to name them all in fear I would mistakenly leave one out and that is the last thing I would want to do. Be assured I am eternally grateful for their assistance – it would not be possible to put something on at this level without their help!
Thank you everybody – see ya’ next year – stay calm and haunt on!