Sale of the centuries

As Box R Ranch owners prepare to hand over the reins, history goes on the auction block
A collection of historic wagons was lined up for inspection Saturday at an auction being held at the Box R Ranch in the Greensprings.Jamie Lusch

Nearly two-dozen stagecoaches, covered wagons and buggies were lined up early Saturday morning on a Greensprings mountain meadow at the historic Box R Ranch, ready to roll.

"All you would have to do is grease the wheels," observed Rick Ponte, 69, owner of the Double Tree Ranch in the Grants Pass area.

If you go

What: Auction of Western and Native American artifacts collected by longtime Box R Ranch owners Don and Jean Rowlett.

Where: Box R Ranch, 16799 Highway 66, some two dozen miles east of Ashland. Food available on site.

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today

Online: Bidding also available online at www.liska-auctioneers.com.

He knows of what he speaks, having driven several of the wagons as a teamster and wrangler in movies and trail rides.

"We hooked one up in Winnemucca for Oregon's sesquicentennial and drove it 900 miles to Independence," he said of the state's 150th birthday celebration. "All of Don's wagons are in good shape."

But the horse-drawn vehicles weren't lined up for another trail drive. They were exhibited as part of the living-estate auction of Box R Ranch owners Don and Jean Rowlett, who are selling their vast collection of Western and Native American artifacts.

Many of the Western artifacts were sold Saturday, and the remainder of the items, including the Native American artifacts, will be on the auction block from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today. The historic ranch is at 16799 Highway 66, roughly 23 miles east of Ashland.

A working cattle/guest ranch, which hosts more than 6,000 guests each year, the Box R Ranch is closing its guest-ranch operation on Labor Day, according to the Rowletts, who bought the scenic spread in 1969. Management of the roughly 1,500-acre ranch will be turned over their grandson, Jesse Randall, they add.

"My grandson will be managing the ranch here for awhile," explained Don Rowlett, 82, who was sporting a flat, black hat and a trimmed white beard for the auction. "They'll emphasize more on cattle — grass-fed beef straight from the ranch to the customer."

Rowlett, the founder and former owner of Ross Dress For Less stores, said auctioning off the artifact collection is in preparation for that change.

"In one way it is sad," he said as the auctioneers could be heard in the background. "But in another way, it is such a large assortment, it needed to be handled correctly. A lot of times, when you leave something like this to the kids, it becomes a problem for them to dispose of.

"But, no, I am not retiring," he added. "I'll still be here. This is just part of winding down. I'm healthy, very good shape. The beard is just for now. It's coming off Monday."

At one point, Linda Hanley, who owns a ranch in southeastern Oregon's Jordan Valley with her husband, Mike Hanley, passed by with a harness and set of bells she had just purchased for their ranch. Mike Hanley is a descendant of the founders of Hanley Farm in Central Point.

"That would have been used for a lead horse," Rowlett said after visiting with the family friend. "These bells would ring as they walk and give a cadence to their walk. They are probably 100 years old. There is a lot of history there."

His love of history is what drove him to collect the items over the years, he said.

"It has been great lesson for me to see what history taught us and how these things functioned and what people had to do to survive," he said. "I have such a great appreciation for the people who came West.

"Those two trips on the wagons taught me the hardships those people endured to come here," he added. "We do not teach history enough. We need to teach more."

When the Rowletts bought the ranch, it included its 1904, two-story ranch house — a former stagecoach stop — and old barn. They added acreage and buildings over the years to the ranch, which includes two miles of the original 1846 Applegate Trail.


They also collected a vast array of artifacts from throughout the West, including many wagons and other items bought in 1977 from collector George McUne, who owned Pioneer Village in Jacksonville.

"I used those wagons on the Applegate Trail twice from Winnemucca to here," Don Rowlett said. "That rolling stock is still ready to go. And some of those wagons have been in the movies."

One was used in "A Girl of the Limberlost," while others hailed from the Randall Movie Ranch, where they were featured in older Westerns starring the likes of John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and Randolph Scott.

"The wagons and the stagecoaches have brought us a lot of pleasure," Rowlett said. "One of my favorites is the old sheepherder's wagon. That is a real classic, an original."

He was referring to the old wagon he purchased from McUne in Jacksonville, the one equipped with a bunk, table and cooking stove.

"We refer to it as the original RV — it's got everything you need," said Grants Pass resident Marty Bauer after inspecting the antique wagon with friend Kim Barnes, also of Grants Pass. The couple have a wagon and team of horses.

"This collection is phenomenal," Bauer added. "It's almost impossible to find anything like this today."

Keno resident Kelly Baker, who was inspecting the wagon collection, was impressed also.

"These wagons are fabulous," observed Baker, who has shire draft horses. "The condition of these wagons is just amazing."

Joining her in appreciating them was her friend, Diane Keith of Klamath Falls. The two were checking out a U.S. Army blue commissary wagon.

"This one was built up and out," explained Keith, who has researched old wagons of the West. "The shelves are built into the sides to make it wider."

But they planned to check out other wagons that could more easily carry people.

"There are a couple I'm interested in," Baker said. "I want something to move people with. We've got a huge family and lots of grandkids."

"I'm just the muscle to help her load it if she buys something," her friend offered.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.



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