Belen man transforms ‘The Last Stand’ set into charming western town

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Nestled among the beige adobe homes in the Heart of Belen twinkles one man’s playground.

But instead of swings, monkey bars and a slide, Joseph Nunez’s backyard contains a western town complete with a bar, store, church, outhouse and barn.

Abigail R. Ortiz-News-Bulletin photo: A western town, spanning 40-by-20 feet, twinkles and shines with Christmas decorations and lights. The town was built by retired Belen city employee, Joseph Nunez, and his relative, Christopher Stump.

“It’s my toy place where I have adventures,” said Nunez, a father of two.

And the wood used for the storage-sheds-turned-buildings came from the movie sets from the modern-day western “The Last Stand.” The movie, starring former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, wrapped up filming in the Heart of Belen last December, and will debut on Jan. 17.

And for the holidays, Nunez, also known as the light man, added white-light reindeer, blow up Christmas trees, green strands of garland, multi-colored Christmas lights and miniature Christmas trees to the town.

After the sun has set, the town twinkles and shines from the back of Nunez’s home to accompany the holiday decorations and light display in front of his home.

After learning city officials were giving away leftover movie set materials to residents, Nunez stocked up on 14 truck loads full of wood. Piles of wood covered more than half of his backyard and reached up to four-feet tall.

At first, the Belen native planned to build a porch extending around the outside of his home with the spare wood, but then he got an idea.

Nunez envisioned the piles of wood assembling together to build not a porch, but a western town.

Abigail R. Ortiz-News-Bulletin photo: Joseph Nunez created a western town from the scrap plywood leftover from the modern-day western ‘The Last Stand,’ which finished filming in the Heart of Belen last year and will hit theaters in January.

“It just popped into my head and it stuck,” he said. “‘I’m going to build a western town,’ I thought.”

Nunez enlisted the help of his relative, Christopher Stump, to take on this mighty endeavor.

The two joined forces — with Stump designing the frames and buildings of the sheds that would sustain the structures and Nunez adding embellishment to give them a western touch.

The two played off each other’s ideas after beginning the project in March.

The town came together on it’s own as the pair cut pieces of scrap plywood while hammering other pieces together. After working more than a month to construct the church, a large pile of wood remained.

“So, I said, ‘Let’s build another one,’” Nunez said.

From there, the pair erected the store, the bar and finally an outhouse.

To add to the town, the pair converted an existing shed into a barn with wooden corrals surrounding the entrance.

They added a tin roof over the shingles to add an old-time feeling.

The small four-building town took about three months to design, construct and hammer together.

Nunez worked from dusk until dawn every day this summer turning his vision into reality in shorts, sandals and a straw hat.

In the end, the town stretches across more than 40-by-20 feet of Nunez’s backyard.

Once the buildings were up, Nunez added small details here and there to make the town come to life.

Nunez blended paints to create a red-brick color for the buildings. A darker version of this color was used to trim the doorways, windows and designs.

Sagging porches extending the length of the front of the building are held up by columns standing on ornamental feet from couches.

Spare wood was used to trim the walls inside and out and add covered porches supported by wooden columns to the front of each of the storage sheds.

Hitching posts, tied together with rope, stand in front of the bar and store, alongside wooden troughs.

A browned rope lines the planters standing near the entrance of the store along with a wooden bench at the center of the town sitting in front of a wooden fire pit.

Three crosses, one in the center and two on each side of the church’s facade, stand tall.

Two steps lead up to the porch and church’s doorway with planters lining either side underneath the church’s tin-pitched roof.

A rusted shovel, missing its left corner and handle, rests against the store. Hanging from the store’s doorway is a rusted horse shoe next to a silver railroad lamp.

Rusted tools that have turned a melody of red, brown and orange are hammered into the face of the store. Dried cactuses sit alongside hammers, pick axes, rakes, a saw and the head of a scythe.

Empty bottles, some with cobwebs, are displayed in the two windows of the bar. A sign on the right side of the bar’s door says, “Drive slow. Young porker, little piglets and one old board grunting.”

And the pair isn’t finished yet. They plan on building a wooden coffin, a wooden bridge, and a structure for a hangman’s noose to dangle from, along with finish painting the exterior and interior portions of the buildings.

“It’s the little details to finish off the structures,” Nunez said. “When I look out there, I’m thinking, ‘This is what it should look like.’”

The town, which Nunez is yet to name, is a work in progress and changing constantly to achieve perfection, Stump said.

“It makes me happy,” Nunez, a retired Belen city employee, said.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.