A 501c3 a non-profit, public benefit corporation
8212 Pleasants Valley Road, Vacaville, CA 95688
W. J. Pleasants/Hoskins Ranch, listed on the National and State Historic Registers
Greetings from Joyful Ranch! A very long newsletter this time, lots to share…
(Excerpts are from William James Pleasants’ journals and book…and are bolded texts.)
“It was a dark and stormy night,” as Snoopy’s novel began, on this January 2020 evening that gave way to a day that displayed pools of water in the orchard and water flowing in the creek. To avoid more erosion in the creek, and in anticipation of a rainy season ahead, Rick Poore of Streamwise worked several days putting in rock veins in the creek bed to help direct the flow and provide bank stabilization.
And then…It is very dry, no rain for 6-7 weeks. People are expecting a drought, and people are becoming very uneasy. (Jan 1, 1877 WJ Pleasants journal [WJP-j]) And so it is a big concern today. By the beginning of 2021 fears were that we were entering a severe drought, having only received six inches of rain by the middle of March. And yet we know, looking back at history, that droughts tend to come and go, and rain will return to the thirsty land. “The climate was bone dry…. There was no moisture and our cattle died off in very great numbers … Before the year 1864 had passed away, there was perfect devastation. Such a thing was never before known in California. Droughts are common in California, always have been. Long before scientists suggested a “greenhouse effect” and the possibility of permanent climatic change, pioneers coped with erratic and disastrous wet/dry cycles.” (Richard Crawford, historian for San Diego Historical Society)
As the drought took its hold on the land off and on throughout history, illnesses were always concerning.
After six months, it was in October of 1849 that WJ Pleasants and his father were part of a wagon train that just reached the summit of the Sierra Nevadas. And then it happened: Valley fever! It was a constant threat and W J became very ill at the age of sixteen. A doctor from a wagon train 10 miles up was summoned and he came, examined me, and said I would not make it through the night. Through pleading, the doctor stayed at my side through the night, and the next morning I was better. I often referred to the doctor who God used to raise me from the dead. (pg. 87 Twice Across the Plains written by WJ Pleasants, 1849)
Life threatening illnesses have been a challenge, including the COVID-19 virus. Many friends contracted this virus, including neighbor Joe Gates who lost his battle with the virus. His joyous Christian life will be so missed. There is gratefulness that a COVID vaccine was developed. Stay-at-home orders were issued, resulting from the pandemic put cancellations to retreats, school fundraiser, Solano Land Trust annual Sunday Supper (held virtually instead), and a few weddings.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there are tasks that need to be done, even back in 1879….
Another beautiful, warm growing day. I pruned in the young peach orchard. We started the six horse cultivator in the upper field. I am preparing it for corn. The Chinese laborers are pruning and picking up brush. We put the cattle in the big pasture. Ansel and Jimmy got 241 sheep up today. (Mar 14, 1879 WJP-jl)
While we didn’t prune near that many trees nor did we round up any sheep, the “stay-at-home” orders didn’t stop much needed ranch work such as trimming trees, cleaning up areas, and having the annual cattle round-up.
Bill Werner, UC Davis Greenhouse Specialist and Manager for College of Ag and Environmental Sciences
and a family friend, became very interested in the 150-year-old olive trees that form a circle in front of the Victorian home and wanted to copy each tree’s DNA. So in February of 2020 he cloned each of the 20 trees by taking several clippings from each tree, and noted the location of each clipping via numbering the trees and recording them on a yellow pad. He tagged each clipping to identify its source, and then took them to an arboretum to propagate them. They returned to the ranch and are being cared for as they await their new homes.
Bill cloning olive tree Bill’s diagram for the cloning The cloned olives 9 months later
From pruning and preserving trees, we also sought to preserve buildings and their surroundings.
Ed Wyatt went to Winters for cement and to take (carpenter) Mr. Cooper’s tool chest home. Mar 08, 1904 WJP-j: Ed Rhodes and family were here and had dinner with us and I game them two boxes of oranges. Ed Wyatt laid some cement walk in front of the wood house and laundry. (Mar 9, 1904 WJP-j) The concrete lasted over 100 years and was starting to show its age. So in May of 2020 the walkway by the wood house and laundry was replaced.
Note: the building was referred to as the Wood House stored firewood and a1904 add-on, the laundry room, is still the laundry room today, housing the washer, dryer and some storage items. The Smoke House, built in 1875, was used to smoke meat and the walls are still black from that process. Sand mixed with dirt helped with the clean-up after the smoking process was completed. So, since we don’t smoke meat anymore, for the very first time, concrete was laid both inside and outside in the little alcove area.
Walkway before New cement work Smoke house concrete
With all the work, there still is time made for celebrations, may they be big or small. Our family, Father, Zach’s family Jane’s family and Mr. Price and family went in our big wagon to the picnic at Sid Clark’s place. Henry, Ansal and the girls went to the picnic in the small wagon. (May 1, 1882 WJP-j)
And then, here he came, not in a big wagon, but in his little red wagon, …Master Beckett, the official ring bearer for his mom’s and dad’s very small wedding. A picnic-type reception followed. Now, eight months later and walking everywhere, he is proud to announce that he is going to be a big brother. This wedding proved to be the last before we lost the 1880 Buggy Horse Barn to the LNU wildfire.
