As part of my travels in pursuit of various stories I get to see some cool places and meet great people. A few weeks ago, the Texas Auto Writers Association had been evaluating trucks as part of our annual Truck Rodeo. We had been testing the trucks at an actual ranch, but later we were directed to “Star Hill Ranch” for the awards dinner, which I surmised it would be at another working ranch.
We were given a Bee Caves address near Austin, and when I arrived I broke out in a huge grin. Star Hill Ranch wasn’t at all what I expected. This place is a like a 1900 Texas time warp. As I explored a bit I was even more impressed and I wondered, the who and why. Before I could ponder too much, someone suggested that I look at the car barn. Ooooh, Car Barn, lol?!?
I dutifully traipsed around one of the historic buildings and was confronted with a large garage building containing several interesting collector cars. The adjacent lot seemed almost a sea of Model T Ford’s of virtually every body style. Two very interesting guys introduced themselves as “car wranglers.” Curiouser and curiouser. Soon Adam Woolley appeared and introduced himself as the proprietor of this time-warp of a place.
I asked Adam a few questions, but the TAWA awards were starting, so we agreed to meet the following morning. The night’s setting under the authentic lights proved to be a magical one, making for one of the best such events I’ve ever attended. The music, food, and setting were all superb.
The next morning I appeared at the appointed and the place was even more impressive, and a beehive of activity. Adam and I met in his office, where I also met his brother and Star Hill Ranch Marketing Director Matt Woolley. We found we had so much in common and shared so many stories, I almost forgot to ask my questions.
Adam explained that the basis for Star Hill Ranch was a general recreation of the town of Industry Texas circa 1900 which is located near Brenham. As children, the Woolley’s spent many happy weekends in Industry with family. At one point, it was a bustling little town with several stores, a bank, and lumberyard. Like so many other once bustling little Texas towns, it is now a shadow of its former self.
The Woolley’s have been associated with the Texas motion picture and TV industry for many years, primarily supplying props via Adam’s company, The Relic Source. The Relic Source has been in business over 25 years and owns almost 15,000 sq. ft. of historical props of every kind. By Adam’s reckoning he has supplied props for over 500 TV shows, motion pictures and commercials.
An Architectural Engineer by training, early on Adam developed a taste for rescuing old buildings, old cars, and interesting items that he thought should be saved. The desire to find a profitable business-case for that passion led him to found The Relic Source. Matt said, “I love rescuing, repurposing, and restoring things, and love to turn items I save into various forms of entertainment, and I wanted all of this to become a way to make a living, not just a hobby.”
As a young man, Matt loved many of the cool cars he saw on the road, but couldn’t afford those he liked best. “Enthusiasm becomes contagious. If I wanted it, I had to get it or make it. I couldn’t afford nice new cars. We took a 64 ½ Mustang convertible and made a Shelby clone exactly to spec.” That was the first in a line of great cars that the Woolley’s have owned.
Over a period of years, the germ of an idea that eventually became Star Hill Ranch percolated in Adam’s mind. Eventually his circumstances allowed him to purchase 30 acres of undeveloped land in Bee Caves, TX. Star Hill as it now exists was a labor of love developed over an almost 15 years’ period. He scouted interesting, period correct buildings from all over central Texas.
Many were rejected for a variety of reasons, but the ones chosen are of many different types all consistent with the early 1900’s Texas theme. As many of my long-time followers know, I’ve had my own misadventures in house restoration. The quality of the architectural restorations at the ranch are among the best I’ve ever seen. Restoring just one such building would tax most restorers, but Woolley has literally restored a town full. “It gives people the experience of life on a human scale. It’s peaceful here, and people tend to relax and it even reduces their stress level.”
As I mentioned before, the place was a-buzz when I arrived that morning. Matt explained that filming for many of the scenes in the new AMC series The Son starring Pierce Brosnan were filmed on site and production had recently wrapped. What I was seeing was the set decorators and crafts people striking some smaller set pieces. Many of the buildings had been artfully “aged” by a cadre of talented set painters. On the day, I was there they were returning the buildings to pristine condition.
Many other television and film productions have also leveraged the combined resources of The Relic Source and Star Hill Ranch. Disney was Star Hill’s first client, as they leased the entire property in 2001 and used it for their production offices and costume operations for the first 18 months of business, while “The Alamo” was filmed at nearby locations in 2001 and 2002. In addition to the “The Son” being a primary filming location, “Waiting for the Miracle to Come” with Willie Nelson, as well as multiple television shows, music videos, commercials and independent productions such as “Red on Yellow Kill a Fellow,” “Second Day,” and “The Road to Austin” were shot on property. One of the biggest productions, which incorporates both businesses, was the production of an episode of “Monster Moves,” which documented the move of one of the historic buildings from its original location to Star Hill Ranch, an episode that can be watched from the Star Hill Ranch website or at the end of this story. The Relic Source web site features a much more complete list of productions filmed at Star Hill Ranch.
Next our conversation turned to the veritable fleet of historical cars I had seen the night before. Matt explained that many productions need a reliable source of historic vehicles as the availability of privately-owned vehicles can sometimes be very challenging to accommodate production schedules. Adam started with a couple of neat old trucks, and the fleet has slowly expanded to include 11 historic vehicles available for movie rentals from a sister company Star Picture Cars.
Matt works with other movie vehicle rental companies, and can provide a vehicle for most filming situations. Many of the cars used in The Son came via Adam’s company. I had driven my ’65 Corvair on this excursion, and I asked if I could photograph it in front of one of the historic buildings. Woolley even went a step further.
He summoned the two “car-wranglers” we met the night before, and introduced them as Jimmy Franks, and Johnny Pictures Cars. Johnny Picture Cars?? He swore with a straight face that was his legal name, and even produced a business card confirming that fact. Adam directed them to pose any of the cars I selected from the fleet anywhere in the town I wanted.
The next two hours were spent with two of the funniest car-guys I’ve ever met. With over thirty years in the movie industry Johnny and his side-kick Jimmy had a million stories. But even better for me, these guys were used to working with professional movie directors and happily moved the cars around to frame any shot I wanted. For a little while I felt like a for-real Hollywood director. I’m ready for my close-up Mr. Riley, lol.
It turns out you can also experience Star Hill Ranch. The venue is available for rental for a variety of parties and events. The Woolley’s tell me that many weddings, fund-raisers, retreats, private parties, and corporate events are held on the property. Available facilities include The Little Chapel (smaller historic chapel), Reception/Banquet Hall, Bride’s/VIP Suite, Groom’s Quarters/Cantina, Outdoor Arbor & Pavilion, Biergarten, Main Street/Plaza, and Catering Kitchen, as well as Fitzhugh Chapel/Hall (larger chapel) and Guest Cottage, and others.
I’m going to beg these guys to let me show up next time there is filming at Star Hill Ranch. Who doesn’t want to spend time on a for-real Hollywood style lot? Maybe I’ll even get lucky and meet Pierce Brosnan or Willie Nelson. For more information on Star Hill Ranch, or to book your own event contact them at:
Star Hill Ranch
15,000 Hamilton Pool Road
Austin TX 78738