Chapter I. The New and the Old

The old ranching days of California are to all intents and purposes past and gone. To be sure there remain many large tracts supporting a single group of ranch buildings, and over which the cattle wander "on a thousand hills." There are even a few, a very few--like the ranch of which I am going to write--that are still undivided, still game haunted, still hospitable, still delightful. But in spite of these apparent exceptions, my first statement must stand. About the large tracts swarm real estate men, eager for the chance to subdivide into small farms--and the small farmers pour in from the East at the rate of a thousand a month. No matter how sternly the old land-lords set their faces against the new order of things, the new order of things will prevail; for sooner or late old land-lords must die, and the heirs have not in them the spirit of the ancient tradition. This is, of course, best for the country and for progress; but something passes, and is no more. So the Chino ranch and more recently Lucky Baldwin's broad acres have yielded.

And even in the case of those that still remain intact, whose wide hills and plains graze thousands of head of cattle; whose pastures breed their own cowhorses; whose cowmen, wearing still with a twist of pride the all-but-vanished regalia of their all-but-vanished calling, refuse to drop back to the humdrum status of "farm hands on a cow ranch"; even here has entered a single element powerful enough to change the old to something new. The new may be better--it is certainly more convenient--and perhaps when all is said and done we would not want to go back to the old. But the old is gone. One single modern institution has been sufficient to render it completely of the past. That institution is the automobile.

In the old days--and they are but yesterdays, after all--the ranch was perforce an isolated community. The journey to town was not to be lightly undertaken; indeed, as far as might be, it was obviated altogether. Blacksmithing, carpentry, shoe cobbling, repairing, barbering, and even mild doctoring were all to be done on the premises. Nearly every item of food was raised at home, including vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, fowl, butter, and honey. Above all, the inhabitants of that ranch settled down comfortably into the realization that their only available community was that immediately about them; and so they both made and were influenced by the individual atmosphere of the place.

In the latter years they have all purchased touring cars, and now they run to town casually, on almost any excuse. They make shopping lists as does the city dweller; they go back for things forgotten; and they return to the ranch as one returns to his home on the side streets of a great city. In place of the old wonderful and impressive expeditions to visit in state the nearest neighbour (twelve miles distant), they drop over of an afternoon for a ten-minutes' chat. The ranch is no longer an environment in which one finds the whole activity of his existence, but a dwelling place from which one goes forth.

I will admit that this is probably a distinct gain; but the fact is indubitable that, even in these cases where the ranch life has not been materially changed otherwise, the automobile has brought about a condition entirely new. And as the automobile has fortunately come to stay, the old will never return. It is of the old, and its charm and leisure, that I wish to write.