A century in the making

Alice and Bill Vollman are enjoying their retirement from their home in Douglas, where they proudly watch their son and grandchildren carry on the ranching tradition.
By: 
Jen Kocher

It still bothers Alice Vollman a bit to think that someone else is out at the family ranch right now doing all the work, but at age 89, she concedes it’s time to step aside and let the younger folks take over. Even so, she has a hard time sitting still, as does her husband Bill, who after “officially” retiring in 1987, spent the next 20-plus years driving out to the ranch every day, and at age 96, still continues to pop out on occasion when there’s something going on.

“I didn’t have any hobbies and wasn’t sure what to do,” Bill shrugged.

After all these years, it’s hard to shift gears. Alice has a much easier time keeping busy with hobbies and volunteer work.

“I do feel bad sometimes that I’m not out there working,” Alice said with a frown, absentmindedly picking at the raised edge of the floral couch in the dark paneled living room in their comfortable home that looks out onto the lush greens of the Douglas Community Golf Course. “But they’re doing such a good job out there and I love to visit to see what they’ve done.”

Last week, the Vollman family ranch celebrated its 100th anniversary where more than 300 people came out to help the family celebrate. After moving to town in 1987, operations have fallen to their son Bob
and their two grandsons, Brady and Jared, and their extended families.

A lot has transpired in those 100 years but Alice still remembers moving out to the ranch to live with her husband Bill and his parents as a young bride in 1947.

The two had met at a dance. Alice, who had grown up in Manville, had been talked into going out to LaPrelle that night by her sister and recalls dancing with the two sailors, Bill and his friend. Both recently returned from overseas where they’d served in the Navy during World War II.

“There were only two sailors there that night and I danced with both of them,” Alice laughed.

She gave her address to only one of them, and after the dance moved briefly to Chico, California, to live with her aunt, who didn’t like Alice receiving Bill’s letters nor did she approve of his picture hanging on her mirror.

When Alice wasn’t looking, her aunt took the picture and turned it around.

“She told me, ‘your mother married a cowboy and I’m not going to let you do the same.’” Naturally, that made her all the more determined and not long after moved back to Wyoming to be near Bill.

“I never thought of him as a cowboy, but I did think he was real nice,” she laughed.

Seventy years later, Alice is happy to prove her aunt wrong.

THE ORIGINAL HOMESTEAD

Bill Jr. grew up with his folks on the homestead that Bill’s father, William (Bill Sr.) Robert John Vollman and his mother Flora “Flo”filed on in 1917.

The couple had made the trek to Wyoming from Nebraska with Bill’s Prussian mother Fredrika “Rika” and together they filed on two homesteads 30 miles east of Glenrock.

At that time, The Homestead Act allowed for homesteads to receive 320 acres for the original homestead and could tack on an additional 320 acres, if they double filed and paid extra fees for it. They did and, all together, the ranch sprawled over 640 acres of rolling grassland.

Back then, the trio lived in a tent and sheep wagon until they were able to build a rock house for Bill Sr. and Flo and a small wood shack for Rika on the second homestead.

They shipped their household goods, machines, horses and livestock by emigrant train car which unloaded in Orpha, 10 miles north of Douglas.

Along with his ranch chores, Bill Sr. often traveled 25 miles to Glenrock in his Model T Ford, where he worked as a carpenter and electrician. Flo continued to teach school and did so for the next 17 years.

In the beginning of their homesteading adventure, Bill recalled, there was still a lot of open range and they saw plenty of roundups.

When Alice and Bill married, the couple lived with his parents out on the Vollman family homestead, where along with learning how to drive, Alice fell into ranch life naturally, cooking, sewing the family’s clothes and helping Bill with chores. Later, they had three children, Lori, Bob and Vicki, which kept Alice busy around the house.

“If you married into the Vollman family, by God you worked,” Alice laughed.“It was a lot of work but we didn’t know any better, so we just did it.”

Even today, the elderly Vollmans return a couple times a year to help out with the brandings and to trail sheep.

“Everybody gets in on the job,” Alice said, explaining that it’s very much a family operation. Even the grandchildren do their part, driving tractors and hauling each other into school in the pickup truck.

“Everybody does something,” Bill said.

GROWING

Over the years, the elder Vollmans worked hard to grow the ranch and their livestock operation. In 1932, the family began buying other homesteads from other ranchers who decided not to stay. The Kurtz
place, the site of the family’s current home one mile north of the original homestead, is the first property they bought. They initially moved the home to this location because the water was more drinkable. The Martz and Brideway’s homestead were the next purchases, followed by the Melvina and Ledgewood’s properties.

The land purchases enabled the family to grow their farming and ranching operations and, Bill was one of the first to switch from Hereford to Angus cattle, a move that proved profitable.

Both Alice and Bill recall some lean years, particularly in the early ‘30s when things got pretty dry and livestock prices tanked. In 1934, the government paid $20 for a cow, but the thin ones had to be disposed of while the fleshier cattle were shipped by train to the Midwest. During the economically tough years, the couple did what they had to survive. For a time they raised hogs, which in 1934, brought in $4 per hundred, so they made sausages to sell at $0.15 cents a pound or two pounds for a quarter. They also had milk, cows, chickens and a few turkeys which produced eggs and cream to sell.

They continued to accumulate acreage and growing their operation with the purchase of the Domsalla place in 1953, officially incorporating the ranch in 1972.

Today, the ranch is split between the family, their son Bob, Jared and his wife Mandy and their three children, Joslyn, Cadence and Zander, and Brady and wife Roni and daughter Lauryn.

It’s a rich history and the couple proudly looks back on their long life together.

FAMILY TRADITION

“Where do you start and where do you stop?” Alice said when asked to recall her favorite memories.

“There were definitely some hard times,” Bill added, “but we try to focus on the good.”

One memory that sticks out vividly to Alice was a blizzard in 1949. Several feet of snow and heavy winds pummeled eastern Wyoming and parts of Colorado and Nebraska. Alice recalls Bill’s mother getting the mumps and having to be drove to town by Bill, who made the perilous trek home barely beating the mounds of drifted snow.

Alice remembered that the snow was so high that you couldn’t even hang a wash cloth on the clothes line.

Later, a neighbor got sick and the National Guard were sent out on snow cats to retrieve her, only to end up at the Vollmans after getting lost. More travelers would also get stranded at the ranch, and with Bill’s mom in town and Bill out in the snow trying to help the guard members, Bill’s father was recruited for kitchen duty.

“He did a good job keeping up,” Alice laughed, explaining how he helped her churn butter and cream and keep the large group of guests fed. “They were all camped out in the living room and we would just put a blanket over them so they could sleep.”

Back then, they had no electricity and only one 32-volt light and a few kerosene lanterns. The house was heated by a wooden coal furnace in the basement, and all the cooking was done on a wooden coal stove which, as Alice pointed out, wasn’t easy to monitor without “all those little knobs.”

It was a lot of work, but also fun, and like her years at the ranch, everybody fell into line and worked together. Their greatest accomplishment apart from their hard work and frugal discipline is by far their family.

“We’re proud of our son and the kids,” Bill said with a smile. And when people ask Alice if it’s hard to return to ranch to see all the changes in the house where she once lived, her answer is immediate.

“Heck no,” she said. “It’s fun to see what they’ve done and all the ways they’ve been innovative.”

Mandy has since doubled the size of the kitchen, and over at the hunting lodge the family operates, Mandy does all the cooking.

“She’s a great cook,” Alice said, adding that not many women her age know how to do these things anymore, which makes her proud. Her other daughter-in-law is an excellent baker, she added.

It’s nice to see the family traditions continue, Bill and Alice agree as they watch the next generation step forward from their “city” home.

(Editor’s note: much of the research for this story was compiled by Roni Vollman.)

Category:

Glenrock Independent

Physical Address:
207 S 4th, Glenrock, WY 82637

Mailing Address:
PO Box 109, Douglas, WY 82633

Phone: (307) 436-2211

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