I recently had the chance to tour the inside of the Harry Carey Ranch in Saugus in the Santa Clarita Valley. If you recall from my earlier post on the ranch, the first time I went by the ranch it was closed for a special event.
This time around the ranch was open, but alas I was running late. I was hoping for at least an hour inside; well, traffic on the I-5 took care of that plan. Do you feel that sometimes the universe is just telling you that despite what you might plan, it has other ideas? I was beginning to feel that way about visiting the ranch as I raced down the McBean Parkway and realizing I had a grand total of 20 minutes to tour this place that I've wanted to see for months.
But I'm stubborn. (Some people, probably some of you readers too, might think that is a huge understatement.) So I went anyway. But I was lucky. The parking lot was quiet, even though it was a Sunday afternoon. The ranch is surrounded by a wrought iron fence and you really can't tell what's on the grounds because all you see are the red tile roofs - most of the buildings are on a hill below the parking lot. I walked through the iron gates and there, sitting on a low stucco wall as if she was waiting for me to arrive, was a Parks Department employee by the name of Laurie (even spelled like my name) who offered to give me a tour. The universe had happier plans for me after all.
As we walked through the back door, Laurie explained that after Harry Carey died, a private group purchased the property and tried to make it into a dude ranch. That didn't pan out, so eventually the family that owns Farmer John Meats bought the property and hung onto it until 2000. When they gave up the property, they gave it over lock, stock and barrel - including the 1960s and 70s furniture that you will see in some of the photos. The Santa Clarita Historical Society was very active in making sure that the property was named a historical site after the Farmer John folks left. The property is in very good condition, even though the furniture is a complete anachronism to what should be in there. I hope that at some point the Historical Society will make it a project to redecorate - man, I would love to take on that project. That would make this 1930s history/antique geek so happy.
As most of you probably know more about Harry Carey than I would ever hope to know, I'm not going to rehash his life in this post for you. My earlier post talks about his life in the Santa Clarita Valley and his movie making.
What I will do is leave you with some wonderful words his son, Harry Carey Jr. wrote in his memoir, Company of Heroes: My Life as an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company. Carey talks a lot of his younger years when John Ford would visit the ranch, even though Ford and his father were no longer working together.
I remember Jack Ford's visits to the ranch while I was growing up, because he scared [the] hell out of me. There was cockiness about him that reminded me of the kids I'd wind up getting into fights with at school. He and my father were not working together anymore. I remember Pop being very happy about that. This was in the thirties, and Ford was very successful. He had directed some great movies with the greatest stars. My father never went to his movies. Jack knew that, and it had an effect on their relationship. I sensed the bitterness between them, and even with my ten-year-old mind, I wondered why they bothered to keep this visiting business going. Of course, I knew nothing of their collaboration on movie scripts and the laughs they shared. Sometimes a movie they had made together would pop into the conversation. Ford would say, "When I wrote Hell Bent, I was - any my father would exclaim, "Jack, for Christ's sake, I wrote most of that!" Ford would smile because he'd scored a point and gotten my father sore. I didn't like him and wished he'd get back to the boat he kept bragging about. I had no idea what these two men had done together.
....We usually had about fifteen head of horses at the ranch. There were two hundred head of whiteface cattle, six hogs, six milk cows, two goats, a herd of sheep, a very horny midget pony from a circus, and lots of dogs. My father would pick up any poor stray dog he found wandering along the road. People were having trouble feeing themselves, let alone dogs, so they would come out to our part of the country and dump them. They found a friend in my pop. He loved dogs and gave them a home for life. About once a week my mother would bring home meat scraps and bones from the local butcher shop and cook a mess of porridge in a huge copper kettle to feed them. Roaming the mountains and flatlands were coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, and all the small game they hunted. There were many varieties of birds, from songbirds to the predators, and lots of lizards and snakes. It was a place my father never wanted to leave. he always threw a fit when my mom told him he had to go to town.
The actual home is fairly small, and the outside is very plain. It sits, however, on very well tended grounds with a gorgeous view outside the front windows.
As you walk into the kitchen, Laurie pointed out some paw prints in the tile floor, remnants of some of the dogs that Carey loved to adopt.
As you walk through the house you can't help but notice how cool it is, despite the warm temperatures outside. Adobe walls are to thank for that. You can almost feel the coolness when you look at these photos.
More from Company of Heroes:
In 1926, when I was five years old, the great Western artist and sculptor Charles M. Russell passed away. I have heard that most children cannot remember very much about their lives before five or six years of age, but I remember him. He was a little boy's dream, with his stories of his life as a real cowboy in Montana and his magic artist's hands. he, like my father, always had a roll-your-own Bull Durham cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth. Some of his ample grey hair fell on either side of his forehead. i would always sit beside him. In those days, presliced bread was unknown, and a whole loaf would sit on a platter in the middle of the dining room table. He would nudge me with his knee and ask, "What kind of animal shall we make this morning?"
I would usually say, "A horse."
With that he would reach into the center of the loaf of bread and pull out a hunk from the middle, dip a hand into his glass of water, and knead the bread to make it more pliable. Then he put both hands out of sight under the table, and when he brought them back up, there would be a little white horse that he would place in front of me. He could use up a whole loaf of bread in a short space of time making coyotes, goats - all kinds of little animals.
Charley and my father would sit at that big dining room table drinking coffee and swapping out-West stories from about six in the morning till lunch. In the afternoon, Charely would go down to paint in the adobe cabin my father had built for him. The next morning, there they both would be once more, talking - talking - talking, until my mother finally ran them out.
As I left the ranch, I took a few photos of some of the grounds. I was in a hurry, but something made me stop for a moment and listen.
It was the wind rushing through the tops of the trees. It was the only sound. No freeways, no cars, no sirens, no bass pounding from cars passing by, no lawnmowers. Only wind. I looked past the trees to the hills beyond; a large bird, perhaps a hawk, was shadowing the hill. I could see why Carey would never want to leave. Later we drove up to Castaic Lake and stopped a took a few photos. Even though the area is somewhat barren, the high desert wildness makes it beautiful.
Can you blame me for wanting to move out here myself?
Websites to visit:
The official site for the Harry Carey Ranch at the Los Angeles County Dept of Parks and Recreation.
Harry Carey Jr.'s official Web site.
Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society