Uncle Tom’s Cabin is known worldwide as the last stop before hitting the Rubicon Trail. While Uncle Tom’s is owned by the Lawyer family, it is looked after by a variety of cabin holders, Rance MacFarland has been one of those for over 20 years. Listen in as he shares his history of growing up near the Rubicon. You can tune in on any of your favorite podcast players.
9:25 – you got in line and got your sack lunch and headed up toward the (Rubicon) trail
17:13 – he failed me the first time
26:15 – I pulled into a gas station and recognized the truck, asked if they were hiring
35:08 – “oh, you’ve got to change your books”
40:27 – the trades are still there, it’s still a good career
48:16 – it used to be cash-only, and a lot of people don’t carry a lot of cash with them
52:25 – this year is 100 years it’s been in the family
1:00:53 – I think that’s always been Uncle Tom’s deal – hoping that people have a good experience
We want to thank our sponsors Maxxis Tires and 4Low Magazine.
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[00:00:06.370] - Big Rich Klein
Welcome to Conversations with Big Rich. This is an interview style podcast. Those interviews are all involved in the offroad industry. Being involved, like all of my guests are, is a lifestyle, not just a job. I talk to competitive teams, racers, rock crawlers, business owners, employees, media and private park owners, men and women who have found their way into this exciting and addictive lifestyle. We discuss their personal history, struggles, successes, and reboots. We dive into what drives them to stay active and offroad. We all hope to shed some light on how to find a path into this world we live and love and call off road.
[00:00:53.790] - Rance MacFarland
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[00:01:20.230] - Big Rich Klein
On today's episode of Conversations with Big Rich, we have Rance McFarland. Rance is one of the most well known characters you'll find up at Uncle Tom's Cabin. Over the last ten to 20 years, he's retired, worked as a bridge builder and construction. But since retiring, he's been kind of the captain Super Foreman, volunteer crew leader up at Uncle Tom's cabin on the Georgetown divide. And that's on the way into the Rubicon. And it's a place I first went sometime in the early eighty's and I've always enjoyed it up there. And Rance and I became friends quite a few years ago. So, Rance, I want to say thank you for coming on board and talking about your history and maybe some of the history of Uncle Tom's as well.
[00:02:09.910] - Rance MacFarland
Thank you pretty much. Like you said, been up Uncle Tom's for the last 20 plus years. I've been one of the yearly cabin rental people. Most of the yearly cabin people rentals are people that do volunteer and kind of do what it kind of takes to keep that Crown jewel going.
[00:02:35.980] - Big Rich Klein
Excellent. So let's step way back. Well, you're about the same age as I am, but we're pretty damn close in age. So where did you grow up and where were you born?
[00:02:50.110] - Rance MacFarland
I was born in Valley, but my dad was actually kind of working. Most of his career was with Tiger Construction and actually he started out as a truck crane Oiler and then became an operator. And they actually was doing a bridge job over 99 and discovered Elk Grove and thought that it was pretty neat central area and next, you know, moved the family to Elk Grove. So about pretty much since I was two, went all the way through school in El Grove, graduated pretty much raised my identical twin boys there, started there. I mean, a lot of time in El Grove, but family had history up in placeville. Camino area. Always enjoyed going up towards the Crystal Basin area my parents loved that area. Took us camping and stuff there. And as far as willing that's kind of how struck my interest was being able to go with my dad the first time in the 60s, probably on a Jeepers Gambury and stopping at Uncle Tom's and getting kind of the bug of the Jeeps. Just was amazed as a kid what that vehicle could traverse and do up there on the Rubicon Trail, right.
[00:04:27.550] - Big Rich Klein
Absolutely. And you were in Valley for while you were in Diapers, basically. So then the rest of it was Elk Grove. Elk Grove was pretty rural at that point, was it not?
[00:04:40.370] - Rance MacFarland
Very rural? Yeah. Pretty amazing to grow up in that area there because you're talking before Five went all the way through and highway 50 you ended up going through actually Folsom ranskirt over before you hit the main freeway going up towards Placerville.
[00:05:00.970] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah. All those stop lights.
[00:05:03.230] - Rance MacFarland
Yeah. The fields and the ranches. I mean, having access for Hunt and fish. And before I got my license, pretty much going out to the ranches is where I learned to drive and be in some of the Jeeps just out there on the ranches, working sometimes at the ranches. You could probably consider that almost my first jobs is Ranch hand work.
[00:05:35.920] - Big Rich Klein
Right. And that Elk Grove area, people that aren't familiar with that, that's south of Sacramento along 99 Interstate Five kind of fills in across that area. It's been known for quite a few years, is putting out some really good youth football teams. When I coached in Napa and in Pacifica, we always were hearing about the Elk Grove football teams with popcorn or being so strong and everything. But, you know, that's another story. So with growing up there, you said you went through basically from two years old through high school and raising your kids there and stuff. So working out in rural areas like that, farms, you're driving tractors, probably getting into some pickup trucks and four wheel drives, moving stuff around. But what did you do for your own personal commute? Did you have like a little motorcycle or bicycle? What did you have time to do?
[00:06:48.590] - Rance MacFarland
Bicycles were a big thing to get out into the fields to build the tree forts. And Elk Grove had what they I don't know if it's still there or not, to tell you the truth. But we had the fish hatchery. Right. We built little makeshift campers to go on our wagons and pull over there to go fishing at the ponds. You had Laguna Creek. There was so much to do. As a kid, you're my age. I was a generation where before all the electronic type stuff there, you just came in the house when the street lights came on there.
