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By J.B. Selvidge


Today's family-held operations consist of the growing of cotton, wheat, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, almonds and pistachios. Beef-raising rounds out the operations of the Buttonwillow Land & Cattle Company, a partnership made up of three families: the Frey’s, Selvedge’s and Tracy’s.

Tracy Ranch Incorporated is a family-held corporation owned by widespread stockholders, also Frey’s, Selvidge’s and Tracy’s, including female descendants thereof who through marriage have taken new names.

The family legacy in Kern County began with Ferdinand Tracy (1829-1908) in the late 1850’s in the goldmines near Kernville. However, the family uses the official date of 1862 when Ferdinand and Wellington Canfield formed the partnership Canfield & Tracy, a rangeland cattle operation. Their herds roamed the lower San Joaquin Valley, grazing on wild grass in an untamed dominion ruled by the likes of rattlesnakes, jackrabbits, coyotes and waterfowl, but at times subjugate to the ruthless whims of the mighty Kern River.

In 1875 Ferdinand married Ellen Baker, the widow of Colonel Thomas Baker (deceased 1872). The marriage yielded two children, “Baby” and “Ferdie” who both died as infants.

In 1898, Ferdinand’s nephew, William Tracy, established what would be today’s headquarters/historical park on Wildwood Road, 5 miles northeast of Buttonwillow. This era was marked by the raising of Belgian draft horses and later ostriches . . . one that abounds with entertaining tales. His marriage in 1904 to the daughter of another pioneer family, Fannie C. Rowlee, would yield six children, one of which succumbed to scarlet fever at age 8.

With the death of William Tracy on July 4, 1941, his widow Fannie Tracy rallied her widespread children and their spouses back to the Ranch. The result was a turning point that saved a ranch ravaged by bad luck of the ‘20’s and the Great Depression of the ‘30’s. Fueled by the talents and resources of the Frey’s, Selvidge’s and Tracy’s and made urgent by World War II, the ranch was transformed from an equine epoch into mechanized farming.

Today in the 5th generation, diversity is their strength, the achievement of their unity and of all hearts in one place—the Ranch.

Reaching its 140th year in 2002, the Tracy Ranch is joined today by only a handful of other surviving Kern County operations with roots going back to early California. All still alive with the romance of our Western Culture, they share one common beginning . . . rangeland cattle.


Tejon Ranch                  1843

Tracy Ranch                   1862

Snedden Ranch              1864

Lavers Ranch                1858

Robert Woody Ranch     1862

Carver-Bowen Ranch     1869

Nickel Enterprises         1861
(descended from Miller & Lux)

Rankin Ranch                 1863

Twisselman Ranch         1887

“Beef Endures the ‘Taste’ of Time


The Early Years, Part I

1860: Ferdinand A.. Tracy arrives in Kern County.

Born in Wilkesbare, Pennsylvania in 1829, he was attracted to California in 1850 by the lure of gold. In the early 1850's he was a commissioned lieutenant of a company of United State troops sent to quell an Indian uprising in northern California. Later he resumed his gold mining activities in Kern County, which soon lost its luster, at which time he turned to livestock raising. Becoming a resident of Bakersfield in 1862, he joins with Wellington Canfield under firm title of Canfield-Tracy, becoming a leader in the cattle industry throughout the San Joaquin Valley.

1875: Ferdinand Tracy unites in marriage with Mrs. Ellen Baker, the widow of the late Colonel Thomas Baker, founder of Bakersfield. Ferdinand would go on to occupy positions of trust in county affairs, but generally shuns public life.

William Tracy, was born August 8,1866, near Galt, California. In his teens he had purchased an outfit and engaged in teaming on the large ranches in Colusa County, meanwhile, saving his earnings with frugal forethought to the future. As a teenager William was a teamster in northern California’s Colusa County, ultimately driving the large teams hitched to the giant grain harvesters evolving in the 1880’s. It was perhaps this exposure that kindled his passion for “beasts of burden,” namely mules and the Belgian draft horse. Made a legend as a Persian War Horse, the handsome Belgian was revered for its calm demeanor and especially its short, powerful legs that gave exceptional pulling power and agility. (Oxen, the unglamorous brute of the Westward movement, had since been eclipsed by the mules and large draft horses due to their pulling power and controllability by means of the mouth bit).

