(THE ORIGINAL RANCH)
LAKEWOOD, NEW MEXICO
Even before we bade farewell to 1982, we were paving the way for another SKP Co-Op. Land for the second SKP Co-Op had already been purchased and the project was well into the organizational stage. The property was located halfway between Carlsbad and Artesia in the little town of Lakewood, New Mexico. The circumstances of how we found it were unusual.
Joe and I had driven many miles around new Mexico and were ready to abandon our search there. Either the price of barren land was too high or water rights could not be obtained. On the way back to Arizona, we stopped to visit Joe's boyhood friend, Wayne Gregory. When we told him of our disheartening search for good land, Wayne asked several questions and then offered to fly Joe over his ranch the next morning. Along with his machine shop and steel business, Wayne had a small cattle ranch of 6,000 acres, and he thought some of that land might be of interest to us.
When they returned from the flight, I could see Joe was excited. We all piled into Wayne's car and drove the 20 miles to Lakewood, a town that consisted of one tiny post office. Period. Wayne owned the property of both sides of the small country road, Highway 381 [now Hwy 31], that went past the post office to McMillan Lake.
It seemed as if we had hiked miles before we found what we believed would be an excellent site for a park. Wayne was even willing to cut a 15-acre plot out of the middle of it so that it would include the only grove of trees on the entire ranch. Joe had convinced him that we needed to trees more than his cows did.
Wayne gave us an exceptionally good price on the land and said we could use caliche from a nearby hill for developing our roads. he also helped us to obtain the necessary water rights and loaned us a 600-gallon water tank on a trailer for the construction crew to use until we got a well drilled and operating.
We immediately hired an attorney to get the second SKP Co-Op incorporated in the state of New Mexico. Tom and Roni Foster agreed to move onto the property to be our telephone contact for coordinating the various components that go into organizing a project of this type. Joe would continue to work at Rover's Roost, so we would be close enough to drive back for meetings with the environment people, attorney, engineer, and architect. Thus the New Mexico park was already in the organization stage while the Arizona park was still under construction.
The cost per membership at New Mexico was $1,200 as opposed to the Arizona price of $1,450. We purchased 10 acres in Arizona and 15 acres in New Mexico, but both had 120 sites. However, the Arizona sites were only 35 by 45-feet while New Mexico had 40 by 60-foot sites. New Mexico also had more room around the clubhouse, wider streets, angled lots, and a much larger dry-camp area. Yet there was enough money left from the New Mexico project to build an incoming road with two cattle guards and a single strand cattle fence (electric) to keep out the cows. There were several reasons for this lower cost:
With that free caliche gift and our own equipment to haul it, we were able to save a lot of money on building roads. Before we purchased the dump truck and backhoe, we checked rental prices and found that renting the same equipment for the period it would be needed was approximately $21,500. By purchasing, we saved about $500 and had the benefit that we could sell it when we were finished. As it turned out, the equipment was sold to the Escapees Club for developing Rainbow's End.
Building the Second SKP Co-Op
In March 1983, following our annual Escapade, Joe and I led a small band of construction workers to The Ranch. Spring blew in with its usual unpredictable weather and high winds. One morning we awoke to snow - not just a fine dusting but a 12-inch snow including drifts, something that rarely happens in that part of New Mexico and never that late in the year.
The snow didn't last long, but the winds became a never-ending nuisance. The southwest desert areas are always windy in the spring, but this year they seemed especially strong. At first it was merely an irritation because the undisturbed vegetation held the dirt in place, but after we began digging trenches to lay the lines for hookups, the blowing dust was sometimes impossible to work in. Many days we had to stop until it died down.
Anne Harris said that the New Mexico logo she created was a result of being cooped up in her tiny trailer during those sand storms. There was an old busted-up freight wagon near the old homestead, and she became intrigued with the idea of putting an SKP house in that type of wagon. She made several versions on flimsy tissue paper and brought them to one of the daily happy hours for everyone to vote on.
The tradition of daily happy hours at the end of the work day had been started by the Casa Grande construction crew. Here in New Mexico, we didn't have a clubhouse or any cover, but that didn't keep us from following the tradition to meet together to share the accomplishments of the day and plan the work for tomorrow. We selected the largest tree, which Anne dubbed The Meeting Tree, for this daily activity. Some days we bundled up in heavy jackets and some days we went in shirt-sleeves. Rain was never a problem. In fact, we were beginning to think that it never rained in this part of New Mexico. We would learn differently, but during construction Nature was kind to us.
Joe was again the overall project supervisor, with Wayne Sharp as the construction foreman, and Paul Ogilbie, a retired builder, as the clubhouse building supervisor. Gerry Huslage's son, who was an architect, drew the plans for the clubhouse, which would henceforth be called The Ranch House. Vic Hugall, a retired brick layer, supervised the laying of the slump-stone exterior.
Both men and women worked in a multitude of jobs. Most of the women were assigned to the tedious but important job of tamping the dirt covering the ditches. There were some kind of job for anyone who wanted to help, including Elton Campbell who was a double amputee and a faithful member of the construction crew.
As with Arizona, the local people were amazed to learn men and women in their 70s and 80s were working long and hard without pay. The part that seemed most amazing to anyone who doesn't understand the Escapees philosophy was that many of them worked every day for months on the project, and some of them had no intention of living there. They were just helping their friends who wanted to home based at The Ranch.
