Saturday, September 24, 2011


The gamut of experiences in a pioneer’s life included solitude, nostalgia, and resolve.  As the day progressed on my  last day, I witnessed a few scene that seemed to transport back to the era we were portraying. 
When I was young, I used to believe that the pioneers traveled “together.”   As I have studied the journals, the history of the trail west, I have learned that regularly the wagons and the handcarts were strung out for miles.  It seemed that frequently the only times they were truly together was at morning and night.   The trial was dusty, long, and even lonely at times.   
The first scene I viewed was of an extra walking on the trail.  I am not sure where he was going, but with a step back into time, I could imagine he had somehow fallen behind the rest of the company.  There was urgency in his long stride, accented by the conditions of heat and time.  It was very warm and it was late afternoon.  The “pioneer” must have been hot, tired, and dirty.  Yet, he walked with purpose, with energy.   It made me think of the real pioneer who had, perhaps, gotten behind for whatever reason and now was trying to catch up.  What was he thinking?  About the dangers of being alone in the wilderness?  Perhaps about his family trying to carry on without him? 

The second scene gave a sense of sadness, of longing, of wistfulness.  I was walking back to the shade of the refreshment canopy, when I saw Dianne sitting on a rock, looking off into the distance.  Her body was facing almost perpendicular to the road, but her face was following the road.  Echoing in my mind came the words, “Zion, O Zion, when will we reach thee.”  It was quiet.  There was no one else in the scene.  Transporting back to 1956, I felt the sadness…at leaving home, at losing a loved one, at having still so far to go.  I felt the longing…for being through with the journey, for enjoying companionship with others, for reaching the promise.  I felt the wistfulness… for a completion of the journey, for sorrows to end, for Zion, for God


Dianne turned and saw me taking her picture.  The “pioneer” turned joyful.  The face of recognition, of companionship, of completeness.   I could imagine a pioneer mother being "caught" by her child in this contemplative mood.  It would not do to show discouragement of any kind and so she quickly changed into a grand grin for encouragement to her daughter or her son.  She seems to glow out all around her “We can do it!”  Those strong saints must have carried both emotions into the rough country. 

It was a long trail—the pioneer one.  It took months to traverse.  Many were lost, not only in the Willie and Martin Handcart companies but in every one of the wagon and handcart companies.  During the mid 1800, there were many people traveling across the American wilderness.  Some were full of greed, some full of faith.  The trail was the same.  It was the obstacle in the path of destinations.  It was dusty and dirty.  It was long and often very difficult.  It was lined with bushes and sagebrush.  It could be muddy, sandy, rocky, bumpy.  It was isolated.  But the trail for the pioneers of faith led to the beginning of a dream.  It led to Zion.  Not a Zion of paradise, but a Zion where work and industry would produce a good life…for them and for their posterity.  It would give freedom from prosecution.  It would allow the peace needed to reach for God.  For a season, they would achieve  the “rest” of the Lord.   The pioneer trail was a pathway to eternity.

  This picture made me think of a song my mother used to sing to us.
It turns out it was a song written in 1913. 
Every time my mother would sing it, I would always picture 
in my mind something like the above scene.  
For the pioneers, it was a long, long trail
often creating a dream of reuniting
with loved ones who had died along that 
dusty road.

"There's a long, long trail a-winding
Into the land of my dreams,
Where the nightingales are singing
And a white moon beams.
There's a long, long night of waiting
Until my dreams all come true;
Till the day when I'll be going down
That long, long trail with you."
-Stoddard King
and Alonzo "Zo" Elliot

           Like the pioneers, we all have our journey to make on this earth.  That journey has obstacles in the pathway of destinations.  They can be difficult, long, and bumpy.  They are often very isolated.  The path is not easy...if we learn what we should.  We may get dirty and even wounded along the way.  Some journeys last longer than others.  But the trail, if we allow it to, will guide us to the beginning of our dreams.  With work and industry, It too can lead to Zion.  We have been handed a good life from those pioneers of old.  They earned for us freedom from prosecution.  We have had the peace needed to reach for God. If we take advantage of the paths of our lives, allowing God to guide us, we will reach Him and them. 

