On January 19, 2013, the Sandhills Cattle Association, based out of Valentine, Neb., hosted their 23rd Annual ranch tour. Milldale Ranch Company, located near Gandy, Neb., was asked to be part of this tour. After visiting four other Sandhills ranches that day, the final stop was Milldale. As the crew anticipated the arrival of a reported 175 people, they put the final touches on the place. Horses were saddled and conversations held in the horse barn about the crowd about to arrive. Shaun Loughery, the general manager/vice-president, received a phone call that the tour was on their way.
I took up my post near the driveway to get a glimpse of the first vehicles to arrive. As the dust began to stir around the convoy of vehicles, they were visible almost three miles back as they topped the first hill east of Gandy. It was impressive to see all the vehicles filling the driveway and the yard of the ranch headquarters. The license plates identify visitors from several Nebraska counties. Some visitors mingled near the shop where Shaun would give a history of Milldale. Others filed in the door of the shop to get a good spot to stand on the recently swept cement floor.
As Shaun spoke of the history of Milldale Ranch Company, he shared the legacy that he is a part of. His great-great-grandfather, Charles T. Stewart, purchased Milldale in the 1880s and first named the ranch Milldale Farm and Livestock Improvement Company, Limited as referenced on Milldale’s website at www.MilldaleRanch7HL.com. Shaun’s grandparents, E.H. “Shoey” and Marie Shoemaker moved to North Platte in 1945 to take over the operation of Milldale, which spans approximately 36,000 acres of rugged hills and lush valleys. Union Pacific’s railway that connected Kearney and Stapleton used to pass through the ranch. It has since been abandoned and the track removed. However, when traveling on the right-of-way, there is the feeling of a story to be told. Milldale is also home to Shanklin Bluff and Tarbox Lake. Shanklin Bluff rises to an elevation of 3,048-feet above sea level as reported by the United States Geological Survey while Tarbox Lake lies at 2,831-feet above sea level.
Once the history of Milldale was revealed, the guests were escorted to other buildings on the place. They visited the horse barn where work begins most days on the ranch. The calving barn, which had been prepared for the first newborn calf to hit the ground at Milldale was also explored. Once the building tour was completed, the guests made their way to the branding building for cookies and coffee. This is where feasts are served by Milldale’s ranch cook, Patricia, during brandings. Stories were told about the day’s adventures and reminiscing about days past on this ranch and others.
As the last vehicle billowed dust on the driveway, the hard-working crew finished up the last details of the day. Horses were unsaddled and released to run and buck across the meadow they call their home. Some rolled in the dirt while others stood looking across the vast land. Benches were picked up and tables folded to be stored until their next use this spring when the newborn calves get adorned with the brand of Milldale. Thank you for taking the tour of what we call home and hope to see you on the trail. ❖