Behind the Brand
by Melissa Blosser, Assistant Editor
The Blickenstaffs are a farming and ranching family who were not afraid to take chances through the years, investing in a variety of different farming and ranching ventures.
As a family they have faced many challenges and seen the times change, but still continue to farm and preserve their way of life.
“We’ve seen snow five feet high, couldn’t feed cattle, power out, it’s tough but you learn something from it,” said Alvin Blickenstaff, who currently operates the ranch with his wife Beverly and son Ron. “Even your mistakes, you learn from them.”
The land the ranch sits on was an 1871 grant to Thomas H. Epley, during Ulysses S. Grant’s term as President, containing 158 acres and 82/100ths of an acre.
Recorded in Lassen County Records on May 6, 1874, it was a homestead and patent.
The property is still home to a Pioneer Cemetery where the Epley family was buried alongside early Honey Lake settler Charles H. Crawford. Many of the small cemetery’s occupants died at a rather young age.
This cemetery contains the oldest marked grave in the Honey Lake Valley. While there were only four tombstones erected, which are no longer present, there are numerous depressions and fencing to indicate more burials.
The story of how the ranch came to the Blickenstaff family begins when Art Blickenstaff, an avid hunter and fisherman came to Lassen County with his father Alva in 1927 looking for a farm in the mountains to trade for his farm in the valley near Modesto.
They found a 250 acre farm on Highway 395 and made a trade deal with the family who owned it at the time, the Hicks brothers. Later they added two more ranches on the south end of Honey Lake.
Art and Esther Blickenstaff moved onto their new farm in 1927 with their three sons, Clarence, Glenn and Bob. Then came two more sons, Don Blickenstaff born in 1934 and Alvin Blickenstaff born in 1936, adding to the family of boys. They all attended Lake School and Lassen High School.
Alvin met Beverly Davies while attending Chico State in 1958 and they moved back to the ranch to start their family and make a living.
Art, Alvin and Don were partners in the ranch for many years until 1970 when Alvin bought out Don’s portion of the place after each boy had been deeded one third by Art and Esther. In 1976 Alvin and Beverly purchased the remaining one third from Art and Esther Blickenstaff.
“My dad taught me a few things,” said Alvin. “Once when I was bargaining with this guy about hay, he told me I needed to lighten up a little, let the other guy make a dollar or two… I never forgot that.”
Not long after Alvin and Beverly were married they added two sons to their family, Ron and Jim Blickenstaff. Both attended local Lassen County Schools and went on to higher education.
Ron went to Cal Poly to persue a degree in farm management and returned home to the family farm. Jim went on the Chico State to persue a degree in Chemistry. He taught chemistry, biology and computers in several Northern California High Schools until his sudden death in April 2008.
At one time there were 400 head of feeder calves in the ranch feedlot. The Blickenstaffs would grow hay and grain to feed the cattle out and sold them at the sale yard in Susanville.
At one time they also had a hog operation, 6,000 laying hens, plus 2,000 replacement chicks and all the eggs were sold in Lassen County.
“Ranchers work hard, we don’t have hours,” said Alvin. “If something breaks in the middle of the night we fix it,” he said. “In 1975 we got a lot of ideas and we put in irrigation pipe and that is what saved our bacon, because we had a drought. We drilled a well and it took us 25 years to pay it off, but we could raise more crops then we ever could before, the secret was water.”
In 1977 the family decided to buy their first baler, and they made the shift from producing to feed out animals to producing hay to sell. The family also invested in growing garlic for a while and built their own garlic machine.
“It took a crew to operate it,” said Alvin. “Someone to drive while the digger rotated and dug garlic, then the garlic would come up the belt. The crew would knock the dirt off and then it would go into 60lb sacks. It would also take someone to sew sacks, and we would sew 1 sack per minute,” he said.
In addition to garlic the family also grew sugar beets for some time. The Blickenstaffs currently grow and sell hay, as well as alfalfa seed and grain sell for many different growers in Lassen County and Northern California.
Beverly and Alvin’s son Ron is also a partner in the business with his wife Robin. Together they have a daughter Maria, and a son Tyler. Ron also operates a Hunting Club on the ranch for pheasants and chuckers.
“The grandkids do help out some in the summer with the hay mowing and raking and other things too. They come and they might mow and rake hay or help with a few things,” said Beverly. “It’s got to be in your blood to love to farm.”
Together the Blickenstaffs have seen many different changes and they have weathered the rising cost of doing business. They continue to farm, take an active role in the community and value the soil that has enriched their lives.
“You could take me off this ranch and put me on another ranch and I would starve.” Said Alvin. “You learn about your own soil and you just know how it operates.”
The stories behind Lassen County’s Agricultural Heritage.
These days farming and ranching is getting more difficult, farmers and ranchers will tell you, they aren’t getting rich off choosing to save the family farm. Most people who continue to stay in agriculture do it to preserve their family heritage, or because they have come to love a rural way of life.
This column will serve to feature local people who continue to preserve their family heritage by suiting up every day to bring food to your table.
If you are interested in preserving your heritage by telling your story, please contact Melissa Blosser at [email protected] or 530.249.7828. Your story can also serve you and your family as memorabilia, for future generations continuing a rural way of life in Lassen County.