[00:07:37.030] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah. That was basically our fall, but definitely.
[00:07:43.060] - Rance MacFarland
There was I remember my dad got one Pontiac, an old 50s Pontiac and an old tow truck. But it was electric go cart charged the batteries. And then there was the mini bike era there for me there it seemed like all the kids were if you had a newspaper out or some way of earning a few Bucks saved to go that route. Right. My dad did try to do something with each one of us boys. I had two brothers, two sisters, my one brother, my dad got them in the quarter midgets and I leaned towards the motocross. I did motocross for a while. Started out with the old Hadoca bike, eventually ended up going to a 250 Maco, the era of the Europeans. Motorcycles were dominating the American bikes there, but eventually got out of that. But yeah. And then, as you said, my dad had some racing background, started out with hard tops, kind of got into guys that he worked with that ran the super modified up to the sprint car era. I remember kind of high school, they spend a lot of time at the old West Capital Speedway.
[00:09:25.570] - Rance MacFarland
And then also my dad's buddies kind of got him into Jeeping. And that was actually the first time that I actually saw Uncle Tom is because we came in and that's when the Jeep parked in the middle of the road, you stayed the night and you got up and got in line and got your sack lunch and they headed up towards the trail and with Uncle Tom's. And to this day, there's so much of the off road community that support that and stop there, which we did also there. So that was kind of my bug of the Jeep and part.
[00:10:11.210] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah. I think those guys that come up Ice House Road off of 50 and bypass Toms are really missing out on a chunk of history if you're going up there. The road now is paved, of course, except for the actual property. But you can still imagine what that road was like when it was all dirt and it was dusty at that time of year. And, you know, you just made it up there, got a cold beer at Uncle Tom's, and then continued the trip over the heartless and passed Cold Spring and out into the Rubicon. And I can't for the life of me figure out why people go up Icehouse Road and bypass it just doesn't make sense.
[00:11:05.570] - Rance MacFarland
Yeah, it's kind of funny. There's a couple of clubs, particularly Auburn Jeep Club, a bunch of those guys. They think that it's deja vu if you bypass Thomas on your way up.
[00:11:23.210] - Big Rich Klein
Right? I do. I mean, I don't care what time of day or night it is. If the gate is open, I'll drive in or unless there's a sign or up saying that it's closed. At the moment, I always drive through. But what about in high school? Did you play any sports? Were you really academic where you just kind of did your own thing and hanging out in the countryside?
[00:11:51.650] - Rance MacFarland
I definitely enjoyed sports. My era of junior high was the first year that we had a freshman football team. And like you were even mentioned El Grove being so strong with a Pop Warner program. I did not play Pop Warner. So when I got even into freshman football, I mean, we had a lot of already talent from a lot of guys that had their years with Pop Warner. And that was the last year that Joseph Kerr had the 9th grade. The next year they went to the new high school. But baseball in high school did a little track. I did long jump, high jump. But school, I was just your average guy right there, but definitely enjoyed sports there. And like I said back then, there were just so many things that you could do and go and drive to when I finally even got my license, all the rope swings and consuming this river and all out there definitely things to do for someone growing up there and during that generation.
[00:13:25.540] - Big Rich Klein
Right. So the movie American Graffiti was based on the Modesto area back in the grew up in the 70s driving. And we cruised El Camino from the border of San Francisco or San Francisco all the way down to San Jose at times and turn around and come back, back and forth, up and down. But gas was twenty four cents a gallon or something like that. Not $7 or whatever we're paying now up here. But what about when you were first driving? Was the cruising scene still? Was it happening in that area? Because Elk Grove is not that far out of Stockton or Sacramento. So I would imagine that Valley area, there's a lot of hot rods.
[00:14:22.710] - Rance MacFarland
Definitely. Lodi was a big cruise.
[00:14:27.060] - Big Rich Klein
[00:14:27.670] - Rance MacFarland
So all the guys that had the hot rods and the muscle cars. Definitely. I grew up in the muscle era, very common for Lodi and it was very common. Even the downtown K Street cruise.
[00:14:52.540] - Big Rich Klein
[00:14:53.060] - Rance MacFarland
Definitely. We took our cars down there.
[00:14:56.590] - Big Rich Klein
Awesome. And where did you get your driver's license in? Would you take your driver's license test.
[00:15:02.570] - Rance MacFarland
In in high school? We had actually the driver's head.
[00:15:06.920] - Big Rich Klein
[00:15:07.670] - Rance MacFarland
So I was able to do all the testing and the homework and stuff there through school. And my sister had a 66 Mustang six cylinder that I took my test in downtown DMV.
[00:15:33.210] - Big Rich Klein
Well, that's awesome. Yeah. I did the drivers that in school, too. They had these simulators that were the dumbest thing ever. And then, of course, we take out the I don't know, it was a Ford Granada or some stupid thing. It was a four door. I just remember that because we loaded kids in the back, the instructor in front, three in back, and then whoever was driving. So you'd four per car, and we'd go out and terrorize the streets around the high school.
[00:16:05.230] - Rance MacFarland
Pretty much what you just said, Rich, is what we add to the simulators. The school teachers that did the driver's head. And just like you said, usually has at least two, three if not four, depending on the car. Take you out on the highway, do the back roads of Elk Grove. And sometimes if you were lucky, a teacher would take you actually downtown.