1891: Will Tracy comes to Kern County. He takes up a homestead located one mile east of Wildwood Road, near Seventh Standard Road, on the range of his uncle Ferdinand. He joins his brother Theodore as superintendents of the Canfield-Tracy herds.

Although “Uncle Ferd” was a cattleman, nephew Will’s aspirations leaned toward the breeding of draft animals. It was an equine epoch that created ever-increasing demand for such animals in agriculture, commercial drayage and eventually to serve in WWI.

It is the year 1898. Tracy Ranch is a fledgling 36 years old; the horse-drawn carriage is about to become a "horse-less" carriage; Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough-Riders have defeated Spain in the first U.S. foreign engagement... the short-lived Cuban, Spanish-American War.

In this year the enterprising William moves his quaint seven-year-old homestead cabin one mile west (on Wildwood Road) toward the setting sun to its final resting place . . .  today's Tracy Ranch headquarters.

The horse barn (1898) that would witness 100 years of ranch history unfolding  in the shadow of giant eucalyptus trees, stands today restored. Called "The Old Barn", it is an enduring tribute to its builder, William Tracy, in the Tracy Homeplace Centennial year.

Blacksmith Shop

After settling into his homestead cabin the next priority was the construction of a horse barn followed by a nearby blacksmith shop (where horseshoes were forged from scratch).

Built in the expedient, functional California Box construction (no foundation, no framing) out of redwood, the barn and blacksmith shop would become the hub of a breeding enterprise that included jackasses, mules and the venerable Belgian draft horse.

 “Ultimately the Tracy Belgians grew to over two hundred in number. At the head of the drove were two prized stallions: Predominant weighing 1500 pounds and Silver Tip, tipping the scales at a mighty 2000 pounds… both fine specimens of their breed” (Wallace Morgan, Kern County History, 1914).

1900: William Tracy completes the first phase of a ranch house which would later become the home to a wife and family of six children. It is here that his ranch hands have their meals prepared by a Chinese cook. (The current home of J.B. Selvidge, built in 1984, sits on the site of the original home.)

In due time William would acquire the holdings of Canfield-Tracy and the holdings of his brother Theodore. With these additions to his original homestead, the ranch would grow to 3,080 acres.

1904: On April 3, William joins in marriage to Fannie C. Rowlee, daughter of nearby rancher Charles W. Rowlee (north of Lerdo on Rowlee Road). Born in San Joaquin County, she moved to Kern County as a child. She entered Chico State Normal and later graduated from San Diego State Normal. She would become a teacher at the Wildwood School (one mile north of Seventh Standard on Wildwood Road). As the matriarch of future generations, she would teach her children and grandchildren the valuable lessons of life, which she had experienced first hand as a pioneer lady. Denied access to the ranch kitchen by the Chinese cook upon her marriage to William, she takes to the yard, planting eucalyptus seedlings (the largest standing within the current grounds). She hauls water to them by buckets carried by a small wagon. One of these trees would grow to become the champion Longbeak Eucalyptus in the United States (173' tall in 1983).

Within a year after marrying neighboring Fannie C. Rowlee (1904) a son is born. Named Cecil, he is followed by Darrel, Frances, "Teddy", Martha and Tilton (all deceased except Frances and Martha). Through the years the Tracy family stood together on a ranch torn apart in the 20's and 30's, but perhaps no more daunting than that experienced by thousands of "49'rs" who braved the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains and the High Sierras in search of their dream pot of California gold.

The old and the new—J.B. Selvidge stands with the 1986 Challenger tractor in front of the 1898 blacksmith shop built by his grandfather, Will Tracy.

Ostriches Arrive at Tracy Ranch

The year is 1906. It is the flamboyant Edwardian era of the early twentieth century, an era epitomized by optimism and innovation: Henry Ford introduces the Model T, the Wright Brothers succeed in flight, Benjamin Holt demonstrates the first successful crawler tractor and the United States is completing the Panama Canal, having taken over the ill-fated French venture.

Founded in 1862 as a rangeland cattle operation, Tracy Ranch of Kern County had expanded into the breeding of mules and Belgian draft horses around 1900, and is now forty-four years old.

