April 15, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.
Some time ago somebody asked me
what it was like living at the Quarter Circle U Ranch in the late 1950’s. I
thought about it for a minute and said, "I was quite young and wanted to
be a cowboy. Electricity and running water were not that important to me."
However, at the same time, I must
admit life was quite primitive at the ranch. We cooked on a wood stove and a
propane two-burner stove. We had a Serval Freezer that ran on propane. We had a
single water pipe in the kitchen. That is when there was water in the tank. Our
water depended on a full tank of water pumped in by a windmill. The windmill
was dependent on a breeze to operate. The problem with wind on the ranch was
you either had not enough or too much.
No, we didn’t have fans or
coolers. How did we survive in 110 degree days? It wasn’t easy, but we were
young and foolish. I will try to describe what it was like working on the old
Quarter Circle U Ranch.
We were usually up by 4:30 a.m.
to feed the stock in the corrals. This would include our riding horses and
cattle that were being treated for various ailments or injuries. Every animal
was important for us to save. After feeding the stock, we fed our chickens and
then the two dogs. The dogs were stock dogs and they helped us get cattle out
of the brush and other inaccessible locales. While I fed, my partner, Mike,
would begin breakfast and also prepare a pot of beans to cook on the wood
stove. Mike and I would alternate jobs during our morning routine.
By the time I was finished with
morning chores, that included gathering our eggs for breakfast, I was ready to
return to the ranch house.
We generally had bacon, potatoes,
chili, and eggs for breakfast. We had to slice our own bacon so the slices were
often quite thick. Our bean pot had beef, bacon, and chili in it. We quickly
learned to keep a stone on the bean pot lid. If we didn’t we would have a mouse
in our bean pot. Just more protein if you’re a hungry cowboy after a day of
After breakfast we would go down
to the barn and corral to prepare for our day ahead. During the summer months
we generally worked from about 6:00 a.m. until about 2:00 p.m. at which time we
would shade up. We would then go back to work at about 5:00 p.m. working for
another couple hours or so.
Summer days were long days no
matter how you looked at the work agenda. Usually we were fixing fence,
repairing water sources, checking stock or packing salt.
When we worked for the Barkley
Cattle Company the ranch included one hundred and seventeen sections of state
land, forestland and BLM land. We rode from Canyon Lake in the north to Peralta
Road in the south. All of the Gold Canyon area was part of the ranch’s range
with the exception of the King’s Ranch Guest Ranch and Resort.
The main headquarter’s ranch was
located at the Three R’s Ranch. The old ranch headquarters was located just
south of Apache Land Movie Studio. Everthing has changed in the area today. We
often herded stocked from the U Ranch to the stone corrals at the Three R’s
Ranch. The ride was about eight miles, but was slow and dusty with fifteen to
twenty head of cattle.
Bill Barkley, Mike Finley and I
drove about seventy-five head of yearlings along the old Three R’s – Quarter
Circle U Trail in April of 1959. I think this was the last time the entire
trail was used for a drive. Often along our route we had a mixture of Mule deer
and Javelinas. The wildlife would eventually fade into the desert, but often
stayed with us for a mile or so.
Once the spring roundup was over,
branding, dehorning, castration, and doctoring was done and we then prepared
for the long hot summer. We would return to the U-Ranch and have a little time
to prepare for the hot summer ahead. First and most important was putting all
of the bed legs in a tin can filled with motor oil to help keep scorpions out
of our beds. The pesky creatures would then crawl up on the rafters in the roof
and drop into our beds. We also dealt with black ants and mosquitos. Mosquitos
were very common after the summer rains in July. Sleep at night could be very
difficult in those days.
Another interesting place was the
outside privy. The outhouse was a notoriously dangerous place for scorpions and
an occasional rattlesnake. Scorpions often waited for an unsuspecting victim to
sit down on a toilet seat and then greet him with painful sting. We soon
learned to lift up the seat and check it for scorpions or whatever else might
be waiting for us. Small rattlesnakes lying near the outhouse found it
comfortable in a world of survival. I guess the old outhouse was cool. I
eventually painted a sign for the outhouse that warned people of problems they
might encounter there.
If we had any riding to do, like
packing salt, we were up at 3 a.m. and would be on the trail by 5 a.m. I recall
a trip we made to Bluff Springs in July to drop salt. Our plan was to be back
at the ranch by 11 a.m. We would have made it, but we spent two hours working
on the water source at Bluff Springs so the concrete tank could fill. Our ride
back in temperatures that exceeded 110° F about did us in. We were sunburned
and dehydrated by the time we arrived back at the ranch.
Life on the old ranch was rough,
but I still recall all those adventures and it was probably one of the most
exciting times of my life. I owe a lot to William Thomas Barkley for allowing
me to have the opportunity to grow into manhood and learn what work was really
All ranches on the desert were
like the old U Ranch of the Superstitions.