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The Dude Ranch Years

The following is a reprint of an article we ran several years ago:

The Dude Ranch Years, 1931-1960.
William McGee was a wrangler at the Flying ME dude ranch in Franktown for several years from 1947 on. His book, The Divorce Seekers, written in 2004 gives a fun account of ranch life, the divorcees, Washoe Valley, Virginia City and Lake Tahoe in the post-war 1940’s.  Along with the divorcees were wealthy socialites and others such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Clark Gable who found the valley, its ranches and inhabitants endearing. Famous (at the time) Washoe Valley residents were Gus Bundy, artist and photographer, and Will James “cowboy artist” and writer. The book has many photos of life around the area in the 1940’s and is available at local bookstores.

In 1931, Nevada reduced the residency requirement for divorces to 6 weeks and the grounds to “mental cruelty” which covered everything. This made Nevada the “Go To” place for divorce. A woman who wished to avoid the embarrassment of getting a divorce in her home town could be fairly incognito in sparsely populated Nevada. Thus, this route was popular with many women from prominent families. Many made the choice to stay in Reno for their 6 weeks at hotel/casinos like the Mapes and tough it out in the distractions of Reno nightlife. Others, who could take a lemon and make lemonade, stayed outside of town in a dude ranch and made a vacation out of it. This provided quite a business for many years and there were dude ranches throughout the area, mainly in Verdi, Pyramid Lake and especially south Reno and Washoe Valley. McGee recalls entertaining the guests with trail rides around Washoe Lake, to Virginia City via Jumbo Grade and up through Little Valley to Marlette Lake. A favorite outing involved taking a pickup full of women in the back to the present location of New Washoe City and racing through the sagebrush while the ladies took potshots at jackrabbits with a .22 rifle. He relates that the hares were never in much danger. Other outings involved bar hopping in either Virginia City or Carson City. These outings were accomplished in the ranch’s 1948 Chrysler convertible- the model that was covered with real wood trim on the body.  Other activities involved lounging at the pool, photography and making new friends. The book covers alot of the goings on around the area and is a fun read.


  1. James Giorgi says:

    During the summer of 1944, while in the Navy, I was assigned to a Torpedo Retriving Unit which was kocated at Sutcliff NV. The Navy had taken over the Pyramid Lake Dude Ranch with a fleet of small boats and there, provided the maintenance of “targets” for Fallon based sqadrons.

    1. admin says:

      That’s a cool bit of history. I have heard of that one up there. Thanks!

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