It is the gilded age of high fashion, lace and corsetry from San Francisco to New York City's 5th Avenue. Wealthy industrialists give their ladies carte-blanche for opulent dress to match the glory of their own achievements. Fashion designers respond by creating accessory regalia that would adorn the nation's high society, designed around a common element... the rare and exotic ostrich plume.

The ostrich feather's legacy dates back thousands of years when it was an amulet in Egyptian religion signifying truth, justice and order... with mythical gods portrayed wearing the ostrich feather as part of their head ornamentation. The feather's first tangible use was as plumage atop the polished steel helmets of European medieval knights (a plume is an arrangement of several individual feathers). In 1794 the feathered plume was first introduced to the United States but died out in 1797.

Over a century later it would make a grand comeback, creating a demand that spawns ostrich farms in South Africa, Australia and the U.S. Suddenly the ostrich is the source of exotic pure white feathers which when several are constructed into a top grade "willow plume" can fetch $100 (in early 1900's). As a bonus, its speckled hide provides a soft fine grained leather most popular in stylish cowboy boots and handbags.

On the not-so-exotic Tracy Ranch, where fencing pliers and a lariat are of more use than a plume, it seems paradoxical to consider raising birds that are the source of such paradisiacal adornment. Fannie C. Tracy, just having married William Tracy a few years prior is never one to sit around on her "fanny."   She is enchanted with the prospective ostrich business and rises to the challenge. Along with William, they form the Tracy Stock and Ostrich Farm, 1906, becoming the pioneers of ostriches in Kern County. Little did they know what the irascible ostrich had in store.

A mated pair of ostriches,[1] a female named Tempe and a male named Phoenix are shipped by rail from Phoenix, Arizona. They arrive at the Bowerbank siding three miles east of Buttonwillow. Phoenix has practically destroyed his shipping crate and he is fairly thrashed, with feathers everywhere (he would later die from infection, and be replaced with Phoenix 11). The two are off-loaded and driven four miles northward across alkali and sagebrush to their new home on Tracy Ranch, perhaps as arid and dusty as their native Africa.

Within a few short years by 1910, the happily mated pair of Phoenix II and Tempe has increased to a flock of 174. The Tracy Studio of Design and Manufacture at 2323 Chester Lane (across from William Penn School) in Bakersfield is turning out an array of multi-colored plumage, satin-backed lap robes, boas, pom-poms, fans, etc., all creations of artisans Fannie and her sister Hazel. It is this successful enterprise that soon labels Fannie as the "Bird Lady of Buttonwillow."

1915: With the expansion of the "Tracy Stock and Ostrich Farm", William builds a new larger horse barn 300 feet south of the original barn. His expanding Belgian draft horse operation, on its way to a peak of around 280 head, has by now gained a far-reaching reputation for quality in commercial and military applications. (Later referred to as the "white barn", it has undergone phases of restoration since the 1960's).

1917: William and Fannie give a Red Cross fund-raiser picnic attended by 5,000 people. A dance hall is moved from Burbank Road to the ranch, and plays around the clock for two days and nights, with two bands switching off.  The building would later be converted to a commercial dairy with the product picked up by the Wasco Creamery. (In 1951 the barn was converted to a shop, which all these years later remains the ranch mechanical shop.)

Ostrich Tales On Tracy & Tejon Ranches

The Bird Lady of Buttonwillow, Fannie Tracy and her husband William were not the only ones to stick out their necks. Harry Chandler and General Otis of the Tejon Ranch joined the profitable bird-raising business a few years later, providing ostrich plumes for the fashionably well-dressed ladies of Fifth Avenue from the remote, arid ranches of Kern County.

Able to outrun in 22 foot strides a fast horse and out-kick a Missouri mule, the lanky, flightless ostrich can be a formidable foe. With minimal pectoral muscles its wings are of little use, albeit effective for high speed steering and braking... and as bluff, intimidating when flapped and thumped. Hidden under their wings are the prized delicate feathers of a "dove"... the long-ago turn of the century fashion rage when transformed into exquisite boas, fans and head dress plumage.

