In early October of 2008, Wyoming PBS videographer Thompson Coles and myself are in Meeteetse and Kirwin shooting and interviewing people for what would become the documentary “Risky Business: the Ghost Town of Kirwin”. Our trip is cut short, however, by an early snow storm. We leave without some important “B-roll” footage of the spectacular scenery of the upper Wood River valley where Kirwin is located.
As luck would have it, a few weeks later, the weather warms up and sources from the Meeteetse area inform me that the snow around Kirwin has pretty much melted. So on October 30, Thompson and I once again set out for Kirwin.
Thompson drives his pickup, a mobile platform to shoot from. I follow in my Jeep along with my wife Kathy, who has agreed to come along and help out with driving. We all keep our fingers crossed that the weather will hold. Snow at this time of year at 9000 feet is always a possibility.
In Meeteetse, we meet up with Jim Dunrud, son of Carl Dunrud—one of the main characters in our story. I had previously met Jim and his brother Rich on the first shoot, where they graciously gave of their time, energy and expertise on Kirwin. A big thanks to both again, because without them, there would have been no program.
Anyhow, Jim has once again kindly offered to be our guide up the road he knows so well and advise us on finding the best way up in case any drifts block the way. So off we go, on to Kirwin.
The road to Kirwin lies a few miles southwest of Meeteetse. It’s paved at first, then turns to gravel and finally becomes a dirt one-track. I’m driving Thompson’s truck. He has set up his camera in the back and is filming. Kathy and Jim follow in their vehicles and are also being filmed. Everything is going well until we round a corner and a hill thick with glare ice presents itself.
I stop the truck. Thompson gets out and walks up the hill to survey the extent of the ice. Coming back down, he changes the hubs to four wheel drive and stores the camera and tripod. ”I think I can make it up”, he says. ”It’s goes back to dirt at the top. Besides, I just got new tires.” With a gleam in his eye, Thompson jumps behind the wheel, fires up the truck and speeds up the hill. ”No problem he calls from the top. Come on up!”
“Okay”, I say to my wife sitting behind the wheel of the Jeep, “Move over.” She looks at me anxiously. ”Are you sure?” ”Of course!” I reply. “We’ve got four wheel drive too.” I put the Jeep in gear and hit the accelerator. Up we go.
Now in all the excitement of Thompson making it up, I didn’t notice that he hugged the side of the road where there was some snow for extra traction. Thinking it will be a piece of cake I blithely run the Jeep up the middle where the glare ice is the worst. Halfway up, the wheels start spinning…and spinning. I hit the brakes and we start sliding backwards. On one side of the road is a rock wall; on the other trees, followed by a drop-off. ”Oh my God, we’re going to crash!” Kathy’s voice is taut. I try my best to navigate, a sickening feeling rising in my stomach as we slide down the hill out of control.
After what seems like 10 agonizing minutes, but was probably closer to 15 seconds, we slide to a stop on the dirt at the base of the hill, unharmed. Jim, who when he saw us coming at him moved his truck backwards, walks over to my window. ”Try taking her up to the right there, where you can get a grip on the snow”, he says. I turn to Kathy. She is halfway out the door. ”I’m walking!” she proclaims and heads up the hill. ”Maybe we should leave it here”, I say and jump into Jim’s truck. He expertly cruises up the hill. We pick up Kathy and head up to Kirwin to finish filming.
The next evening, Halloween, a large snowstorm hits and closes down the road to Kirwin for the winter. But we’re back in Riverton with our shots. Over the next few months, we edit and expand a planned half hour show into an hour program. ”Risky Business: The Ghost Town of Kirwin” premieres March 15, 2009 on Wyoming PBS during the spring pledge drive. The acquired “B-roll” has made all the difference.