You haven’t been to Texas, if you haven’t been to Buc-ee’s, or so the saying goes. Buc-ee’s is more than an iconic Texas gas station chain with the cleanest restrooms you’ve ever seen, it’s a Texas phenomenon. Started by Arch “Beaver” Aplin III in 1982 who modeled it after his grandparents’ general store (Arch Aplin’s Biggest Little Store in Catahoula Parish) in Harrisonburg, Louisiana, it’s THE place to stop for gas in Texas—or a brisket sandwich or freshly roasted bag of nuts or cowhide koozie or leopard-print kimono or just about anything else.
After nearly 40 years of gas station domination in the Lone Star state, Buc-ee’s beavers are expanding across the southeast with a slew of new locations in Alabama, North Carolina, and beyond. Texas Monthly wanted to chronicle Buc-ee’s path to world domination (the magazine’s words) with a cover featuring an army of beavers marching east, and asked Randal Ford to tackle the job.
“Buc-ee’s is like the Costco of gas stations. It has more pumps than you can count. Every glass you can imagine, homemade snacks cooked, baked, preserved in-house. And enough containers of cooling bags of ice to build a glacier,” said Randal.
The magazine has a reputation for photography and design, and they’ve gone to great lengths to produce wildly creative covers.
“The Buc-ee’s mascot is this cute beaver. You can buy them in the stores, and they also have them that are five feet tall. But each store only has one of the five-foot beavers. The magazine wanted thousands of these beavers moving down a highway heading east. My job was to figure out how to accomplish it,” said Randal.
The magazine located seven five-foot beavers and sent teams all over the state to bring them back and stuck them in a conference room (“it was hilarious,” said Randal). He wanted to use natural light, so he carted the seven giant beavers to the rooftop of an Austin parking garage and arranged them in a pyramid. Fixing his camera in place, he took the shot and then pealed the front three off the pyramid and moved them to the back. He repeated this process until he’d shot the equivalent of a 100-foot-long beaver parade. The rest was done in post.
The road is an image in West Texas from Randal’s archive (the cover was for the March 2019 issue and the foliage hadn’t budded yet in Texas). It had the right point of view and texture. The greenery came from archive images in East Texas. The billboard was put in the by retouchers.
A package of raw images was sent to Randal’s regular retoucher One White Chair’s team in New Zealand and London, before bouncing back to Austin for final adjustments. The result is Randal’s 24th cover for the magazine.
“It was an ambitious project, much like the Buc-ee’s brand. It’s always an honor and a wonderful challenge to shoot for Texas Monthly,” added Randal.
Read the story “Buc-ee’s: The Path to World Domination.”