Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch (3/13/2020)

You probably were not aware of an underlying theme in the last two Friday Footnotes. The Farm Boy Cavaliers, even though they were found in 30 states, got their start and was based in Minnesota. Last week we learned about the West Virginia FFA Ham, Bacon, and Egg Show and Sale. Today we are going to visit a unique agricultural education program in Texas —  the Cal Farley’s Boy Ranch.

During the next few months, we are going to tour the country learning more about agricultural, extension and rural education. If your state has a unique, historical or noteworthy program, event, activity, person, school, etc., please let me know ( It would be great if we could visit all 50 states.

The Cal Farley’s Boy Ranch

Any discussion of Cal Farley’s Boy Ranch should start with Cal Farley. Who was he and why did he start a Boys Ranch? Cal was born in Iowa and grew up in Minnesota. He playing semi-professional baseball in his teens and served in the Army during World War I. He moved to Amarillo, Texas in 1923 to play baseball with the Amarillo Gassers. He also started the Wun-Stop-Duzzit tire shop.

While in the Army, he competed as a wrestler and after the war became a professional wrestler. He was the World Welterweight Champion during the 1920s and had the distinction of having won 225 straight matches without a loss.

In the 1930s, Cal Farley was playing semiprofessional baseball by day and wrestling by night. As a ballplayer he would deliberately hit foul balls over the fence to children gathered there, knowing they could exchange these balls for a free ticket to the game. Mr. Farley realized some of these children were hanging around the ballpark when they should have been in school, and he soon found many of them came from broken homes where guidance, supervision and love often were missing.

In 1934, he started the Maverick Boys Club, an after-school program for boys in Amarillo sponsored by the Rotary Club. Mr. Farley began looking for other ways to help these children and, in the fall of 1938, Texas Panhandle rancher Julian Bivins agreed to support the cause. Bivins donated about 120 acres of land 36 miles northwest of Amarillo. In March of 1939, Mr. Farley established the Boys Ranch at the site, which long before had been home to Tascosa, a raucous pioneer town. On land that once was known for gunfights and barroom brawls, Boys Ranch residents learned the value of integrity and an honest day’s work (

The Boys Ranch population started with 9 boys (photo below) but quickly grew to 25 by 1941. Farley provided education and support for “the boy nobody wanted” and gave them “a shirttail to hang to.” Mr. Farley sought to bolster the boys’ social education by hosting a rodeo. About one hundred people showed up, but the idea took root. Now, thousands attend the annual Boys Ranch Rodeo held during the Labor Day weekend. By 1949 the population had grown to about 100 boys. During the 1940s Mr. Farley sold his tire shop to devote full time to the Boys Ranch.

During the 1940s the ranch gained national attention through such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post and Reader’s Digest. In 1946 it received its biggest boost when it became the subject of the MGM movie Boys Ranch. Such celebrities as Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunny, J. Edgar Hoover, and Roy Rogers were among the ranch’s friends and supporters (

By 1966 more than 1,400 acres had been added to the ranch, which cared for 346 formerly homeless boys between the ages of four and eighteen, from thirty-seven states. The boys lived in eleven dormitories, nine of which housed thirty-six boys and two staff families each, and two of which housed the youngest boys.

Cal Farley

In 1967, during a church service at the ranch’s chapel, Cal Farley suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and passed away at the age of 71. His wife, Mimi, died a month later. After the death of Cal and Mimi, the ranch was run by their daughter and son-in-law, Gene and Sherman Harriman.

Please watch this short video (less than 2 minutes) of a former student (1971-1981) from Boys Ranch. He states, “if it wasn’t for Boys Ranch he would probably be in prison”

By 1973 2,500 boys from every state and several foreign countries had been educated, trained, and cared for at the ranch without cost to any governmental, church, or civic agency. In April 1987 Girlstown, U.S.A., merged with Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch.

In 1989, the City of Amarillo renamed the Coliseum part of the Amarillo Civic Center after Farley. In 1996, Farley was honored by the United States Postal Service with a Great Americans series 32¢ postage stamp.

The Boys Ranch Today
Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch is still in operation and its mission hasn’t changed much over time. It is a residential community open to at-risk children ages 5 to 18. In the early days, the boys lived in dorms. Today the residents live in cottages with each cottage having 8-12 residents and a set of house parents. More than 9,000 youngsters have lived on the Ranch since its start. The children enjoy a variety of academic, vocational, spiritual and other activities to help them become responsible, resilient young people. Today, about 300 children live at Boys Ranch during the year.