[00:16:36.470] - Big Rich Klein
Nice. So I got to take my test in a Datson 240 Z. Oh wow. It was a manual. Which didn't bother me because that's what I learned to drive in anyway. But it was pretty cool. I remember the guy the tester came out and said whose car is this? And I went, oh, it's mine. It wasn't. It was a friend of my mom's, but she volunteered her car. And so the guy gave me this stink guy. I think he tried to be hard on me on the test but it didn't work. I still passed.
[00:17:13.170] - Rance MacFarland
Well at DMV. When I first did my driving test, I had a guy that I think I was pretty much screwed from the beginning there. Cause soon as I told him that I was from Elk Grove he said, you kids, they keep you out in the country. You've never done any in town driving and stuff there. And I could tell right off the get go when he had me do some parallel parking, some downhill parking in downtown. When I came back pretty much knew it, that he failed me the first time.
[00:17:53.790] - Big Rich Klein
That sucks there.
[00:17:55.860] - Rance MacFarland
But second time went by in a breeze.
[00:18:00.520] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah, what I did is my dad took me up like two weeks before I was supposed to take that I made an appointment or whatever it was. Maybe it was good two weeks before when we made arrangements to do it, whatever. And we drove all around the DMV up in God, where was it? It was up on almost San Francisco. South San Francisco somewhere up in there. But we drove all around the neighborhoods for a couple of hours so that I knew where all the stop signs were, where the hardest places to parallel park were at all that kind of stuff. And there was one tricky corner that was a no right hand turn on a red light. And it was a little tiny sign before the intersection. And I saw that and my dad pointed out and said, hey, if he takes you down the street, remember, don't make a right hand turn on a red light here. Sure as shit. One of the first things the guy did was took me around the block, come up to that light and he goes, okay, I want you to make a right turn at the next light up here.
[00:19:10.790] - Big Rich Klein
And so I pulled up and I'm waiting and I'm waiting. And he goes, what are you waiting for? And I said well there was a sign back there, it said no right hand turn on a red light. And he goes, oh yeah, there is, isn't there? And I thought you best trying to get you. Yeah, he was. He did stop pretty much with this.
[00:19:28.860] - Rance MacFarland
That first guy was trying to do me, man. It was almost like he wanted to fail me.
[00:19:36.580] - Big Rich Klein
Oh, yeah. I think if you go in there with a little bit of attitude or like you said, your farm boy from the farm country of the area, and then you go into the big city, they're going to try to mess with you. High school, you said you have kids, you raised your kids down there. How soon out of high school did you get married?
[00:20:09.390] - Rance MacFarland
Not too long, I think. I was married at 20.
[00:20:15.290] - Big Rich Klein
[00:20:15.560] - Rance MacFarland
I actually bought my first house when I was 20 years old in Old Town Hill Grove.
[00:20:21.910] - Big Rich Klein
[00:20:30.130] - Rance MacFarland
A deal. That kind of fell in my lap. My dad called me because I was actually renting, and he asked me about a house being for sale on the same street. And I didn't see any signs. So I walked down and saw the address and saw that it was this neat little corner house. And there happened to be the owner actually working on a hot water heater and asked him if this was a place for rent or for sale. And he said, it sure is. And kind of did a tour, said that he was carrying his own papers, and I was just recently married. He goes, I know how hard it is for a young couple starting out these days asking me what I was paying for rent down the street. He knew the owner that was renting that house and kind of just threw out a price, which was 2075 for a house.
[00:21:31.200] - Rance MacFarland
And said, I tell you what, if you put this much down, I'll carry the papers. And at the time, I think I was renting for $250 a month. And he goes, I'll tell you what, if you do it, I'll make your first year 200 and 250 after that. And it was kind of like a no brainer. But at the time, I think he wanted, like, I don't know, $3,500 down or something like that there. Well, that's at the time that I was making $7 an hour, and I just didn't have a bank account there. So went to my parents, went to friends and muscled up the down payment and made it happen.
[00:22:21.790] - Big Rich Klein
Well, that's pretty good. That's pretty awesome. The guy would carry the note like that for you. That's always something like that happens.
[00:22:32.330] - Rance MacFarland
Well, I mean, I was fortunate. And owning a house that young, I mean, it allowed me to make the steps to keep on getting better and better house.
[00:22:45.640] - Big Rich Klein
Right. And the other thing is, rent is one thing, but a house payment is a completely different frame of mind and mindset. If you're strapped and you're going, man, I just don't want to pay my rent. I can't pay my rent right now. You can put it off for a little bit house payments, they don't let that shit slide typically. So I think it really makes you grow up fast when you have a house payment like that. But good on you. That's awesome. So then you were working at that time, making $7 an hour. What kind of job were you doing?
[00:23:30.790] - Rance MacFarland
I was working for the garbage service there in town. Okay. Actually there for a while. Grove had its own dump. And right around the corner on Bond Road, there was a yard where we had our garbage trucks and stuff there where we met and fired them up each morning. And I started with the carrying cans on your back when I started. But eventually it went to a two can curbside and then eventually Independent sold out to a company out of Lodi. And I was one of the first drivers because we had the contract for the city of Gault and they turned the city of Gold to the automated truck. So out of that company, I was the first one to learn the fully automated trucks there. But I kind of didn't get along with some of the management down there and decided to go elsewhere.
