"Carving A Ranch From The Wilds"
"Carving A Ranch From The Wilds"
1944 marked the year that the Soil Conservation Service signed the plan for the P&O Ranch in Concrete, Washington. The plan for the WO Dillard Ranch was signed in 1946. James T. Ovenell and Harold Pierson combined these ranches in 1947 and became the P&O Baker View Hereford Ranch. The name was later shortened to the P&O Ranch. The venture these gentlemen embarked on was to be one of Skagit County's most amazing stories of "carving a ranch from the wilds".
713 acres of river bottom, timber and stumps would later, through hard work, horsepower and dynamite, become a working cattle ranch.
In 1947 the farmhouse embarked on it's 3rd. move to it's present location. The first 2 moves were to escape the Skagit River. A D6 Cat and 2 large hewn logs made the move. The final resting place of the house was determined from the view of Mt. Baker.
The Ovenell's cleared 100 acres of land using 15 tons of stumping powder and 2 large dozers belonging to John Ball of Burlington. The dozers arrived at the ranch via the ferry crossing at Concrete. They were overweight for the poor ferry but the "good ole" boy running the ferry took them across in trade for a log.
In 1948 they purchased a D6 Cat which was used clear land, push fence posts for fences, clear a corral site, barn site, dig a dirt pit for silage and install power poles. Roy Peterson of Puget Power and J.T. Ovenell installed the first electrical wire to the ranch.
The conservation plan determined which land would be cleared, which crops were planted and which land would remain in timber. A forestry plan was enacted and test plots set up. In 1948 a corral and barn were built using cedar posts and a fir plate from logs on the ranch. By November they had electricity for water and lights.
1949 marked the year that Chuck Dwelley, J.T. Ovenell, Herold Pierson, Norm Ovenell and Hugh Ritter looked at the proposed site for the Dalles Bridge. The bridge would be completed in 1952, marking the end of the ferry runs at Concrete. Much time in the winters was spent plowing snow to keep the ferry runs open and Norm flying in supplies for the ranch and neighbors.
Cattle were kept in Burlington during the Winter months and moved to Concrete for summer pasture. Cattle numbers totaled 371 in 1949 at both the Burlington and Concrete places. Crops included peas, flax, corn and hay. J.T. Ovenell was elected to the State legislature in 1950 and much time was spent traveling to meetings.
Construction for the Concrete Sauk Valley Road began in 1951, but the contractor from Seattle shut down for the winter months. Permission was given to the Ovenells to use the dozers. They cleared land roughly and burned stumps later. The Ovenell Family gave 16 acres to the county for right of way for the road to pass through the ranch. On August 9, 1952, after attending a parade the Ovenell's were the first to cross the Dalles Bridge in their new Massey Harris self-propelled combine. They went straight to work combining wheat for 2 hours.
1952 saw the continued building of the ranch as they poured cement for silage pits and filled them in June.
In 1953 buildings were being built from poles, plates and rafters were hewn from timber on the ranch. The plates were notched and chipped with a loader bucket. Posts were split from cedar, sharpened with a chainsaw and driven into the ground with the hydraulic blade on the D6. They also installed a mile of fence in a day using this system. Some posts remain today!
Jim and Mary Ovenell were named Mr. & Mrs. Conservation Farmer for 1957. At that time 330 acres of the 730 acres were cleared. Soil Conservation surveys determined how the land was cleared. Mary Ovenell spent many hours tending to the farmstead. An unknown publication noted, "Mr. Ovenell's accomplishments in beef production were recognized several years ago when he was selected by the Skagit County Cattlemen's Assn. as the first Cattleman of the year".
By the late 1950's Jim and Mary Ovenell were sole owners of the ranch in Concrete. As they retired they turned over management of the Burlington place to Lyle Ovenell and the Concrete place to Norman Ovenell.
In 1960 the 2 ranches totaled 409.5 acres in crops including wheat, green peas, corn silage, sweet corn, barley, timothy seed, hay and lots of pasture. Cattle numbers totaled 168 head.
Just as their father before them Lyle and Norman were named Skagit County "Cattlemen of the Year" Norm was elected port commissioner for district 3, Skagit County in 1964. His service ended in December 1973.
In 1965 Concrete's most eligible bachelor married Eleanor Jungbluth. Norm and Eleanor became sole owners of the Double O Ranch and were blessed with 5 daughters.
1970 saw the introduction of Maine-Anjou to the herd. The Ovenell's began a semen testing program for ABS in 1969 and continue to breed Maine-Anjou today.
Today the ranch has diversified by adding log cabins and guesthouses. Cattle numbers include about 100 cow calf pairs, 20 replacement heifers, 10-12 feedlot steers and 4-5 bulls. Conservation efforts continue with the addition of a CREP project in 2000. Timberlands are managed and selectively logged as needed.
After a wonderful childhood growing up on our family's ranch, the countless trips to fairs across the state and country, we continue to operate the ranch, log cabins and guesthouses, providing lodging in the North Cascades with pride and joy knowing that our family built this legacy. There are many stories recorded in the diaries and journals of the men who carved this ranch. We hold those memories close to our hearts and thank them for their unyielding labor and perseverance.
We salute Norman, Lyle and James T. Ovenell and the rest of the cousins who helped, and hope you enjoy our family history!