Joyful Ranch rebuilds

A legacy of grit and joy

Sunday Supper auction proceeds to fund the rebuilding of Joyful Ranch.

Ethel Hoskin’s grandfather, the settler W.J. Pleasants, crossed the country by covered wagon from Missouri, hunted buffalo, and observed in his journal the passage of 11 grizzly bears through his Vacaville property in a single day. He still may not have seen anything like what Ethel witnessed on August 18, 2020: The lightening-born firestorm that devastated the area bearing Pleasants’ name. The fires that spread through Joyful Ranch took three barns, the foreman’s cottage, and several walnut orchards.

Ethel left her home  early that evening, returned “at her own peril” to retrieve her medications at 11:30 p.m., and left around midnight. Over the next wild and confusing hours, Ethel would hear the worst from one of the last people to leave the valley, claiming that her house was on fire. “Then a young man who tends to cattle texted me ‘Your home still stands!’ with a picture next to it. Those are the best four words I’ve heard in a very long time.”

“That house has a story to tell,” Ethel says, speaking by phone a month after living through this most recent dramatic chapter. The Vacaville-Winters Earthquake of 1892 knocked the house off its foundation; an aftershock knocked it back on.

When we spoke with her, Ethel was living with a friend in downtown Vacaville. Power remained out at the property. Servpro professionals were washing off the ashes and removing hazardous materials from her home. Solano Shade was cruising the roads assessing which trees—some of which date to the 1870s—were hardy enough to survive. A barn her grandfather built in 1880 to house horse buggies, and recently restored by volunteers, was “toast.” Past visitors to her ranch described a sense of peace and renewal at the place; now an empty quiet pervades the hills.

Ten buildings designated to National and State Registers of Historic Places still stand. The working ranch will continue to operate (Solano Land Trust has a 366-acre conservation agreement on the property). Joyful Ranch is a non-profit promoting spiritual renewal and a venue for public events  including Solano Land Trust’s own Sunday Supper, traditionally held at the heart of a circular grove of old olive trees that thankfully survived the fire.

The Sunday Supper and auction had already moved online for COVID-19. Losing an in-person event is disappointing; losing the venue itself feels tragic, especially a place so central in the history of the region. With that in mind, Solano Land Trust will give fifty percent of Sunday Supper auction proceeds to Joyful Ranch, which plans to rebuild with as many historically accurate materials and techniques as possible. As we work to preserve enduring spaces for the future,  Solano Land Trust and its supporters can learn much from places that endure—and people like Ethel who persevere.

Ethel’s grateful for the dogged pioneer spirit she inherited from her ancestors, a toughness that remains on full display. If they hadn’t been willing to sleep rough in the cold, she says, “we’d all still be in England.”. But she is grateful for grace too. When the firefighters told Ethel about the structure’s latest close scrape, they freely admitted there was no logical reason for the historical home to still be standing tall.

Photos by Joan Cusick. We are grateful of the use of these images and encourage you to visit her website. Sunday Supper photo by Yumi Wilson.

The Virtual Sunday Supper Auction goes live at 6:00pm on October 25.

 GoFundMe drives for Joyful Ranch and other affected farms and ranches can be found on the Pleasants Valley Agriculture Association webpage.