Fannie Tracy in a 1949 interview, remembering the ostrich's kicking ability, was asked how they got the birds to stand still long enough to be plucked? She explained that first they were lassoed, then blindfolded in a special pen where the plucking, or clipping was performed. This operation caused no pain to the bird, and the feathers grew back. During the interview Mrs. Tracy was asked the obvious question "Did you ever see an ostrich hide his head in the sand?" She and her sons Cecil and Darrell looked at each other and smiled. All concurred, they had never seen this performed by a captive bird.

One moment strutting with dignified countenance, the male ostrich ... during mating season or while guarding a nest of eggs ... can suddenly turn in tempestuous ferocity. With giant thighs each swinging two long toes tipped with sharp toe-nails, the ostrich is a fighting machine that can slice open, knockout or trample its foe to death.

 "When I was a young girl, daddy came in from the fields one night with the front of his coveralls ripped open top to bottom," recalls Frances (Tracy) Selvidge. "In those days the ostriches grazed in the same pastures as the milk cows. That particular evening as Daddy went out to gather the cows an aggravated male ostrich assaulted him. With its characteristic style of first kicking forward in an upward arc and then slamming downward, the bird's sharp toenail luckily just missed daddy's flesh!"

Upon being released from the armed forces at the close of the First World War, little did Perry Sprague know what a hand fate was to deal him as he accepted a job by Tejon Ranch as caretaker of their troop pf 186 ostriches. The year was 1919.

Like the Tracy family, Mr. Sprague never saw an ostrich hide its head in the Tejon's sand, dirt or alkali, when interviewed in 1949. Perry took great relish in relating how a "tough" marine veteran of WWI had been chased out of a field by an infuriated male that he had foolishly struck:

"If he hadn't climbed in between the horses of his plow team the ostrich would undoubtedly have killed him. Those big Nubians often weigh 350 pounds, and when about to strike they rear up to a height of ten to twelve feet. They kick forward and then down with a terrific force. I've seen them shear off 1 1/4" X 6" corral boards with a single stroke. You can imagine what that would do to a man!"

Cecil and Darrell Tracy had related how they had been forced to shoot a pursuing bird on one occasion ... or face the consequences.

"What about their speed" Mr. Sprague was asked. "Can they keep up with a horse?"

Recalling a humorous circumstance, he replied, "Frankly, I don't know just how fast they can run, but I chased a Nubian for forty miles one day with a car that would do slightly over fifty miles per hour. He could run faster than that car at top speed."

"As for matching a horse! Why, on one occasion I saw a fast horse with a rider overtaken. Then every few strides the ostrich would leap into the air and try to kick the fellow out of his saddle. Chased him a mile and a half clear into Rose Station before the bird would give up!"

The post-WWI era marked the waning popularity of the ostrich feather. With the increasing popularity of automobiles, ostrich plumed hats would die out and so would the industry by the early 1920's. (A few birds were kept at Tracy Ranch for curiosities sake.)

The birds of Tracy and Tejon ranches were dissipated, many of Tejon's dying of greasewood poisoning, some sold to carnivals and all except two of the Tracy troop donated to Hart Memorial Park.

The original Tracy pair, Phoenix and Tempe, lived out their lives on the ranch. In 1946 Tempe (the female) died of infected wounds after dogs chased her into a barbed wire fence. Phoenix died in 1952 ... after an exceptionally wet winter ... of pneumonia.

So ended the drama and the trauma of ostriches on Tracy Ranch ... an era that spanned the turn-of-the-century opulence, two World Wars, the Great Depression, numerous floods and a struggle for survival on the ranch kept alive by an elusive dream.

1920-21: William, against the advice of Fannie, invests heavily in the newly formed Imperial Livestock and Mortgage Company and in the Verdun Parking Company, who are represented by persuasive slick professionals. Both firms fail, which would plunge the ranch into a 20 year struggle for survival.

Cecil Tracy, the adventurous eldest son of William and Fannie, strikes out on his own to become a range cowboy for the giant cattle barons, Miller and Lux, and would later become a professional rodeo bull rider.

1926: William sells off property to generate cash flow. Section 5 (south-west comer of Seventh Standard and Tracy Avenue) is one of the parcels to go, bought by a consortium of affluent sportsmen from Los Angeles. Chosen because of its natural ponds and wildlife, the original 40 shareholders agree on January 28, 1926 to purchase the property for $16.00 per acre, naming the 660 acre (oversize) section, the "Buttonwillow Land and Cattle Company, Inc." The years following would see duck hunters and entertainment personalities such as the Warner brothers of Warner Brothers Studios visit the ranch, where Fannie Tracy contracts to "room and board" them, as a means of supplementary income.

