When Nolan was a young boy growing up in Alvin, he dreamed of someday owning a ranch in south Texas. When a certain place called the Ray Ranch—located between the small towns of Tilden, Three Rivers and George West—became available for sale, Nolan was thrilled but he also knew he had to sell me on the idea. One of his favorite authors, J. Frank Dobie, had written a story about the history of the Ray Ranch in Tales of Old-Time Texas. The ranch definitely had a certain mystique, but Nolan figured that taking me there on his day off and having a picnic down by the river would surely convince me to buy. He rented a small airplane, a pilot, and off we went.
Any of you readers who have ever hunted or traipsed through the brush in this area know what I mean when I say that everything down there either bites, pokes, stings, or rattles. The mesquite thorns are huge, the cacti many, the animals wild, and the snakes poisonous. Eating a picnic lunch down by the river sounded like a pleasant idea. That is, until we were so inundated by gnats that my daughter and I stuffed Kleenex in our noses and ears just so we could eat. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough and just knew that I would have an unwelcome encounter with an alligator. “That’s just part of the mystique and beauty of south Texas…and the Nueces River is wild and interesting,” said Nolan. Yeah…right…Keep talking. I’m not exactly a city girl, but I’m certainly not country enough to live an hour away from HEB, much less three or four hours from a “real” mall.
However, after many weeks of “friendly persuasion” Nolan won me over, convincing me that his future vision of the ranch would be quite different than its natural state. And eventually, it was. In the meantime, our family got to make some “fun” memories.
One sweltering hot July day, Nolan decided to recruit me and the kids to help him haul hay from one end of the ranch to the other and stack it in the barn. As we were unloading one trailer, I heard a buzzing noise and told Nolan. He said it was my imagination…probably just flies…and to keep working. All of a sudden we started being attacked by bees. Nolan threw his two little puppies (playing on a bale of hay) into the cab of the truck. The rest of us jumped off the bales and started running as fast as we could toward the brush. I used my baseball cap and work gloves to swat furiously as I ran a record-setting mile. To this day when I hear a buzzing noise I get chills down my spine. We escaped the “killer” bees with a few minor stings and scratches, but I still won’t go near that barn.
Another time, when the Nueces River was up after some heavy rains, we got the hair-brained idea of going down the river for several miles in a rowboat. I really don’t remember why—just to see what it was like? At any rate, Nolan, David, our ranch manager (who was kind enough not to call us stupid), and myself put the boat in the river. Our one-hour journey suddenly turned into four hours of torture. The river was up so high that we were practically in the trees. The water was flowing so fast that we could hardly keep the boat from crashing into them. It was terribly hot and humid, and my body kept crawling with spiders and other insects falling from the trees. I sweated, paddled, squirmed, and fretted thinking that I would end up in the river and never get back. Remember the old movie, The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn? Well, that day I was Katherine—only less glamorous and less composed. But eventually my “captains” rescued me and returned me to land, and today this is one of my treasured tales of a true south Texas ranch.
Over the years, the ranch has gone through a good deal of improvements including a nice house and good roads. The best improvement of all was suggested by my daughter—an electric gate at the front entrance. Everyone complained about having to get out, especially at night, to open the gate. This may have had something to do with images of rattlesnakes lurking in the nearby brush. Now after 15 years, Nolan’s vision was even better than his prediction, and the ranch is a wonderful place for the family to get together…and just relax.
Editor’s Note: Ruth Ryan is a contributing writer for The Buzz Magazines and wife of baseball Hall-of-Famer Nolan Ryan.