Few have seen the film Wild Horse Hank. No blockbuster here, no awards won, no darling of the critics…still, it’s a pretty good flick. Just one that wasn’t seen by a lot of eyes. A late 1970s TV production, it follows the adventures of its namesake character, Hank, played by Exorcist star Linda Blair, as she works to save a herd of feral horses from being made into pet food.
One scene in the film was shot in the Crownsest Pass of Alberta and Team BIGDoer visits the location to see what’s going on today. It’s little changed. The spot is the old Highway #3 alignment that wraps around Emerald Lake, at the extreme west end of the Alberta section of the Pass. It’s a scenic stretch of road and this no doubt is why producers choose it (in fact, it appears in another film – read on).
Most of this road today is not in use, having been bypassed some time ago, in fact around the time Wild Horse Hank was made, on account of difficulties in maintaining and operating it. The cliffs rein down rocks from above (look at all of them on the road today), the alignment is narrow and precipitous and ice build up was an ongoing problem in winter. Not a good stretch of highway.
In the film, Hank attempts to get the horses all the way to a federal reserve where they’ll be protected. She’s been on a perilous multi-day journey crossing mountains and deserts, all the while being pursued by poachers. The very last step before she’s done is to get them across the section of road seen. Once behind them, it’ll be over. On the other side, the horses can’t be touched. The only problem, the road’s busy with traffic…and there’s no other way around.
Help comes in the form of friendly truckers who on hearing of the situation block the highway for a time, allowing Hank and the horses a window which to get across. Still, auto traffic are hot on their heels. The police break the blockade part way in, not fully understanding what’s going on. At the last minute the herd makes it to safety.
The section of highway seen, recall, was bypassed in the ’70s. The part by the lake is not used. One section (seen in the shot with three trucks blocking it) is still used to access a popular camping area. The “new” highway runs a bit to the north, avoiding any ugly stuff. In one shot a dirt ramp of sorts is seen. This is where the old and new sections met. This road makes an appearance in another film: Journey of Natty Gann – old road.
The setting in the film is Wyoming. Alberta does a good job of filling in for that state. Many scenes were shot in the southwest corner of the province, of course the one discussed here, and others further south in the town of Cardston and at a ranch closer to Waterton Park. The Drumheller area and other places in New Mexico were also used. Funny how movies rarely shoot where geographically the story takes place. Some of the other Alberta locations will no doubt become fodder for more BIGDoer.com then and now posts.
The film is based on the novel “The Wild Horse Killers”, published in the 1970s.
Some interesting trucks make an appearance in the movie. In one shot a Hayes coal hauler is seen. This make was designed for extreme duty and some might say were the toughest trucks ever made. Hayes had a factory in Vancouver and remained in business into the mid-1970s. Seen behind it is a Western Star. Also a extreme-duty make but perhaps a bit less rugged than a Hayes.
These trucks seen were not props. They’re working trucks and were headed to the nearby Tent Mountain Mine, just to the west, for loading. While that place operated, an endless procession of these beasts could be seen travelling the highway here, bouncing between the mine and the processing plant in Coleman some half dozen or so clicks to the east. The mine closed in the early 1980s and was the last such operation in the Pass. To see the mine today, go here: Tent Mountain was torn a new one. To see a truck that once worked out of Tent Mountain, go here: Autocar Coal Hauler.
Seen in another snap from the movie is those three trucks, spoken of earlier, blocking the road. That’s another Hayes on the left, set up to haul logs in this case. This is a “lighter” duty fibreglass hood model, There’s always a big “H” on the front of every truck of that make. Also seen a are couple over-the-road Kenworths. Both are painted similarly so must belong to the same fleet or owner. It’s possible parts from one of these still exist. See: Crowsnest Collection – Finale.
The cliffs above the old road right of way are popular with climbers. We saw a number them the day of our visit. There’s also a cave up there – in the one scene, just out of sight above the cop car. A small channel, bridged by the “new” highway alignment ties Emerald Lake with Crowsnest Lake. The fishing’s good there.
Our now photos are composed in camera and receive nothing more than absolute minimal tweaking in post. Talk about doing it the hard way! We could rely on the computer to do the heavy lifting I guess. But we’d rather not. More fun to line it up using only one’s eye.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: September, 2016.
Location: Crowsnest Pass, AB.
Article references (and thanks): Internet Movie Database, Linda Blair Official Website.
All the locations seen are publicly accessible.