1928: With the ranch reduced to less than half of its peak acreage, the ostriches gone, and the Belgian horses gone, little is left for the sustenance of a large family. Fannie and William sell the homeplace on Wildwood to a Mr. Napoleon Merritt of Los Angeles, whose son becomes caretaker. Within a few years, Fannie quitclaims the contract after learning of the neglected facilities, acreage and livestock. William's health at this time is beginning to fail (early 30's).

1938: Much of the ranch is leased out for oil and gas exploration. It is this income which brings hope to a bleak situation. Cecil proceeds to remodel the ranch house, blending several classic appointments, such as a Victorian staircase, hardwood flooring and a giant red brick fireplace with a 7 foot hearth. A born romanticist, Cecil adds the final touch to his love nest by bringing in an Art Deco, 1930's, Wurlitzer jukebox and an 8 foot square plush mattress pad which lies in front of the giant open hearth. His flair for life and adventure is reflected in the Tracy Home, which in later years would go on to see many legendary parties.

William Tracy has become an invalid. Cecil spends much of his time helping to care for him as well as tending to ranch duties.

Turning Point

A turning point out of the abyss of the 1930's depression era and the beginning of a long, uphill climb arrives, that as of the turn of the 21st Century has transcended four generations. Tracyism: "The true meaning of life is in the struggle."

1941: Having had a stroke in 1930, William Tracy is committed to Camarillo State Hospital where after a few weeks he passes away on July 4, 1941, at age 74.

1942: In 1942 World War II threatens to take all available young men to the battlefield. On Thanksgiving Day of that year a family council is held. It is deemed absolutely necessary that at least one male member of the family must stay with the ranch. To assure this objective all members of the family, in-laws and all, agree to come to the ranch from their various locations, in hope that at least one might be left for the management of the ranch operations. It is decided that a family partnership would begin on January 1, 1943.

As agreed, family members come from San Diego, Hollywood and the oilfields of Coalinga to launch a new operation of farming. Fannie, who along with Cecil had shouldered the ranch burdens through the Great depression, spearheads the reorganization. At 1,200 acres, the ranch stands at less than half of its former 3,000 acres in 1922.

It is this year, 1942 ( in the words of Cecil Tracy), "just twenty years from the first stunning blow, the ranch paid off the last red cent that held the 'hangman's noose' together."

1943: Mrs. Fannie Tracy applies for a $23,000 loan from the Federal Land Bank of Berkeley. She receives a letter dated December 7, 1943 stating "we regret our inability to be of assistance to you at this time", citing that too many families were dependent on a certain producing acreage. The solution: develop more acreage. Jack M. Frey coaxes a $10,000 personally guaranteed loan from good friend Mrs. Baker of Bakers Transfer & Storage, Bakersfield.

The ranch's first cotton, under Jack’s direction, is planted the spring of this year, with no more than a Farm All ‘M’ wheel tractor (still in operation in 1994) and a Caterpillar ‘15’ crawler. A two-bottom moldboard plow with an innovative rear wing acts as dual-purpose ditch plow and border-maker. Stifling mosquitoes, floods, bullheads, and rutted-out alkali roads mark the era.

1946: Fannie Tracy applies for a loan of $25,000 from the Federal Land Bank, who for the second time, in a letter dated January 10, 1946, declines the loan, implying that the ranch is further out on a limb than in 1943. The ranch's first new tractor, a model ‘LA’ Case wheel tractor of 55 DBHP (drawbar horsepower), along with a 10' offset disc, is purchased from E.O. Mitchell, Arvin, CA. This is a step toward big-horsepower tillage.

1949: Long awaited mechanical cotton pickers are introduced on the ranch. Called a "Red Okie", one machine replaces 40 hand-pickers. The machine is the result of pressure put on International Harvester Company by San Joaquin Valley farmers who were experiencing labor problems beginning in the 1930's. Cotton farmers were blamed for mass unemployment after picking season, which degraded into "slum" camps (nicknamed "cardboard cities') and glorified by John Steinbeck in his book "The Grapes of Wrath".

