Mountain Home Ranch Resort…a History – Part 2
Coming to America
In 1909, Ludwig Orth [“Grandpa”], arrived at Ellis Island for what he later would describe as the most frightening day of his life. He spoke no English, and had just completed a voyage from Germany in steerage class aboard a converted sailing ship that was making her final crossing of the Atlantic. He had left his wife and young child in Germany. He knew that Emma, “Grandma”, a great cook, could take care of herself and his child working at the hotel in the port of Bremerhaven, but he was lonely and apprehensive. He had the requisite $20 in cash in his pocket, borrowed from his cousin in Denver who had sent his tickets for the passage and train. A four day train ride across a vast continent lay before him – if he could make it past the immigration screening station. Rejection would mean a return to Germany where he would likely face imprisonment, or worse: cannon fodder for the Kaiser’s army. With hundreds of others seeking admission to the United States that day, he climbed the long flight of stairs to the screening station – not knowing that this climb was the first part of the screening. Those who couldn’t make the climb, or seemed too tired were sent back home. He answered the twenty-nine questions that proved that he was of reasonable intelligence, and had a trade learned in Germany as a cabinet maker, so would not likely become a burden on the state. To his great relief, he was granted admission.The experience was so stressful after he paid back his cousin and had earned enough to send for Grandma and their son Richard, he borrowed more money from his cousin so that they could come second class – only the steerage passengers had to go through screening at Ellis Island. Immigration officials came to the ship to admit the first and second class passengers.
Between 1909 and its closing as an immigration station in 1954, some twelve million climbed the steps Grandpa climbed. Nearly half of the current population of the United States can trace their ancestry, as we do, to Ellis Island. It is hard for us to imagine the courage it took to make that journey. It is no wonder that this country has such independent risk takers. It is in our genes. The timid stayed in Europe, Asia, or Latin America.
It has been good food that has made Mountain Home Ranch successful for the last 100 years. Grandma Orth was a professional cook in Germany, and being of good peasant stock, always preferred to grow as much of her own produce as possible. When settling in the homestead cabin in the canyon in 1913, her first priority was having Grandpa and her brother Gus clear an acre of flat land next to the creek for her vegetables. Grandpa would return to the city every Monday by train, walking the six miles to the station. On Fridays, he would bring back his friends from the factory to see his new “mountain home”, and Grandma would make miracles from her garden. Being a smart business woman, she soon began charging, and Mountain Home Ranch Resort was born. In 1915, the resort looked to be a success, and Grandma and Grandpa sold their home in the city and purchased the neighboring farm, where the resort is today. Grandma’s gardens were larger in the new location, and her food became famous, drawing guests from near and far. Grandpa and Uncle Gus slaughtered the animals, using everything but the oink to fill Grandma’s table with bacon, chops and sausage, and of course, fried chicken on Sundays. Her daughter Emmy soon mastered the kitchen and continued the tradition of good home cooking. All of the granddaughters: Bobby Lee, Margaret, Judy and Kristi took their turns in the kitchen, but it was grandson George who stayed on to run the Ranch and be master of the stove, much to the delight of the guests. Today we continue the tradition of great food, with as much of it grown in our gardens as possible, just as Grandma did.
Transportation to the Ranch has changed over the last 100 years, and not always for the better. Grandpa and Grandma came to Calistoga by train. Once there were two competing train lines to Calistoga! Steam train service to Calistoga was started in 1865, and the depot in Calistoga, which is still in use as a collection of shops, is the second oldest in California. Electric trolley service also served Calistoga until the 30′s with six round trips a day between Calistoga and San Francisco, connecting with ferry service in Vallejo. If only we had that green alternative today! At first, Grandpa and his friends walked between the train station and the Ranch — a six mile hike, uphill! Later, guests were met with a horse and buggy, but the steep hill was often too much for the horse to take both passengers and luggage. Later, Grandpa and Grandma purchased a Model T. When the train tracks were torn up, Calistoga still had Greyhound bus service daily, which was often used by guests during WWII, who needed to save their gas coupons. As guests began to use their cars to come to the Ranch, making it from San Francisco without a flat tire gave one bragging rights. The road from Petrified Forest into the Ranch was a private dirt road. Dad used his tractor to keep the road open between the Ranch and what now is Triple S Ranch. The Moors used their draft horses to smooth the rest of the road to the highway. Cars driving the road in the summer would literally arrive in a cloud of dust. After the war, Dad petitioned Sonoma County to take over the road. He asked the Fahdens at the end of the road to alert us when the county officials were coming up to inspect the road for a possible take-over. As they were driving down the road, Dad sent out two of our trucks to drive them into a ditch, showing them of the need for a wider road. The county assumed responsibility for the road, paved it, and named it Mountain Home Ranch road. They would periodically put “car counters” on the road to measure traffic. That was fun for the Fouts children, as we were allowed to drive back and forth between the Ranch and the highway all day — even though we were too young for licenses — to increase the count of traffic on the road. The road is now paved as is our driveway, signs along the road encourage the wary traveler to not give up hope. GPS helps a lot on the journey. My how times have changed.
While the resort started on the homestead property in the canyon in 1913, two years later the “mountain home” in Calistoga seemed to be a viable business so Grandma and Grandpa sold their Richmond home and purchased the neighboring Franz ranch, where the lodge is now. As the Ranch grew, it soon outgrew the dining room of the Franz farmhouse. A new building was erected nearby — the building that later became the “Kids’ Bar” and is now known as the “Meditation Chapel”. This soon became the domain of Uncle Gus, Grandma’s brother. With all of the German guests, the building soon looked and sounded like a Munich beer hall with singing and drinking into the night. There was a “one armed bandit” — a slot machine. This was illegal, but then so was the beer and wine served during prohibition!
