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Davidson ranch takes history for a ride

Staff writer

For nearly a quarter of a century, Ray Davidson of Florence has journeyed back to the 19th century, re-creating wagon train experiences.

His 960-acre ranch is now the official host for Flint Hills Overland Wagon Train, founded in 1979 by Ervin Grant of El Dorado.

Registered with Kansas Travel and Tourism, the wagon train, which will be featured in a German TV documentary recorded last week, usually is booked on weekends.

Travelers gather at a set meeting place at 10 a.m. Saturday and are escorted to the horse-drawn covered wagons to begin a trip across the prairie. They eat a cold lunch at noon and continue their ride until they arrive at a campsite at 6 p.m. Campers are served a meal cooked over an open fire.

Ray and his son, Jeff, provide entertainment. Jeff plays guitar and sings. Ray can no longer play his harmonica and can’t sing very well, but he still tells cowboy stories and recites Western poetry.

Campers bring sleeping bags and stay overnight, sleeping in tents, under the stars, or in the wagons. They are served a full breakfast in the morning, and after a brief Sunday service, return to their vehicles.

The most recent wagon train event July 19 was a condensed version. Two horse-drawn wagons full of tourists traveled around in circles as a three-man German television crew captured the scene on film as part of a European documentary on the Santa Fe Trail.

After the ride, guests gathered at ranch headquarters for a meal cooked over an open fire, and Ray and Jeff entertained them.

The ranch dates to the 1860s. At one time, it was known as the Macon Ranch. It had several owners before Eleanor’s father, the late G.H. Grimwood of Cedar Point, purchased it in 1948.

The Davidsons were married in 1947 and moved to the ranch in 1951, “just in time for the big flood.”During five years of drought that followed, the family lived on milk, cream, and eggs marketed in Florence.

In 1959, lightning struck the big barn and burned it to the ground, destroying two horses, a wagon, a truck, and much horse tack. Despite the hardships, it was a good place to raise two boys, Ray said.

Eleanor, now 87, said she enjoyed taking long walks through the grass and under the large expanse of trees lining the spring-fed creek that runs through the property.

Ray has been retired for 20 years but continues to do what he can, such as spraying brush and weeds. Jeff lives in Eureka, where he is the Greenwood County extension agent. He keeps the homestead mowed.

Ray and Jeff have been performing together for 24 years and have produced two CDs. A third is in progress. “We’ve had quite a lot of fun doing this, and we’re still doing it,” Jeff said.

Last modified July 30, 2009

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