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The new ranch economy

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By Robin Doussard

Posted: January 19, 2012

Above: Imperial yarn includes yarn products and fashion patterns, with the Imperial Knits Collection (a pattern-only collection) headlining Portland Fashion Week last year. 
Below: Dan Carver walking his land.
// Photo by Randy Johnson

The Imperial Stock Ranch sits 20 miles east of Maupin, which is to say in the middle of the most beautiful nowhere in eastern Oregon. The ranch sprawls across 32,000 acres of high desert, so high — 3,600 feet at its peak — that on crystalline days you can see all the way to Mount Baker and the necklace of volcanoes that leads to it.

Only four men have owned this ranch since Richard Hinton founded it 140 years ago. It passed from Hinton to his son, James, who grew the ranch to 70,000 deeded acres in Wasco County, along with more than 25,000 sheep and over 500 cattle, one of the biggest ranches in the county at the time, which made the Hintons important figures in the county and state economy. The 1945 census listed the Imperial Stock Ranch as the largest individually owned ranch in Oregon when James, without heirs, sold it to George Ward, who had worked on the ranch for years. It was from Ward that the fourth man, Dan Carver, bought the ranch in 1988.

Carver had a successful business in Stayton, and had bought a ranch in Dufur in 1978, a hay and grain operation he still owns. At the same time he heard that the Imperial ranch might be for sale, his first wife learned she had cancer. Dan says that each of their small children — Susie, Blaine and Ben — got a vote on whether to move forward and buy the ranch. The ayes had it, and the Carvers began the journey of running their new family business.

On a drive through his property, what the 69-year-old Carver sees today would be a lot like what the first man saw: many of the structures that Richard Hinton built still stand, his breed of Columbia sheep still roam and cattle still graze. The magnificent, ancient beauty of the land is untouched. But there are other things that Carver and his family see today that Hinton could never have imagined. That wool from his Columbia sheep would be gracing a fashion runway; that giant mechanical turbines could one day dot the landscape; or that people from around the globe would visit the ranch and his home would be an historic treasure. The Carvers have built on the ranch’s long-time operations of livestock, grain and hay with agritourism, direct marketing of meat, and a yarn business. And like a growing number of Oregon landowners, they have added to their balance sheet income from a wind exploration lease.




+1 #1 Imperial RanchGuest 2013-03-18 15:54:59
How exciting to read about the Imperial Ranch as one of my relatives George Ward was once an owner. George E Ward was a son of Elizabeth Sharman and George Prevost Ward. Elizabeth and my Gt,Gt,GT Grandfather were brother/sister.
How wonderful to see such dedicated people still believing and strongly finding ways to hold on to their land.
It is also interesting that my son, who lives in Vermont was raising Katadin sheep for meat and stock. Even his 9 yr old daughter helped during lambing season.
Some of George's family went West and others stayed back in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. At age 77 I still drive up there once a year, especially in the Spring as I love the smell of freshly plowed fields. But unfortunately, many are using liquid manure. And even closed windows can't keep out that putrid smell.
Thank you for the wonderful articles and video allowing me to see a part of my ancestor's way of life.
Trudy Sharman
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-1 #2 Imperial Valley Real Estate AgentGuest 2013-05-25 16:34:20
Great article! Well written and nicely presented. I hope all reader will enjoy and keep up the share.
Imperial Valley Real Estate Agent
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