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Preserving President Reagan’s daily drives at Rancho del Cielo

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - California's gubernatorial recall election put a renewed focus on the leader of the Golden State and perhaps for some, a longing for California's 33rd governor-turned-president and part-time Santa Barbara County resident, Ronald Reagan.

While back at the family ranch in the hills above Refugio, President Reagan preferred to tool around behind the wheel of his own jeeps, trucks and tractor over limos. A red 1962 Willy's Jeep CJ-6 was his favorite.

A crew of preservationists and car lovers recently made the trek up to Rancho del Cielo, also known as the "Western White House" during Reagan's years in office.

(Beth Farnsworth/KEYT)

"So, everything was left exactly how the Reagans left it," said Eloise Smith, Curator of the Reagan Ranch. "Mrs. Reagan locked up the doors and handed us the keys in 1998."

Everything in its place, from the pillow cases and toothbrushes, to the late-president's fleet of daily drives, tucked away in buildings and barns.

(Beth Farnsworth/KEYT)

"We have a Humvee that we're working on right now," said Dana Newquist, a classic car collector and aficionado in Santa Barbara. "We've got a pickup truck, we've got his Subaru, we've got a tractor over here."

The 1986 Secret Service Humvee – and a handful of agents – followed the Reagans anytime they explored the ranch. 

(Beth Farnsworth/KEYT)

Newquist and the Young America's Foundation helped organize the day-long outing with a patriotic crew of more than a dozen. 

Santa Barbara detailing expert, Woody Robinson, led the power-washing pack.

"It's important for many reasons," said Newquist. "Reagan never bought anything new. He always bought everything used and some of the vehicles were actually gifted to Reagan."

That included a 1986 Ford 3610 Tractor gifted to Reagan on his 75th birthday by 31 of his closest friends, including actor Jimmy Stewart.

(Beth Farnsworth/KEYT)

"Everything up here is really special to me because I like things that are original and untouched by the wrong hands," said Roy Miller, an expert on classic automobiles and collectables.

Like Newquist, Miller is known for his expertise in classic automobiles. He said he had a deep respect for those at the Reagan Ranch covered in dirt.

"Driving up here, I couldn't help but think about having the Queen of England up here because it isn't what you'd expect. There's nothing royal about this facility. It's genuine. And it's an honor to be here," said Miller. 

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Margaret Thatcher, and Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev were among the dignitaries and celebrities welcomed to the ranch. The late-President Reagan and the late-First Lady, Nancy, loved playing tour guide across the 670 pristine acres in the mountains high above Santa Barbara and Goleta. 

"People got in these very basic vehicles with four-wheel drive and they're conquering the world, so to speak," said Miller. 

Although, Smith shared that not everyone appreciated the Ranch's rustic simplicity. 

(Beth Farnsworth/KEYT)

"Gorbachev walked up to the house and said, 'Why are we at the servants' quarters? Where's the palace?' But, of course, President Reagan was such a humble man, that that was his home. That's what he chose to live in. The leader of the free world chose to live in 1,800 square feet," said Smith.

To some extent, though, the President had to keep himself in check. 

Before he became president, Ronald Reagan used to tool around in a Subaru Brat and drive it up to Rancho del Cielo. However, after he became president, that was no longer OK: driving a foreign-made car. So, he switched to his favorite American-made Willys Jeep.

A one-word description by broadcast journalist Barbara Walters quickly elevated the status of that Jeep.

"He (Reagan) took her for a trip around the Ranch in that vehicle for her Thanksgiving Day special, which was really sweet and it became a national icon because she called it a "scroungy jeep" -- the "scroungiest" vehicle she'd ever been in," said Smith. "Mrs. Reagan was, of course, horrified."

So, the First Lady quickly bought a new blue Jeep Scrambler for the fleet.

"It's a privilege to be up here," said Newquist. This is, to me, this is hallowed ground. It's wonderful. Reagan loved it up here and I can see why. I do too." 

Article Topic Follows: Santa Barbara - South County
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Beth Farnsworth

Beth Farnsworth is the evening anchor for KEYT News Channel 3. To learn more about Beth, click here


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