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Passage to the past

Powell High School students created a replica of the Concord stagecoach, paying close attention to each detail. Here, Austin Ouellette, a lead student on the project, places a wheel on the stagecoach. Now finished, the stagecoach is on display in the PHS library. Powell High School students created a replica of the Concord stagecoach, paying close attention to each detail. Here, Austin Ouellette, a lead student on the project, places a wheel on the stagecoach. Now finished, the stagecoach is on display in the PHS library. Tribune photo by Tessa Schweigert

PHS stagecoach project was inspired by 1939 John Wayne movie 

Mark Twain once called the Concord Coach “an imposing cradle on wheels.”

At Powell High School, you can call it a work of art.

For months, students have worked during art classes, after school and in early mornings to create a realistic Concord Coach replica inspired by the John Wayne 1939 film “Stagecoach.”

At the high school, the stagecoach sat surrounded by students’ lockers. The curved coach looks like it would be more at home on a dusty road in the Old West, drawn by horses and carrying folks across the open plains.

To make it look as realistic and historically accurate as possible, students paid close attention to small details, meticulously working on each feature.

“A lot of it came as we went along. We realized more things that made it realistic,” said Austin Ouellette, a senior art student who helped lead the project.

Students built the stagecoach entirely from scratch, using some diagrams and scaling them down to 80 percent, said Jim Gilman, who teaches art at Powell High School.

Without blueprints or a how-to guide available, students researched stagecoaches, drew stencils for the various pieces and used their creativity.

“They had to figure out, ‘How are we going to make it?’” Gilman said.

One of the most difficult parts was bending the wood to create the stagecoach’s curved shape, said PHS senior Alvaro Acevedo, who also helped lead the project. Woodworkers often use steam to bend wood, but that wasn’t an option with the resources students had available. Instead, they learned how to bend wood with water.

“The most impressive thing is that they got the curve right,” Gilman said.

Figuring out how to bend the wood to an exact angle so the curved coach’s door would open and close presented another obstacle, Acevedo said.

“Alvaro spent a lot of time on that door,” Gilman said.

Windows also were a challenge.

“There was a lot of problem-solving,” Gilman said.

The stagecoach project incorporated a variety of subjects and skills.

“It’s a lot of work, but you learn a lot of new things,” Acevedo said.

Art students learned how to do upholstery for the stagecoach’s interior. The upholstery “took so much time. It was very tedious,” said Ouellette.

Students also had to use mathematics to determine correct measurements to build the stagecoach. In their scale, one inch equaled 13.33 inches.

Of course, students’ artistic abilities and creativity were integral to the project.

“It’s a lot of work to get the color right,” Acevedo said. “We didn’t want it to have a ‘new’ look to it.”

A blend of paint and stain gives the wood an antiqued look.

When students watched the 1939 film “Stagecoach” starring John Wayne, they noticed details to add to their stagecoach, such as the lights adorning the sides and the small inscription “U.S. Mail.”

The film was released 75 years ago and was Wayne’s first starring role in a film by legendary director John Ford. It is considered a Western classic.

Beyond the art department, other PHS students also had a hand in the stagecoach project. Welding students helped with all the steel work, and woodworking students helped make the wheels.

“We had about 50 students involved at various points in production,” Gilman said.

Most supplies came from local businesses, but students repurposed some materials, too. To make hubs for the wheels, they used an old telephone pole donated by Gilman’s father. Straps used in the suspension were made from an old fire hose donated by the Powell Volunteer Fire Department. Aldrich Lumber donated some of the materials, Gilman said.

The stagecoach eventually will be suspended from the ceiling in the PHS library, but that may take several more weeks.

“It depends on how long it takes to get the cables rigged,” Gilman said Wednesday. “It is now on display in the library, but still using a table for stability.”

Though it’s not built for actual passengers, students factored in that possibility and reinforced the seats and the floor.

“We didn’t intend for anyone to get in it, but we worried someone would try,” Ouellette said.

Acevedo and Ouellette would like to take the stagecoach to the Wyoming State Art competition this spring. But Gilman said they’re not sure if they can get it safely to Casper.

“We’re trying to figure out how to get it in a trailer,” Ouellette said.

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