Saturday, November 30, 2013


As we’ve mentioned many times before, there’s always “this much still to do.” No matter how hard we work or how much progress we make, there’s still a lifetime of projects before us, taunting us from their places of neglect. But we are fast approaching the one-year anniversary of moving out here, and even more quickly approaching the five-year anniversary of inheriting this giant effort. So we figured it was about time to do the housewarming thing and invite everyone out – even though the house doesn’t really accommodate large numbers of people.

Hence was born the Open-Ranch Party. Yes, it’s November. Yes, it’s only 40 degrees outside. Yes, we would be cold in the blowing wind. But no, it couldn’t wait for next spring. We planned three tours, each focusing on a different aspect of the domain. We set up a gun range. We prepared for a bonfire. We arranged for hay rides. We intended music and laughter.

We got the laughter, and that’s all we really hoped for.

Appropriately attached...
Munchkin led the first tour. Her friends had stayed overnight for her birthday, and her cousins joined them for a teen look at all those little interest points she’d found among the hills and valleys. Their faces were flushed and their breath was gone by the time they returned to the kitchen for the cupcake bar and presents.

Dude led the second tour, after Mr. Anonymous helped him with the proper location for the “extraneous” wire amongst the spark plugs in our truck. Two big farm trucks, loaded with hay bales and giggling children and guests not quite prepared for the cold, headed to the north end. They stopped to see the Big Spring, the ancient horse-drawn combine, and a few other notable points. I took a third truck out to meet them, loaded with late-comers, but found them just as they were turning back to home.

I led the third tour, giving the history of the homestead and buildings. Filled mostly with a generation older than me, the conversation was speckled with “I remember that” and “my folks had one of those” and “yes, this is for…” We then moved inside the current house, stopping to see the mammoth tusk on our way to discussing the planned remodels to our living space.

Through all of this, the gun range was expected to be a big draw but the wind was too strong. Instead, guests wandered amongst all the junk, and history, and treasures that make up our daily experience. A gaggle of women discussed food allergies in the kitchen, while making sure the cupcakes weren’t raided by roaming children. Sister She (who also discovered that scented fragrance beads look like non-pareilles) and Chevy Mama added “appointments” to my calendar. Blondie took sorted ranch items off our hands – thankfully. Others watched the digital picture frame for shots of Hillbilly and other family members they once knew, while marveling at the changes from those early photos. AuntI even had a visit from a mutual friend, though she had isolated herself in her room for the day. Beautiful flowers from our lease-holders graced the table, alongside one of my precious 3-wick candles. So many people were passing through the house that the heat built up, something I wish we could duplicate daily.

As dusk fell, Dude and Mr. Anonymous started the bonfire. The resident great-horned owl graced the party, arguing with Munchkin (as always) as the kids ran to the table of food. Guests ladled up fresh-made apple cider and traveled the solar-light path to the garden, where a blaze of Clarence the Tree really prevented rather than helped the dinner effort. Maestro shoveled a pile of coals to a smaller location, and hot dogs and smores were then devoured. An old bench from the cellar was pulled in front of the fire, and periodically moved as the heat waved over us. No singing happened, but the conversation was good, graced by the song of coyotes and geese. While gazing at a beautiful, shining Venus low on the horizon, we witnessed the flash in the thin clouds of a blown transformer the next town over – exciting and strange!

The evening ended with ChevyMama and Red, with teens in tow, visiting and wii’ing around a now-empty living room. We brought in the fire-sticks and doused the bonfire, and after sending the last of our guests off with big hugs, literally fell into bed exhausted.

I have so many delightful memories. The line of cars that extended clear up the road, more than this place has ever seen. The shadows of many mini-conversations backlit by the fire as I approached along the solar-light trail. The farm trucks loaded with friends and bouncing along the northern fields. Friends I’ve known for years meeting for the first time, while former friends – lost to name changes and job transfers -- reunited again in my kitchen. The young boys establishing the “Sandhill Fort along the Barbed-Wire Road,” and the young girls cooing over cats and dogs and horses and llamas and ducks and chickens. The sweet and thoughtful gifts brought by our friends that we didn’t expect.

