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Places Visited:

Jacksboro, Richards Ranch Retreat, Bridgeport

2004 Travelogue #4 Jack County Part 1
Thousand Trails Bay Landing
Bridgeport, TX

3/30 We headed northwest this morning on US 380 to Thousand Trails (TTN) Bay Landing near Bridgeport, TX 135 miles from TTN Tawakoni to spend time with our close friends, John and Charlotte Hackley. Charlotte has been fighting a battle with cancer since July 2003.

Six months after we married I took Peggy on her first camping trip, along with John and Charlotte. Peggy worked for CBS in New York when we met and camping to her was a walk through Central Park. We rented a pop-top camper, drove to Wichita Falls on a hot August afternoon, picked up John and Charlotte and drove all night to Colorado for some high mountain camping. That memorable week happened 37 years ago.

Tonight, as we headed to Jacksboro, our 6 pm hunger was becoming a pressure issue. Coming into town I remembered that, on a previous visit, John and I picked up BBQ sandwiches at the Kwik Stop to serve a group at the Retreat Center. I made a quick "U-ey" and pulled up to the store. Walking inside I asked the gent at the register, "Have any Q left"? He said, "Fast food is closed but, have some pulled pork butt roast sandwiches in the warmer…if you like?" …We did.

Selecting one of three tables, we sat down and our sandwiches quickly arrived. I asked if he was the owner. He was. I told him that I remembered his good BBQ sandwiches and beans from when he catered the grand opening of the Richards Ranch Retreat (www.richardsranchtexas.com) (940-567-2511) two summers ago. We introduced ourselves; his name was Chris Molloy. He and his daughter, Holly, a sophomore at Jacksboro High school and store helper, sat at the table next to us and served dining conversation.

We talked about him catering the BBQ at the ranch, deer hunting, and how he got here from Terrell, TX. On the opening weekend of deer season, (which for many Texans is a holiday) Chris sets two big cooking pots on the apron of the service station and cooks chili for the deer hunters. He also runs a "big deer" contest with Boone and Crockett points for antler spreads during the season.

Chris has large smoking ovens in which he cooks his meat with mesquite, pecan, and hickory. Needless to say, who would think this little place served such wonderful BBQ, lively conversation, and even a courtesy meal for us from Chris…huge pulled pork sandwiches, ice cold Dr. Pepper, and potato chips…what a treat!

It was now 7:15; John and Charlotte were expecting us… Our visit was short but good and soon we were heading back to Bay Landing promising to return in the next day or two.

3/31 It was so warm yesterday afternoon; I thought I would have to turn on the air conditioner. Last night the temperature dropped into the mid 30's.

The air, crisp and fresh, added lightness to our steps this morning on our walk around the Preserve. The mockingbirds were in full conversation while the newly arrived, scissortails, had their own conversations going.

John and Charlotte expected us for lunch in Jacksboro, which is about 25 miles from Bay Landing. The drive from here to there is through ranch land with a few jack pumps along the way, lots of mesquite trees and Prickly Pear cactus thrown in for good measure.

Their home, built by John's grandfather, sits on a large piece of property in town and next-door, across a gravel parking area, is the home where John grew up and where his mother still lives. We entered through the sliding glass doors of the breezeway and greeted John in his kitchen just as his son, Brent, drove into the gravel parking lot. He was driving a Ford-350 dually truck, pulling a long gooseneck horse trailer carrying a saddled horse and two big dogs. Shortly afterwards Cindy, Brent's wife, rolled in and we had lunch…cooked pork loin, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and sauerkraut…a real ranch hand, stick to your ribs, lunch.

After visiting around the table for a while, John and I took off for the ranch. It was good to be in the truck; just the two of us, bouncing over the roads as we meandered through the southeast corner of these 15, 000 acres. The Richards Ranch Retreat is a working ranch with 1000 head of cattle and grass is it's primary agricultural crop. It is located south of Jacksboro, in Jack County, off US 281. John and Charlotte's son, Brent, who maintains the day-to-day operations of the ranch is the 6th generation of continuous family ownership and his son, Hunter, will be the 7th generation, since it was first settled in 1865.

We drove into an area where they are doing controlled burns. A large Caterpillar bulldozer had bladed a wide lane the fire could not cross, called a fire-line. To do a burn the humidity, wind speed, and direction have to be just right, say out of the southeast at 20 mph. The speed and direction is to give the fire its push. One of the Volunteer Firefighter trucks will stand guard, just in case something gets out of hand.

The basis for these fires is to clear away underbrush, thick briars, and low tree branches. Before a burn, when looking through a clearing with all the underbrush and briars, visibility is not more than 20-25 yards, but afterwards it's 100-150 yards. New grass soon covers the ground instead of briars and underbrush. Already new wild native grasses were sprouting where the land had been covered in undergrowth. The seeds were there all along but had no sunlight to germinate.

Once again, the main crop on the ranch is grass and fire is nature's way to replenish it. Long ago, when this was part of the Great American Prairie, lightning started fires, which burned the thatch, and, then the new grass would sprout and feed the migrating herds of buffalo. The same is true today, in a holistic type of cattle operation, which the Richard Ranch utilizes. Controlled burns are much better for the land and cheaper than using herbicides.

Leaving the burn area, we met Russell, a young man who works for the Richard's Ranch. He was pulling a small portable tank of liquid feed on a trailer behind his pickup and parked next to a flat feeder tank in the pasture. On top of this feeder tank were four small plastic wheels; one at each corner, and inside was a molasses feed, containing various types of liquid protein. All the cattle from this pasture were right there with us, some 250 head of mixed Angus and Charolais waiting to lick one of those small wheels as it dipped into the gooey batter.

Three of the plastic wheels had broken and Russell repaired and replaced them. Once the wheels were in place again he cranked up the motor on the tank, which ran the pump that filled the feeder tank with more liquid. The cattle were very pleased to have all four wheels back in motion so they could get back to their licking.

This land needs rain; most of the tanks are low on water. We drove on top of the dam of the "Double Tanks", just down from the Retreat Center, and could see the impression of the second tank. These are good-sized tanks for this area, and when they get some rain, to catch the runoff from the watershed, they will become a nice lake that is stocked for fishing.

Approaching the top of a hill, we saw Thomas, off in the distance, with his water well drilling rig, working on a well. We drove over to check on how his work was going. Thomas' dad drilled this particular well in the 40's or early 50's and it was time to replace some of the pipe stem. Thomas learned his well digging trade from his father. We city folks rarely think about a trade such as this, but here, it is needed. While pulling out the old pipe stem he found a huge Fire Ant bed underground…just a hazard of the trade. John and he decided a new well would be needed in the future, about 60 feet away from the current well and John asked him to find the depth of the water stream. After leaving, John said Thomas has had a hard time since his dad passed away. He's been trying to support his family as well as his Mom, and so John has tried to give him all the business he can. That's just the way John is, a loyal and faithful friend.

As we left this pasture and the" Double Tanks", we reminisced about past fun times out here: the fish we had taken from the tanks, the ducks we shot, quail hunting, deer hunting and staying up at the old ranch house, which is now a luxurious Lodge and Retreat area.

One memory we recalled, while looking at the control burn area, was a ranch fire we both fought in the 50's. A summer thunderstorm rolled through one morning and lightning hit, setting the grass on fire. We were in town at the house when the call came and we all scurried out to the ranch to fight the fire. We each had wet burlap bags to smother the flames and hoes to cover the fire with dirt. The wind pushed the fire along rapidly and we both almost got caught when the fire jumped the road and started chasing us rather than us chasing it.

Now, it was time to head back to the house and check on the girls. Peg and I gathered our things, bid farewell and told John and Charlotte we'd be back on Friday.

Arriving at Bay Landing, I sat outside, looking over a vast area of mesquite trees, watching the birds head to their roosts as the sun gave up its last rays of daylight and the long shadows disappeared into nightfall. Peggy was in the coach working hard to finish one of her string art angel cards for Charlotte. She will be blessed with Peggy's loving art. It has been a good day.

4/1 We drove to Bridgeport this morning searching for items to include in Charlotte's gift package, look for a church, have lunch, and explore. One thing about Bridgeport, it must be the capitol for gravel truck hauling. There are so many 18-wheelers, big loaders, and tandem sand and gravel trucks going through and around this small town…amazing!

We drove through town on Business 380 to see if we could find an Episcopal Church, no church, but we did find Darlene's. The front door was wide open, I walked in, looked around, but no one was in the shop, so I said, "Hello the house", and from around a corner I heard a voice, "I'm back here" and out walked Darlene. Darlene's was a barbershop; we both needed haircuts…Darlene got us both. She was going to cut our hair her way!!… No matter what we said. We both commented that our hair hasn't been this short in a long time, if ever, but the price was right; $10 for me, and Peggy got a wash/ cut for $13. Then we were out of there and on our way to find lunch.

I remembered passing a Subway on US 380 and pulled into the parking lot. Still whirling from the Darlene experience, we looked into our respective mirrors and decided that we should mess up our hair a little because, with our "moussed do's" we looked alike. Have to say, Darlene gave the second worse haircut I have ever had and Peggy is still in a state of shock… Ah, the trials of the road. Oh well!

Nighttime at Bay Landing is wonderful, no lights to hide the stars and they were all shining brightly as we walked the road under a full moon. We walked around our area to the Activity and Adult Centers. Both of these facilities are well maintained and in excellent condition. We visited with two couples from the Buffalo, NY area, who were staying here for the week.

Bidding them "good evening" we ambled back to the coach. In the distance we heard the clack, clack of a pump jack, while in another direction, the low throbbing noise of a diesel locomotive. Walking and listening to the nighttime sounds we heard a Mockingbird chattering, we figured it was confused with the bright full moon, thinking it was the breaking of day. Nighttime holds a variety of sounds, which, for some reason, aren't heard during the day.

Bob & Peggy Woodall


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