My conversation with Producer Kent McCray continues with our discussion about some of the challenges in filming the Little House on the Prairie Pilot.
Kent: We were getting ready to shoot The Pilot and that was quite a chore because we had bad weather. I relayed to you at a different time about the opening of Little House.
Cheryl: Yes, the freak snowstorm and what you had to do to get around the snow.*
Kent: We shot some of the other sequences in Sonora, then one morning after being in Sonora about a week, we get up at four o’clock in the morning to go to a ranch. If you look at a map it’s on Route 4 around a town called Copperopolis. It was owned by these people who had a cattle ranch and they breed cattle.
All the trucks arrived there, got through the gate, and all of a sudden—now, you have to remember that we have about 17 trucks, some of them 18-wheelers the size of a Greyhound bus—all these trucks got stuck in the mud. They just came in and sunk down to the axle. And my heart went boom.
When Michael showed up later we were trying to dig the trucks out. I got the camera truck out and I told Michael to go to the Fair Grounds and see what they could piece together on the interior set. I stayed out there and we stayed in what they called the “Honey Wagon”. None of us or the drivers got back into town for two days.
We had a friend in Sonora, Jim Opie, who was one of the greatest friends you could ever want to have. We called him at midnight and said we needed help. He had a garage and he had a tractor that used to pull big Peterbilts, so he knew big equipment. He got a hold of a man who came in around three o’clock in the morning with a big D-9 Cat, one of the biggest Caterpillars there is. He said he would get in there and pull the trucks out.
He went in there and unloaded his truck and I said, “Now, don’t go in that area.”
So he says, “Don’t worry, don’t worry.”
He went in the area I told him not to and he sank in over the treads of this Cat. Now, our friend Jim Opie was with us and he got on the phone and in the morning another Cat shows up to pull the first Cat out. So, we finally after tramping around in the mud we got all of the equipment out and sent it to the Fair Grounds. While the crew was shooting the interior set, I went out with the drivers and started making a new road to reach the exterior set of the Little House cabin. We put rocks, and we put all this stuff around it so we could stabilize the road so we could get into the area.
On the last day there was one area that we couldn’t make solid enough to get trucks through, so I called up Paramount Studios. There used to be a company here in town that used to buy up surplus equipment. I asked Russ Brown, to get a hold of these people to send us out old landing mats they used to use during WWII. These were big, heavy steel mats that were about 18 inches wide and 12 feet long, to lock them together to build a road--which is what they used during the war to go over mud in Europe and sand in the Pacific war zone.
We did shoot The Pilot and we were actually on schedule shooting The Pilot because everybody just worked very hard. They were wonderful to work with. We got it done and we brought everything to Los Angeles to be edited.
* The incident about the freak snowstorm is on audio, which I couldn't upload here.