The biggest gift, though, was the warmth our friends brought to our cold, tired home. We were blessed by the presence of friends of all ages from all our various associations over every phase of our lives. So many were unable to come, but we felt their love too. We will cherish all this, and as we’ve said before, our door is always open to our friends, cold weather or warm.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Photo--1975 Family Photo

Photo circa 1975 in the front yard of the current house. Of note is the nice lawn and upright outbuildings.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Photo--1950 Construction Photo

Here we have the current house under construction. More than likely the Hillbilly and his youngest brother, Fattie, at work. Neat to see the fenced area right below the house, and the red shack in the background, just to the left of the current house. Some of those rocks are still there, though there was a garden spot just behind it years later. Part of this gate and more wooden fencing, added later, were still standing when I was out here as a kid, though its all gone now. You can see part of the roof of Grandma's house behind the "crane" on the right.

The red shack was the first stick built house out here. It still stands, though the roof is fast disappearing.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Photo--1950 Construction Photo

This photo proves the current house is the newest on the place. Most of the other buildings are still extant, though some are in severe states of disrepair. Note the horse-drawn wagon in the middle. Though not there now, there are still plenty to see nearby.

There seems to be a bit of a double image going on here as well.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Photo--Family Visit To Dry Falls

Taken in about 1954 or 55, this shows Oxnix on the left and Unc on the right. Still hard for me to believe they got out of the homestead to visit places. Background of this photo is nearly unchanged today.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Photo--The Garage

We have a garage out here, long ago built into the hillside. Its sports a rock wall in the back, and an attached shop. Unfortunately, it was built near the dawn of time, because it does not look as good as this 1980 photo.
The roof is nearly gone and the walls are sagging. Part of the rock wall in back collapsed years ago into the shop, leaving rocks and tools intermingled even now. AuntI's Plymouth Fury III, on the right, is long gone, as is the 1977 Ford F150 belonging to Oxnix.
An interesting story comes to mind with that Ford. One year the lake at the nearby state park froze over. The ice was so thick I recall seeing this truck being driven on the ice next to the boat launch. The date could have been around this same time.
By the way, the tire on the left hand side of the photo is still there.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Photo--The Clothesline

This photo, snapped behind Grandma's House, was part of a number of photos stored poorly. They were crinkled and had stuff on them, as you can see from the scan.

The view here dates from about 1980 and shows the small pasture area. Looking closely you can see the clothespins hanging on the clothesline. Said line is a heavy metal wire of unknown origin. Its seen service for countless decades, including our use of it this last summer. Up until 1972, the clothesline was the only way to dry clothing out here, with an indoor clothesline in the basement for winter time use.
Note the rest of the junk in the photo from 1980. Most was cleaned up in 2013, 33 years later.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Photo--The Homesteaders

This photo shows D.O. and Hattie at an unknown location. He is looking pretty old and tired, so it has to be near 1953 when he passed away.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Photo--Farmall H

These 3 photos show the first tractor owned by the Hillbilly, a Farmall H. The Farmall H, produced from 1939 to 1954, became the number two selling tractor model of all time in North America with 420,011 sold. No doubt it was purchased to relieve the need for feed and care for numerous horses. 

The lack of a plow on this tractor suggests it was using its bulk to "plow" through a very snowy winter, perhaps in 1954 or 1955, as other photos with these three would suggest. The tractor was traded in on a brand new International 300 in 1956.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

First Snow 2013

How many times do I have to say it? I hate snow. It's cold and wet and makes travel and chores difficult. Because I detest it so much, I happen to be a near-expert on it. (Munchkin: "Since when? Who asked you?" See where my lovely sense of sarcasm gets me in this family?)

I've been saying for months that I just had a sense this winter would be a long, hard one. If this early snowfall is any indication, the first part of that may have just been confirmed. It's weeks before Thanksgiving, the typical first showing of the white stuff in these parts. Most of the region woke up to a dusting, just enough to make itself known, but not near enough to cause travel problems. Out here, though, I was beginning to look like we were in for the long haul.

The first text came from Dude, at work half an hour away, at 4am. "Snowing hard here." Sleeping here, in blissful ignorance, was my thought. The space heater was running, so I was happy.

The second text came from the Accompanist around 6:30am from their home an hour away. "Have the kid get up and look at the snow." My response: "When we all wake up." Meaning, I'm not awake, and snow is not a good motivator to get me out of bed. "Better hurry. It'll all be gone," she replied. "Lots here. It'll be here," I texted. By now, I'd seen that the general reflection of the approaching dawn sneaking out from behind the curtains was far too bright to be just a dusting.

Sure enough, by the time I got up two hours later, we had around half an inch. Over the next two hours, it flurried, then fluffed, then blizzarded, then flurried again. All told, we had nearly an inch. Every surface was covered and piled high, except where the animals traveled through it, some seeing snow for the first time ever.

I was about to spend yet another day at the courthouse, observing the ballot counting process. Not a warm building either, I figured multiple layers would serve me well no matter the environment. I donned long johns and a long-sleeve shirt under jeans and a sweater. Forgetting my gloves, I went out to the car, finding there was no ice under the snowy blanket. Thank goodness! And so, off I drove, expecting a white journey.

Amazingly -- or maybe not so -- only the ranch was buried. By the time I reached the main road, there was very little snow. It could be seen on the hills, and between the dry sagebrush, some on the houses and trees, but nowhere near what the ranch had. Even the courthouse lawn was clear by the time I reached it. The only sign of my morning "present" was the patches of it still clinging to my windshield.

It was still there that night, though half of the original dose. And by morning, only tiny patches were still there on driveway rocks and cattle trails in the fields.

More is coming, though. And I'm not looking forward to it. Unless, of course, we have enough to do Calvin and Hobbes creatures along the driveway...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Meat Wrap-Up

When last I posted, I shared with you the new technologies involved in butchering here on the ranch. With the meat now packaged in the freezer, I can now give you the results of this experiment.

The meat in the basement -- 1/3 of the half beef we purchased -- ultimately rotted. That corner, though secluded by a concrete surround and an interior door, is still on the southeast side of the house. It just wasn't cold enough. I should have known this -- basic passive solar says the heat of the day will be stored by the concrete and then released into the space overnight, thus minimizing temperature extremes. The very cold exterior temperatures were, in essence, being balanced by the warm interior temps and the sun through the window and doors. We got to it about five days too late. Tough lesson to learn, but one that will see us more fully prepared for next year's efforts.

The meat in the cellar fared very well, being ready after about ten days. After the chaos of getting it in there, Dude found an easier way to get it out. I was busy with politics at the elections office and unable to help, a situation I still have yet to categorize as either detrimental or beneficial. But necessity is the mother of invention, right? Dude managed to get a wheelbarrow into the cellar and offload the meat into it. He then picked it up at the cellar door with the backhoe and carried it to the front door of the house. The wheelbarrow again then carried the load from there into the kitchen, where Munchkin helped load it onto the counter.

Dude spent a good six to seven hours cutting the meat into steaks and roasts and ribs. He set aside doggy treats and rendering fat for soap-making. He started a bowl for making hamburger. When I arrived home, the two had already loaded most of it into the freezer, but there was still plenty to do. Generally, we double-bagged 3-servings' worth in freezer-style ziplocks, but unfortunately didn't label them. We'll see how that turns out come time to cook them!

Dude finished up the next day, cutting the larger segments with the sawzall. (I love power tools!) He used the same 2"-thick giant wood cutting board that his grandparents and great-grandparents had used years ago. Along with the nicks and gouges from the meat saws of their day, it now bears deeper wounds from the sawzall. Our meat grinder, recently returned after Red and ChevyMama finished with their deer, made quick work of the hamburger. We're a little concerned that we may not have enough burger for the year, but again, this is all a grand experiment this time.

When we have a moment, maybe Dude and I will go back through, label the packages, and tally what we have for reference next year, when we'll better know how much meat we'll need. And other supplies as well... What if we don't have access to plastic bags for some reason? What would we use? Hmm... I see more research in my future.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Three Brothers

This photo shows the Hillbilly, center, with Buster on his right, and Casto on his left. This photo was taken at Casto's house "up on the hill.".
All the land that Casto farmed up there has since been sold off, and the house leveled and turned back into farmland. The only thing marking this spot today are a few trees and the windmill tower over the well house.

Those who follow this blog should note that the Hillbilly always wore a tan shirt with a t shirt underneath, bluejeans, and boots.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Photo--Down At The Barn

Found this photo of the Hillbilly down at the barn with a horse. Said beast is named Debbie.

I'm sure there were many horses used over the years out here. The variety of sizes of horse shoes in the blacksmith shop suggests their use, besides having all the horse drawn implements parked here and there.

The windmill is still there, though the mechanism is disconnected. The name on the vane is still legible. The watering trough was repoured in 2000, so looks better today. The fencing is nearly all down, as is the barn in the background. The grain bin has a better roof then.