[00:24:31.690] - Big Rich Klein
And what did you do then?
[00:24:34.450] - Rance MacFarland
That's when I leaned towards getting into the Labor's Union and working construction.
[00:24:40.970] - Big Rich Klein
So you're a Union worker?
[00:24:44.350] - Rance MacFarland
I am. Retired Labor's Union out of 185 out of Sacramento. Retired, pulling their pension.
[00:24:52.410] - Big Rich Klein
Excellent. So you started with the Labor's Union, the old pick and shovel. I had some guys from the Union come out to a job construction site that we were doing a HUD project. And there was like four of them. And I told him, hey, there's a Conex box around the back of the building. You guys go out and grab some tools and come on back here. We got some work to do to prep for. Sod. And about 20 minutes later, nobody had shown back up yet. So I walked over there and these guys were arguing and they were arguing over who was going to take the broom. And I told them to take off their hats because they all had the Labor's Union logo on their hat. And I said, now look at your hat. What do you see? I said, do you see a broom on it? And they just looked at me dumb stare. And I said, okay, grab a picking a shovel, I get the broom. But I was in the Union, too. I worked in a split shop at the time doing landscaping. So from that you said you started working in the bridge construction, is that correct?
[00:26:15.410] - Rance MacFarland
Yes. Doing underground. You kind of have to get as much hours as you can to bank your health and welfare and all that stuff there. And come winter time, depending on the winter, sometimes you'd have that wet winter where you're drawing your unemployment and waiting for it to dry up, to go back to work. And it just so happened that there was Benco Bridges, which their yard was in El Grove. I saw their trucks and they had a pretty good sized project from about Elk Grove down towards Gault Widening 99 and stuff there and just happened to pull in a gas station where I recognized the truck, asked them if they were Union, asked them if they used labors. And I talked about that job and they said, hey, we're running it right out of our yard. So I showed up there with my lunch hard hat vest on Friday and just kind of perfect timing. They were about ready to do some approach slab pores there out there on the freeway. And they were shy, a couple of guys and one of their Foreman was on vacation. And the main guy that was running that job, the yard guy, kind of told me as he came in and approached him and said, hey, looking for work.
[00:27:56.440] - Rance MacFarland
And the guy asked me a few questions and asked me if I had any concrete experience, which I did from working on the Helms Creek Underground project was a little stint that I did too out of the Union. And yeah, all of a sudden that started bridge career. I didn't look back. I mean, bunch of hardcore redneck guys dedicated to what they did and the camaraderie between the bridge hands there was just awesome. And something that I actually enjoyed doing and running up and down California here, going on multiple freeways. It's kind of neat to go by and say, hey, man, I helped with that, right?
[00:28:48.590] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah, that's pretty cool. So one of the things that I remember that drove me that kind of drove me nuts about the Union was the hall was that it was really hard. You weren't supposed to go out and approach anybody. You were supposed to sit and wait until you got called.
[00:29:08.430] - Rance MacFarland
[00:29:09.360] - Big Rich Klein
And that just drove me nuts. And I worked for a company and they put me into the hall, into the Union. There was three of us in the shop that they put into the Union so that we could bid Union jobs. Okay. And I don't know how legal that was or anything, but we had our steady job, so we didn't have to worry about it. But guys would come up and they would go, okay, well, how long do you need somebody? I want to say I need somebody for like five days. Well, I don't want to do five days. I'm either going to do three, because if I do three or less, I can stay at the front of the line. If I do five, I have to go to the back of the line.
[00:29:54.450] - Rance MacFarland
You're exactly right. That sucks. Some hall hands. I dealt with it because once I was in the bridge industry and I saw that I liked it, superintendents and other Foreman saw that I liked it. And I was approached by a couple of other Foremans and superintendents that said, hey, you want to step up your game, become a Foreman instead of just being a hand. And when I was with Tiger, it was almost seniority over there. You had to kind of work your way up the ladder with the bridges. It was like how hard you worked and how good a product you could produce and if you could run a crew there. And so I wasn't even with them for a year. And I was made of Foreman. And so next, you know, I'm trying to hand pick kind of hands there because you want a good, reliable crew. And I saw that how that worked in the bridges right off the get go. And like you said, with the Union, if you want a hand, you call in and request for a hand. You might ask for a bridge experience there, but hard telling what you're going to get.
[00:31:19.230] - Rance MacFarland
Through my career, I could pretty much tell right off the first time that I met a guy if he was going to be worth a damn or not.
[00:31:29.370] - Big Rich Klein
I remember one time working on a head project set of low income housing, and it was in the Sacramento area, and we were at a spot on there where we were waiting for the electricians to do some of their stuff and the plumbers to do some of their stuff. And we didn't need I mean, there was hardly any work for me to do at that point. And I was like, me and one other guy were on the job site, and we were just making sure that as the electricians went along, they didn't mess up what we had to do. And we were watching so that we knew where everything was supposed to be at. Right? And that kind of stuff. And the guy from the hall comes out and goes, well, you have to hire five guys next week. And we're like, we don't have work for five guys. It doesn't matter. Are you five guys or we're shutting you down? And I was like, what kind of bullshit is that? Did you ever come across any of that kind of stuff?
