Don't worry. You're not the only person in Farmington to wonder why Denny Motors, located on the corner of Ste. Genevieve Avenue and Route 00, has such an odd variety of vehicles on its lot — including rows of vintage police cars and even an old taxi.
While owner Dennis Boyd certainly sells his share of vehicles, he also has a unique purpose for much of his inventory. His other business, St. Louis Picture Cars, supplies many of the vehicles on his lot for use by the film and TV industry.
According to Boyd, he has taken a long, circuitous path to become a part of the film industry.
“My dad was a police officer and he would bump the sirens and hit the red lights when he went out to work," he said. "I kind of grew up inspired by him as my Superman. I was always fascinated by the police cars.
"I always liked classic cars, but you never go to a car show and see a police car or old tow truck. I thought I would restore some old police cars. I always wanted old police cars like on my favorite TV show ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’, or ‘Walking Tall’ and ‘The Heat of the Night.' I have all those now.”
At an early age, Boyd noticed that small-town police departments in other states did not have access to good, quality patrol cars. Some Missouri departments would sell off their cars with relatively low mileage with few problems. He started buying police cars and fixing them up to resell.
“At the time, new cars did not have lease incentives like they do today,” he said. “There was a time where that service was more in demand for used police cars that didn’t have a lot of miles on them.”
A local car Boyd found and customized to match the one used in" Walking Tall" began a chain events that has continued to today.
“That indirectly got a lot of attention, when I had the first 'Walking Tall' car. I got introduced to a guy that had a 'Dukes of Hazzard' car.”
The man told Boyd that if he restored a “Sheriff Coltrane” police car, it would be very popular at Dukes of Hazzard car clubs.
Boyd has made friends with "Dukes of Hazzard" club members in several states. His "Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane car" is considered a rarity and is in high demand when compared with "General Lee" Dodge Chargers. The car lot owner got to know the actor James Best who played Coltrane. In fact, Boyd's movie car business really kicked into gear after he supplied the car for the actor's use at a public appearance he made at a ballpark in Marion, Illinois. A photo of Best with Boyd's car even appeared in the local paper.
The History Channel, which was filming a '70s-era episode in the area, contacted Boyd about using the car, and things took off from there. Over time, St. Louis Picture Cars has become known as a source for the film industry's unique transportation needs — most notably police cars and other specialized equipment, all further enhanced by a network he has developed of local classic car owners.
“It’s the cars of interest where I come in — tow trucks, fire trucks, police cars,” Boyd said. “You can’t go to Enterprise and rent them. I always have police cars around. Police equipment, uniforms — I always have lots of props for them.
"I don’t always have the car. I have a knack for noticing cars of interest. I know somebody that has a special type of car, especially period cars. My phone is full of connections. I know if I need the car, I know how to get them.”
On his lot, Boyd pointed out an actual retired New York City taxi that was used in the film “The Ghost Who Walks,” for scenes filmed in St. Louis.
“We had some decals to put over where it said New York City,” he said. “They brought down the stunt team from Chicago Police and Fire. They said we need a taxi scene with stunts where they were hitting some of the actors. I did the driving scenes.
"They did a couple of scenes where the stunt team got hit by the car. They rolled up and smashed the front windshield and the side glass out. It was part of the scene and they paid to fix it. The windshield broke out too early and they had to re-shoot. We had to hurry up and get the windshield replaced early the next morning.”
Parked next to the taxi is a Ford Crown Victoria that, although now retired, was once a police cruiser.
“It’s been driven by Tom Green from the MTV show ‘The Tom Green Show,’ Boyd said. "He autographed the trunk lid. We used it for ‘Interviewing Monsters and Bigfoot’. He was a 'Super Trooper' wannabe park ranger. They needed a police car to fit the need.”
The car was also used recently as a police car for an episode of "Unsolved Mysteries: Missing Witness."
“It’s also a sheriff’s car for the movie ‘No Good Heroes,'” Boyd said. “They didn’t use decals on them. They put colored tape on them and put little colored dots on different places on the car, and they went back in post-production and [used Computer Generated Imagery] to put the graphics on there.”
Boyd admitted that sometimes things can get pretty hectic when working with the rapidly changing schedules film crews are notorious for.
“I had 18 cars to provide for 'Unsolved Mysteries' the same week that I had to do a two-day shoot with VEVO in St. Louis,” he said. “I had cars going north, south, on trailers, on haulers, batteries going dead, flat tires, people that call out — ‘I can’t drive for you today.’ We did it, we got things done. We did everything they asked us, we made everything happen.”
What may very well be the “star” of St. Louis Picture Cars is an unassuming, battered, light blue 1979 Ford F100 pickup. Boyd explained that the truck has been used in multiple shoots and in various settings.
“I originally bought to restore it as the 'Uncle Jessie’s Truck' from the 'Dukes of Hazzard,'” he said. “I was going to paint it white. The first film we went to use it, we hadn’t painted it yet. They said it was a beautiful for the camera and that’s why it’s this color and I’m not going to change it now.
"It’s been in ‘No Good Heroes’. They used it in ‘Interviewing Monsters and Bigfoot’ as Les Stroud’s truck, which he autographed. Two weeks ago we did a TV commercial for a large operation in St. Louis. It was a farmer’s produce market.
Adorning the pickups hood is a decal of a bumble bee.
