Off Beat: ‘Lone Ranger’ chugs along thanks to engineer (with video)



Crews with the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad repair a steam locomotive for the season-opening tours on Mother's Day weekend, May 11-12.

Like fabled Wild West lawman John Reid, Chelatchie Prairie locomotive engineer Luke Johnson has another identity.

Reid, of course, is the Lone Ranger. And Johnson is one of the behind-the-scenes guys who put “The Lone Ranger” — the motion picture, that is — on rails.

Johnson is the engineer whenever the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad uses its 1929 steam locomotive for North County excursions.

It’s kind of a specialized job, so Johnson is open to other opportunities. Sometimes he finds them at other tourist railroads and sometimes he finds them in Hollywood … or New Mexico. That’s where Johnson spent 18 months working on the recently released film.

“They built a seven-mile railroad outside of Albuquerque — the largest one ever built for a movie,” Johnson said. “I was first hired as a mechanical guy. We built 11 pieces of rolling stock.”

It was specialized work because of the filming requirements. A lot of the action takes place alongside, inside or on top of moving rail cars.

“The cars were built so you could run cameras on them while they were moving,” Johnson said.

“When they started shooting, I became an assistant train coordinator. Say you want it to stop on a particular mark,” Johnson explained. If somebody isn’t accounting for all the variables in speed and braking, “You could be taking that shot all day long.”

Johnson also worked on a Clint Eastwood-directed film, “Changeling.”

— Tom Vogt

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.

View a video of crews repairing steam engine for Chelatchie Prairie Railroad on The Columbian’s YouTube Channel.