[00:32:29.310] - Rance MacFarland
Well, especially towards the end of my career, it was getting very hard to find hands that had any drive in work there. As far as the Union rich. I mean, I never went to one Union meeting, never went to one Christmas party, one picnic, which they have multiple of, right? I paid my dues.
[00:33:13.590] - Big Rich Klein
[00:33:19.150] - Rance MacFarland
Knowing that if I stick with this, at least I'm going to get a pension out of this. And like I said, in the bridges, I stayed busy. I don't think out of my last 26, 27 years with bridges, even during the wet stuff, when we did have to shut down, I never once collected unemployment. I would get enough days and stuff there to at least survive.
[00:33:58.740] - Big Rich Klein
That's awesome. I can always tell the guys that like yourself or like me that worked in it. We may have been Union, but my situation was different. It didn't matter to me because I knew I wasn't staying there that long. I ended up becoming the contractor myself. But the guys that were Hustlers, that would go out, that worked like you did and went and looked for work or worked in a shop for a long time, they didn't rely on the hall and stand in line. And it's a big difference. But man, it's so prevalent, at least in the Labor Union out of Sacramento is what I noticed. But of course again that was in the mid Eighties and I don't know what it's like now. So anybody out there that's in the Labor's Union or any Union, I'm not bagging on you, okay. It's just my experience, what I had come across before I became a contractor.
[00:35:08.570] - Rance MacFarland
Well, just between me and you, Rich, I mean if you want to get a little political, unions have always been a Democrat backer and all my vote and career right out of high school. I was more of a conservative Republican and I always had the Union sending me pamphlets. All this is who you need to vote for. And this and that there. And there was one time where I was laid off during the winter and had to kind of go back to somewhat being a hand. They paid me like form and scale, but they couldn't get me a company truck and I had to go out of town. Well, with me not having actually a company, me not being a Foreman, all of a sudden their BA showed up, kind of came up to me, asked me the hall and I told him 185 Sacramento. And he tells me, oh, you got to change your books. You got to come down here to the Fresno Hall and join up with them. And I was going, no, I'm not doing that. I'd heard horror stories about other guys that switched from hall to haul and their hours being screwed up and stuff.
[00:36:39.050] - Rance MacFarland
There one thing about it though, Sacramento backed me up. All of sudden a I went to them and said, hey man, they want me to change my books. And kind of here we go, a little bit political all of a sudden the guy from 185 called that guy and said, hey, I got one of my guys here saying that you're telling him that he needs to change books. And he goes, well yeah, because he's down here and he's going to be down here for a while. And he goes, well, he did tell you there that he's been informing most of his career here. He had to step down for just a bit. They are making him a Foreman. So technically being a Foreman, you can't travel, blah, blah, blah. And the guy goes, well, no, I want them, he needs to change his book. And so this guy while I'm there on the phone, he goes, well, okay, I'm just bringing some guys up out of your hall that are down here in Sacramento area. I guess I could need to throw the BA out there and get all your guys there to change books down to me.
[00:37:59.370] - Rance MacFarland
And that was just like dead silence. And then next thing you know, he goes, all right, we'll let this one slide. And I was going like, Jesus Christ, I had all my years already with 185. And like I was telling you before that time that I did go down to Fresno and I was on the Helm Street project. I was out of that hall. Well, when I switched to 185, that hall messed up. I got my end of the year deal for my pension points and all that there. And it wasn't down. So I had to fight to get those back because that counts for your pension.
[00:38:46.130] - Big Rich Klein
Right. We want to make sure that that stuff is accurate.
[00:38:53.430] - Rance MacFarland
And, you know, I believe you and I both still have a lot of friends that are Union guys. It's because of for one, a trade that they're good at and that is Union.
[00:39:09.110] - Big Rich Klein
[00:39:09.490] - Rance MacFarland
And two, I'm fortunate to retire with a pension. And I can't count how many guys that I know there that just bopped around and never got themselves set right there to where they're barely living on Social Security there.
[00:39:32.980] - Big Rich Klein
Exactly. Yes. Now, I think that in a lot of instances, the unions have a place. And back in the early days, the pre 40s. Absolutely. The unions were essential.
[00:39:52.430] - Rance MacFarland
They were pretty darn strong.
[00:39:54.380] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah. And they still are. A lot of you get into the auto workers and the transportation and then the Labor's Union. I mean, you're talking some pretty strong unions, but they do provide a service for those, especially those that really work. Unfortunately, there's a lot of guys that are sitting in the halls that don't work and almost don't want to. I don't know.
[00:40:27.810] - Rance MacFarland
I just saw guys just trying to make enough hours to get by. I did get a few guys where I was able to take underneath my wings, and they're still in it to this day. And yes, they will in their career with a Union pension there. And in this day and age, I mean, with all this covered crap working at home and this and that there and stuff there just talking to some of the old hands, I don't understand why some kids that aren't school savvy, why they don't think about the trades. The trades are still there. It's still a good career.
[00:41:18.980] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah. We're always going to need electricians, always going to need plumbers, always going to need carpenters and metal workers. Those trades are always going to be needed. I mean, technology is great, but you have to have the infrastructure for technology to work.
[00:41:42.060] - Rance MacFarland
[00:41:43.250] - Big Rich Klein
When it comes down to it. So then when did you actually get into wheeling yourself? I know you went up with your dad and camping and hunting, fishing, that kind of thing, but when did you make that choice?
