27 Jan Ranch History Podcast: Episode 8
The Dream Grows On
The dream grows on as the ownership of the V-X Ranch passes from father, Riley Wood, to son, Jim Wood. As Jim and his wife, Virginia’s, family grows, so do the cattle operations necessitating more land for pasture and crops. Jim sees opportunity knock when another, larger ranch property comes available for him to purchase. Through “hard work, good management, and the good Lord” not only does that cattle ranch continue to thrive today, but several other family businesses grew up out of that landscape.
Danielle Otis: (00:04)
Okay, grandpa, well we’re going to start in here with some more questions that I have kind of from your time after you and Grandma were married. And then also, transitioning to the lower ranch where you live today. Kind of a follow up to a conversation that we had last time. You told me about one thing that you got out of high school that you still use today.
Okay. In those days, there was no buses, no school buses. The roads were impassable for half of the year in there. So if those kids went to high school, they would have to live in town or rent a cabin of some kind somewhere where they could get to town. Well, that was my plight. When I got out of the eighth grade, I got ready to go into high school. The folks lined up a small farm, that a guy worked at. But they were nice people, north of Sandpoint, and there was a bus to come from where they lived into town so I could ride to high school. But I don’t know how they found this person, these people, that would take a snot-nosed, know-it-all kid into their home.
I got to come home once … well, every other weekend I would get to come out home to Gold Creek. Going to high school, one of my subjects was mechanical drawing. I had to have a work board, which was about 20 by 30 inches and a few little plastic squares and such a matter. And I still have them, and that’s what you were referring to.
Danielle Otis: (02:14)
You designed and drew the plans for the log lodge that’s on the upper ranch. Did you use that board when you were drawing those plans?
You bet. You bet I did, yeah. I drew the plans for two winters after chores in the evening or something. Thinking and changing and rebuilding my plans. You bet, I use that board a lot.
Danielle Otis: (02:42)
We’re going to jump forward. A big jump from high school to 1968. You and Grandma are married, you’re living up on the hill in the ranch house. The winter of ’68 was a major winter. So what was that like for you, trying to take care of the ranch up on the hill and family and all that, during that major snow event?
Well, we had a CAT there on the ranch. It was a smallish CAT, but it could plow snow. I could keep things plowed out around the buildings with that CAT. And I also plowed snow for the county. The Gold Creek Road, I plowed snow on that for several years, kept it opened up.
But ’68 was a terrible snow year, yes. Six feet of snow, we usually didn’t have any extremely cold weather. Zero was not uncommon at all, but anything below zero was getting pretty chilly. Well, I say we was able to keep things plowed out to where we could get the chores done. And I plowed out a feed ground for the cattle. And by that time, we were feeding with tractors, if we could get them started, that’s what we’d use.
Danielle Otis: (04:14)
Right. So in ’68, my mom, Janice, who’s your youngest child, would have been five and then your boys would have been from like about 11 through high school age. Were they able to get to school or where you guys kind of snowed in and they just were helping you get that feeding done at that point?
By that time, things had developed where there was a school bus running up Gold Creek. But, of course, it couldn’t run unless the snow was plowed, roads were plowed. And during that winter of ’68, during the month of January, I think there was only school for four or five days that month because the roads were all plugged. And during that time, my sons that you’re speaking of, your uncles, spent most of their time shoveling snow off of roofs. It was not uncommon to have a roof, on the downwind side, drifted four or five feet deep, that that’d be shoveled off. And it was a hell of a job.
Danielle Otis: (05:32)
Yeah. Did you lose any barns that winter from falling in?
No, I didn’t, nope. We never lost a thing. But it was because they were taken care of.
Danielle Otis: (05:45)
Yeah. You had your crew to shovel all those off.
Danielle Otis: (05:49)
So tell me about the caravans to town in the winter.
Okay. I kind of mentioned what shape the roads were in. The time, the era you’re speaking of would be during the 40s, were in the 1940s. In the spring time, the mud was impassable on the roads. And in the wintertime, the snow was impassable. So Saturday was going to town day. And there was about eight families living on Gold Creek. And they would kind of all end up in a caravan. Kind of reminded me of a caravan, a covered wagons. And if somebody got stuck, there would be people there to help push them out. That was the way they travel to and from town.
Danielle Otis: (06:49)
Were you using horses to get to town in the winter or cars?
Danielle Otis: (06:53)
Speaking of one of those snowy winters before we came to Idaho, which the date I’m speaking about would be sometime in the 30s, they were going to town in the middle of the winter with horses, horse teams. And Virginia’s family had a team of horses hooked on a sleigh, it was a four-horse team that was what was on the sleigh. Hoffine’s had one team, and that’s Virginia’s family, and one of the other families had another team. They were up together crossing packed rivers down by North Side School. They got in the middle of that bridge and it caved in. I don’t know what condition the sleigh was in, I’m sure they lost all the cream. But the wheel team, which is the second team in a row, the team closest to the sleigh, got drownded. And that team belonged to the Hoffines.
