Submitted by Preston Chiaro and Henry Golas of the Death Valley Conservancy
One of the DVC's most valued partnerships is with the Laws Railroad Museum and Historical Site in Bishop. During 2016, while the DVC were constructing our reproduction Death Valley 20-Mule Team Borax Wagons to appear in the 2017 Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA, Laws raised funds and constructed a dedicated exhibit barn to house the wagons. At that time many ideas were tossed around regarding what additional exhibits might go into the wagon barn; the notion of installing a mural on the back wall was near the top of the list. We just needed time to raise the funds for it. We're happy to announce that this project to enhance the wagon barn experience is now completed.
Work on the mural began in June 2021 at “The Blow Up Lab" in San Francisco. Burton Frasher had taken a black and white, panoramic image at the Harmony Borax Works in Death Valley during a 1936 promotional tour. This 20-Mule Team, including a set of the original 1880s wagons, would go on to participate at the opening of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge. We thought this image from Death Valley would create a perfect mural backdrop for the reproduction 20-Mule Team wagons.
We started with a high resolution scan of the Frasher negative as the basis for the wagon barn mural. The large format of the negative, 7" x 17", made it possible to enlarge it to that huge scale of the exhibit wall and still hold enough detail. The team used an Adobe Neural Filter/Arfificial Intelligence to color the B&W image. And we later decided to add clouds, well ... because we could! It added visual drama and interest which we thought would complement the wagons well. In November 2021, the DVC and Blow Up Lab team made a site visit to Laws with some full scale image output samples to check measurements, visual tone, etc. After making digital corrections and touchups Blow-Up Lab created an elevation mockup and proofs. We also needed to prepare the back wall by priming and sanding it to ensure a smooth foundation.
For the installation we scheduled the Blow-Up Lab team to arrive on May 20th, while the wagons were out of the barn for their appearance during Mule Days 2022. The team installed the murals on the backwall of the barn over two days. It had to be installed like wallpaper, one panel at a time; the overall dimensions of the mural are 14 feet tall by 78 feet long.
We think the finished product turned out really well! During your next visit to Laws be sure you stop by the wagon barn to have a look at the massive wagons and the massive mural! You'll also find the American Mule Museum exhibit, which was added at the same time as the mural.
PS: The DVC and Laws Museum partnership with the wagons has been wonderful, but there is another direct connection between our two organizations: --many years ago, the Laws Museum acquired and restored the Death Valley Railroad "“Brill Car” #5, which originally operated between Death Valley Jct. and the mining camp of Ryan which the DVC owns and is restoring!
Editor's note: you can view a video detailing the Borax wagons here.