For a few weeks we have been listening to the radio station in Fresno that has a feature called Valley Legends and Legacies, short stories that are played a couple of times a day during their news hours. The stories are repeated several times over a period of more than a week. For a couple of weeks we heard about Frank Thomas, Walt Disney’s lead animator and native of Fresno. In one of the stories it was mentioned that he along with his wife and children spent two weeks every summer at the Diamond D Ranch, later to become the Muir Trail Ranch. He studied the movements of wild animals, later using his observations in his animations, including Bambi. (Karla and I visited him once at his home in Flintridge after he retired from Disney. In his studio, we were especially drawn to the marvelously lifelike wooden puppet, Pinocchio, that he used to model his drawings for the movie.)
We received a phone call from the Legends author, Catherine Rehart, who has been writing about the history of Central California for several decades. Cathy wanted to chronicle the history of the Sierra in the Huntington Lake area and its surroundings, and was planning to include the Muir Trail Ranch and its history. We referred her to Ed Selleck, the biographer who had interviewed Karla’s mother, Adeline. He would have a more comprehensive viewpoint since he was documenting the history of a larger area of the Sierra for the Central Sierra Historical Society.
Cathy’s stories are compiled and published as books, but first they’re produced and presented by Fresno’s KMJ Radio. A few weeks ago we started hearing her stories about Andy Ferguson, Karla’s great-grandfather, and his role in planting the Golden trout throughout the Sierra. Next came Andy’s son, Edgar Smith, Fresno County’s engineer who was responsible for planning and building the Tollhouse Grade, a road that at the time was considered impossible to build. Then the stories moved to Edgar’s son, Karl Smith, who graduated from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and whose trombone skills gained him a close friendship with jazz musician Al Hirt.
In the summer of 1947, Karl’s wife Adeline drove him and his friend Sam Peckinpah, later to become a famous movie director (The Wild Bunch), to the east side of the Sierra so they could start a hike over the crest. During their hike they came across the remnants of a plane crash, and Sam cut his hand rather badly on the wreckage. They had to find a way out of the mountains in a hurry, and after checking their map decided to drop out at Florence Lake. The trail led them through the Diamond D ranch. Karl got acquainted with the ranch’s owner, Jack Ducey, who gave him a tour of the ranch.
Karl fell in love with and wanted to buy the ranch to balance his “other life” as a musician and librarian with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, but the ranch wasn’t for sale. So he and Adeline bought the nearby Florence Lake Resort from its owner, Dick Morrison, who had diabetes and was going blind. Sam Peckinpah and his wife, Marie, helped them run the lake operation in their first year of ownership.
Meanwhile, Jack Ducey sold the ranch to Nate and Pansy Combs who five years later sold it to Karl and Adeline. When Karl died, followed thirty years later by Adeline’s passing, Karla and I ended up running the ranch.
Cathy spread the family’s history over several episodes. Nothing grand and historic has happened under Karla’s and my ownership; we are simply mentioned in the conclusion to the story.
You might ask what it feels like to be part of an interesting story, even if our role is only seen as being the period at the end of the last sentence. Fifteen seconds of fame? Maybe in thirty or forty years we’ll be recognized as titans of industry, at least that which involves service to backpackers on the John Muir Trail.