[00:42:00.590] - Rance MacFarland
Well, I think my first car was a 62 Impala. I ended up also having a 55 big window with the old original 265. Started kind of coming up this way because my parents always liking the Crystal Basin area and taking his camp in. And actually, my dad knew that I was interested in eventually having a Jeep. And he called me and said, hey, my small tools guy out here in Woodland, I'm teen 69 CJ, five for sale. And so went out there, looked at it, the kid had it in neutral up on a Hill and it rolled away from them and kind of took the tailgate out and kind of buckled the back of the back Fender Wells there, actually bought that and kind of tried to straighten it out. And definitely when I first got it all put back together, even though it was pretty much open little on fire, I think it had the T 98 four speed in it, model 20 transfer, the old open knuckle, but definitely called a buddy of mine and I knew that he had a newer CJ. And I said, hey, I want to see what this thing does up on the trail.
[00:43:37.350] - Rance MacFarland
So that would have been pretty much in the early 80s. Next vehicle turned right around and bought basically the same vehicle, but a little bit different set up in 1970. That one I pretty much kind of took some time. And eventually when Russ over at Specialized Jeep had his Jeep shop and then Gary had capital Jeepers right between those two, I was just picking their brains and trying to learn what needed to be to make it a little bit easier on the trail. But I look back at them days with 30 ones and open and what went through the trail.
[00:44:36.830] - Big Rich Klein
You learn to drive?
[00:44:38.930] - Rance MacFarland
Yeah, I think learning from my dad even going with him a couple of times and his buddies, I mean, they drive them from anywhere from Santa Rosa, Woodland, Sacramento, go up to the trail, drive through the trail and drive it home. So I think learning from my dad saying, hey, that Jeep's more capable. We're going to take this line there. And then especially once I got my own and actually experiencing it and doing it yourself, I mean, it was just something that I just thought was awesome there. I think an old military was my last one I had and now it's been kind of my retirement dream. I think we've talked about this before is my 1970 Jeepster Commando that Bob rogee is helping me build. Right. They're really looking forward to getting back in it there and maybe even going to some of these places that I've heard about and know my buddy has been there and stuff there especially like when I first got my Jeeps. I mean, that's how I kind of really got my cabin. Was going up there on a Friday and spinning right next to the bar to where we could just roll out of the bar when Doug would finally kick us out and get in our Jeeps and head to the trail and spend a couple of nights up there.
[00:46:36.160] - Big Rich Klein
Right. Tom's is pretty iconic that way. Anybody that went up there, especially in the Eighties and started wheeling out of that place understood, still understands how special it was and still is. We all miss Doug. It's too bad that he's passed on, but his son is now running. Toms. Is that correct?
[00:47:04.950] - Rance MacFarland
Bill and Denise.
[00:47:06.180] - Big Rich Klein
[00:47:06.920] - Rance MacFarland
And awesome. People used struggle with old Doug there on certain things, on keeping things stocked and trying to even back then before I even got really super involved. Like I said, most cabin people were involved in some sense, but always trying to make them have maybe more events or more music or more product. And Doug was just content with the way Uncle Tom's ran at the time. But Bill and Denise definitely are loving it as much as the family has always loved it without it changing too much. Now we got a card reader up there since we got satellite phone. Bill upgraded the router to where we have card up there now.
[00:48:15.060] - Big Rich Klein
Wow, that's awesome.
[00:48:16.780] - Rance MacFarland
So it used to be cash only. A lot of people don't carry a lot of cash with them there. So one thing that I have always done and a lot of our other people have done there when it was cash, if someone came up and came in there for the first time, heard about it and said, wow, I don't have cash there. I just always said, hey, what kind of beer do you drink or what kind of soda here on me. Enjoy a couple of beverages, enjoy the property, come back and see us again. Well, I tell you what, mostly all those people always come back, always remember, bring more friends, pay their bill and stay and enjoy with some family or with some people that they brought up because they just saw the uniqueness of that place there.
[00:49:21.870] - Big Rich Klein
Right. And it's just so relaxing and just laid back. I remember the first time that I went there to work. Doug was needing to get the fire truck running and I went up there with a friend of mine, Jim, and it was during clampers initiation. And it was like probably not the time to go up there, but it was not as relaxing and it was not as calming, but it was still a hell of a good time. Pretty crazy.
[00:50:02.090] - Rance MacFarland
Like I've always told people. I mean, Uncle Tom's is pretty much mild to wild.
[00:50:13.290] - Big Rich Klein
You never know what you're going to see up there.
[00:50:15.500] - Rance MacFarland
[00:50:17.350] - Big Rich Klein
So let's talk a little history on Toms. So give us what you know about the history of Uncle Tom's?
[00:50:29.590] - Rance MacFarland
Well, definitely started by a gentleman named Tom Markham in 1864. Basically, he homesteaded the 40 acres. I'm not real keen on the homesteaded amount of acres, but just from my knowledge of all the homesteads that are up in that area, kind of going back into the Pineal Grand area where the Shake Mill was and Leonardi and some of the Cow camps, they all seem to be 40 acres. So I don't know if that was a thing at that time there. But as far as I know, Tom definitely with the gold rush and this and that there. Seeing that the Rubicon Trail started being used as a traveled way, he started seeing means of instead of just being a trapper, he saw means of the travel way there. So started getting a few more things there. And then you've kind of seen you had the Rubicon Springs Hotel. They were advertising, come drink the spring water, heal you and stuff there. And uncle towns, basically. I mean, it kind of changed a few times. I mean, a lot of people called it a resort at one time. Some of the priorities there. I mean, Schultz, he ran it for a while.