“This is what I call a movie tattoo," Boyd said. "This truck was used in another episode of Unsolved Mysteries. It was portrayed as the victim’s truck, which is very similar. They had this decal on the front of it. They asked me to make a flatbed of it in less than 24 hours per the director’s request, which I was able to do.
"We had to take this bed off. We grabbed the flatbed off of a small trailer. We put it on there. The next morning, they switched up times and said we want it now. The bed wasn’t mounted. I had help from a kid from the gas station across the street. We got the bed on. We plastic zip-tied the bed to the frame, trailered it to St. Louis and filmed it that way.”
Boyd not only provided vehicles, but also special effects for "Interviewing Monsters and Bigfoot."
“There’s a scene where they’re going off a cliff and the guys are actually leaning forward,” he said. “We set the van up on our rollback and tilted the bed up. They really had that g-force going down. We shot that right here on the lot.”
According to Boyd, the most unusual request he had was for an Army tank.
“They had filmed the exterior scenes of an Army tank in Las Vegas, but for whatever reason they had to redo the interior scenes inside a tank. The crew come out of St. Louis and filmed the inside of the tank at the VFW.”
Aside from providing vehicles, Boyd offers other services as necessary for film shoots — including performing repair work on vehicles that may not even be his.
“I also help with wardrobe and props,” he said. “I give them the uniform and they don’t know how to put on the police equipment. I’ve made up generic license plates. I have an enclosed cargo trailer with folding chairs and tables inside.
"After I unload the car, I can make an office space. I enclosed a corner off and made a bathroom. There’s a counter space there we use for catering, wardrobe and makeup. It’s kind of an all-around production trailer that we use for a lot of film work.”
Boyd told the story about what he considers his craziest on-set mishap during the filming of “Dig Two Graves.”
“They needed a scene of a police car, a 1970s period shot,” he said. “I had the 'Walking Tall' sheriff car — we used it in this movie in southern Illinois. They put us up on a levee 50 feet in the air. To move another car, I had to park on the side of the levee.”
Boyd put it in park and got out of the car, which then began taking off down the steep slope of the levee on its own.
“There was a nearby warehouse,” he said. “The car went down and punched right through the metal building wall and into the break room and went to the front doors. Fortunately, nobody was on break. It knocked tables and chairs out of the room into the warehouse. Everybody was OK except for me. I thought I was going to have a heart attack.”
With his car being damaged, Boyd thought he had wasted the trip.
“I didn’t get one shot," he said. "I went back to the hotel and went to bed. The next morning, I went to the nearest parts store. I got sandpaper, paint, masking tape. I bought newspapers for masking. The windshield was busted out, glass everywhere, paint scrapes up both sides, but the body was fairly straight. The set mechanic and I spent about three hours vacuuming glass. I went back to the hotel parking lot. I wet sanded and taped off the car, and repainted and touched up the paint scrapes.”
As it was a night shot, the remaining damage was not noticeable.
“We filmed it," Boyd said. "Those were the scenes that were in the opening trailer and in the movie. That’s me driving the car with no windshield. We did it one way or another. Tenacious. They tell that story everywhere they go during Q & A at the movie release. They went all around the world telling this.”
As part of the movie “Interviewing Monsters and Bigfoot,” Boyd met the stars of the film, including Jessie Combs. Combs died not long afterward in a car crash where she was attempting to break her own land speed record.
“She was there as the talent and I was there as the set mechanic,” Boyd said. “We had a scene where a tire got blew out with a police spike strip in the movie. I brought a prop wheel to put on. She offered to help. I said ‘No ma’am, that’s my job.’ She seemed to be interested in everything I was doing with the car and setting up the stunts.”
At the end of the day, Combs helped Boyd load the car on the trailer to bring back home.
“I pulled out and left, and my trailer lights went out,” he said. “I pulled over a block away. The people that were taking her back to the airport went by me and she had them back up. She said, ‘Hey, do you need some help with that?’ I said, 'No, I think it’s a loose connection.' While we're standing there talking, I wiggled the plug and the lights came on. She was very down-to-earth, very super happy, very nice.”
Along with “Interviewing Monsters and Bigfoot,” several other shows that feature Boyd’s work have been released in recent weeks.
“'Unsolved Mysteries' just released part two of the first season and I’m in two episodes of that," he said. "I have 18 cars in two different episodes for them. The 'Murder Unboxed' series is on Quibi and is being released this week with a scene filmed in Bonne Terre."
While supplying vehicles for movies and TV isn't a full-time job for Boyd, he said he always treats it like it is.
“High integrity and make sure we do the best we can for them. It’s not just their movie. Whenever it’s out there, I want us to look good too as a production company. Commercials and music videos, independent filmmakers, small productions, coast-to-coast, Los Angeles to New York, I worked for them all and had a pretty good time doing it.
"I wasn’t out looking for work, although I always thought it would be kind of cool to do that. I didn’t really expect the work to be around here. I’m just being me and these people love it. I couldn’t have done this without friends and family that have helped with driving cars or reaching out to them for a car I’m looking for. It’s been a large network, certainly not just me.”
Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at firstname.lastname@example.org
"I wasn’t out looking for work, although I always thought it would be kind of cool to do that. I didn’t really expect the work to be around here. I’m just being me and these people love it." – Dennis Boyd