"Thank you" is not enough to express our debt of gratitutde.  
Our debt can only be paid by the life we live.
"By being true to the cause for which (our) ancestors
suffered so much to be part of."
(James E. Faust)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tribute to the "Shadows" in "17 Miracles"

Among the greatest enjoyments on set was interaction among the extras.  We came from various backgrounds, interests, talents and areas.  Some had come from Provo, Salt Lake, Washington, Oregon, St. George, Las Vegas.  Dianne had come from Georgia; I from New Mexico.  Some had been extras before, like Doug who has an agent.  He had some jobs, one a voice over, lined up when he was through on “17 Miracles.”    Others, like me, were non-acting people who came to participate because they were descendents of those exemplary pioneers of the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies.  Some were close friends or relatives to T. C. or Ron.  We spent much time together.  The life of an extra is a life of waiting.  We had time to become well acquainted.  In the quiet, warehouse-like studios or sitting peacefully on the props around “camp”, we quietly discussed favorite books and movies, talked about our families, the places we live, sometimes touched on politics or gospel themes.  Essentially, we become friends in the short weeks we participated as extras. 


            As a military wife, I have learned to expect almost anything or to meet almost anyone when I go places—even Utah.  However, I must admit....I was not expecting what happened on the set of "17 Miracles."  The first day we were told to arrive at the Heber Valley Historical Railroad station by 8:00 am.  This is a quaint, old railroad station snuggled in the mountains of Provo Canyon at Heber, Utah.  It still gives wonderful tourist trail rides through the Canyon and more.  The train looks and feels quite old.  We enjoyed the cars as they are really “old school!” With no modern air conditioning, they were plenty warm that day in August!  It was a learning experience just to open a window to get some air.

 There my sister and I, along with the others, were transformed into an 1856 community of people.  Our hair was restyled, bonnets crowned our new ringlets, makeup gave us faces of “character” and costumes threw us into the 19th century.  It was a long day. We didn’t leave until the stars were mapping out the late evening sky…around 10 pm.  Though we were seldom by each other, I happened to be standing in the aisle of the train car next to where my sister was seated about 4:00 in the afternoon.  During the free-to-talk lull before the cameras takes start, she whispered to me that one of my friends from college---49 years ago—was there.  I asked her where?  When did he get there?  He had been there all day!  I hadn't seen anyone I recognized, though I always look.  Somehow when you have been an LDS military family, it seems you always run into someone you know, no matter where you go. I was surprised that I hadn't seen anyone I had known before there at the train station.  How did she recognize him?  She said he had approached her, asking who she was as she looked familiar to him.  In response to my question as to where he was, she found him standing two people behind me!  We had been around each other, more or less, all day and hadn’t recognized each other.  Ah, the ravages of time that changes us so much our friends of yesteryear don’t recognize us or we them!  It was very enjoyable to get reacquainted, to learn of Duane’s life since college.  Our lives have taken us on different paths but similar journeys.  As Alma and the sons of Mosiah, we rejoiced together to learn that each has remained faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Also like Alma and the sons of Mosiah, we have had different experiences.  He has had 3 children, I have 8.  I have lived all over the world; he has lived mostly in the Utah area.  We have both served faithfully in many positions in the church, gaining the experiences that give us compassion for others and deepened testimonies of the true and living Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.  Though we had thought we knew each other as young adults, I learned how very little I had really known Duane.  There is much enjoyment in becoming acquainted with someone.  To have the chance to get to know someone you thought you knew is quite an experience.  It was also amazing to learn how different our perceptions are of that long ago time and different events that happened.  As I said to his stake president and his wife on set, there are always two sides (views would be a better word) to every story!  My best to Duane and his family!  Perhaps we will meet again in another 40 years. (By the way, if anyone is interested in my version of the story, let me know!)

Duane and Jim waiting at the studios

Duane dressed as a pioneer on the trail


Duane in general authority mode
(see another picture of Duane with T. C. Christensen on a previous entry in this blog)

Dianne was a fun- loving, enjoyable person to get to know.  Her husband, though in Utah at the time, did not participate in the movie.  He was attending Education Week at BYU, but he would often show up on set to see how it was going and to take some pictures.  Dianne and John had served a mission to the church’s History Center in Salt Lake.  There they had met T. C.   I believe that John actually helped him with some of his research for the movie.  John had an article printed in the Mormon Times, around the time the movie started playing in theaters, that told about how they found their family’s connection to the handcart companies…after Dianne had been in the movie for a short time. 

Dianne with T. C.'s sister, Rebecca.  She came from Illinois to be in her first movie.  A cheerful person, like T. C. and the rest of the family, we all enjoyed getting to know her.  She writes children's books so look for some of her work at Deseret Book.