Danielle Otis: (08:07)
Yeah and that was a major loss for them because that was their main working team.
Yes, it was.
Danielle Otis: (08:12)
You told me that the Big Hill, which is one of the high points on the ranch, at one point, was covered in brush and tag alder. Can you tell me about burning the brush off of that hill?
Well, yeah. My job, as a kid, right after we’d come to Idaho, was, was to get the milk cows in the evening, afternoon, so they could be milked. And dad was milking, oh, between ten and 15 cows. So it wasn’t a large herd but it was still a bunch of cows to have to find out there in this Tag Alder brush that you couldn’t even ride through.
Our neighbor, closest neighbor, Bart Engle, also was running his milk cows out on 31. And that was before there was any fences or anything. And one fall, he was out there getting these milk cows and he started some fires on that big hill. It had to be one that was dry. But anyway, the results were that that Big Hill burned off, licked clean. You could ride a horse anywhere on it and it is still that way today. What seedlings that would try to come up, the cows would eat off. So it’s still an open hilltop. The trees, volunteer trees, Red Fir, and White Fir are coming in on the north end. But that’s what happened to the brush on the Big Hill.
Danielle Otis: (10:13)
So did he start those fires on purpose or on accident?
No, it was on purpose.
Danielle Otis: (10:18)
It was on purpose. And everybody was very fire conscious back in those days. And I’ve always wondered why Bart would have started them fires in a time of year when they were burnt that good without any repercussions. But he did and it was the best thing that ever happened to the Big Hill.
Danielle Otis: (10:46)
Yeah. There’s quite a view. I mean, like you said, it’s just wide open and you’ve got views of the Cabinet Mountains and the Selkirk Mountains.
That’s right, that’s right.
Danielle Otis: (10:58)
So, Grandpa, your cattle operation began on the upper ranch, or what we call the Gold Creek Ranch where Western Pleasure Guest Ranch currently operates.
Danielle Otis: (11:09)
And in the 70s, you began the process of moving to the lower ranch, which is where your sons and some of your grandkids currently continue that cattle operation. So what was the reason for moving locations and how did that all play out?
We were getting short of acres to run as big a cattle operation as we had. And we had been summer pasturing in various places and trucking cattle to different places for summer pasture. Well this lower ranch had been bought and kind of pieced together by a saw mill owner, Hedland Lumber Company. They had kind of went belly up and were in the process of being foreclosed on. And this area, this Colburn area, Hedland had was for sale.
I had heard about it and pastured cattle down there for a couple of years on it after Hedland quit running cattle in here. It was a damn good piece of ground, several thousand acres and it was just what we needed to expand our cattle operation. I was able to borrow the money to buy it from the bank. It had been one of the best buys that I can think we ever made. Steve and Louise was just getting out of college and it was an opportunity for them, for Steve, to get a place. There was two houses on the place and so part of this Colburn Ranch, they had bought at the same time I bought the other part of it, but the purchase was all at the same time.
Danielle Otis: (13:21)
Right. And over the years, the family has purchased adjoining properties so that that piece has grown. And a lot of the family now lives on those adjoining pieces.
That’s right, that’s right. We have picked up these various smaller pieces adjoining the main purchase, like you just said, over the years and added quite a lot of acres to the original purchase. It gave us more hay ground, more pasture land. The whole farming operation tripled in size. And probably the biggest benefit, which I was totally unaware of at the time, was the fact that it gave the boys, our kids, a chance to start putting their roots down. They’ve all developed into a very thriving, enterprising business.
There was a Rocky Ridge north of Bri’s house that Hedland had homes, some rock, out of some gravel. Bri got interested in that gravel hauling operation. He bought an old, used dump truck, started hauling rock for different people and developing that gravel pit. He had a big Cat in there to start with to do a lot of land stripping and open up the pit more. And then he got, as time progressed, he got an outfit to come in to start blasting that rock. It has developed into an outstanding operation. Bri has six rock crushers. I’m not sure, at least, 20 haul trucks. He told me the other night at the Christmas party that he had about 80 employees, so that’s the size of that operation, his gravel business. He’s got gravel pits located in the northern three counties of Idaho. And those rock crushers are all working every day. So his business has developed into a very large, successful business. Steve was more in the cattle business by buying this ranch down here.
We were corrected by, oldest son, Steve, that we shouldn’t just say Bry, or we shouldn’t just say Steve. The wife has played a tremendous amount in these operations.
Well, that’s true.
Danielle Otis: (16:40)
Danielle Otis: (16:44)
So that would be Bri and his wife, Penny.
