It was 75 years ago that Fortune Magazine published a major spread featuring the West Side’s famous El Solyo Ranch in the Vernalis area.
At that time, this newspaper followed the Fortune coverage with a story of its own on March 16, 1945, that included extensive quotes from the magazine. Fortune also had included several photos taken at El Solyo and is available in Patterson’s downtown museum.
The Patterson Township Historical Society had its annual membership meeting scheduled for last Sunday, but it was among a number of local events that were canceled. The guest speaker would have been Peter Pike, Jr., grandson of the founder of the 4500-acre agricultural complex. The following is a reprint of the 1945 Irrigator article.
Fortune Magazine throws a national spotlight on the West Stanislaus area in a feature article in the last issue as “The El Solyo Deal” is described in words and pictures at considerable length.
In an issue devoted to the Pacific Coast, the ranch receives what may seem disproportionate attention, probably because it embraces so many phases of California agriculture and its problems, which are accurately reported in a way seldom attained by outside writers.
The article is illustrated with a full-color page picture of the vineyard north of the dehydrator; a full-page picture of the turkey flock; half-page scenes of ranch operations including rice harvesting, clearing of old peach trees with a bulldozer, ranch road, and Mexican Nationals in the club room.
The history of the ranch is traced in detail from the first plans of Roy Pike to the present management. “Bewildering” financing is described in which mortgages and bonds pile up on top of each other until 1924 when foreclosure proceedings were imminent, “Something in the nature of a miracle” intervened then as Pike induced an old friend, A.C. Balch, to buy the place and install Pike as manager. “Balch proved to be an exceptionally durable angel,” the article says.
“Pike lived rather feudally at the ranch. Hollywood stars and wealthy Easterners were his guests … he was something of a pamphleteer against communism and the New Deal, and El Solyo was the largest contributor to the Stanislaus Associated Farmers … the ranch was given a good deal of attention by the La Follette Committee when it investigated farm labor troubles, and liberals regarded it as a sort of shrine of American Fascism.
“As a ranch manager, Pike tried everything new; El Solyo at one time grew 70 crops and had 40 varieties of peaches. With Balch’s money, Pike built a $110,000 drying and packing plant and fresh fruit and vegetable packing plant. By telephone and teletype, he marketed the ranch’s products under the El Solyo brand; its lettuce sometimes topped the New York market. Although this was scientifically interesting, it considerably complicated management and marketing.
“In 1941 Pike retired as manager of El Solyo – ill health was given as the reason. A superintendent took over until Balch died in 1943.
“The present owners of El Solyo took it over in January 1944 from the Balch Estate for $950,000. This was the price for the ranch as a going concern, including growing crops; the price of the ranch alone was estimated at about $650,000. The new owners are mostly officials of the Food Machinery Corp. of San Jose.”
The article then goes into a detailed study of the various changes in farm operation put into effect under Dio Koetitz, as staffs were cut down, overhead slashed and operations simplified by cutting the number of crops.
In conclusion, the article questions whether it still may be too big. “One partner, Mr. Crummey, who has a profound respect for machinery, thinks El Solyo is an economic unit. Davies is rather on the fence. Koetitz thinks El Solyo is probably too big and that it would be unprofitable to capitalize on it from scratch. Nevertheless, he thinks it can be profitably operated on its present investment j… like a boom day hotel that has gone through the wringer.
“In all, Balch and others are said to have put about $3,500,000 into El Solyo, although much of this was for operating expenses. Before the ranch was sold, it was appraised at $1,119,000.”
Ron Swift is editor/publisher emeritus of the Patterson Irrigator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.