Doug and Dick


            Doug and Dick looked great in their costumes.  I had to take this picture of the two of them.  (By chance, Duane is in the background)  They looked so authentic with their breads and hats.  Dick owns a restaurant in the Utah Valley.  At the time of the movie take, our grandson was waiting for his visa to go to Mexico on his mission.  Temporarily he had been assigned to a mission in the area of Doug’s restaurant.  Once a week, Doug offers the missionaries in the area a free meal.  Our grandson actually ate there and said it was great!  How grand that this man would do this for the missionaries.  Doug said that many times, it didn't cost him a cent.  Customers would step in and pay for the meal instead.  Thank you to all you caring Utah saints who take care of the missionaries!  

The Rowleys--Father and Son

           Several times the Rowleys came to be in the movie.  If I remember correctly, they are descendents of  Ann Rowley, who was in the Willie Handcart company.  She lost her husband and brought her family the rest of the way to the Valley by herself.  The Rowleys were gentle, soft spoken men.  They raise fruit that is dried and you can find it in Trader Joe’s and other like kind grocery stores.  I can’t remember the brand name but look for one that comes from a coop in southwestern Utah. 

Brother Rowley

Here we are as a "family" for one of the scenes.
  I don't remember the young man's name but I hope he sees his picture!
I think it is Brother Rowley, but without it?

I think that this is one of the Rowley's, but I can't be absolutely sure.
 If not, I hope whomever it is will see this picture and recognize themselves. 

Spence and Pat

  The amazing coincidence that emerged as I became acquained with different extras was that a lot of us had a connection that was beyond being descendents of the pioneers.  Another connection was that we had roots in Star Valley, Wyoming.  Amazingly, even some good friends of T. C.'s who came up from St. George and Las Vegas had this connection.  I was talking to the matriarch of the family, who bravely came and walked with her cane to where the scene was to be taken.  She too had originally been from Star Valley and had known some of my family in her younger years there. 

Spence and Pat were a very special couple who came several days while I was there.  They also had the Star Valley Connection!  It would be interesting to have a count of all who could connect back to that little valley.  Spence and Pat were troopers.  They must have been tired but they were always right there to do what they were suppose to do.  We got some fun pictures of them--taken during the "wait time." I hope they see and enjoy them. 


     Sherrie was on set twice that I knew about when I was there.  The first time, she had her son with her and we both wished that I had taken a picture of him on that day.  He made such a cute pioneer boy.  At the first of my experience, I was a little shy about asking people I didn't know to let me take their pictures.  Later, I realized that this was a unique experience for many and they appreciated me with my camera.  I like this picture particularly, because it shows the "green" background.  In one of the warehouse-style studios was a large room. One end and part of the floor was covered with this green.  I actually took some pictures of the children playing on it (taboo to play on it!), but my camera must have thought I didn't want it, because it was one of the "file error" pictures.  The green background is used when there is a desire to insert a different background and somehow, magically, the movie makers can put a different background into the scene.  We did a meeting type scene with this background.  It will be interesting to see what is done with the background...that is if the scene is used.

One of my favorite pictures of extras was taken my last day on set.  We were south of Provo in an area that really does look much like Wyoming and the Sweetwater.  We were just waiting around for the next thing to do.  It was hot.  Dick had brought his wife and a friend to be an extra that day.  We were all just standing around talking, when we decided to take a picture.  The grouping was planned...somewhat....and the expression staged....somewhat.  (After all, several of us are smiling too much!)  Certainly Dick took on the "character" of a weather-beaten, tired-out, ready to be through with it, pioneer.  Don't you agree?  Even with the smile, however, this picture really does remind me of how the pioneers looked.  Those outfits and bonnets really didn't do much for a woman's looks.  After three weeks, I had become so accustomed to looking dowdy that I was surprised when I "cleaned up" back to normal.

To all the extras who made this experience more rich, more deep, more meaningful because of their unique and individual personalities, experiences, knowledge and backgrounds--thank you!

SPECIAL NOTE TO EXTRAS:  If you want copies of the pictures of you, just right click and copy.  I think that will work.  Otherwise, send me an email or make a comment on the blog and I will send it to you individual.  Unfortunately, I lost my little book with all the email address on it, so I don't have your emails.  Be sure to give me yours in your comments if you want the pictures sent directly to you.   If you know any of the extras in these pictures and have their email addresses, would you please forward this blog to them.  Thanks!