The Farm Chronicles: Berry farm visit

We were in the midst of our 1963 Great Western Tour and everything was going just swell. As an eight-year-old dedicated to everything “cowboy,” the trip West was a bonanza. We saw real Indians (Native Americans—no disrespect intended), cowboys, wild horses and all sorts of places with their story of the wild West. But you can imagine my disappointment when Mom and Dad said that we were going to visit Knott’s Berry Farm. A berry farm, really? Why would a rootin-tootin young maverick like me want to spend all day at a berry farm. How many jars of jam can you look at in a country store, anyway? I prayed I could stay home, but home was in the very camper we were driving to look at the berries. Ugh!

We drove up to the place and it looked like a country store with a restaurant. I still couldn’t see why we were going to waste an entire day strolling around. But then, it was like the sky opened up and the sun shined right down on me head. I smelled horses. I saw horses. I saw cowboys. It was like an entire new “old” world was laying at my feet. Knott’s Berry Farm was indeed once a berry farm where in the 1920s Walter Knott and his family sold berries, jams and pies from a roadside stand along old route 39. By 1934, they began selling chicken dinners, which drew patrons from all over. They added shops and other attractions and by the 1950s had built an Old West ghost town replica of Calico, California. In 1963, the ghost town and a Western museum were about the only attractions. There was no charge for admission.

It was amazing. We were walking through the town and there were people in character talking to us. Our friend Warren McCarthy was about 6’5” tall and I remember Sad Eyed Joe saying to him, “What’s a long-legged sheep herder like you doing in a town like this?” It was funny at the time. We went into one shack that looked like it had partially caved into a hole in the ground. Standing on the floor, you could lean one way or another and seem to defy gravity. There was a gold mine, too. One of the old prospectors taught me how to pan for gold. And yes, I found a couple of specks of gold and he told me I had done in a few minutes what he had been trying to do for years. They put the gold specks in a little vile for me to keep.

There was so much to take in. One of my favorites was the stagecoach. These original majestic coaches were part of bringing civilization to the West. They were responsible for hauling passengers, money, and equipment across the great divide between civilized areas. I was most excited about climbing up into that stagecoach. Me and my imagination going wild through that ten-minute ride. As the Lord said in Jeremiah 33.3, “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” All said and done, that day the Lord certainly showed me great and mighty things that I did not know. It was an answer to prayer and an extremely adventurous time that I still cherish to this day.


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Bill Wilson