Danielle Otis: (16:49)
Okay. And then you started to talk about Steve and his wife, Louise.
Yes. When Steven and Louise was going to college, and when Steve graduated, him and Louise and moved back to the ranch here. And moved into one of the houses that was on the ranch when we bought it. In college, he was taking a meat class that he was very interested in. And when he came back to the ranch here and moved into that house, and there was also a barn. An old barn in that, it was an old milking barn like these ranches all had.
He started in the meat processing, going out on a ranch and killing a beef or a hog, or whatever, and bringing it in. And he had fixed up a cooler room. That was his start in his meat processing. Then in a few years, I believe it was in 1974, that he built a meat processing building. Special, had coolers and kill rails and everything like that on it, processing room. And he’s expanded that at least one major expansion. He has about, I think, it’s 18 employees that is in the meat processing business there in these new buildings that he’s built. It’s a very busy, that’s not the proper word, but it’s a busy business.
Danielle Otis: (18:51)
They’re running full tilt all the time, they’re in high demand.
That’s right, that’s right. They also do wild game.
Anyway, and part of the expansion, the various places adjoining the main ranch that we bought, Steve has fixed up several pieces of that. Leonard and Naomi, they stayed on Gold Creek for a few years after we was in the process of buying down here. They stayed on Gold Creek for these few years and then built a new house down here on this lower ranch. He has progressed into the registered Red Angus business. And at this point in time, he’s calving out 250 to 300 cows every spring. About a hundred head of them are registered Red Angus cows. He is selling registered Red Angus bulls and heifers, doing the farming on the main part of the place down here. Him and Naomi, Naomi is out there feeding and working right alongside of him. She over does it, as far as I’m concerned.
Ben, who is Leonard and Naomi’s son, started with the registered bull operation and the selling of them. They had to have a grain processing facility to feed them bulls. And Ben has stepped into that, developed that grain processing. He has three hired men, has built a number of grain storage bins this last summer. He built a large hay storage barn and machine shed. It’s also opened up another outlet in Washington. So he has really stepped in and developed this. Danny, after he got out of the restaurant business over in Washington, when he came back to Idaho-
Danielle Otis: (21:37)
With his wife, Terry.
With his wife, Terry.
Danielle Otis: (21:41)
He does a lot farming.
One of the pieces of ground around the edge of the main purchase, he moved onto it. And his main line of business now is hay operation.
Danielle Otis: (21:57)
With the help of his two grandsons.
Yes, with the help of his two grandsons.
Danielle Otis: (22:02)
Jesse and Austin.
Yeah, Jesse and Austin. They put up, I don’t know, 2000 tons of hay, at least, a year. And after they get it put up in the field, then their winter job is delivering that all over the country. And a lot of that hay goes through Ben’s feed stores. And it all ties in with the kind of a family oriented operation.
Janie, she’s, of course, our little girl. She married Roley Schoonover. And they got, after college, they got interested in taking people out. At that point, it wasn’t a dude ranch, it was kind of a place people could go to have a horseback ride or a snow sleigh ride, that sort of operation. The first building, they closed off a section of the machine shed that I had built up on Gold Creek. And they had a stove in one end and that was kind of a warming hut. But then people wanted to know, “Well, where can we stay?” Well, there wasn’t no place.
So the next thing was we built three cabins up there. They had kitchens and bathrooms and everything in them and people could rent them. And then, in the last three or four years, Roley has built another real elaborate cabin up there for the same purpose. There was a building we called the utility building. The water comes in and the electrical power comes in and it all branches out from there, and that’s the way it is today. But back about 1992, we started working on the idea of building a lodge, Western Pleasure Guest Ranch Lodge is what it ended up to be called. It’s a really nice log building. I spent a lot of time drawing blueprints for it, we hired a log construction company out of Bonners Ferry that did the log work.
I have always patted myself on the back and said it was the goodest building I ever built and I’m still very proud of it! And I hear people, “Ooh,” and “Awe,” every time somebody new comes in up there. They’ve ended up with at least 50 head of horses [Corrected to 65]. They have, what, six sleighs and wagons, either five or six, with teams to pull them with. It’s a very elaborate operation. They couldn’t be any more busier with parties and anniversaries and weddings and just evening outs.
Danielle Otis: (25:43)
Grandma would like to add.
And their kids are both, kids and spouses, are both involved in the operations.
Yes. And both of Janie and Roley’s kids, Isaac and … what’s your name?
Danielle Otis: (25:59)
And Danielle are very heavily involved in that, too. So there’s that branch of the family that’s got their roots down in the place.
Danielle Otis: (26:17)
Grandpa, every one of your five children, and several of your grandkids are entrepreneurs that own and operate their own businesses. For that number of people, in one family, to be business owners, operators, that’s not a normal… common thing you’re going to see in society today. So what do you attribute that to?