This building has reflected the changing of the Ranch clientele. At first it served as Gus’ beer hall for the single German working men who made up most of the early guests. As the Ranch became more family oriented, the beer hall became the “Kids’ Bar” with soda, candy, ping pong and pinball machines. Now with the arrival of spiritual groups, the Kids’ Bar has morphed into a meditation chapel. As this goes to print, the carpet has been covered, easels erected, and it is an art studio! The Ranch has lasted 100 years by changing with the times.
Looking back over the last 100 years, we are amazed at the resiliency of those who went before us. They kept the business going through two world wars and the Great Depression. Having just weathered our own economic downturn, we appreciate how much a resort is affected by a bad economy and marvel at Grandpa and Grandma keeping the Ranch open during the Depression. Of course, they had help. Emmy and Bob quit their jobs in the City and came home to save the “family farm”, partnering with Grandma and Grandpa. Grandpa, as a skilled woodworker, was always able to find work in the City. Bob was a “Jack of all trades” and was able to find work in the area to supplement the income from the Ranch. Bob became the local dynamite expert whose services remained in demand. One business that flourished, even during the Depression, was the local bordello on the Silverado Trail. To accommodate the business, Bob was hired to blast out a larger parking lot. Having his truck at the site during construction caused the local ladies to gossip, much to Emmy’s amusement.
Keeping the Ranch operating was left to Grandma and Emmy. Their hard work would not have been enough without the support of the local business community. Even today, we remain loyal to Clover dairies, for during the Depression they would accept whatever payment Emmy could afford, keeping the deliveries coming when the Ranch could not afford to pay the full bill. Eventually, all the bills were paid in full, and the Ranch survived to once again prosper.
“Dirty Dancing” had nothing on us!
The Ranch in the 50’s and early 60’s was reminiscent of the movie “Dirty Dancing”. Mom and the kids would come for weeks at a time, with Dad coming up on the weekends. Families would plan their vacations to come together with their friends each year. Our present-day rustic cabins were the norm – only there were more of them! Occupancy in the summer hovered around 100 guests. There were about 20 teenagers working. Each family had an assigned table in the dining room with a teenage girl as a waitress for three meals a day. The boys did the pools, yard and KP duty. The teenagers lived in bunk houses and were paid a dollar a day plus room and board – and most were the children of guests who had been coming to the Ranch each summer. There was a loudspeaker in the office that could be heard all over the Ranch, even at the upper pool – the only pool – announcing the activities: Bingo is starting in the kids bar. Pony rides are now available on Bumble Bee. Six hours of horseback riding available every day on Penny, Midnight, Rocky, Half-Pint, Taffy, Lima, Scotch and Soda. Every night was some activity: Hayride to the movies on Friday, square dancing on Saturday, talent show at the fireplace, movies. All of the staff had to participate, but they had their own parties afterward. The rule was that the staff had to dance the “Virginia Reel” before leaving for the bonfire at the lake. Lucky guests got invited to the staff parties. A full bar open 14 hours a day, with some guests’ bar tabs exceeding their lodging bill. With so many activities, hiking in the canyon, the norm today, was a rarity. In frustration, Dad, Bob Fouts, put a sign on the dining room door one morning telling the guests that if they wanted breakfast, they must follow the map to a spot in the canyon where he cooked French toast for everyone, thereby giving the name to “French Toast Gulch”. Wonderful memories, but, alas, families do not vacation like that nowadays. The single wage earner family is now a rarity. Try hiring a teenager for a dollar a day, even if the child labor laws would allow it! The Ranch has changed with the times, while one-by-one other such resorts in the area have gone under and are now housing developments or wineries. We are proud of our heritage, proud to have survived and proud of what we have become.
Our Hawaiian Legacy. In the ’60s, a Hawaiian branch was grafted on to the Ranch’s German roots. Among the long time guests in the 50′s were some Matson executives and their families. At the time, most travelers to Hawaii did so by cruise ship, mainly those operated by Matson. With this Matson connection, George, the oldest grandson, and Bobby Lee, the oldest granddaughter, were offered positions aboard the Matson cruise ships. Growing up on the Ranch was perfect training for life aboard the cruise ship as good service and hospitality are valued at sea as on land. George worked the Lurline as it sailed between San Francisco, Honolulu and Los Angeles. When the boat docked in Honolulu, passengers were greeted by beautiful island girls with leis. On one such arrival, Josephine Nelanialua Westcott was persuaded to fill in for a friend who was sick. Joey came from an island family who traced its roots to the time of King Kamehameha. George was smitten with Joey, and soon began dating her each time the Lurline was in port. Eventually, George persuaded Joey to come to the mainland, marry him, and join in his dream of following in his parents’ footsteps by running the Ranch. Just as Emmy and Bob partnered with Grandma and Grandpa, Joey and George stepped in the help Emmy and Duane. Soon George and Joey took over the lion’s share of the work while Emmy and Duane stepped back into a working “retirement”. Joey brought a bit of Hawaiian aloha to the Ranch. Soon Ranch barbeques featured kalua pig, wrapped in Hawaiian ti leaves, roasted in a pit and served with poi. Rooms were decorated with Hawaiian tapa cloth and Joey grew a bit of Hawaii at the Ranch with torch ginger, bougainvillea and guavas – carefully protecting each plant through the cold California winters. When Joey passed away, the elderly Hawaiian “aunt”, or “tutu”, who gave Joey her Hawaiian name [Nelanialua], came to the memorial service at the Ranch. She said that at the time of Joey’s birth, she did not know why she chose that name, which in Hawaiian means “of two heavens”. After seeing the Ranch for the first time at the memorial service, she understood. Joey had two heavens: the Hawaii of her birth, and the Ranch where she raised her three boys.