Butcher Ranch – Part Three
Posted on July 11, 2014
By the time we broke ground, Milton had already cleared many of the choked acres from the twisted mesquite, opening vistas to graceful oaks on rolling grassy knolls no one knew were there. When built, the house was to be a simple homage to the ascetic Sunday houses of early German Settlers. It was to be an object in the landscape; a white sculpture among the tall ochre-colored prairie grasses. It was to recall his love for boats, so it was anchored by a massive rudder of a chimney on one end and a stairway and balcony accessing the guest room was the wooden prow on the other. It was small, just 1200 square feet. The main program fit into a rectangle of a story and a half of white plaster with dormers protruding above the clean metal roof, with the kitchen and laundry slipped into a wooden “saddlebag” on the front of the house and a wide sleeping porch on the back. Old oak lintels from his previous ranch were reused to adorn the windows.
The interior was divided into thirds; one third accommodating a bedroom above and below, and the other two thirds, a lofty living space bracketed on one end by the stairway and the other by a large simple fireplace with a limestone lintel incised by a stone carver with tentacles of the mustang grape choking the massive oak nearby. The floor was large slabs of red sandstone to emulate the dirt floors of the pioneers and the ceiling was of soft amber antique longleaf pine, adorned with two custom designed iron chandeliers. The kitchen, with countertops made from the corpses of mesquite trees was tucked away to the side. Dormers lit the space with natural light from above and large French doors opened onto a broad screened porch where murphy beds could accommodate sleeping outdoors on breezy nights.
Milton was proud of this little get-away. He carefully placed his art, antique Navaho rugs, and Shiva lingam, egg shaped stones polished by their tumble down the Ganges and foretold to bring virility to their owner. Then he carefully placed an old ram’s skull on the mantle. The little house won my first design award and was shown on the pages of several magazines to follow. I came back to visit Milton several times to have a steak and a beer on the porch, listening to the coyotes howl in the distance and hear his stories of his fight with polio and teaching himself to walk again, of the whisky-fueled shenanigans of his youth and of how he met the love of his life, Gale, a Catholic nun whom he made his wife. He always had a story (Busta Hooty remained a character in many), and he always made me laugh- good hearty laughs.
As my firm grew, my trips out to the ranch became fewer and fewer and it had been some time since my last beer with Milton when my book finally came out. Excited to show that his little ranch house had graced the pages, I promptly sent off a book. A few days later, I received a kind note in the mail from his wife, Milton was gone- passed a couple of years earlier. I thank Milton to this day for the opportunity that he gave a young architect, to the levity he gave life, and to the lesson of never judging an old book by its dusty coveralls. Milton is gone, but his little house on the prairie remains.