The Rookie Rancher

How a tenderfoot took on the challenge of reviving a historic guest ranch.
How a tenderfoot took on the challenge of reviving a historic guest ranch.

Doc Holliday. Sam Bass. “Bear River” Tom Smith. And countless others. They found a haven in the West. A chance to change their lives. The opportunity to reinvent themselves. A move that allowed them to leave heartache and hassles behind, with almost unlimited possibilities for the future.

Linda Kelly trod the same path. Okay, so she already was in the West—California—when she decided to make her move. And maybe it’s a bit tough to compare life in the 1800s to that of the 21st century. But the essence of the story, leaving the past behind for a new and uncertain future, that is just the same.

 

Family Tragedy, New Start

For Linda Kelly, the story starts back in January 2001. She was a healthcare professional, well established in her community and seemingly settled for life. But then her adult daughter was in a horrible car crash that left her physically and mentally incapacitated. To compound the problem, the daughter had a 22-month-old son named Trever who needed a home and family. Linda Kelly and her husband took in the infant.

Just a few months later, Trever was diagnosed with cancer. Over the next three years, the family went through the roller coaster ride of emotions as the cancer went into remission, then recurred. In September 2004, the little boy died. Linda Kelly’s life was already undergoing some big changes.

During Trever’s cancer battle, Kelly got involved with alternative medicine. And that continued after his death—although Kelly was now working with non-traditional treatments for horses. She got to know people involved in ranching and became interested in the lifestyle—especially guest ranches. In 2005, she located an Arizona ranch and decided to buy it, but the deal fell through. Another ranch came up for sale and she bought it, sight unseen (NOTE—do not try this at home). And in January 2006, Linda Kelly moved to the Triangle T Guest Ranch near Dragoon, Arizona.

 

Triangle T Has its Own Story to Tell

It’s located on 160 acres in Texas Canyon at the foothills of the Dragoon Mountains, north of Tombstone and about 60 miles east of Tucson. Huge boulders, single and in formations, are the most notable part of the landscape. Cochise and his Apaches used the land for summer residence; the place still has petroglyphs and stone carvings.

In 1922, the owner set up the guest ranch. Seven years later, Catherine Tuff took title to the land as the result of a breach-of-promise-to-marry lawsuit (a lesson to be learned by men of all backgrounds). The Triangle T became one of the premiere guest ranches in the country during that period.

In the early 1940s, some unusual guests took up residence. A number of Japanese diplomats from Hawaii were “incarcerated” there for several months after the Pearl Harbor attack. This relatively unknown incident was classified “top secret” until it was unearthed a few years ago.

In 1975, a bicentennial salute to cowboys—in the form of a cattle drive—started at the ranch (and ended in Tucson).

 

Triangle T Has History

The ranch was popular. Early guest books include names such as Rockefeller and Vanderbilt. General John Pershing stayed there. So did John F. Kennedy. For a number of years, actor Steve McQueen headed to the ranch to chill out between movies. And speaking of Westerns, the ranch was a shooting location for several flicks and TV shows.

But by the 1990s, the place had seen its better days. The buildings were run down. Few guests stopped in. The Triangle T was in danger of becoming history. And that’s when Linda Kelly stepped in.

 

A Tenderfoot Takes Over

Not only had Kelly never seen the ranch before buying it, but she also had no ranching experience. So one could say that her first 18 months as owner has been a bit of trial and error and “learn by experience.” In other words, Kelly made a bunch of mistakes (see her list of “Do’s and Don’ts” for owning a ranch).

 

Among other things:

• Several buildings were falling down.

• Plumbing, electrical and septic were old and needed to be repaired or replaced.

• The local labor pool was small and not necessarily experienced.

• Mattresses were filled with mold.

• And just about anything else that could be wrong, was wrong.

 

Now, a year and a half after taking charge, Kelly says most of those challenges have been addressed (although she’ll tell you that much more remains to be done). Friday and Saturday nights are hopping at the saloon as mostly locals enjoy food, drink and music. Texas hold-’em tournaments are held on Tuesdays. Folks are booking facilities for weddings and other events, and the number of reservations continues to rise. Plans for the future include construction of an arena for small rodeos.

Kelly credits friends and neighbors for offering advice and help that proved invaluable in getting the ranch up and going. She continues to seek out that assistance as she looks ahead.

Looking to the future is just what Linda Kelly does nowadays. Just like Doc Holliday and countless others, the West has given her a new life, new challenges and opportunities. Sure, the memories of a difficult past are still there. But the Triangle T doesn’t allow for much time to wallow in past heartaches and hassles. It demands a focus on the almost unlimited possibilities for the future.

 

GUEST RANCH 101

Linda Kelly’s lessons, learned the hard way.

Don’t: Try this without a solid bank account—far beyond what you think it will take to “fix up”?the place. Don’t assume it will be easy to obtain a loan, either.

Do: Have resources to back you up when you hit the unexpected.

 

Don’t: Expect to get plenty of sleep and a few days off now and then.

Do: Expect to work from first light to the wee hours of the morning. Be sure to stock up on healthy foods, energy drinks and natural products. You cannot afford to be sick!

 

Don’t: Be away from the ranch for more than 48 hours; you will be amazed at the havoc that begins the moment you head down the interstate. The staff will wait to tell you about various disasters until you return—or you’ll just happen to notice a few things broken or missing a day or two after you get back.

Do: Install a good surveillance system.  If you have several managers, draw straws to see which one is ready to “take one for the team” and stand in for you while you are gone.

 

Don’t: Assume staff has common sense.

Do: Have clear, specific job lists and employee policies, no matter how basic they may seem.

 

Don’t: Judge the repair quality by surface appearances.

Do: Ask for certified drawings of plumbing, gas lines, electric, telephone, septic and all other major life support systems for the ranch—and then, if any exist (which they probably don’t), expect the unexpected.

 

Don’t: Assume the labor pool is plentiful and competent.

Do: Check with other similar business owners in the area for their personal experience with workers.  Also check with government employment departments and obtain their input.

 

Don’t: Believe the applicant’s verbal resume is correct.

Do: Check references and make sure those refs are not their friends, family or ex-roommates/cellmates. Persevere; you do find some treasures, mostly imported.

 

Don’t: Let the above discourage you from pursuing your True West adventure.

Do: Know it takes team effort to keep the West alive. You’ll be rewarded plenty for following your dream and many friends can be made along the way. You need them all!

 

triangletguestranch.com • 866-586-7533

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