On August 22, 1998, my friend John Kiewit and I drove along a dusty road at the west end of the Hollister Ranch to the home of Jane Hollister Wheelwright (1905-2005) and her husband Joseph Balch Wheelwright (1906-1999). It was to be a social visit as well as an interview. I carried freshly baked muffins and sparkling apple cider, and John held onto a yellow pad filled with notes to remind him of questions he intended to ask.
As you will see when you listen to the following audio excerpts, John did most of the serious interviewing. I was mostly just charmed and delighted to be in the presence of the Wheelwrights. They were both in their nineties at this point–with hearing and vision failing–but though well past the prime of their extraordinary lives, their personalities remained vibrant and their intelligence intact. They were funny and irreverent, with fascinating stories to share, and their playful repartee is very touching.
I am honored to add the following excerpts of the recording I made that day to The Living Stories Collective online archive. Be forewarned it was a decidedly non-linear conversation replete with background sounds, comments about the muffins and beverages, and other miscellaneous interruptions. But that's the way it was. We sat at a table by the window in a sunlit room.
I wondered what years Jane actually lived at the Ranch, and she sort of responded, augmented by some free wheeling narrative from Joe about the "snotty" schools to which they had been dispatched in their youth:
Joe told us about his first impressions of Jane:
There was some passing chit-chat about nightly coyote serenades and shy mountain lions, whose "paddy-paw prints" Jane said she had been seeing on the road right by the turn-off to the house. John wondered if Jane recalled her father or the ranch hands being concerned about lions in the old days. Her response:
One of Jane's earliest memories was watching her father giving driving lessons to her mother:
In the fascinating audio-clip below, Jane talks fondly about the cowboys who were the backbone of the ranch, remembers specific characters (including a few in the festive group above), and offers details about the round-ups:
Jane talked a bit about school at the Ranch:
There's more about school in the clip below, which apparently included the kids of the railroad workers:
Speaking of the railroad:
In the following sound clip, Jane is referring to the book California Coast Trails: A Horseback Ride from Mexico to Oregon written by J. Smeaton Chase and published in 1913. Riding along the coast past the Ranch in 1911, Chase saw the newly built Hollister home. “At El Bulito Cañon,” he wrote, “I caught a glimpse of the handsome large house of a local cattle baron. Gleaming white among noble oaks, it had much the air of a French chateau until I reflected that it was probably built of one-inch plank, or perhaps cardboard.”
The Chinese played an important role in the history of the Hollister Ranch and California. In the clip below, Jane is talking about Gin Chow (1857-1933) who gained fame for his ability to predict the weather and other phenomena, both natural and historical. It is said that Chow was gored by a bull in 1932, the year before his death. I wonder if that occurred at the Ranch, which, according to Jane, is where he died.
It was interesting to hear Jane’s recollections about the train that went through the Ranch, for which her father had granted right of way. Here she describes an accident that resulted in the death of nine horses, and her father’s futile efforts to get compensation from the railroad:
Hoboes often hiked along the railroad tracks and came to the house, asking for food or offering to work:
John asked Joe what he thought when he first came to the Ranch from the East coast. "Oh, that was wonderful!" he said. "Paradise!" Jane was clearly a big part of the wonderful-ness of it all:
Joe filled us in about the abrupt end of his Harvard career:
Here Joe explains that he was the wrong Jungian type for the Ranch:
John asked why, after so many years of travel, study, and starting a Jungian practice in northern California, Jane and Joe came back to the Ranch. Here is their response, including references to their relationship with Carl Jung:
Here Jane talks about her book, The Ranch Papers, and she and Joe reflect upon changes and constants, family history, raising chickens, and the age of invention:
One of Jane's most interesting observations was that Ranch life was cyclical in nature, that time did not proceed in a linear stream that you could follow but as events that occurred over and over, each in their season. In her words: