Bombs over the American Frontier

The explosive mind and career of Laurel’s Pyro-Technician specialist Bobby Brooks
By: 
GARRETT HARR
Outlook staff writer

Some people go to work everyday with a briefcase and students carry backpacks, but Bobby Brooks carries a bomb-box.
It’s a spark-proof powder box with explosives inside. Creating the illusion of a gunshot or explosion for a film is a far cry from how Brooks got into show business as a young man with a horse.
When Brooks was a teenager he went to every rodeo in the west he could find. Texas, Wyoming, Montana, it didn’t matter the distance. He was a bull rider, good with horses and could ride with the best of them. Being young, talented and without fear probably helped some too.
During one fateful rodeo in the late ‘80s, Brooks was given the chance to be an extra in a Pepsi commercial. For his role, he rode his horse around an arena decked out with Pepsi decor. Even the barrels were painted like giant Pepsi cans. There he met producer Rylan Flynn who was in need of cowboys, stunt-men, young skinny teens that could do it all. Brooks got the gig, just like that. He got his first taste of being on a set at just 18 years old. Flynn immediately hired him for the mini-series “North and South.”
“I first got the feel for it,” he said. “I made a lot of friends.”
He was a extra on horseback for the “North and South” mini-series. Then came “Lonesome Dove,” where Brooks even had the opportunity to be a double for some of the young stars in the movie.
In his time spent on the sets he consumed every bit of knowledge he could from the professionals about the sets, the props and the concepts. And he made the connections. Brooks began spending his spare time building civil war cannons and other props he could use for shows or be able to sell to movies or television series.
His big break came on “Rambo Part 3.” part of Sylvester Stallone’s now-classic action movie franchise. Brooks provided the horses for the 40-plus extras needed for the film’s final frames. His scene took a little over a week to film and then he had a choice: stick around on the set touting one of the biggest action stars of the era with the best special effects crew in Hollywood, or head home. He chose the former and it changed everything.
Brooks showed up hours early on shooting days and watched and learned every aspect of the filmmaking process. He helped the special effects experts string wires and make bombs. In the process he got a closer look at Hollywood explosives and hands-on training with the some of the best special-effects teams in the business. Eventually he was put on the payroll. And the rest is history.
Brooks started experimenting with making his own explosives soon after. He went through the process of getting all the federal explosive licenses and ATF approved equipment. He followed the strict regulations and passed the yearly inspections to make different kinds of explosions.
He started with explosives and squibs. These little devices were often used in Hollywood movies to simulate trauma. One would be placed somewhere on an actor’s body equipped with a powder charge and electrical ignitor and a condom filled with blood; the squib would be timed with a gunshot and produce a small hole and a gush of fake blood when the actor was shot.
Now he uses air squibs which are basically the same except they have a small tube filled with blood or dust and is operated by a remote control.
Brooks specialized in explosives for years. He even made replica guns for movies and replica cannons for civil war shows on the History and Travel Channels. He also worked on other locally-shot movies and on Kevin Costner movies, “The Postman,” among others. He provided the smoke and dust and carriages and anything and everything necessary to add the realism for whatever show or movie he was working on.
Brooks then met his wife of 25 years, Denise, in Billings and they raised two children, Bailey and Bobbi. He now lives in Laurel with his wife and works as a maintenance supervisor at the Stillwater mine although he still does the occasional television or movie.
Most recently Brooks was featured in episode one, season three of the Travel Channel’s series “Expedition Unknown,” with Josh Gates. The episode centered around a treasure hunt for a corrupt sheriff’s gold in Bannack, Montana; now a ghost town.
The legend of Plummer’s gold started in the 1800s. He was the sheriff of the town and also ringleader of the Road Agent Gang. Bannack had a gold rush in the mid 1800s and Plummer and his gang targeted miners transporting gold. It was estimated the gang stole over $6 million in gold and killed hundreds of miners in the process.
It wasn’t until late December in 1863 when a posse formed and started hunting the bandits, eventually leading to lynch mobs and the shocking realization that the leader of the gang was none other than the sheriff himself, Henry Plummer. All of the gang members were eventually rounded up and hanged.
With a noose around his neck the corrupt sheriff Plummer made one last request to spare his life. He spoke of a hidden treasure and said if he was given two hours and one horse he would bring back a man’s weight in gold to redeem himself for the heists he orchestrated. He promised to give all the stolen gold to his captors.
The noose tightened, his boots dropped and his body jerked violently at the end of a rope becoming limp and lifeless. From that moment on the legend of Plummer’s gold has fascinated treasure seekers. Although no one in Bannack cared what Plummer had to say that day, plenty of modern day prospectors would like to know the location of his gold.
In the episode Brooks appeared in, the host, Josh Gates, had narrowed in on an old mine shaft that he and other experts thought might contain the treasure. The crew just needed to get inside and who better to call than explosives expert Bobby Brooks himself?
Using explosives that he carried in his bomb-box, Brooks blew open the mine. Dust and dirt and other particles rained down after the explosion like falling comets. Then the treasure hunters entered the mine looking for the answer to the mystery and, of course, the gold.
Stay tuned for a future Outlook story on Brook’s next project, a western “The Ballad of Lefty Brown,” starring Peter Fonda and Bill Pullman. The Outlook will share Brook’s pictures from on the set, behind the scenes gossip and information on how to safely stage the shooting and death of a cowboy in the 1800s in the year 2016 using modern squibs, fake blood, and Brook’s expertise.

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