We all know that fire can be beneficial–burning underbrush allows animals access to feed on what had become too thick undergrowth. It also then provides warmth to a cold winter and more accessible predator protection.
This morning we discovered a fire running in Seaman’s pasture (Quail Canyon) and coming south toward ours. We went out to fight it back and did have it under complete control in the big canyon between us and Seaman but the hard north wind blew the fire from the top of a hill into our pasture. The fire ran all the full length of our pasture two miles and burned about two thirds of the pasture. About sixty men were out to help us. We ran the fire up into the bush west of my house. (20th) The winds changed last evening from the west and the fire revived and doubled back. We fought it all night last night and at daylight it was midway of Robinson’s and going towards Miller Canyon.(about one mile from here) We fought it all day and by a scratch succeeded in saving all the buildings south or above here. A good deal of fencing was burning as was the stove wood. Pierson and Hathaway lost some fences. Several buildings on the mountain were burned and some lumber and stove wood. We used four fire extinguishers but not too much advantage. 21. Quiet, fire wise, today. We picked a little fruit for Mr. Tucker. Ona let two mules get away from him with the truck (wagon) and turned it over, sprung an axle and otherwise broke it up. (Jul 19 – 21, 1897 WJP-j)
August 18, 2020 was not like any other afternoon yet it was very warm with weird weather. Warnings of a fire that had broken out near Monticello Dam brought advisory evacuations and as the evening grew later, “we” learned that winds and dry lightning had ignited several wildfire complexes and were headed our way. It seemed like all the other fires we’ve had here in the past few years…the fire will burn from north to south, top to about half way down, and then stop. Often times we’d take out our lawn chairs and watch. Yet, not this time! Fire was raging in all directions, wind up to 70 miles per hour, burning trees falling, power lines down.
Then it happened, a night that won’t be forgotten: the mandatory evacuation order came around 11:30 PM:
Get out NOW! Leave immediately!
Psalm 30:5 became a reality: Weeping (sadness) may endure for a “night,” but joy comes in the “morning.”
There was mourning, sadness, and even fear which lasted for a “night season,” but joy did come in the morning and what inexpressible joy it was. Evacuation orders came on 8/18/ at 11:30PM and early the next morning we heard that all was gone. On the 20th at 7:18PM a text from Matthew (Ethel’s “adopted” grandson) had come from the east and climbed up over the hills, reached the summit and sent the following text: ….”I got out to the ranch. You still have a home! Everything around the house and my trailer made it.” After five long days, evacuation orders were lifted for local residents, and returning to the ranch was gripping. Scorched and charred land, live power lines and blackened down trees scattered throughout the valley, and with sadness, many homes were lost, and the arrival at 8212 Pleasants Valley Road brought both horror and thankfulness. The 1880s barns were destroyed along with the historic foreman’s cottage. Devastation was everywhere but… driving in, the olive circle still was intact although the fire scorched its floor and many of its branches. And the Victorian is still standing–having survived so many near catastrophes in its 130-year-old history. Firemen and other officials utterly amazed that the house survived. Gas tanks nearby remained in perfect condition even though flames lapped at their doorstep and burned the hoses. The olive tree circle not 40 feet from the home made it even though some branches got singed and the wood chips turned into charred remains. JOY survived!
Chickens that survived as the fire came within nine feet of them, they and we are so grateful we didn’t have roasted or fried chicken, just cackling hens wanting to join in with the deer and little bird saying, “We made it!” As a result of an earlier fire, all cattle were moved to a safe location away from the ranch.
Sifting through ashes and debris pieces of blue pottery were found and after collecting as many as we could, friend Judy took the pieces home and carefully glued them together…and the little blue bird that used to sit proudly, from a burned structure to sits proudly in the Victorian dining room as if to say, there is hope!
One other very small wedding was held post LNU fire. The bride so wanted to be married here even amidst the ash. And as she walked down the aisle, her beautiful dress collected soot and debris. The wedding though small so illustrated that mourning…sadness…can last for a “night” but joy comes “in the morning.” And, it shows just how close we came to losing the Victorian…just on the other side of the olive tree circle burnt “floor.”
Words of encouragement came in many different ways and from many sources including Emily, the lady who delivers papers (yes, Ethel still gets newspapers delivered). Having never met, she left several notes of encouragement in the papers which will be kept. Two ladies from Vacaville came several times to distribute food purchased for the wild animals. And as a couple who lost all except for a bit of firewood, brought it to the ranch for us to use. (Our firewood became just that: firewood!)
–Phone calls, cards, gifts (including Sees candy :>), bouquet of roses (a family favorite), visits, and donations, including a generous one from Solano Land Trust and “GoFundMe”, and grants from Sustainable Solano and Travis Federal Credit Union made the sadness lessen with these sparks of joy.