[00:52:25.110] - Rance MacFarland
Scalari was another person. I believe that some of the people that ran the WINWORTH Hotel, I think they came over and ran it for one of those owners for a while. Basically, I've learned more of when basically the lawyers got it in 1922. So this year is 100 years since it's been in the family.
[00:52:58.490] - Rance MacFarland
Even reading some of the article that you did in for low on Thomps, I had not realized that it had burned down twice. My knowledge was when the lawyers bought it, it was the two story. It was back closer to the Meadow, away from the road.
[00:53:23.220] - Rance MacFarland
And it did burn down on them. So I believe the bar now where it's at now on the original part of the which is only our driveway. I mean, that's a part of the original travel loop corner there that was built in the 30s, redone in the 30s there. But it's really neat. When I first started going up there with Doug and having a cabin, especially, like when the old timers came in and would sit out with a beer on the front porch, I mean, listening to the different cabin people, the different areas of the traveled way there has just always intrigued me and it always interests me there with everything up there. Like I said, some of the family with having history over there in the Camino Placerville area, the Pineal Grand and all that, there, all that kind of ties into Uncle Tom's there. I think everybody supported each other up there, all the other businesses and stuff there.
[00:54:46.430] - Big Rich Klein
Right. And let's talk about a little bit about what Toms is nowadays. It's a kind of a destination for well, especially on like, Memorial weekend and Labor Day weekend, 4 July, that kind of stuff. But you have a lot of weddings up there and reunions and things like that. What other kind of activities happen?
[00:55:14.090] - Rance MacFarland
Well, Covet kind of messed us up as far as our events. But with Bill and Denise, I think they want more events. There more music, more things to do. And you're right, we've never advertised as a wedding venue. But talking with Billy goes, why not? But just had a wedding there this weekend. And the way the people set it up there, I mean, really neat. It's definitely country. You're off the grid. So one thing that I've been kind of wanting to do as far as off road related, it was even have kind of a trail kind of fun type deal event there to just raise some money to throw to like Vicky for the work that needs sometimes it needs to be done there to keep that trail open. And like I say, Toms has supported so much, a good support of so much of the off road community.
[00:56:38.550] - Big Rich Klein
Right. So then there's camping there. If somebody was to drive up from the Bay Area or somewhere else and want to stay there, are there cabins to rent, that kind of thing?
[00:56:54.270] - Rance MacFarland
Yeah. So right now there's 14 total cabins. 13 of them are rented by the year and we have one open for a nightly rental. We do have our camp area down there in the beautiful edge of the Meadow. We only charge $10 per vehicle with you asking what's coming up? I mean, Bill and I've talked about actually building a couple of more kind of glamping style.
[00:57:30.840] - Big Rich Klein
Absolutely sections there.
[00:57:34.530] - Rance MacFarland
Kind of like what you see up at the old Berkeley camp up by Echo, you know, do like kind of a platform, half wood wall, nice big canvas. We're someone and with a cot. So like if we do, which we do have just spur the moment people roll in, they got a place to crash. We have talked about maybe another cabin or two for public rental. One thing that's on the books is we're thinking about getting a timber frame back behind the old barn, which is the oldest building on the property. We're wanting to make that kind of like almost half stage and half of it as an area to kind of put it like you say, the old fire truck. And we got a dozer up there and multiple other old rigs there that unfortunately sits out during the winter and just collects snow and stuff there. So down in the campground, that's one thing that is happening this summer is at least get a community spicet water down there. We've never had water down there. So we want to get water down there with one of the automatic shut off so the kids just don't leave it because we are on a well.
[00:59:04.230] - Rance MacFarland
It is a holding tank and everything's gravity fed. So definitely some neat improvements to make the visiting experience a little bit more better, so to speak. Our swag is trying to keep all the swag there at all times. Hats, coozy, stickers, sweatshirts, tank tops, long sleeve. I used to fight with Doug there. He would only keep T shirts during the summer and sweatshirts during the winter. And I always told them, hey, people ask for them all the time. Bill and Denise, some of the improvements there, unfortunately, you could remember the era of the old 50 Svel propane refrigerators. Yes, they're pretty much toast. So now he even bought another one the other day and we got Doug. I talked him into getting the big one that we have there. And plus Bill bought another newer up, better one that we had the old 50s even in the kitchen for us without taking too much of the oldness out of the place there. And the way it's been ran, it's still going to be ran with just taking care of the traveling way and our off road community or anybody else that wants to come in.
[01:00:53.670] - Rance MacFarland
I think that's always been Uncle Tom's deal there is hoping that people have a good experience. And I have a lot of people that kind of love our campground because it's really not numbered spots. It's beautiful down there in the Meadow. It's kind of unique when the cows are in here in Cow Bells all the time. Got to kind of watch for the cow patties here and there. But a lot of people like coming in there instead of nothing wrong with the hosted campgrounds up in Crystal base there and not trying to bag on them. But we don't really go on the curfew music time and stuff there. So people come in, they might be gone and make a trail ride or go fishing or go to a couple of the other Lakes and then come back and have their dinner. And then you got this neat bar to come up to and have a couple of beers and play some dice.