Hard work, good management and the good Lord.
Another business that’s on the place that we never mentioned, Leonard and Naomi’s daughters have got a school for kindergarten to-
Danielle Otis: (27:10)
To the sixth grade.
Danielle Otis: (27:13)
And that’s Stacy, Melissa and Angie.
Yes. They’re located here on the ranch. They have an attendance of, what, 45 kids?
Danielle Otis: (27:26)
Something like that.
A highlight of that, that I want to mention, we have a Bible study here at the house once a week during the wintertime. And a number of the neighbors come in and our Bible study was yesterday. And lo and behold, here, we looked out the window and here come about 40 of those little school kids, that’s over for Stacy, Melissa, and Angie’s school, to carol us. It was the most magnificent thing you ever seen, brought tears to my eyes.
Danielle Otis: (28:16)
Yeah, they were pretty sweet. I think there were about 36 of them here in your living room.
Danielle Otis: (28:24)
That kind of comes to the end of my list of questions for now, but I’ve got one more follow up. Your family came to Idaho with what they could carry in their two rigs.
Danielle Otis: (28:40)
And now you look at this huge operation, where all of your children are running businesses here, their kids have businesses. There’s a huge family operation going on here. And you said that that was hard work and the good Lord, can you kind of expand on that?
Good management. Everybody’s tighter than bark on a tree when it comes to finances. And there’s no stupidity involved in the spending, good planning, I guess, which is of course management. Opportunity, I guess when we bought the ranch down here, it opened up the door of opportunity that could be opened. And that’s exactly what the kids have done. They have delved in and realized that the possibility of these various things that they’re doing, went into it with good sense and ambition and it made a huge success out of it.
Danielle Otis: (30:00)
So in addition to their hard work, do you see kind of God looking over your family in all of these years of everything that you’ve done and worked for?
Yes, I do. There’s also been times when I wondered why he let things happen. We lost a little baby through an accident. And I’ve always wondered why He let that happen, but I guess He maybe seen something that we can’t.
Well, another thing, we’ve been married, lacking ten days, of being 72 years. How’d that happen? Why? Very, very few couples couldn’t live and survive over 65 years of marriage. Here, we’re over 70, something’s looking out for us. And I want to say something else. I don’t know what I would do without Grandma, and I hope she feels the same about me. But we get along good, we have a battle now and then, sure. A verbal battle, but I finally get her straightened out.
Danielle Otis: (31:46)
We’re blessed with having the whole family here together on the ranch. We could make a phone call, within 15 minutes, any of the kids and most of the grandkids could be here. They’re that close. We’re not stepping on each other’s toes, but because the place is big enough to accommodate us all. But nevertheless, we have affection and appreciation of being that close to family.
Danielle Otis: (32:28)
Well, Grandpa, I sure appreciate you sitting down to have these conversations with me. Because it’s been super fun for me, I love to hear your stories and I love to hear what you have to say. I’m super excited that we’ve been able to record all of this so that other people can hear it, hear your stories.
Danielle Otis: (32:51)
I have come to the end of my list of questions, but I would like to open it up if other people who are listening have questions for you, that they can contact me and then we can sit down again, maybe, and have more conversations like this and kind of bring up more stories because I’m sure there’s more to be told.
I’ve got no problem with that at all. In fact, I think that the family history, it’s very important to have it recorded so that it isn’t lost over the years. I’ve got questions about my relatives from way back that I can’t answer. I am trying to put a few of those answers together, but nevertheless, the point is, the family history way back early was not recorded. And by doing what we’re doing now, our little segment, we’ll have the history. Well, at this point, it’s about 80 years.
Danielle Otis: (34:05)
Well, I’m excited to have those stories for generations to come. You guys are expecting your first great, great-grandchild. So those generations to come are here. So I’m excited that we have that.
Yeah, this new great, great grandbaby is stirring up quite a lot of excitement. They think they know whether it’s going to be a boy or a girl, but I’ve got to see it first.
Danielle Otis: (34:40)
Well, thank you again, Grandpa.
There’s another segment that I would like to add to this somewhere along the line and that would be whatever information I can come up with from my ancestors, my uncles, my granddads.
Danielle Otis: (35:02)
Well, I will say that Ken Wood, one of his questions that he had was the history of your parents and grandparents. What, if any, do you know about them?
Well, that’s exactly what I’m just talking about, I’m trying to get that information.
Danielle Otis: (35:26)
I had an uncle that was in World War I, my Uncle Frank. Dad’s name was Riley, and Riley and Uncle Frank were brothers. But I can’t tell you much more than that about that family.
Danielle Otis: (35:51)
Well, I think that was pretty good.