Tracy Ranch, Inc. is formed out of the original 1943 partnership.

"A Living Statue"

Cecil Tracy inherited a sense of poetry and romanticism from his father William (who enjoyed reciting from memory all eight cantos of "Lady of the Lake), and was endowed with the artistry of his multi-talented mother Fannie. As a range cowboy for cattle barons Miller & Lux, later awarded Best All Around Cowboy at age 27 and a poised equestrian, Cecil the showman would become the Old West personified. The most enduring image of his artistry lies in the gilded, spectacular "Living Statue" that garnered numerous parade trophies statewide.

Captioned “Spirit of the Old West—A Living Statue" by a photo-journalist, the shimmering effect truly romanticized the mystique of the frontier cowboy and his horse --- those days of long ago when men working on the open range developed equipment which showed on an art transposed from still an earlier day of Old Mexico and Spain. A visionary and impassioned chaser of rainbows, Cecil found his pot of gold, his crowning glory during the centennial year 1949 commemorating the California Gold Rush of 1849.

His sister, Frances (Tracy) Selvidge who traveled to Santa Barbara as a helper and spectator, best describes the event: "Cecil Tracy devised a unique formula of gold powder and mineral base that enabled his horse to sweat under this coating. With this mixture he coated his skin, clothes, saddle and horse. Then with his favorite pal Captain, just an ordinary part-Shetland who was calm and patient, they would mount a float to be pulled in parades in Bakersfield, San Francisco and Santa Barbara.

Both horse and man would maintain this pose you see here never moving a muscle until the parade would pause momentarily. Then Cecil would lower his arm for a quick rest and allow Captain to shift his weight (Captain was trained by holding a stance balanced on a plank spanning an irrigation ditch for at least 20 minutes duration).

Gleaming in the sun this sight was breathtaking and unbelievable. Santa Barbara thought so too as they awarded him the Sweepstakes Award of the Fiesta Days Parade, 1949".

The float launched other gold-themed floats that Cecil later starred on, notably: "Pushing Ahead" and "Forging Ahead" of the early 1950's.

Captain, born in 1920, lived to the remarkable age of 34. It was a sad day in 1954 when due to failing health, Cecil mercifully ended Captain's suffering as he lay in a pasture due west of the Old Barn. He dug a grave on the spot for the horse’s final resting place. Today the grave is marked by an island Cecil built in the 1960's while excavating a surrounding pond. Captain is memorialized along with other family members in the serenity of today's Tracy Ranch Memorial Garden. However, the gilded legacy of Cecil and Captain lives in the Tracy Museum where Cecil's original parade saddle and cowboy hat are preserved forever.

But as the sun sets on one era, so comes a new dawn ... The Fabulous Fifties ----- Pushing Ahead.

Horse and man would maintain the pose you see here, never moving a muscle until the parade halted momentarily, then Cecil would lower his arm for a quick rest and allow Captain to shift his weight. Cecil had devised a unique formula of gold powder and mineral base, that enabled his horse to sweat under this coating, as early as 1944. 

The Fabulous ‘50'S

We saw how the ranch was rescued in the early 40’s from 20 years of hard times (1922 to 1942). The Field of Dreams is written as a tribute to Jack Frey who came to the ranch in October, 1942 with his wife Martha (Tracy) Frey, and to those deceased who since 1862 have put their heart and soul into Tracy Ranch.

The diversity traditionally marking the Frey’s, Selvidge’s and Tracy’s has been the ranch's strength. . . where the bonding philosophy has always been, "When in doubt, do what is best for the Ranch." And, as Fannie Tracy once said, "Don't worry about day to day inequities, for in the end it all works out."

This was the spirit that ushered in the memorable 1950's, when unprecedented expansion began . . . something new, something old, as ground lost in the 1920's was incrementally regained along with the new. Abundant water was cheap, mechanical cotton pickers were revolutionizing the cotton industry and farming in the Golden Empire was on a roll. On a roll also was the mighty Kern River, unleashing a small part of its fury through the ranch, where our story begins:

1950-52: The Great Floods

On November 19-20, 1950 heavy rains in the high Sierras drive the Kern River to an all time high 37,000 second-feet record flow (officially, since recording of flows at first-point near Hart Park) nearly flooding Bakersfield.

