A Trip Back in Time to Lyndon Johnson's Ranch
We visited my sister and brother-in-law in San Antonio for four days, and one of our road trips was driving up into the Texas Hill Country to visit LBJ's ranch. It was a trip back in time for all of us. Ranging in age from 72 to 77, we all have memories of the assassination of President Kennedy and of Johnson later swearing his vows flanked by Jackie Kennedy in her famous pink suit. Many remember where they were when Kennedy was shot. I was getting ready to go out with a group from our senior class to sell ads for our yearbook to local businesses.
It was typical hot Texas weather the day we went. I think it reached 99 degrees. We live outside New Orleans, so even at that temperature, without our humidity, it was bearable. As we drove into the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, we saw a group of long-horned steers under a shade tree and I was promised we'd stop on the way back for a photo.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was the Sauer-Beckmann living history farm. The people who work the farm wear costumes of the period the farm represents (1900-1918). When we were there, a woman had cooked zucchini bread and wrapped it in a cloth to cool. I question how much "cooling" it did in the 99-degree heat, but it smelled glorious. She was sitting at a table outdoors with field hands dressed in period dress as she chopped boiled eggs for egg salad. We heard the field workers discussing the fact that they were done with work for the day. (It was noon and the heat was oppressive.)
In the kitchen of the living farm, there were many jars of canned goods, beautifully displayed. There were old-fashioned salt cellars in use and a basket of fresh brown eggs on the hutch. The bedrooms were small and the main one (master, I suppose) had a baby crib in it. It was long before the days of baby monitors and I suppose they kept them close. Johann and Christine Sauer settled the land in 1869. They had 10 children. One of those children, Augusta, served as a midwife when President Lyndon Johnson was born. In 1966, the family sold the land to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
I especially enjoyed seeing the outside part of the living farm. There was a banty rooster that crowed at us and strutted about, showing his beautiful feathers as well as several other turkeys, chickens, and roosters. As we walked toward the back of the place, there is a gate and a trail for a nature walk. The heat pretty much nixed that idea. There was once a creek running alongside the trail, but it is dry now. All things considered, it's still a beautiful area.
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Seeing the Sights Around the Park
The park itself contains 717 acres. There are groups of long-horned cattle grazing here and there. When we were there, most of the wildflowers had been killed by the heat, although there were a few here in there. I'm certain it is breathtaking in the spring when they are in full bloom. We visited the Junction School, where Lyndon learned to read at the one-room school located near his home. We weren't allowed inside, but viewing it from without gave an idea how small it was. There is an airstrip still there from Johnson's days as President. One of the tour guides said one of Johnson's grandsons flew in earlier the day we were there, stayed about an hour and left. Johnson's plane is prominently displayed on the grounds of the Texas White House.
Tour of the Texas White House
We took the Texas White House Tour last. I was a bit shocked at the ranch house simply because it was not very large. The rooms have the low ceilings of the 1960s and everything seems on a small scale compared to today's houses. There are photos with 20 to 25 people crowded into the small living room and it's hard to imagine even accomplishing it! The house is decorated in the orange, gold and brown of those times. The kitchen has one of the same ceramic fruit decorations my mother-in-law had in her kitchen. It was a walk back to our youth in the '60s for all of us. When we were there, certain areas were being renovated. There were covers on much of the furniture, and the house itself had a definite musty smell. The tour did not include the second floor, where we were told there were five bedrooms. In the den where we learned LBJ spent much of his time, there was a pillow with the words "It's my house and I'll do as I damn well please." The guide told us the pillow was as a result of criticism he received after picking up one of his beagles by its ears and having it covered by the media.
The Amphicar Was Used to Play Practical Jokes on His Visitors
Johnson had an Amphicar, one of the only amphibious vehicles ever mass-produced. He loved to play pranks on his visitors while driving his Amphicar. He would drive the car down the side of a hill straight into a lake, yelling that the brakes malfunctioned, while no one in the car knew that it would float. His special assistant for domestic affairs bailed out of the car during one such prank. Johnson teased the man's wife, "Did you see what he did? He just bailed. Didn't worry about his President at all!"
By All Means: Make the Trip to the LBJ Ranch!
If you are wavering about whether to make the trip to the ranch or not, I say yes. It is truly a slice of history. The pictures on the walls of the Texas White House are worth the trip themselves. They include a very young Henry Kissinger. The living farm is also a hit of history, with an authentic feel and people in costume to make it feel even more authentic. It is a national park and does not cost a thing. Why pass up a history lesson and if you're our age, a walk into the past? If you're deciding on whether to visit or not, I say yes, do it!