There was a time when cowboys ruled the day, or at least the airwaves, and the good guy always won. From Tom Mix in the early 1900s, to Clint Eastwood and Kurt Russell today, most of us have wanted to be a cowboy or cowgirl at one time or another. Many of us grew up knowing that among the cowboys of the cinema, Roy Rogers was king, and Dale Evans was his queen.
Like any respectable western royalty, Roy and Dale had a horse ranch. It wasn’t in the wilds of Montana, and not even in the prairies of South Dakota. Nope. Not even close. The Roy Rogers Double R Bar Ranch, built in 1920, was sittin’ regally along the banks of the Mojave River in the small Route-66 community of Oro Grande, just outside of Victorville, California, and a few miles from their home in Apple Valley. Roy died at the age of 86 after a life well-spent.
Roy owned the ranch until the day he died in 1998, and after Dale followed him a few years later, the ranch was owned by a succession of investors and such, including Ernesto Enriquez, the son of one of Roy’s horse trainers, Carlos. Still, the 67 acre ranch seemed to be lacking the drive and spirit that was present when Roy would ride the range on one of his many horses and, sometimes, even a Honda motorcycle, much to the dismay of the local sheriff (something about a pesky helmet law).
Okay, now some of you might not know about Roy Rogers. Don’t feel bad. It happens. So just in case ya’ don’t, let me tell ya’ about the King of the Cowboys. Roy started out as a fellow from Ohio by the name of Leonard Slye. He was born in 1911, and when he was about 20, he followed his sister to Lawndale, a town near the Pacific Ocean. By early 1931, with a few family businesses in decline, Leonard took up picking peaches for a time. This was during the Great Depression. See the Steinbeck film, “The Grapes of Wrath” to get a feel for what that was like.
Anyway, by about 1932, Leonard, with motivation from his sister, auditioned for a spot on a local radio show, even though shyness just about did him in. A local music group, “The Rocky Mountaineers” offered him a job. As they say in Hollywood, the rest is history. Even if Hollywood doesn’t say that, by August of 1931, Roy–I mean Leonard, was a member of the band.
After changing the name of the group to “The Sons of the Pioneers,” and changing his name to Roy Rogers, the cowboy genre would never be the same. Soon to become the King of the Cowboys, he starred in 88 feature films and, along with Dale Evans, had the long-running “Roy Rogers show” on television, from 1951 to 1957.
It might have been the syndicated re-runs of the Roy Rogers Show that caught the eye of a young Jim Heffel, growing up in Wilmington, just a few miles from Roy’s original California home in Lawndale. In any case, 10-year-old Jim saw a cowboy riding down a street in the famous western town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and knew what he had to do. Just like Willie Nelson sang in 1980, “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.” And they still are.
Fast forward. After going through a few years of relative dormancy, in 2015, the Roy Roger’s Double R Bar Ranch came into the sights of Jim Heffel. Now an accomplished horseman and part-time stunt rider, Jim and his wife Deena bought the farm in a friendly manner of speaking.
Within a few months, the Double R Bar brand was on Jim’s truck. Nowadays, the ranch has a full-time foreman, “Frenchy,” Martel-Preacher and an assortment of other ranch hands. Not quite like the days of Roy’s trusty “Bullet the Wonder Dog,” or Pat Brady and his jeep, “Nellie Bell,” but darn close.
Since Roy and Dale owned the ranch, Jim and Deena have added a complete western movie set. Suitable for shootin’ the next big blockbuster, or for social gatherings or tours. Let’s take a look inside that barn. You know you have a hankerin’ too.
We had the privilege a few months back of being extras in an ‘Indy’ film that was shot at the ranch. This barn was packed with so many actors, cameras and other stuff that it looked like the back lot at Warner Bros. No set date on when “Heat of the West” will be released.
Deena, too, is an accomplished rider, and the two heirs apparent to the Roy and Dale happy trails are often guests at various western events, including the Sturgis Bike Rally and the Western Film Festival in Lone Pine, California. Jim often takes his horse, Trigger (naturally) for rides inside saloons during these events.
Jim says that his favorite event has to be riding cowboy style with the with American Flag alongside 7,000 motorcycles for the Memorial Day, “West Coast Thunder Event.” The ride starts at Riverside Harley Davidson, and ends at the National Cemetery, also in Riverside. Horses aren’t allowed, so each year Jim is kicked out soon after his arrival. That hasn’t stopped him in the past, and won’t stop him in the future. Sometimes, a cowboy just has to do what’s right.
Roy Rogers Double R Bar Ranch is located off Route 66 at 14433 Roy Rogers Road, Oro Grande, California 92368. If you want to arrange an event at this historic ranch, please call(760) 954-7262 for details.
Interested in learning more about the American West? Check out our accompanying articles featuring Oro Grande, Randsburg, Ballarat, the movie ‘Heat in the West,’ and more.