The Boys Ranch is the home to the Boys Ranch Independent School District. There are three schools on the campus – Mimi Farley Elementary School, Blakemore Middle School, and Boys Ranch High School. There are around 200 students in the high school which encompasses grades 9-12.

There is an agricultural education program in the high school. The teacher is Scotty Wright. He taught 4 years in Stratford and has been teaching at Boys Ranch for 8 years. Scotty started off at South Plains College where he was a member of their Livestock Judging team. He graduated from Oklahoma Panhandle State and went on to West Texas A& M to get teacher certification.

Scotty has judged numerous stock shows across Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, and California. He is also a swine classifier for the New Mexico State Fair. His wife has lived at Boys Ranch for over 30 years because both her parents work for Boys Ranch. She graduated from Boys Ranch and received a basketball scholarship from York College in Nebraska, where she played all four years. She teaches 3-5 math and her mom is the elementary librarian and her dad is in charge of campus operations.

I asked Scotty to tell us about the Ag Ed program at Boys Ranch. Here is what he had to say:

Boys Ranch has changed a lot of the course of the years. Like most places, times and state regulations dictate those changes. While we may not run everything the same as they did 30-40 years ago, a lot of the core values and beliefs remain the same. Cal Farleys is still a child care facility that bases its beliefs on a Christian background. We have around 300 students from K-12 enrolled.

Students are able to do many of the same things as they would at any other school such as FFA, football, basketball, track, cross country , wrestling etc. We also have many kids involved in the BBQ club where they are on teams and cook different meats and deserts. Last year our FFA chapter built the smoker that they used and it went on to compete in their competitions and eventually won state for the best built smoker. We have also won blue ribbons at the San Antonio Ag Mechanics contest three times with projects that students have made, such as a rotisserie smoker on a trailer ( it also was Grand overall project at Tri-State fair that year), miniature chuckwagon smoker and a mudroom bench.

In addition to the Ag Mechanics, we have students heavily involved in showing livestock, judging teams as well as other CDE/LDE competitions. We have a stock show here at Boys Ranch the Tuesday before Thanksgiving each year. This allows them to practice before going to county, Ft Worth and Houston. Our students have had lots of success at all levels with their projects including the Grand sheep, Reserve grand goat, and Grand and Reserve Grand pigs at this year’s county show. They also won all three species in showmanship. Those same kids went to Ft Worth where we had one win its class in the pig show and three others place in the top 5. We will have a group competing next week at the Houston Stock show (Curators note: Because of the Coronavirus the Houston Stock Show has been canceled).

We have kids compete and win in the job interview, extemporaneous speaking, prepared speaking, livestock judging and creed speaking contests. Many of these teams have won district and placed in the top five at Area.

We are currently in the process of getting a new 60 x 160 show barn built that would house 32 pigs and 8 sheep/goats. It would also be where we would host our Boys Ranch show at instead of the older facility now. The barn would come equipped with a walking arena, automatic waterers and wash racks for the animals. We hope to have this built by the end of 2020 if all goes well. It would increase our ability to help about 15 more students have animals than we currently are capable of.

Many have asked why we do not show cattle. The answer is fairly simple. Cattle are a long-term project, cost more money and require more time than others do. While students did show cattle here years ago, the dynamics of how long students are at Boys Ranch has also changed. Many were here for several years once they came and that is not the case anymore. The goal of the kids now is reunification with family and that might be two months or five years. Each case is different. It is for these reasons that we chose to stick with the smaller animal projects that are shorter-term in hopes that we can be successful and have more students with a show project.

We currently have about 62 kids go through my classes each day. We offer principles of ag, livestock production, small animal/ equine science, and Ag mechanics. They also have the opportunity to take intro to welding, advanced welding, tiny house construction, woodworking as well as robotics and 3- D printing. When you look at all that students have to choose from, its easy to see how great that Cal Farleys is for them and the many life-changing opportunities that they can choose from.

I would encourage you to watch this interview with Scotty. It is less than two minutes long.
Concluding Remarks

In the center of Boys Ranch stands a memorial to its founder, who dedicated his life to helping “the bottom ten percent of the Nation’s youth.” As a high school agriculture teacher, I had some very talented students, but I also had those in the bottom ten percent. Regardless of the background and ability of our students, we can and should endeavor to make an impact on each student’s life. PLEASE watch this interview of one of Scotty’s students – It shows the impact that an agriculture teacher has on a student. Next week we will tell the story of three former students from Cal Farley’s Boy Ranch. Stay Tuned.