Learning to Drive on the Ranch

By: John M. Goralka

goralka ranch 4 acres 300 When I was very young, I was anxious to go with my father to fix the fence. Our ranch was just under 300 acres in Livermore, CA and we raised sheep and had a few horses. Our neighbors raised cattle and goats. Our perimeter fence consisted of four (4) strands of spaced barb wire and sheep fencing about four (4) feet high. Sheep fencing does not have any barbs and looks like a number of squares, each square about four (4) inches tall and wide. We were always repairing the fence as livestock from both sides would often rub, push or otherwise try to get through causing damage.

My older brother, Joe, helped my dad and I was very envious. Eventually, I was able to tag along and learned how to string and repair the fence. For this work, we typically used an ancient Jeep Wagoneer with a manual transmission shifter behind the steering wheel on the column. With acres of relatively open ground, I began to drive from time to time. Very, very exciting for a kid of about 10 or 11 years.

Often we would be in steep gullies with uneven ground. We could drive in along the fence, but there was no space to actually turn around. Backing up for an adult, and even a teenager as my brother Joe was, could be very uncomfortable and hard on your back. I became the “backup specialist” and proud for the opportunity. They would say, “let Johnny drive- he loves to back up.”


House on a Steep Hill

goralka ranch 2 300 acresMy father was exceedingly resourceful. We put the road to the house ourselves. Our home was on the top of a pretty steep hill, a few miles from the front gate, so this was no small task. My father somehow identified a spot on the ranch where we could dig for gravel. We had a medium sized tractor with a backhoe. A backhoe is essentially a large bucket on an arm which could be attached to the tractor. You could dig and then scope out gravel, with the backhoe, which we could load into a rented dump truck to put on the road. This would then be smoothed out with the tractor going in reverse with the blade down. Once, I was in the rented dump truck with my dad dropping the gravel. The brakes completely failed and the truck rolled backward and fell on its side after hitting a gully next to the road and the side of the hill. My dad used the tractor to pull the truck upright on its wheels again. 

My father bought a home-made dump truck that was converted from a regular pick up truck. Over the years, the welds around the truck bed would crack or break. That was also the first vehicle for me to drive when I was sixteen. Later, driving to a final exam at the local junior college, I was pulled over because the highway patrol officer noted that the truck bed was “bouncing around” too much. I made the mistake of asking him to hurry because I had a final exam. He looked at me, slowed down and then proceeded to check the lights, brakes and windshield wipers. After receiving the “fix-it” ticket, I was late for my final exam. I still received a B+ which I was very proud of given the timing and events of the day.

Our road was a little challenging due to the water run off causing uneven erosion and gullies. I taught each of my kids to drive on that road and around the ranch when they were also very young. 

We sold the ranch a few years ago leaving many memories of our adventures there. 

goralka ranch 1 goralka ranch 5

goralka ranch 2 300 acres


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