Monday, June 21, 2010



By (c) Russ Barnes

FORT MCKAVETT, Texas.  Many successful people have explained that personal and business creativity thrives on limits.  If you desire a creative frame of mind to solve some problem or initiate some needed personal innovation, then a Texas ranch may be the place to hang out for a while.

My daughter, Sharon, recently found this to be true when we visited AC Ranches near Fort McKavett, Texas.  She is a filmmaker/producer in NYC, and graduate of the University of Texas at Austin.  


For exercise, Sharon took her daily run on the mostly deserted road in front of our ranch lodgings and witnessed stark limitation, the hard line of the big sky meeting scrubby land at the horizon -- and once even a rattlesnake stretched clean across the dirt road as straight as the horizon itself.  What she witnessed slowed her down and made her think differently.  “A bit more brilliantly,” she claims.

In the film business, as in most businesses, many creative problems and opportunities present themselves -- often as limitations to be overcome.  On the ranch, the magic fences serve as boundary markers -- more than hemming cattle in and keeping poachers out, they mark psychic as well as physical limits.


 Making a Texas ranch profitable, says John Sassin, is no different from any other business. Sassin, a 20-year ranch hand and head of a family aluminum re-cycling business in Dallas-Fort Worth, claims, “A place like AC Ranches gives you the perspective on how you might become profitable. The ranch clears away some of the noise that keeps you from thinking fresh.” 

On AC Ranches there are 150 head of Black Angus cattle for which the ranch has signed a contract with Whole Foods (Austin) to test the market for meat which has not been industrially processed.

Unlike most industrial farming operatives, Sassin points out, Texas ranches mostly free-range their cattle (within limits). And because of the rise of profitable industrial farms -- which, he notes, are "virtual concentration camps" for animals -- the vast ranches of Texas (and elsewhere) have seen significant decline in profitability.


 "I have been told by others," Sassin notes, "that the cattle business is 'unprofitable.'  I intend to prove otherwise by thinking creatively about change --  the greatest tool in any business venture. "  And yet, as he is well aware, change is often difficult to accept.

Sassin muses on how ranch life braces the spirit in opening to unusual solutions to life's problems, invoking the myth of  "the western" -- in both novel and film such as Lonesome Dove.

The 'romance' of a west Texas ranch in my opinion," continues Sassin, "is conjured up in the mind of an individual 'caught up' in the everyday motions of typical life; i.e. wake up, breakfast, get kids to school, go to work, get kids home, dinner, pay bills, homework for all, bathe, sleep, wake up, repeat."


He meditates a minute on his statement --  and adds, "It's a cycle which becomes mundane." Then he modifies a bit, "On the ranch one's life becomes in some regards the same but yet excitingly different."
[NOTE: DISCOUNTS, Premiums for outdoorsmen and their companions -- You must mention these articles to AC Ranches and you will get 20 percent off your selected hunting and outdoor journey.  Check out AC Hunting Ranches for rates and bookings at:  Contact Allen Spence for information about transportation from Austin or San Antonio:  (325-387-2085) Future articles will feature other hunting and regional premiums which you may access by contacting AC Ranches or this website.]


With the nearest sizable grocery store sixty miles away, and no significant access to 911, the limitations make one think differently, with more simplicity, and with a kind of blessed clarity.

"Here nature is your neighbor," Sassin points out. "For a change, instead of people, cars and traffic, there are deer and wild turkey to replace your ordinary morning and evening traffic as those animals cross the roads or fly overhead to their favorite feeding sites. Unlike in the fast lane on the highway, or the crowded avenues of the city, when a west Texas driver lifts up his hand up to signal you, the gesture is one that says 'Howdy' -- instead of something far less friendly.  Stress disappears."


John Sassin has no title.  Everyone on the ranch appears to be a CEO of some ever-changing domain on this 20,000 acre ranch. "I'm a Jack-of-all-Trades," Sassin claims. "This past week I got the fire engine running that we purchased at the Ft. McKavett Fire Department Benefit Auction.  She's a beauty, vintage 1964 Howe Chevrolet model pumper truck with all the 'bells and whistles.' We'll display it under the flag on the highway at AC-3 for everyone to enjoy."


John Sassin is a bit reluctant, because of competitive factors, to disclose details of plans to make AC Ranches profitable. But it is clear that there  is interest in building a wind farm on one of the ranch's high hills -- a clear departure from the "as usual" oil energy sinecures exercised by many Texas ranches.

But he is forthcoming regarding several innovative areas the ranch is considering. "Sight-seeing, bird and wildlife watching, bed and breakfast are some ideas I can mention at this time that we are exploring." It's a new concept in supporting open farmland and ranch-land -- called "agri-tourism."

Sassin has also initiated some farming on AC Ranches: fields of Sorghum and Milo  for wildlife and domestic animal feed -- as well as fresh vegetable gardens for human consumption at the ranch. Farming is not ordinarily practiced on ranches, which are conventionally for grazing herds, domestic and wild. But Sassin believes that growing crops may add to ranch profits. (More about this in future posts.) 

Many west Texas ranches add other dimensions, in addition to the sport of guided hunting, among them a place for creative re-thinking of one's life.


To see more articles in this AC Ranch series, go to: 

Other Links: 
The Ranch:

An Outfitting Guide Describes the Harvest -- Two audios range over topics covering outdoorsmanship. Click here:  Hunting Guide  

Sonora Texas information at:
Many thanks to Anne Tongren for providing her excellent editing skills.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

RED DOG DIRT, A Stage Play set in Uniontown, Pennsylvania


It’s not just a play.

It’s a time-machine. "Your" time travel.  Your imagination.  It’s a place in your memory -- a place in your heart.  A place in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Or anywhere else you happen to remember.

But it is also a play.  RED DOG DIRT, the play, is set in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. -- which could easily be in Thessalonica, Greece . . . or Lincoln, Nebraska. . . or Alamosa, Colorado.  Because childhood experiences are universal.

It takes you back to wherever you started out -- and points to wherever you are going.

And yet, the setting for these memories is Uniontown in the 1950's, forty miles south of Pittsburgh on the western slope of Laurel Highlands near the Monongahela River.  Main Street, Eggleston Street, Gallatin Avenue, Dixon Boulevard.  Hopwood, Fairchance, Smock, Leckrone -- nearby.

The play’s action dramatizes a bunch of boys growing up: going to school; playing baseball; roaming the creeks and woods; exploring dead coke ovens; building clubhouses; confronting bullies, figuring out life and romance sitting up in sycamore trees; launching rockets and sassafras tea parties; drinking soda pop at the local mom and pop store; eating penny candy; looking for the "valuable striped gumball" out of the bubblegum machine; learning friendship; arguing the rules of the game.

The characters.  They are fictional, but based around real people in Uniontown, Pennsylvania.  Guts Gillen, Lunchtime Steele, Tom-the-Bomb Steele, Richie "Catechism" Meyer, Worfty Worft.  And there girls: Patsy Scheggia, Courtney Courter, Martha Newcomer and more.

RED DOG DIRT is also about the end of the golden age of childhood -- which goes up in smoke -- when the new world of adolescence begins its challenge.  And that is the topic of conversation onstage between a grown man -- once a boy -- and his grandmother’s ghost as they rendez-vous at the “Meeting Place of the Living and the Dead.”  Where does life go from here?  That is the question.

RED DOG DIRT has been performed onstage in locations around the Washington DC and Baltimore area.  

The stage play has not yet gotten a full performance in Southwestern Pennsylvania.  Not that there is no interest.  We have received many requests from the Pittsburgh region and around the United States from people wanting to see RED DOG DIRT performed onstage in southwestern Pennsylvania.  

At the end of this post you can see comments from around the country. You may also see at "Bay Weeklya review of the play's Maryland performances.

We need your help. New plays are hard to stage.  Your voice, your vote, can help us convince performance stages to put the play on in South- western Penn -sylvania.  Add your voice by making a comment below, or by sending an email to:  Not only will your “vote” help bring RED DOG DIRT to the region, it will also get you 50% off tickets for two when the play is staged.  

In your correspondence, please include your name, email address, and location -- along with your brief comment about your memories of Southwestern Pennsylvania.  We do not give out your name and contact information without out your permission.  However, if you wish, we will send selected memories anonymously to theaters for the purpose of advertising and staging RED DOG DIRT.  We thank you for your help and direction.

Suggestions for auditoriums or theaters for performance are more than welcome.

Again send your comments via this post or to Russ Barnes.


“Just saying 'Red Dog Dirt' brings back a flood of memories. Being born and raised in Uniontown,as was my Father and his Father, it was not uncommon when giving someone directions to tell them to turn on the red dog road. I don't think there is another place in the world that uses the expression 'red dog.' I wish you the best in your efforts and feel certain that you are bringing a lot of joy to many.”

Other Southwestern Pennsylvania links you may be interested in: - Find Events, Real Estate, Restaurants, Photos and More! - Discover Ohiopyle PA - The Social Networking Site for Fayette County PA  - Read the Live and Visit Fayette County PA Online Magazine here ! - Realtor Specializing in Mountain Property and Luxury Homes - Find homes for sale in Fayette County PA - Real Estate in SW PA + links to Luxury products and Services - Find Vacation places to stay and real estate for sale in Pennsylvania - find homes in Uniontown PA for sale - find vacation rentals in and around ohiopyle pa

Monday, June 7, 2010


By (c) Russ Barnes

AC RANCHES near SONORA, Texas. 2010.  The owner of AC Hunting Ranches told me, “When you come to the ranch, you really become yourself.  You get younger every day.  It takes about two days.  This place is the love of my life.”


Your experience of being here may also become one of your loves.  As a hunter, or nature observer, you confront the wild here.  You meet yourself.  You seek something exceptional inside yourself -- the wild part -- in the near-desert minimalism of this West Texas, hill-country ranch.

You are not completely on your own in seeking whitetail deer or management buck, exotics, hog, turkey. As you may be seeking a high- or low-fence ranch experience, these aspirations may be why you come here to hunt, but you get something more, something else.
[NOTE: Discounts, Premiums for outdoorsmen and their companions -- You must mention these articles to AC Ranches and you will get 20 percent off your selected hunting and outdoor journey.  Check out AC Hunting Ranches for rates and bookings at:  Contact Allen Spence for information about transportation from Austin or San Antonio:  (325-387-2085) Future articles will feature other hunting and regional premiums which you may access by contacting AC Ranches or this website.]

Who you will find here is an expert outfitter guide, Allen Spence, experienced in the ways of West Texas game, their habits and the fascinating dry, big-sky habitat they thrive in.  Allen will lead you to the best hunting opportunities on this 20,000 acres of ranch, which also may guide you for “getting to yourself.”  


Rise in the morning at 5:00 a.m.  Breakfast, served by Allison.  Drink coffee.  Take your rifle.  Out on the truck. Through the ranch gates.  

Wait for the magic hour up in the blind.  At sun-break in the coolness of morning.  The birds chirp.  It’s dry and it’s stark.  Life stirs in the brush.

Groups of hunters climb up their separate hunting blinds in different locations across the ranch.  Allen guides you to your optimum place for what you want to accomplish.  You observe.  You wait.  He says, “There are two ways to hunt.  You can stalk or you can sit.”  Sitting is the logical way of hunting on AC Ranches.  Patience.  Observation of nature.  The movement of herds and animals.  Of yourself in relation to the animals, their environment, and yourself.

Allen Spence has been a guide for nine years.  He began guiding at AC Ranches in 2008.  He describes his job as we -- his guests; Sharon, Joe, and I -- approach one of the many watering pools on the ranch feed by wells and pumped by windmills, 

Guiding is just like being in any customer service business,” Allen says.  “The customer always is put first and you try and meet their demands to help get them what they pay for.”

He loves his job saying, “It fulfills a life long dream of working with wildlife and whitetail deer.”

Allen is about 55 years old and fit for the job.  He is married to Allison who is both cook and co-manager of the hunting ranch.  Allen is also expert in bow hunting.  “One of the two best bow hunters I know,” says my friend, Joe Heidelmeier of Austin Texas, himself an outfitting guide.

“Out here,” Allen says, “You need to know the laws, guns, bows and how to set up the right situation for each individual hunter.”


You return. Dinner served again by Allison.  You talk.  You exchange stories of the brush with other outdoorsmen.  The sleep is good.


Allen astonishes me by informing, “Moon phases are important.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Because animals, and herds, react to different phases of the moon.  Hunters need to understand that information,” Allen replies. “We have printed tables.”  These tables explain the relationship between animal behavior, their movement, and the phases of the moon. (information on moon phases at:

My friend, Joe, says, “Sometimes the full moon is as large as Texas.”

“The weather is important too,” observes Allen.  “You could hunt out here in very warm conditions to below freezing in a matter of days and sometimes hours. So you need to pay attention to your local weather man or an old rancher who sometimes is more accurate. Wind can be your friend or your worst enemy if you set up wrong.”


One of the things said out here in West Texas is, “Keep your face to the wind and your powder dry.”  The full meaning of that saw can only be explained in another article online here.  Or if you can get to AC Ranches, just ask and you will learn.  And take home much.

To see more articles in this AC Ranch series, go to: 

The Ranch:

An Outfitting Guide Describes the Harvest -- Two audios range over topics covering outdoorsmanship. Click here:  Hunting Guide  
Sonora Texas information at:
Many thanks to Anne Tongren for providing her excellent editing skills.