[01:02:02.390] - Big Rich Klein
Yes, absolutely. Yeah. So anybody that's listening that's in the area, if you've got a vehicle and you've got tent camping gear or you've got an Overlander set up, they've got areas up there to set up to camp out and enjoy the ambience of Uncle Tom. It's really a great place. Nice and quiet on the weekdays most of the time. The weekends, especially big weekends, can be very interesting and fun. I've never had a bad time up there. Never. Absolutely never. And I used to have one of the cabins up there long time ago back in the 80s.
[01:02:52.490] - Rance MacFarland
[01:02:53.930] - Big Rich Klein
But we really enjoy that area. Every time we come into town and visit my parents or come up to the divide, it's always try to make a trip up there just well, it was a couple of days before the ultra four race down at Prairie City. We stopped by on a Sunday and everybody was gone already and I was hoping to catch you there, but then saw you at the Ultra Four. So that was when we talked and I said, hey, let's do this interview and talk about you and Tom's. So here we are.
[01:03:27.290] - Rance MacFarland
I felt honored and that's pretty cool. Yeah. Uncle Tom definitely has meant a lot to me for many years, especially when I became one of the cabin people and even before I helped out as much as I did. But I definitely saw a need for how it ran and I understood why Doug did kind of more of a lower yearly rent, so to speak there is because he needed help. He needed people to do certain things and to make the place run there. And I just thought that itself is a uniqueness there, you know, I mean, pretty much everybody up there is volunteer. No one's paid. Yeah, the bartenders make some tips, but the whole thing for me is definitely I enjoy the off road community, definitely want to get back into it. Looking forward to the new build, finishing, and even the Jeep I dubbed the UTC build there. I'm having a special license plate. Rogue did some neat plasma cutting on my center section there, hoping that the rock lights go down and reflect UTC. And I asked Doug years ago if I could represent Uncle Tom's there. So definitely going to be some artwork on there, Jeepster there, representing Uncle Tom's there that I'd be proud to have on there.
[01:05:20.840] - Rance MacFarland
And that's going to mean something to me. Special there that he's no longer around and stuff there. I wish I could have got it done before he passed there.
[01:05:34.310] - Big Rich Klein
He'll be looking down and know, oh yeah, Doug. I remember working the bar and my tips either went to my adult beverages, but more than likely they would go. Doug would win them during our games of Liars Dice.
[01:05:58.710] - Rance MacFarland
He was the King of Liars dice, that's for sure.
[01:06:03.510] - Big Rich Klein
I don't know why I kept doing it, but I guess because it was fun. But yeah, he made more off of me on tips than he did of me drinking beer up there, that's for sure.
[01:06:16.890] - Rance MacFarland
When Marcy and I first got the cabin and I was still in El Grove, just coming up on the weekends to hang out. I'd bring up $200 every weekend, 100 to spend in the bar on beer and whatever, and at least 100 to play dice with Doug. And he'd take it all usually.
[01:06:39.310] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah. Sounds familiar. There's probably a lot of us that happen too. I don't know anybody. I never saw anybody get over on him on Liar's days. I'm sure it happened once or twice, but not very often.
[01:06:56.790] - Rance MacFarland
Well, I think he was just so good at reading people and know how they almost I mean, he taught me how to mix it up there. He said that I was just too easy there and then he's the one that actually taught me how to play liars in a better way, right?
[01:07:20.190] - Big Rich Klein
Yeah, he did. Me too because I had no clue how to play to begin with and that was probably a mistake because he wasn't going to show me everything.
[01:07:29.250] - Rance MacFarland
[01:07:30.390] - Big Rich Klein
Anyway, so hey Ranch, I want to say thank you so much for coming on board and spending some time with us and talking about your life and uncle Tom's and I just want to say anybody that's listening to this if you're going up on Jeepers jamboree, if you're going up to the Rubicon for any reason make sure you come up through Georgetown or even if you're going ice house, make the trip over heartless, come down to uncle Tom's, have a cold beer, enjoy the atmosphere and enjoy some history.
[01:08:00.030] - Rance MacFarland
Thanks, Rich. I really appreciate it.
[01:08:02.170] - Big Rich Klein
All right, Ranch, you take care. And before I leave and we get back up on the road, I'll see you at Thomas. Maybe this weekend. You're going to be up there this weekend, aren't you?
[01:08:13.830] - Rance MacFarland
I am. It is my weekend to work. My wife will definitely be helping me because we got island in black and white and a food truck coming up so it's definitely going to be busy.
[01:08:25.840] - Big Rich Klein
Okay, well we're going to swing by and probably say hello.
[01:08:28.710] - Rance MacFarland
All right, man.
[01:08:29.620] - Big Rich Klein
All right, we'll talk to you later. Thanks, Ranch.
[01:08:31.850] - Rance MacFarland
[01:08:32.260] - Big Rich Klein
All right. Bye. Bye.
[01:08:33.300] - Rance MacFarland
[01:08:35.370] - Big Rich Klein
Thank you for listening to Conversations with big Rich. Please let your friends know about this podcast. Let us know what you think of conversations with big Rich. Please forward ideas to me contacts of those that I should attempt to interview leave a rating on any of the services you found us on. We look forward to your comments and ideas. Enjoying life is a must followed your dreams and grab all the gusto you can.