Friday morning, May 20th at the Ranch;
At seven o’clock in the morning it was cloudy, cool and dry in Bella Vista. The weather forecast was for intermittent rain. However, not a drop hit my truck windshield until I reached Palo Cedro. About now is when I started wishing I had remembered my rain slicker. It was a steady rain when I unlocked the Ranch gate and started for the barn. As I’m driving through the puddles I’m thinking it’s an hour and a half until Mrs. Hall’s kids from Redding Christian School are due to arrive. Surely it’s going to clear up. “Hope springs eternal.”
This would be the third year that Redding Christian School has brought their primary age kids to the Ranch to celebrate Redding Rodeo Week. Everyone at Trailhead was excited about working with these delightful five and six year old kids. They’re always dressed up in their colorful cowboy outfits. The little girls have on bright colored dresses, boots and hats. The boys are wearing their cowboy vests, chaps and bandanna’s. They brighten up the whole Ranch and everyone present. As it turned out, if it hadn’t been for the kids and their enthusiasm it would have been a really cold, wet and miserable morning.
Needless to say, it didn’t clear up. In fact, it got colder, windier and wetter. (You may have noticed that the weather on the Millville Plains is always a notch above the surrounding countryside.) This was starting to look like it was going to be a very unpleasant and long two hours, in spite of the kids. To make matters worse, I wasn’t the only one that came unprepared. There were a bunch of parents in light sweaters and shirts fast reaching the same conclusion.
Of course, the kids were oblivious to it all. When you’re five or six years old, in a big rustic ranch barn and the rain is beating down on the tin roof you’re not going to let a little physical discomfort slow you down.
Except for the covered wagon, outside activities were not going to work. We started out with Erik sharing about the Ranch and about cowboys. Then Arlynn lead everyone in praising God through song. Next, Alfred brought his miniature horses into the barn. And last but not least, Courtney got Mighty Bucky saddled and into action. Now things were starting to warm up. The smart phones started flashing as parents began taking pictures and videos of kids riding Bucky, sitting on Alfred’s miniature horse and petting his small colt. Now things were really starting to warm up.
The star of the show was Alfred’s one-month-old miniature horse, Patches. He’s a beautiful little pinto, about 15 inches high. Danika had her hands full keeping the crowd of mesmerized kids surrounding him under control. All Patches wanted to do was nurse his mother; he never gave the kids petting and caressing him a second thought. I’ll bet there were a couple of dozens parents that couldn’t wait to show their friends and relatives the pictures and videos they took of their kids with Patches.
After a snack we hooked up the covered wagon and off we went. This is the first time in eight years we’ve hauled kids around the Ranch in a rainstorm. Only twenty or so energetic and excited preschool kids huddled in a cold, wet and soggy covered wagon could make that trip and morning a memory that will last a lifetime.
Oh Yea! I’m knocking on the door of 75, my fake left knee locks up when I’m cold and wet. And, I get cranky. Thank you God for that “Hope that springs eternal,” that bright warm day in eternity He promise all believers. It sure makes days like Friday a blessing.
Dave Kacalek and his ranch touched my life several years before I even knew who he was. If you’ve driven by the intersection of Hwy 44 and Millville Plains Rd in December you can’t miss the big lighted cross. It’s twenty some feet high, covered with Christmas lights and nailed to the side of Dave’s big red barn. I first noticed it about 10 years ago. That cross says a lot about who he was and what was important to him. Seeing it on a cold winter night warmed the hearts of more people than we’ll ever know. Dave realized the impact it would have and that’s exactly why he put it there.
It was the spring of 2007 when I actually met Dave for the first time. My friend Fred had been driving by the Cross every December since Dave first put it up. Finally, he wrote a note on the back of one of his business cards and put it on the gate. The note simply asked the owner if he was interested in developing a Christian youth ranch on his property. Fred had never met Dave and had no idea what would become of that small card and note. Dave found the card, phoned Fred and they set up a meeting. A short time later we met at the Palo Cedro Pizza Parlor.
I remember that first meeting well. Dave came with a teenage boy who was helping him on the ranch. I was to learn later that he was just one of many at risk young men Dave mentored and evangelized on a regular basis. My first impressions of Dave were mixed. Here was a big burly man, a busy general contractor, the owner of a large ranch and he was willing to spend a couple of hours in the middle of the work day talking with three total strangers about a dream. When does this ever happen? He was interested in what we were proposing, we prayed about it and agreed to meet again. I didn’t realize it at the time but God had just opened an amazing door. This was the beginning of Trailhead Youth Ranch. This is “Where The Adventure Began.”
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” When I think of the years that have passed at the ranch and my dealings with Dave this verse always comes to mind. We developed a close working relationship after a year or so and I valued his advise and input but most of all I valued his friendship. There’s no question in my mind that our friendship was “Iron sharpening iron.” Dave had a way of always getting right to the point of who you were and what you believed. Didn’t seem to make any difference who it was or how well you thought you were grounded in God’s word, Dave could always find a way to make you dig deeper. I look back on those many conversations Dave and I had in the old red barn as important insights into my faith and where I’m going in this life.
Since Dave’s passing a couple of weeks ago he’s constantly on my mind. I know he’s in a better place and I know he’s looking down on us all watching the seeds he planted grow and bear fruit. This world is a better place because of Godly men of character like Dave Kacalek.
The North wind can really blow on the Millville Plains. Saturday April the 30th, 40 mph gusts pelted the Ranch all day. This time of year when the grass is tall and the wind is blowing it feels like you’re in the middle of an ocean. It’s sort of mesmerizing, even a little nostalgic. After a few hours your face starts to dry out and you begin to feel the wind burn. If you’re anything like me, about now you’re wondering how the pioneers managed to survive on the Great Plains and it’s a little easier to understand what Prairie Madness was all about.
I’m guessing that the ten or so people that attended our packing clinic were thinking the same thing as they led their pack animals through the tall grass and wound their way to the top of the mesa.
This was the culmination of three days of horse and mule packing instruction. George, our packing instructor, had spent hours teaching the finer points of surviving a pack trip. Saturday was his final exam. However, no one expected it to take place in a driving north wind. All of a sudden the test difficulty factor doubled.
In spite of it all, George’s students managed to throw the double diamond hitch and the box hitch on their horse and mule packs. Which, is a little touchy when the north wind is whipping top covers (manties) around a mule or horse’s head. After George’s close inspection they headed for the top of the mesa to set up a mock camp, the second page of the test.
In a grove of oak trees at the top of the mesa the first step was to set up a high line to tie the mule and horse to. Then, they unloaded their packs and unsaddled the animals. Did I mention that the wind was blowing ten miles an hour harder on the top of the mesa.
They spent an hour or so at their mock camp contemplating the past three days, reviewing George’s lecture points and taking in a beautiful view of the Millville Plains at the peak of it’s Spring Bloom. An unforgettable end to a very blustery day at the Ranch.
Tom is one of the founders of Trailhead Youth Ranch. He has been involved in Christian ranch and horse ministries since the early 1980s. Trailhead Youth Ranch is the culmination of 35 years of experience at various related Christian ministries.