The ranch's usual problems are suddenly trivial compared to one rising problem: waters behind the historic, wooden Bellevue weir just upstream from the current Stockdale Highway bridge) are about to overflow into Jerry Slough (historically, Gooselake Channel), threatening farms through Rosedale and 20 miles further west, Tracy and Wegis ranches.

There is no safe haven for dozens of dozers and scrapers as they are rounded-up on a Sunday. A lone International TD-18 dozer with a sign ‘Rexroth and Rexroth’ on top the hood sits on a mound of dirt near an oil-well sump. Unable to locate its owners, the tractor is borrowed that Sunday night. The next day its angry owners track its disappearance several miles north, where they find their dozer building a levee. They soon calm down after observing the situation, leaving with a handshake and permission to "use the tractor as long as needed."

With the combined horsepower of Cat ‘D8’, International ‘TD-24’, and Cletrac mammoth crawlers it is possible to channel, just in time, the Kern's flood waters through valuable cropland with minimal damage. Later, in May of 1952, a second flood (ranging 5,200 to 8,300 cfs at "first point") flows down the same channel. However, a 40-foot wide break in a levee north of Lerdo Highway floods acres of cropland. The break is ultimately plugged with the aid of several earthmovers and dozers working into the night.

Isabella Dam was completed in April 1954, greatly reducing the danger of flooding.

The Field of Dreams - Brushfield 1952

While Jack Frey is a pragmatist and a man with a mission, Cecil Tracy is a romanticist and a man with a vision. Born in 1905 on the ranch, the eldest son of William and Fannie Tracy, Cecil's adventuresome, colorful life and character could no doubt be turned into a Hollywood movie. He has a keen sense of nature that ultimately leads to the development and later acquisition of some of the finest farming ground in California.

Over the years Cecil was captivated by lush Mesquite and Buttonwillow Trees and hundreds of acres of cocklebur brush lying five miles north of Buttonwillow on Highway 78 (now 58) in the Gooselake Channel flood plain. He is personally acquainted with the land owners, the ‘Kern County Land Company’, with offices at 19th and H Streets, Bakersfield.

After years of coaxing, Cecil finally gets Kern County Land Company to agree to a development-lease in 1952, as it has a standing policy to never sell ground (until years later, when bought out by Tenneco).

Tracy Ranch has little capital to work on, so a crop-share agreement is formed.

Initial survey prior to clearing is done as Cecil anchors a step-ladder in the bed of his 1950 Ford truck, where from his perch he directs the driver through ten-foot-tall brush. The fine, sandy silt soil, unlike any other on the ranch, necessitates running on half-deflated tires. The simple name "Brushfield" is coined, and would become synonymous with a cornucopia of high yielding crops ranging from cotton, wheat, rice and alfalfa, then later including carrots, potatoes and tomatoes.

Today, the multi-thousand acre Brushfield is a "food and fiber machine", the flagship of the ranch, proving the premise that "not all soils are created equal." Family member Wes Selvidge inherited its management in 1967, later in 1986 promoting and developing a highly successful potato operation. Growing in size each year, Wes' vision, like Cecil's, is coming to fruition as he ships direct to all of Frito-Lay's west coast plants, to Eagle Brand in Visalia and to In and Out Burger in Los Angeles. Jason Selvidge is following his father Wesley’s footsteps, assuming more and more day-to-day duties.


[1] Struthio camelus is the scientific name for the ostrich species; the word camelus denoting its ability to go for days without a drink, made possible by water stored in cellular tissue throughout its body. The nine foot-tall ostrich falls in a class of flightless birds along with the rhea and the emu, called ratites. A ratite is characterized by a flat, raft-like chest as opposed to the deep-V breastbone and proportionally larger breast muscles of a normal flight bird... perhaps an evolutionary phenomenon of survival, in that a flightless bird requires much less to eat than its flying cousin. However, for what the ostrich lacks in flight it makes up for in "punch." With Herculean force it can splinter corral boards, kill a man in one swift downward kick or propel itself in 22 foot strides at 40 mph ... easily out-racing a horse.