–Sharing experiences via Zoom with Supervisor John Vasquez helped with both the horror of it all with stories of escape to hope for the future. A webinar sponsored by National Resource Conservation District provided much needed information, and Solano County hosted a one stop “shop” for help in taking the next steps. The Red Cross was also present and handed out a container filled with helpful tools and supplies and treats along with words of empathy and encouragement. So hope abounds, even in the ashes!
Working with several insurance agents, all of whom were so very helpful, one claims specialist/adjuster, Grace, came in surprising ways. When the LNU wildfire ravished through and destroyed landscape and some of the historical buildings built in the 1880s by Ethel’s grandfather, WJ Pleasants, and it seemed so incomprehensible and sad, Grace arrived at the ranch. Her knowledge and advice went right to work. As we walked around, pictures were shown to illustrate the before and after. Her business-like yet kind and empathic manner helped in seeing the potential of restoration. Just her name alone seemed to give us hope, and grace to start and continue the recovery process. In our “‘tour,” a brief history of the ranch was given. Then came a cool historic link: Grace revealed that she is a descendant of Oliver Winchester, founder of the Winchester repeating rifle…the same make of rifle that WJ Pleasants owned and used as did Ethel’s father, Roy Hoskins.
I worked on fence. Father and one Chinese laborer cut road in black brush. Alice and Ansel went to Vacaville, and I received a gun from San Francisco. (June, 1877 WJP-j)
Ansel went to town as usual with four horse wagonload of 140 plus boxes of apricots. Nancy went to Alice’s. Sixteen Chinese laborers are picking cots. A good many of my cots are quite small. Robinson boys were here this evening to get some of their sheep out of my cow pasture. July 1, 1882 WJP-j)
As it was in the 1880s fruit was picked and brought to a packing shed for cutting and processing, or packed for shipment, continued into the 1960s when trees were tired and expenses of harvest exceeded the income.
Rocky, a young man who worked for my father as a teen-ager in the mid-1950s recently made contact after many many years. Hearing about the fire, called, and said he had such fond memories of the ranch and what it meant to him and he just had to come to see what is left. Rocky became the field boss and was responsible for putting lug boxes out in the orchard for fruit that was to be picked and to bring in those filled boxes to the packing shed. The fruit would either be cut for drying or would be packed and shipped as it was done for decades. He asked about fruit trucks that he used, and their frames did “survive” the fire but have changed color from one being green and the other being blue, to the pink burned color. They will now be used for photo opportunities.
Fruit wagon with WJ Pleasants Fruit truck with Rocky A double rainbow above the trucks
While Rocky was here we were gifted with a double rainbow, a true Spiritual gift!
Chinese laborers and I put barbed wire in the fence next to Thurbers. (Mar 3, 1885 WJP-j)
And, as it was in 1885, it is today. Fences need repairing, especially after the fire. Matt and his dog, Daisy, are putting in a five strand wire fence. Water line, holding tank and pump were repaired for the well, A difficult task was to replace the water line that come across the creek via a suspension system and repair all the fire damage at the pump. Perseverance paid off. Water will soon come from the east side of the creek for irrigation and home use. To beautify and make beauty out of ashes… thank you, Karen Lee for organizing Sow Beautiful. Donated seed and rice straw bales were distributed on several Pleasants Valley ranches–including Joyful Ranch, and scouts planted flower seeds. We are looking forward to seeing the spring flowers sprout!
As some trees became so compromised because of the fire, one 200-year-old heritage oak tree gave up and fell into the creek by the county road. County crews worked for days getting the tree out of the channel and were able to save its huge trunk, be it in 3 pieces. A family friend, Bob, was contacted and he, a master craftsman with wood products came and saw the potential in the large stumps. He drew on the stump bottom to show where oak bowls would be made; out came the chainsaw, and he took his treasures back to his shop to give the wood new purpose. Another wood expert came and took another stump and plans to have it planed to create table tops. As most of the tree was chipped, some of those chips now cover the inner circle of the olive trees.
Heritage oak removal from creek
Logs from oak cut for art work
Chips from tree to olive circle
And as new life comes from that which seemed so desolate and hopeless, plans are in the works to re-build the Buggy Horse Barn, one other barn that is on the west side of the county road, and the Foreman’s Cottage. The olive circle and surrounding trees are constantly being evaluated and maintenance will be scheduled as needed. The little wooden platform at the edge of the circle is being rebuilt and new lights will be installed. There will be…and are challenges; yet we give thanks that the “darkness” has given way to a new day, new hope, and a future filled with joy.
This is the last day of the year, my little book….May your silent little pages some sweet day in the future be read by someone who has not forgotten the writer though he is in heaven. Always embrace the past as we look to the future, and know that the future begins with the present. (Dec 31, 1911 WJP-j)
We look back and realize that good things can come out of hard times and realize that things have changed since 1877, and yet many things are the same. We have joyous times, sad and challenging times, times of opportunities, times of work, and, in all these times, we pause to give thanks to our Lord for all the blessings we have.
By preserving historic buildings, securing habitat for wildlife and nature plants, conserving land and waterways, supporting agriculture, and maintaining scenic vistas, we constantly strive to embrace and preserve the rich history of this ranch and provide a place for spiritual renewal. We, the Joyful Ranch Foundation, thank you for your encouragement, your donations, and your support!