by Debbie Ingram
||B.J. Taylor rides his horse, Red, through Old Town, a replica of an old Western town, that is located between Dothan and Hartford. Taylor began work on the town 10 years ago and rents out the facility for parties and weddings
B.J. Taylor looks around the town it’s taken him 10 years to build, and admits he is pleased.
"There’s a lot more to do," he says. "And the maintenance – there’s something all the time."
The town Taylor has built, Old Town, is a replica of an Old West settlement much like you’d see on television shows like "Gunsmoke." Located on eight acres just west of Dothan, the town hosts western theme parties – children’s birthday parties, reunions and weddings.
As he talks about the creation of Old Town, Taylor, wearing a white cowboy hat and jeans, brown leather vest and boots, puts a chew of tobacco in his mouth. He stops talking to corral Red after the horse breaks free from a hitching post in front of the jail.
Thirty minutes later, Jim, the mule, has busted a gate and is running amok. Kittens scurry about as Chief, a lab mix, barks wildly before falling asleep again.
|Wanda and Kenny Williams, center front row seated, wanted to have a non-traditional wedding and found it at Old Town. They, along with their wedding party, pose in their period dress in front of the Bull Horn Saloon.
"I wanna finish the undertaker’s office. And that wagon there," he says pointing, "I wanna finish it. I’m gonna hook the mule to it and give rides to the kids."
Old Town has everything it needs to be a self-sustaining town in the Old West. It has a marshal’s office and jail; a hotel, which is Taylor’s private residence; a doctor’s office,
utilized as a changing room; Thomas Mill and General Store, named for Taylor’s longtime friend Dolan Thomas; a mining company; a bank; a telegraph office; a gunsmith; an undertaker’s office; a stable and blacksmith shop; the OK Corral – off limits to any Earps; a cemetery, and a saloon.
There is also plenty of open space between the cypress buildings, which are constructed in a circle.
Most parties are in the Bull Horn Saloon, which can accommodate 85 people, but guests often wander through Old Town, admiring Taylor’s collection of old tools, guns, and everyday items from the mid-1800s.
"I have collected things all my life," Taylor said. "And a lot of people donate things, like old equipment. They just think it should be here.
"I try to make everything look like it did 125 years ago. People like that. I don’t want anything perfect. I want it roughed out."
Taylor’s childhood spent on a farm most likely helped form his profession.
"We were the last ones in Early County (Ga.) to get the tractor," said the 58 year old. "Daddy still used mules. I was 10 or 12 before we got a tractor."
After graduating high school and working five years as a firefighter for the state forestry service, Taylor left Southwest Georgia to seek fame, if not fortune. In the beginning, his path was musical. He put together a band and hit the road playing drums and singing country and western songs.
He got work in Nashville and California. After playing music on the road for a number of years, Taylor came home in 1979 and found a job at a popular Panama City tourist attraction called Petticoat Junction.
"I did stunts and gunfights," he said. "As a kid I was always crazy about westerns, cowboys and guns. I’ve always been real safety conscious but I’ve been shooting guns since I was a young boy."
Sometimes rabbits and squirrels were his targets, but mostly, Taylor just lined up bottles and cans and picked them off one by one.
At Petticoat Junction, Taylor met Slim Tretchell and the two became good friends. During the off season, they traveled to Six Flags over Georgia to see the Wild West show there. Dressed in their cowboy regalia, the two were recognized and coaxed onstage for a performance.
"We had one-and-a-half hours to prepare a script and we went on," Taylor said.
When the show was over, the saloon doors had to be put back on but the rowdy pair got job offers on the spot. "I said, ‘Why us?’ and the man said cause he needed some hair and some guns."
Tired of the seasonal work, the two took their guns to Georgia, where they cleaned out saloons during the week and robbed the train at Stone Mountain on weekends. Their skill levels increased and Taylor said he learned how to fall on asphalt.
"Thank the good Lord. I never broke a bone but I’ve bent a lot of ’em."
The two have worked together for 25 years. Taylor’s wife, Debbie, became part of the act as well. As a trick shooter, Taylor would shoot cigarettes from his wife’s mouth and put her against a board and throw knives at her.
"It’s just like driving a car," he said. "I’ve just done it so long, it’s easy."
In 1996, Taylor moved to Dothan, starting Old Town with the thought of having a public stable. He found the work confining.
"I went to Plan B," he said. "I started doing trick shooting. Kids are amazed and I always talk to them about gun safety. It is amazing the kids that really do like this atmosphere. It’s different than their computers and electronic toys. It’s simple.
"Me and the other guys really do enjoy doing the shows. I never thought it would go but it worked into the parties."
While the guns are real, cowboys fire blanks.
Since opening full-time three years ago, Old Town averages a party a week. When children are about, Taylor brings the donkeys out so they can see the animals up close. "All the animals are friendly. They don’t kick or bite," he said.
One of the most unusual events at Old Town was a December wedding in which the entire wedding party and guests showed up in period dress. The bride and groom, Kenny and Wanda Williams, wanted a little something different and got it.
"That was the first time we got involved with a wedding," said Taylor. "When the preacher asked if anyone saw any reason why they couldn’t wed, we created a ruckus. I got thrown out of the saloon. People were very surprised. I don’t think the preacher knew anything about it either."
Kenny’s father, Baptist preacher Jimmie Williams, performed the ceremony with a vague idea that a few surprises were coming.
"B.J. was the guy who had rode into town to stop the wedding," Wanda said. "I was supposed to be his woman."
Since Wanda and Kenny have both been married before, the two wanted a non-traditional wedding and found it at Old Town. "People loved it," Kenny said. "They are still talking about it today."
Old Town visitors do leave with their memories of a fun time, but by allowing them to step back in history, Taylor renews or piques their interest in the Old West.
Taylor is, indeed, pleased. Just ask the cowboy how he’s spent his life and with clear, blue eyes he will look at you and say, "I have entertained."
For information on Old Town Western Parties, call (334) 792-0770.