Tumbleweed Guest Ranch, 1945

"The one + only snap
Film shortage"
Helene (Szerejko) Dingle, second on the right; Christine (Szerejko) Shenette, far right
Mason Halstead?, fourth from the right

(Digital Images. Photographs Privately Held by Cynthia Shenette; Photographs and Text, Copyright (c) 2015 Cynthia Shenette)  Well, Dear Reader, it's the time of year when the hot days of late summer end in cool nights, and a chorus of crickets sing their nightly song of summer's end.  And once again it's time for our annual visit to the Tumbleweed Guest Ranch.

Two years ago I wrote about finding my mother's vacation album from the 1940s.  A large part of my mom's album was devoted to summer vacations spent at the Tumbleweed Guest Ranch in Westkill, New York.  Mom and her sister, Helene, vacationed at Tumbleweed during the war years of 1943, 1944, and 1945.  I'm grateful my mom and her sister took the time to write captions to all of the photos in the album, and unlike 1943 and 1944 when she and her sister took dozens of photos, 1945 only yielded one snap due to a wartime film shortage. Still, one photo is better than none.

Why did Mom and Helene stop going to Tumbleweed?  Who knows.  I suspect that after World War II other vacation opportunities simply presented themselves.  Rationing was lifted; gas and tires were no longer in short supply. In general, Americans were ready for a change and vacationers were now able to travel farther afield by car or bus or train, or even plane.  For the post World War II traveler the world was a smaller place.

While dude or guest ranches existed before and after, their popularity peaked between the 1920s and the 1950s.  Dude ranch started out west, but the idea caught on back east, and dude ranches started popping up in the Catskills, Adirondacks, the Poconos, and the Berkshires.  There is a great website on the evolution of the eastern dude ranch, Eastward, Ho!  by Emily Zimmerman, and Emily's website has a great "works consulted" page if you are looking for more sources of information on dude ranches in the east.

Mom, dressing the part
(Tumbleweed, 1944)
I also found dozens of articles on dude or guest ranches, as they were sometimes called, indexed in the Reader's Guide Retrospective database which indexes popular general interest periodicals, 1890-1982.  I found articles in Ladies Home Journal, Travel, Independent Woman, Better Homes and Gardens, and even the Catholic Digest.  The New York Times Historical Archive, 1851-2009, the Old Fulton Postcards database, and GenealogyBank were also great sources for newspaper articles and advertisements about dude ranches in general, and Tumbleweed in particular.

My favorite article, "Dressing the Dude," from the May 1, 1936 issue of Vogue, encourages dudettes, as the lady dudes were often called, not to dress like a "Madison Square trick-roper, nor like a Long Island horsewoman."  When packing for a visit to a dude ranch dudettes should consider packing the following as part of their wardrobe: blue jeans, boy's or men's type cotton and lightweight flannel or woolen shirts, a leather jacket, practical underwear, lisle or wool socks high enough to come above boot tops, silk neckerchiefs, riding gloves, and most importantly Western boots and a Stetson hat "both of which should certainly be purchased out West." Evening clothes were appropriate depending on the ranch visited, a "simple evening gown" should suffice.

I ordered several articles through interlibrary loan from The Dude Rancher, the journal of the Dude Ranchers Association, which was published from 1932 to 1965.  One article from 1954 discussed the important traits for a "Model Dude Rancher."  He "...must be a man of charm, warmth and agility. He must be terrific with his feminine guests but not quite so terrific as to get dirty looks from his own wife."  He must also, "...be a ladies' man, a man's man, a prince of a good fellow; a Democrat, a Republican, a new dealer, an old dealer, a fast dealer; an authority on women, the weather, wildlife, game fish and fowl; an expert on horses, cows, cats, dogs, sheep, brunettes, blondes, redheads and wild flowers."  His wife on the other hand "...must be at all times be tolerant and sweet.  Every week is 'Be Kind to Visitors Week' on a dude ranch, so she must have the tact of Pricilla, the patience of Ghandi, the tranquility of Socrates and the endurance of Eleanor."  Sounds like a tall order for both the Mr. and the Mrs.

Jack Franks, owner of Tumbleweed (1943)
According to a 1941 article with the title "Dude Ranch Horses" in The Cattleman, dude ranch horses are "...horses of all sizes and types suitable for 'dudes' to ride in range or mountain country...When I say safe, I mean safe, not for just a good rider but a dude ranch horse has to be as safe as it is possible to make one for all kinds of riders under a wide variety of circumstances."  The author also comments on seeing "everything imaginable" tied to saddle horses, "...from  large bundlesome cameras to portable radios, elk antlers...and shovels, axes, etc..."

An article from a 1959 issue of Travel magazine all about "New York's Dude Ranches" declare's "Reasonable prices, informality and accessibility from all points by any mode of travel are key selling points of ranches in this region, and most of the reported full or near-full capacities last year during July and August." Daily rates for one resort were $10.00 per person a day for a comfortable room and three meals served ranch style, horseback riding, swimming, boating, and free use of all recreational facilities."  The article also points out that horseback riding is a tremendous bonus as some regular resorts "...charge upward from $2.00 per hour for use of horses" which probably made Tumbleweed's motto "No time clock on our horses tails" so appealing.  Many ranches also entertained guests with rodeos and square dances, and pack trips were the norm.

I'm one of those people who always wants to know more about whatever I am researching, and if you are too I strongly suggest that you not overlook magazine articles.  While the articles will most likely not be specific to your ancestor, they are still a great source for fleshing out a topic and putting your ancestor's life in context.  I love the Reader's Guide Retrospective, because I can search for articles that are specific or within a few years of the time period I am researching, like articles about dude ranches published in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.  Many libraries offer access to Reader's Guide, so be sure to inquire at your library.  Locally, the Boston Public Library offers remote access to Reader's Guide, and you can apply for an e-card if you live or go to school in Massachusetts.

I'm amazed that my Tumbleweed posts have generated such interest from my readers over the years. My Tumbleweed posts have been among my most heavy hitters.  I've been contacted by people who remember Tumbleweed, who lived and worked at Tumbleweed, and members of the families that owned Tumbleweed.  If you have memories to share about Tumbleweed I'd love to hear from you.

Well, it's time to settle in for one last campfire.  My nose is twitching from the wood smoke, and those crickets are at it again. Twilight is upon us; the sky is awash in pink and purple as the sun sinks slowly into the West.  It's time to say our goodbyes.

Happy trails, friends.  Until we meet again.

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