“I always just loved my work here at the ranch,” says Bill Rankin, of the Rankin Guest Ranch. “There was never any question that I would come back to the ranch after college.”
In today’s high tech, diverse, and unconnected world, it is becoming increasingly rare to encounter a family-run business, let alone one that has been in the same family for generations. But that’s what you’ll find at California’s Rankin Ranch. Not only that, you’ll probably get to meet most of the Rankins during your stay.
Owners Bill and Glenda Rankin, (at left) are the 4th generation of this ranching family and the first to tell you how pleased they are to have their children and grandchildren working along side them. It continues a family tradition started in 1863. Set in northeastern Kern County, at the end of California’s southern Sierras, you’ll find the mountain valley of Walker Basin. And that’s where you’ll meet three generations of Rankins, operating an historic 31,000- acre cattle and guest ranch.
“We’re lucky,” notes Rankin, “our kids made their own choices to return to the ranch. And it’s wonderful to have the grandkids around every day.” The oldest, at 16, is starting to learn the business. “He does a little bit of everything,” adds Rankin, “because if you do every job, from cowboying to kitchen chores to working with kids, you really understand what it takes to run a guest ranch.”
Begun as the Quarter Circle U Rankin Ranch, it was founded by Walker Rankin in 1863. Like many ranch families, the Rankins have survived heartbreak and tragedy; a 1929 auto accident killed the ranch founder’s son, Lee, and his wife Julia Rankin, themselves the parents of two young sons. But there was triumph, too. In 1948, Lavinia Rankin, the family matriarch, marked her 100th birthday with a big party. This remarkable woman had come to California before its statehood (in 1850), lived through the gold rush, and watched the era of covered wagons give way to the automobile and the airplane.
In 1954, at the sudden death of husband Leroy, Helen Rankin faced the classic decision: keep the ranch, or sell it. She hung on and learned the cattle business and by the 1960s, added a guest ranch. Her son Bill, after graduating from UC Davis, came back to the ranch and married Glenda Hill (who had worked summers at the ranch).
Bill and Glenda, to quote their family history, “raised their four children Jason, Rebecca, Sarah and Amanda to respect the land, and their family’s heritage.” In a twist on modern trends, all four graduated from college and came back to live on the ranch and work in agriculture. And there’s a sixth generation here: Walker, Cody and Wyatt Rankin, Zachary Been, and Emma Mae and Josephine Wilder. All the grandchildren live on the ranch, taking care of both the cattle and guest ranch businesses. “I’m lucky,” Rankin admits.
What keeps ‘em all down on the ranch? “You live with nature,” explains Rankin, “and you get that energy that comes out of the trees and plants, and lots of satisfaction from seeing your cattle grow and mature and seeing your family grow up with good morals and ethics.”
To remain viable the Rankins continue to diversify the ranch operations and aim high. In 2008, Glenda was recognized as the Kern County CattleWoman of the Year.
But don’t ask Bill Rankin how to stay on the ‘cutting edge’. There’s no sheepishness in Rankin’s voice when he says, “I don’t think we have a cutting edge; what’s important here is old- fashioned tradition. Hospitality, honesty, and genuine enjoyment of people. That is timeless. That’s at the core of guest ranching, and that never goes out of style.” Amen, Bill.