This park was five acres larger than that Arizona park, but because of less stringent regulations, all the hookups were in before the end of June - less than four months since construction started. Lot selection was again by lottery drawing. Once it was over and members knew which lot was theirs, many left for summer travels. Most of them would move onto their assigned lots in the fall and begin building storage buildings and putting in their individual driveways and landscaping.
It was decided to let the building of the clubhouse wait until fall when people returned from their summer travels. Wayne (and Dot) Sharp stayed behind to oversee the small remaining road crew. Road volunteers working in two-hour shifts under road foreman Morty Risch.
As with Arizona, there were many fund raisers to cover the cost of The Ranch House. In addition to the free labor from so many dedicated volunteers, there were donations of equipment and other items. Ted and Kiki Lee donated to flag poles and two special flags. The U.S. flag was the same one that was flying from the USS Constitution on the day Ted was discharged from military service. The flag under it, which was to be flown only on special occasions to preserve it, was a replica of the first American flag. A rattlesnake is superimposed on the 13 red and white stripes, and the words under it read, "Don't tread on me."
Bill and Sarah Webb found the welcome bell that still announces all new arrivals. It was originally a dinner bell used to summon the workers on an old Tennessee plantation and bore the date 1890. Harold and Jackie Webb (Harold is Bill's brother) paid for half the cost of the bell.
The second SKP Co-Op had been named The Ranch because of its setting. Cows, rabbits, road runners, and birds, including a hoot owl who nested in the trees, gave it a country flavor, and the people who chose this park for their home base encouraged these creatures, even designed special feed stations for them. Everything is named appropriately such as "The water hole" (water filling hookup for visitors), "The corral" (dry-camp area), etc. Even the two annual business meetings, which are designed around rallies, are called Spring or Fall Roundups.
At Fall Roundup in October 1983, the first official business meeting was held and a board of directors elected. The first elected officers were:
At the same meeting, officers were elected for The Ranch Hands. The Ranch Hands were the fund-raising arm. Their functions were, first, to raise enough money to furnish The Ranch House and, second, to plan rally activities to follow the two business meetings each year. These rallies became popular events that many Escapees attended together with the members who made this their home base.
The Roundups soon became famous for their fun activities, such as Raunchy Nite that was introduced by Denny McGowan. There were many other activities going on throughout the year.
The Ranch quickly earned a reputation for being the friendliest park in the Escapees system. Some believe this is because it is further from the general travel route, so there are fewer visitors. Whatever the reason, visitors to The Ranch in Lakewood, Mexico, say they feel truly welcome. It is the only one of the parks in the Escapees system that still rings the welcome bell for each new arrival.
Tom and Roni Foster agreed to remain as manager until a permanent manager could be found. Joe and I left feeling good about having seen the Arizona miracle repeated.
The Great Flood of 1984
We cannot close the chapter on The Ranch without talking about the great flood in the summer of 1984. Everyone told us the desert doesn't flood. The Ranch was on high ground. Joe had been raised here. His buddy had lived here all his life. They were sure floods would never be a problem at The Ranch. But in August 1984, after six months of no moisture, the rains came. The accumulation of rain in the mountains came rushing down and flooded the entire area of Carlsbad and Artesia. The Ranch sits between those two towns. The dry arroyo along one boundary filled and overflowed. There was a foot of water over the northwest corner of The Ranch, and all the lots along the arroyo were affected.
It was summer, so there were only a few families in the park along with the managers, Don and Nancy Monroe. Everyone was evacuated. Before the managers left, they went into all the sheds whose owners had left keys and put things up off the floor to prevent mud and water damage. Each day during the evacuation period, they returned to be sure the property was secured. There was no structural damage to The Ranch House, and only a little water came in the southwest corner where the rest rooms are located.
The roads had the biggest damage. On the lots and in the Corral (dry-camp area), the water was quickly sucked up by the thirsty desert, which gave thanks by sending up weeds that grew and grew and grew. In some places the weeds grew as tall as eight feet! Lots that were "improved" with gravel suffered the most because the cover trapped the water, providing the irrigation the weeds needed. The dry-camp area that had been so carefully graded and graveled in the spring was completely overrun with these weeds.
Nevertheless, by the time Fall Roundup took place, everything had been cleaned up except on a few lots where the leaseholders had not yet returned. Fall Roundup was a great success, and some of the traveling Escapees who came to enjoy the rally ended up putting their names on the waiting list for a membership.
Demand For More SKP Co-Ops
The memberships for both of these SKP Co-Ops sold quickly, and by the end of 1983 both had long waiting lists. Disappointed members who were unable to get into either of those SKP Co-Ops were begging us to do a third one. Joe and I had been actively involved in the land search, organization, and building of these first two SKP Co-Ops. Now we were pursuing land for a headquarters and knew we'd soon be involved in that. We understand the desire of members for more parks. We wanted them too, but we did not feel comfortable turning the land search, organization, and development over to any one person. An answer came the following year, but for now future SKP Co-Ops were put on hold.
|SKP Co-op Retreat of New Mexico, Inc.|
|P.O. Box 109|
|Lakewood, New Mexico 88254|
|Phone 575-457-2303 & FAX 575-457-2100|