The cast and crew take their places on the set of the 2004 film The Alamo. In the upcoming scene, set in 1836 San Antonio, the Mexican army is about to storm the town, and panicked residents will flee across a bridge to the safety of a walled mission – the Alamo itself.
John Lee Hancock, the film’s director, calls “action,â and a horse-drawn wagon driven by Red Wolverton leads the chaotic parade of townsfolk in their escape.
For decades, Red has been driving wagons and, more notably, stagecoaches in movies.
“The man runnin’ the camera on The Alamo was a good friend of mine,â Red says. “Every chance he got, he zoomed in on me and Margie on the wagon.â Margie is Red’s wife of more than 50 years. The couple live on a ranch in the desert outside Tucson, Ariz., where they keep around 50 head of horses and some 20 wagons, stagecoaches, buggies and other horse-drawn vehicles that’ve appeared in countless movies and television shows.
You’ve seen Red at the reins of a stagecoach in Tombstone, Calamity Jane, Buffalo Soldiers, Johnny Depp’s 1996 western Dead Man, and the 1980s remake of Stagecoach, starring Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Red’s shotgun rider, Johnny Cash.
“With a lot of them (Red’s co-stars), we’re good friends when we work together, but then I might not see ’em for 10 years,â Red explains. “Then, when you do see them and they recognize you, it means you were either a hell of a poor excuse, or else they approved of ya!â
There’s not much doubt as to which category Red belongs. Driving a stagecoach is a particularly demanding challenge, one requiring an exceptionally talented horseman.
“All those big-hitch wagons are what they call fifth-wheel wagons,â Red says. “The front wheels can turn clear around underneath the body. A stagecoach was made to go straight down the road as hard as the horses could run, turning no more than a few degrees either way. If you turn too sharp, the coach rolls up on the wheel and tips over.â
It’s rumored that Red can corner a stagecoach so fast that it’ll tip up on two wheels. He says the rumors are false, but does admit to being able to take a team around a curve fast enough to put a coach into a four-wheel fishtail skid.
In addition to his film and television work, Red has driven stagecoaches in commercials for Wells Fargo Bank and lesser-known clients, such as a Japanese soup company.
In that particular spot, Indians attacking a stagecoach give up after a Japanese actor riding atop the coach throws them boxes of soup. By take 17, Red became irritated and told a buddy playing a cavalry outrider that it was time to have some fun.
“I asked if he’d like to see the way I’d drive the coach if it was for real,â he says. “I put the horses into a gallop and away we went. That actor was so scared, he was hanging onto the guardrail, white as a sheet. His fingerprints are still on the rail.â
The commercial had two directors, one American, one Japanese. The American director wasn’t pleased with Red’s stunt, but his Japanese counterpart loved it.
Red’s timed some of his coach horses at 39 mph, adding that in flat country, a coach harness, collar and other gear don’t put much weight on a horse.
Read the rest of this feature in the November 2004 issue of Western Horseman magazine. Subscribe by calling 800-877-5278, or click on the “subscribe” link at the top left of this page.