Meet the Folks of Tranquility Wild West Town, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
by J.D. McCall
It's no secret among writers of Westerns that the genre has enjoyed some popularity overseas in places like Great Britain, Germany, and a few other European countries. Recently, I came across a group of Western devotees in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, who really take their Western interest seriously.
Tranquility Wild West Town is a diverse group of individuals dedicated to preserving the life and times of the Old West, even to the point of building their own Western town, hence the name of the group.
Group founder, Alistair (Ally) Baranowski came up with the idea of building his own Wild West town back in 2005 on property he owned near the Glendronach Distillery in Aberdeenshire. Quite fittingly, the first building to be constructed was the Saloon, which was to be the heart of the town and gathering place for their future community, much like the saloons of the Old West functioned as a social hub in the 1800s.
Ally, his brother, Stan, and Billy Beaton started construction in June of that year, aided by a few others as schedules would permit, and by November had completed the first building in Tranquility. Once the story hit the media, Ally had no trouble finding others who wanted to share in his Wild West dream. Currently, the group has about thirty members.
I recently contacted Ally and a few of his fellow enthusiasts, who graciously agreed to answer some of my questions about Tranquility and this Western obsession they have immersed themselves in.
JD: Even if they knew of the fair sized following that westerns have overseas, a lot of folks here in the U.S. would be surprised to learn there are organizations such as yours which embrace the period with such gusto. I would like to hear from some of your members how their interest in the Old West developed. What initially drew your attention to this period in U.S. history?
Ally: As a child I loved listening to western stories on the radio & being invited round to a neighbours to watch the Lone Ranger on TV and also had a diet of westerns at the cinema on Saturday mornings. Hollywood has a lot to answer for!
John Haram (a.k.a. Missourah Jack, a.k.a. Dr. Bob): Growing up in England in the 50s you couldn’t switch on the TV without an almost endless supply of Westerns being shown every day – everything from children’s shows such as Cisco Kid, Range Rider, Hopalong Cassidy, etcetera, to more adult Westerns such as Wagon Train, Cheyenne, Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke - (renamed Gun Law for some reason here in the UK!!), Rawhide, etcetera, etcetera. (My father would actually disconnect the phone so the family would not be disturbed on Wagon Train night on the TV). In addition to the TV there was always a constant supply of really great Western movies to satisfy our quest for a good Western as well as a huge supply of Western comics. I’m 68 years old now and I remember my mother often saying over the years: “Most boys go through the Cowboy stage – my son is stuck in it!!”
Dave Alexander (aka LoneStranger): My uncle used to buy me books and guns, etcetera, when I was about 5 years old.
JD: It sounds like your childhoods were a lot like mine. So, what aspect of the Wild West and its history do you find the most fascinating?
Ally: I think the period from around 1865-1895 roughly is the most exciting period in Wild West history for me. The building of the railways, the migration west & hardships endured, conquering the wilderness, the outlawry. The weapons, the clothing, the backgrounds of those early settlers etc. It's all so very fascinating & colourful.
John: Although I have always loved Hollywood’s version of Western history, I also love all of actual Western history with, perhaps, a special interest in American Indian history – although I have much more to learn.
JD: Have any of your members visited the U. S. and been to any of the western states?
Dave: I toured all 48 States (continental) in 2010, doing 26,000 miles. When I came back I joined Tranquility. I wrote a book about it titled 48 @67 which refers to my age and the number of States visited.
Ally: Quite a number of the members (perhaps almost half) have visited the US. I have friends in Dodge City, Cheyenne, Arizona, & New Mexico. Indeed, since 2012 I've been returning annually to visit friends in Arizona and New Mexico every March and each year I take more members with me. In 2015 I'm hopeful that at least 5 of us will be going. I particularly enjoy traveling through Arizona and New Mexico with their ghost towns & historical links; eg Tombstone, Willcox, etcetera.
John: Yes, my wife and I have visited the U.S. several times – twice to Arizona & New Mexico.
JD: Wow, some of you are well traveled. I feel a wee bit embarrassed to say I have never visited Scotland, home to a lot of my ancestry. So when it comes to books, which do you prefer when reading about the Wild West: fiction or non-fiction?
John: I love good Western fiction such as Louis L’Amour. I also love Western non-fiction, for example when I was about 12 years old I found Paul I. Wellman’s two great works, Death in the Desert and Death on the Prairie far more interesting history than King Henry VIII, Oliver Cromwell or the reign of Elizabeth l. (Incidentally I still have those Wellman books amongst a fair supply of other great Western history books).
Dave: Factual, there are plenty of novels on other subjects to read.
Ally: I like a good reference book to check out facts for accuracy but I do enjoy a well written fictional action western.
JD: So, Ally, how did you fund the building of Tranquility?
Ally: I personally funded about 90% of the cost of construction, the remainder has been financed through raffles, donations for doing western shows and other fundraising activities carried out by members of re-enactment team. The town is built on land owned by me.
JD: Any plans to expand the town?
Ally: Probably won't add any further buildings as land is limited and I don't want it to get too overcrowded, plus I'd need to get more planning permission! But I think we will continue slowly to upgrade existing buildings; e.g. currently we're adding a canopy to the Marshall's Office, and perhaps next year we may construct a gallows.
JD: I see you hold some events where the public is invited to visit Tranquility. The re-enactments must be lots of fun. How big of a crowd do you usually draw?
Ally: Spectator size often depends on the weather forecast as we're primarily an outdoor event. Average is around 150 folks (we only have three Open Days a year).
JD: Since you started the group, you've branched out from re-enactments to short films. How did that come about?
Dave: It just seemed to happen. Maybe we secretly aspire to be movie stars, after all given the right direction and an endless number of re-takes we can all be made to look good.
Ally: I'm a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to technology! However, about the same time I started the town I bought a basic camcorder and would video some of our re-enactment rehearsals. Of course everyone wanted a copy of the video and got a thrill from watching their performances on the small screen! One thing leads to another... one weekend we decide to make a short movie out of one of our reenactments. The result was pretty amateurish but everyone was happy with it! Each year we'd try to be a little more ambitious with some of our films running to over 30 minutes and we also started attracting pretty decent volunteers both as camera crew and as actors. In 2014 we made two films & will have a double premiere of them in a local cinema. We've entered one into the 2015 Glasgow Short Film Festival.
JD: It looks like you've stepped up your game with your new feature. Did you find it to be more of an effort than you thought to produce your current film, Return of a Son?
Ally: No, had a very good team to work with.
Dave: I didn’t find it much of an effort. All I did was turn up and do as I was told, but there were a lot of people who put in far more work than I did and I reckon they found it quite an effort.
JD: And any plans for making another?
Ally: Yes! We hope to film at least one in 2015.
Dave: I hope so, but it’s difficult to get a group of people together for a prolonged period sometimes due to work, commitments, etcetera.
JD: Well, gentlemen, it's been a pleasure talking with you and learning about Tranquility. You've got a great group and a fantastic venue for it. I must admit, I'm a bit envious that you have such a great way to live out your dreams of being in the Old West. And nobody gets killed!
Thanks once again for taking the time to answer my questions. I'll continue to follow you on Facebook and look forward to your posts.
For anyone wanting to know more about Tranquility Wild West Town, check out these links: