Just south of the Tropic of Cancer, on the Pacific coast of Mexico is the state of Sinaloa whose main city is Mazatlan . The climate in this part of Mexico can best be described as ideal. The winters are free of rain and feature sunshine and blue skies on a scale seldom found on this planet. During the rainy season the showers seldom last beyond midday . There is however the occasional hurricane that sweeps up the coast but in this age of satellites everyone has adequate warning. It was to this setting that my late wife Mona and I came seeking a vacation from the busy world of international commerce in Tokyo where we had been working for the previous year. We easily fell into the casual life style of the rather large ex-patriot community.  

 We became acquainted with two young men, Ricardo and Carlos Irvine who lived with their mother in Mazatlan . As time passed we found that they were sons of a now deceased member of the famous California family of the same name and had inherited. from their father a charming, if somewhat run down, Hacienda with 40 hectares of land. It was known locally as La Limonera. because of the extensive lime orchard associated with it. I was captivated with the romance surrounding it and could not get it out of my mind. After returning to Tokyo it remained stuck in my memory. We returned to Mazatlan for one more vacation before fortune smiled on me. It was 1970 when I received a telephone call from Ricardo stating that he was coming to Japan with his Grandmother for the purpose of visiting Expo 70 (the worlds fair in Osaka ) and he would like to have a knowledgeable guide who spoke the language and generally knew the ropes. Needless to say I accepted the challenge. Finding hotel reservations was near impossible on such short notice. So Mona booked us into a Zen Buddhist temple near the fair. Our guests were enchanted by the charm of the place.  

One evening while we were setting around on our tatami mats sipping saki I casually asked the question, “What plans do you have for your ranch?”  Ricardo thought for a moment and told me that they had no definite plans. I said. “Well if you don’t mind, wait until I return to Mexico before you make up your mind.”  Some months later we struck a deal and Mona and I took a 5-year lease on the Limonera  

In the November,1963 edition National Geographic did an article on the ranch and described our life there as idyllic. I would not argue the point. I have always felt that every man should have the opportunity to be a King for a part of his life and this was surely as close as I could get during mine.  

I started renovation in 1971 and we moved in the following winter. There was no electricity, water, or telephone. Well, actually there was water but it was in a well that was about 30 feet in diameter and about 100 feet deep with no cover. All sorts of critters were living in the water including several turtles. I felt that certain measures should be taken before we started using it. First I arranged for a large cover of concrete to be cast. In the meanwhile I tried to pump it dry, a fools errand to say the least. I soon found that I could pump enough water to flood the entire ranch. Failing this we started coming up with ways to rid the well of wild life. Finally struck on the fishing line hook and bait trick. This worked well. I then went to Mazatlan and purchased a 100 lb bag of sodium hypochlorite. I dumped half of this chemical into the well and reserved the remaining portion to clean the storage tank that was used to provide gravity fed water to the main house. The water was heavily chlorinated for the better part of the following month. It was then checked by a reputable laboratory and pronounced, drinkable.  

One of the young ladies who worked at the ranch unfortunately decided to wash her hair during the first few weeks. The results were that her hair turned a rather sickly green.  

During the winter months the hotels along Sabalo Beach in Mazatlan became crowded with tourists who flew south like migrating birds. The Hotel Playa de Mazatlan was the center of social activities in those days and it was presided over by a charming old gentleman by the name of U.S. George. U.S. was the owner and builder of the “Playa”, and he lived in a luxurious penthouse apartment on the roof of the hotel. It was here he held weekly cocktail parties during the season; only selected hotel guests as well as some members of the expatriate community were invited. I met such people as John Wayne and Robert Mitchum at these parties. It was through these get together’s that I became well know by the people who came year after year to the Playa. Many of them later became regular guests at my Hacienda and it was also there that I met the lovely lady that is my present wife. Her name is Lenore. Lenore and her late husband Dr. Richard Bagley were members in good standing of the expatriate community. They lived aboard their yacht “Locura” in the harbor at Mazatlan . I was often invited on fishing expeditions with them and fought many marlin and sailfish from the stern of the Locura. Eventually much of the social whirl moved to the ranch and in time the gatherings fell under the sponsorship of a Canadian travel agency and became a source of income. By this time the staff of employees had risen to six. They were under the competent direction of Alfredo Villegas Sandoval.  I found Alfredo at the local middle school where he had just graduated as Valedictorian. Together we raised beans, milo, watermelons and a large vegetable garden. There was an ample supply of fruit and avocados available from the orchards as well as bananas, pineapples, guyaba and guava which all thrive at these latitudes. In addition to farming and entertaining tourists Alfredo and I started a hunting guide service. Combined, all of these activities began to put us on a sound financial basis.  

The guide service came about as a result of the fact that the ranch bordered on a large estuary called Laguna el Caimanero. This body of brackish water was about 50 miles long and 5 miles wide but only about 3 inches deep. The depth made it virtually unpenetrateable. Curiosity got the best of us so we built an airboat to find out what was hidden in this gigantic swamp. Our first exploratory trips made us realize that the estuary was a natural wildlife preserve with thousands of waterfowl that came there during the winter months. There were speckled belly geese from Alaska and about 12 species of migrating ducks and one species of indigenous ducks locally called Pechieweeles. (formally known as Fulvous tree ducks). The information was too good to keep so we leaked it to the tourist hotels in Mazatlan . To make a long story short it was not long before we had built 6 airboats and found ourselves host’s to a constant stream of hunters. Merlin Olsen, Football player from The Los Angeles Rams and William Wooster Haines, author of the book and TV series Twelve O’clock High were among our better-known guests. We constructed several duck blinds where we deposited our hunters at about 4AM daily. We retrieved them and their game and returned them to the ranch for a breakfast of roast duck by eleven.  

For the hard-core bird hunters we also went into the thorn bush for a strange and rare bird called the Chuckaucka. So far as I know the coast of Sinaloa is the only place it can be found. It is about the size of a fighting cock and lives in trees. The interesting part is the technique, which you must use for hunting this bird. It has the strange habit of closing it’s eyes and ears when it sings, so in order to get close enough for a good shot you must make no movement or noise except while the bird is singing. The hunter must freeze in whatever position he is in when the singing stops and wait for the melody to start again before he can move. Needles to say this can give rise to some amusing situations. We also hunted white wing and morning doves in season.  

During one of our parties I was chatting with Paul Modlin, an accomplished artist well known in southern Arizona , We were standing in the main room in the ranch house. The room was about 100 feet long with 20 ft ceilings. At one end there was a large fireplace and hanging over it was a map of the United States of about 100 sq ft. It had been part of the original decorations that were there when I renovated the house so I did not remove it. Paul looked at it and remarked, “That is about the ugliest dam picture I have ever seen.” I replied,” Well, I don’t know where I could find anything big enough to replace it.” “Ok, tell you what we are going to do. Get me enough lumber to build a frame and we will make you one.” Over the next two weeks we built the frame then stretched some fine Mexican linen over it and coated it with plaster of Paris, known in Mexico as “juesso”. When it had properly dried it was mounted on the teraza and an all day party was planned. In accordance with Paul’s instructions I purchased a 5 gal gariffon of Senior Kelly’s finest bootleg mescal with plenty of limes and salt. Paul showed up at about 10 o’clock with an entourage of attractive young ladies. (Paul was quite a lady’s man). I had recently received a gift of two beautiful fighting cocks from my employees and it was decided that they would become models.  I sat fascinated as Paul made wide sweeping strokes with a magic marker while assigning each of the young ladies a brush and a carefully prepared pallot.with instructions as to which of the magic markers outlined areas to apply her particular color. The end product was magnificent. Two colorful roosters locked in mortal combat surrounded by two enormous shrimp, which were symbolic of the nearby estuary. Finally somewhat unsteady from the mescal we hung it over the fireplace with great ceremony. As far as I know it is still hanging there. My wife Lenore would give a kings ransom to get her hands on it today. The problem, of course is how does one transport a panting that large?  If you are ever in the area around the Limonera, stop in and have a look.

Note: It was still hanging there in January 1987 when we passed there on Lorelei, on our way to Florida .  

The ranch is located on the banks of the Percedio River half way between two villages, Villa Union and Walamo. During the time we lived there the road was unimproved and the source of great clouds of dust during the dry season. Today it is directly across the river from the end of the north south runway of Mazatlan ’s international airport. There was bus service directly to Mazatlan . The busses were known as “Tropicales” They were open air and locally built. This was the type of vehicle that we used to transport tourists back and forth to the hotels in Mazatlan when we held the Grand Fiestas. We always made sure that there was a mariachi and his guitar aboard to entertain. At the ranch we conducted tours and put on a feast of typical Mexican food. Usually roast piglet and shrimp tamales supplied by cooks from Villa Union. We even had our own private Mariachis, known as Los Amigasos. They were from Walamo. We were often entertained by a group of talented young people from the local grade school. There was always music, dancing and plenty of margaritas. The last thing on the bill at the end of the evening was a grand fireworks display out in the orchard behind the ranch house. I had many people tell me that the party was the high point of their vacation.  

We constructed the airboats from old Corvair engines and johnboats but they were awesome underway, fully capable of speeds of 60 mph. There was a cooperativa in Villa Union that used the lagoon for shrimping. They had constructed a large weir across the entrance, which was used to keep the shrimp inside during the dry season and as a trap when the rains started. I have never seen shrimp that large anywhere in the world; some were close to 1 ft long. As you might imagine they had a serious poaching problem around the lagoon. The Mexican government went so far as to assign a contingent of marines to control the poaching, but their hands were tied because moving around in the swamp was quite difficult, especially at night, which is when the poachers were most active. I gave the officials from the coop a ride in one of my airboats and they were fascinated. Soon I was constructing one especially for the Marines. I should mention here that handling one of these boats looks easy but don’t let that fool you. I volunteered to teach one of them to operate the craft but was turned down with confident looks and smiles. It was with great apprehension that I delivered the boat into the hands of their appointed pilot. My fears were soon bourn out. The second day after the delivery I received desperate call for help. I jumped into one of my airboats and hurried off to their fish-camp deep in the swamp. When I got there I found the johnboat sitting on the bottom firmly impaled on a rather large log not to mention several soggy and muddy Marines looking very unhappy. Little by little the story came out. It seems that a group of poachers were working in plain sight just across from the fish-camp confident that the muddy stretch of water between them and the Marines would be adequate protection. The new secret weapon was fired up and several Marines hopped aboard. At this point I should tell you about one strange characteristic of airboats. If you are going straight ahead at a good speed and you try to suddenly turn the boat continues in the same direction only sideways. Well the pilot had just gotten up to speed when he spotted the log. The end result was that they came to a rather abrupt stop and impaled themselves on the log going sideways. The stop catapulted the entire contingent in to the muddy water headfirst. Fortunately no one was hurt. I could not resist passing along a little “I told you so”. We managed to tow the boat back to the ranch and had her repaired good as new in a couple of days.   


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