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.
THE OLD WEST
I went to the ranch many years ago, stepping from the train somewhere near midnight into a cold, crisp air full of stars. My knowledge of California was at that time confined to several seasons spent on the coast, where the straw hat retires only in deference to a tradition which none of the flowers seem bound to respect. As my dress accorded with this experience, I was very glad to be conducted across the street to a little hotel. My guide was an elderly, very brown man, with a white moustache, and the bearing of an army regular. This latter surmise later proved correct. Manning was one of the numerous old soldiers who had fought through the General’s Apache campaigns, and who now in his age had drifted back to be near his old commander. He left me, after many solicitations as to my comfort, and a promise to be back with the team at seven o’clock sharp.
Promptly at that hour he drew up by the curb. My kit bag was piled aboard, and I clambered in beside the driver. Manning touched his team. We were off.