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Dangberg up for final vote Thursday

Linda Hiller

They say when you go to the Dangberg Home Ranch, it’s like going back in time – walking onto the ranch during the late 1800s and wondering where everybody went.

For “old-timers,” the history of the Valley enters into their feelings about the home ranch. Some say H.F. Dangberg and his son, H.F. Dangberg Jr. could be scoundrels at times, even though they did a lot of good for the community.

For people who have been involved with the fight to save the ranch for future generations, who have spent countless hours researching its history, not to mention following the paper trail that has led to the recent decision by county commissioners to relinquish control of it, the ranch hangs by a thread of history that is rapidly fraying.

For new residents, unfamiliar with all the history behind this spectacular, successful agricultural Valley, perhaps spending money on an old ranch seems like one more extravagant, silly way to waste county money.

Through an informal survey of approximately four dozen Valley residents, not one person knew exactly where the ranch was, much less why it is important. It is located just south of the Carson Valley Swim Center on Highway 88 in Minden.

There, you’ll see the white house, a two-story stone cellar, a large barn, two men’s bunkhouses, root cellar, slaughterhouse, hide house, the cook’s residence, wash house and garage. Large trees now shade the grounds.

The Dangberg Home Ranch is so named because it was the base of a huge agricultural operation that began in 1856.

After taking up a claim to a plot of land near what is now Ironwood, German immigrant H. F. (Fred) Dangberg left one day to do business elsewhere and returned to find Lucky Bill Thorington sitting on his porch with a rifle on his lap. “What are you going to do now, Dutchman?” Thorington asked.

Dangberg yielded to the claim jumper, and later settled across the river in what is now known as the Dangberg Home Ranch. That first site Dangberg claimed is now the Klauber ranch, just west of Ironwood off Mahogany. Many confuse it with the real Dangberg Home Ranch.

In 1902, Dangberg recovered that original ranch for his own. He died two years later.

The H.F. Dangberg Land and Live Stock Company was home to many agricultural business ventures in addition to the standard cattle, sheep, hog and haying operations. Commercial potatoes were grown on site, and apples with their own label, “Buckeye Grown,” were also cultivated and sold commercially, in addition to other ventures.

Michael Fischer, a Gardnerville dentist, former county commissioner, current chair of the county’s Home Ranch Advisory Committee and all-around passionate admirer of the ranch, worked there as a “cowboy assistant,” starting in 1975.

“I was just out of dental school and there really weren’t enough people here for me to do dental work full time, so I worked at the ranch three days a week and did dentistry three days a week,” he said. “I liked working there. At the time, even though it was the 70s, Minden-Gardnerville was more like the 50s and on the ranch itself was like the 1920s. They still dragged the cows to the fire to brand them, and we also did sheep, farming and haying. It was huge. When it sold, it was just under 50,000 acres. It was the largest ranch in the Valley – there were parts of it in three counties.”

Over the years, Fischer and his wife Janet stayed in touch with the Dangbergs still living on the ranch, and often visited with sisters Ruth Achard and Margaret McDonald.

“The main house has two bedrooms upstairs, two bedrooms downstairs, a library full of books downstairs and a living room, formal dining room and a men’s dining room off the kitchen for the hired ranch hands,” Janet said.

“The kitchen had a beautiful old stove. It also had a recliner chair that Margaret would use in there. She was very small. The front porch was very special. I remember we would sit out there and sip iced tea in the summer. When they had a wedding reception there last year, it was so great for the kids, because the front lawn was big enough to have a volleyball net for the kids to play. I said to myself, ‘This is just what Ruth and Margaret would have wanted. This is why they gifted this to the community.'”

All three sisters are now deceased. Ruth died first, then Margaret, and Katrina Glide, the last daughter, died less than two years ago, throwing the ranch’s fate in limbo.

Last month, after literally years of doing battle with the ranch and all the Dangberg ghosts, Douglas County Commissioners voted to accept $50,000 and 123 designated items, in exchange for dropping a lawsuit against Dangberg Holdings Limited, current owners of the ranch that was bequeathed as a future historic park to the county and the state by the last owners.

“It was a disheartening vote,” said Michael Fischer. “I have papers that show the ranch was to be a gift,” he said. “If people are concerned about the money needed to buy this 33.7 acre site and the 10 acres for parking, they need to know that it was to be a gift to the community by the family. They wanted it to be an historic park.”

Commission chair Jacques Etchegoyhen said the public response from the March vote was underwhelming.

“I didn’t have one call, positive or negative,” he said. “If there had even been a hint of a groundswell, maybe things would be different. One thing that concerns me is that I’m not sure $3 million or $4 million would be enough to restore the ranch. I understand it is in a state of disrepair. It seems to me that it would have to be privately funded to really work. We do have $1.7 million set aside for the ranch, but that doesn’t seem like enough.”

“I know from personal experience how hard it is to make decisions as a commissioner,” Fischer said, “and I realize they made their decision based on the facts they had, and their budget and politics, but I personally feel they made the wrong decision.

“This ranch predates Nevada’s statehood. There are very few places that can lay claim to that. It’s not so much that it’s the Dangberg place, but that it’s a ranch still largely intact and the views are still for the most part unspoiled.

“The public needs to have the chance to see what this place could be. It would make a wonderful park. We could have concerts and cowboy poetry festivals and outdoor plays there. This has been done in many parts of the country with old historic sites.”

Wayne Perock, Nevada State Parks administrator, remembers a visit to the home ranch years ago like it was yesterday.

“Katrina Glide took me on a tour of the ranch 15 years ago,” he said, “and it was a privilege to be in the home and see what it must have been like to live there long ago. To this day, I can still smell the smells of it. Seeing artifacts in a museum is one thing, but to be on the property and smell the smells, and have the feelings, to see the views out the windows – it doesn’t compare to walking through a museum and looking at 123 items under glass.”

“What this ranch represents, is the working lives of an early American agricultural success story,” Fischer said. “Will Rogers visited there, Clark Gable was there, governors and statesmen came to call. It was a dynamic place. It’s even on the National Registry of Historic Houses.

“H.F. Dangberg’s shaving cup isn’t going to mean a thing if seen in a museum. It needs to be seen in his bathroom on his sink to really speak to us.”

“This is living history and once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Perock said. He plans to be at this Thursday’s commission meeting, where the Dangberg Home Ranch is again on the agenda, possibly for the last time.

“We are definitely interested in this site,” Perock said. “We always have been. But Douglas County people were taking the lead, so we held back for years, trying not to interfere. Then, when they voted to give it away for what amounts to a drop in the bucket, we were taken aback that they didn’t even consult us. Our intent is to see if we have any rights to it. This should not be passed up – there’s not another one like it in the Valley. I just wish the commissioners had talked to us.”

Perock said the state had recently acquired the Buckland Station near Fort Churchill using grant money and historic preservation money. “This was an important Nevada road house,” he said.

“There are many ways to fund a park like this, but it does take public interest. We have sent letters to Senator Jacobsen, Assemblyman Hettrick, the governor and all involved parties. If they could just delay this vote, there may be other ways to do it, we may be able to open up other opportunities.

“This is a significant site. It could be an outdoor classroom, where students of all ages could learn about ranch life at the turn of the century. I don’t know where these legal complications will take us, but it was clear that the Dangberg daughters wanted this to be an historic park,” Perock said.

“No amount of money in the future will ever bring back this true representation of the agricultural past of not only this Valley, but of this state and even this country. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.”