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According to Yahoo Maps, it is exactly three hundred and sixty-six point two miles from my front door to Disneyland's front door. And if I'm lucky, that's a trip easily made in less than eight hours. If I'm feeling particularly enthusiastic, I've been known to make it in less than six hours. That's averaging sixty-five or better. And really bending the edges of the space time continuum, there was one trip that was a little more than five and a half hours. But, that is really flying, and tends to attract unwanted "Imperial entanglements". Of course, there are times when if you're driving less than eighty, you're just in the way.

All of this mayhem takes place on the Interstate 5, between Tracy and Anaheim. The fun seems to begin when the speed limit goes up and the sun comes down. Crossing the line from the Alameda to the San Joaquin county, it's "Gentlemen, start your engines!" (And yes, that's ironic as the Altamont Raceway Park is right there as well!) That's where the speed limit goes to the maximum in the state at seventy miles per hour. But you wouldn't know it, unless the men and women of the California Highway Patrol were in the air and on the ground keeping the public under control. And that they do, quite well, thank you very much!

While I have not been a customer of their services, I know plenty of folks who have. From my perspective, it's a case of not making yourself an obvious target. Weaving in and out of traffic at an excessive rate of speed, you're just asking for attention, and they won't hesitate to give you the letter of the law.

So with all that in mind, it's southbound and down, to paraphrase the Jerry Reed song from the "Smokey & The Bandit" soundtrack. I made this trip for the first time as the section between Interstate 580 and Highway 152 (Pacheco Pass) at Santa Nella opened in the early Seventies. Before the Five, it was either 101 down the coast or 99 down the valley. Both are slow and make their way through a variety of small towns. Spending between ten and twelve hours on the road was not at all unusual before the Interstates came along.

Something you might have missed, but you can thank German efficiency from the pre-war era for our Interstate highway system. Eisenhower cabinet officials observed the success of the autobahn for moving troops and equipment during Cold War operations, and convinced our president that our country needed a similar system. Hence the creation of the Interstate Highway System, not purely as transportation, but as an element of the defense infrastructure. Just another over budget wonder that we're still paying for, designed for another era and challenged on a daily basis by a lack of capacity in many places.

In 1972, we did the Disneyland thing again and traveled the entire length of the Five from Tracy down to Highway 99 near the Grapevine, now that it was completed. It was a long way between gas stations. Any fast food like McDonalds was rare, as this route was definitely not through population centers. Today, it's a different story as bedroom communities for the Bay Area dot that first section. So we tended to pack lunches and drank a lot of water and Kool-Aid from the Coleman cooler.

One of the first places to spring up was Anderson's at Santa Nella. It's more or less a copy of the original location of Anderson's Pea Soup on Highway 101 in Buellton. (And it has it's own Disney connection ... from their web pages, " Robert (Anderson) commissioned Disney-trained artist Milt Neil to re-draw the two cartoon chefs to use for promotion and they became Pea Soup Andersen's trademark. The big fellow is shown having all the fun and the easy side of the work, as the little one holds the chisel, looking sad and a bit frightened, always in danger of the big mallet. A contest was held and from thousands of entries the names Hap-pea and Pea-Wee were chosen.") My first trip to Disneyland in the summer of 1965 included a stop in San Luis Obispo to the north and then in Buellton as well. I don't recall eating there, however.

Throw in the Union Oil 76 Truck Stop, and that's all I remember from that first time through the area. Later years saw other businesses spring up and now there's a full selection of burger foundry's and gas stations along with motels a plenty.

That's pretty much the case along the rest of I-5 south. When the road first opened, you really paid attention to your vehicles gas gauge. And later when diesel vehicles jumped into the consumer arena, that became another option of choice. One especially memorable trip, I drove a rented diesel-powered Oldsmobile sedan down and back that did not have a working speedometer. That's the fastest trip I have made to date. We left Disneyland at 2:00 p.m., stopped at Anderson's for an hour for dinner, and still made it home to Pleasant Hill (another 30 miles up the road) in less than seven hours, arriving before 9:00 p.m.! But, oh, that fuel mileage! I don't recall it being much better than gasoline for that trip. No economy there ...

The weapon or meal of choice (out of a full menu wither in the coffee shop or restaurant) at Anderson's is, of course, the split pea soup. You can simply enjoy a cup or a bowl, or for those with hearty appetites, there is the "Travelers Special". It's "all-you-can-eat" soup, a variety of fresh breads, and a drink (which can be a somewhat interesting milkshake -- that's ice cream and milk with flavoring, as it's called here in California; not the "cabinet" as I'm told it's called in Rhode Island.) I've managed to enjoy my share of bowls over the years, somewhere in the less than 100 range, I think ...

Before we moved to Livermore, this was about ninety minutes from home. (Now, it's seventy two odd miles and about an hour.) So it was a good chance to pull over and stretch the legs, use the restroom and get a soda before continuing on south or north. Usually a meal stop was in order if the time was right. But if not, it was on down the road.

Another 77 miles down the Five, and it's the exit for Coalinga. A funny name for an interesting town. Back in the early days when the Southern Pacific was looking to build it's railroad to connect San Francisco with Los Angeles, one option considered was to run a line south from San Jose, through Hollister, up and over the Coast Range of mountains and connect up with another line going down the San Joaquin valley. The lines from both sides of the mountains were completed, but crossing was abandoned. On the east side of the range, a small town sprang up at what was supposed to be a water and fuel station for the locomotives. Coaling Station "A" became better known as Coalinga. The area saw a boom and later bust of it's own as oil was discovered along the west side of the valley. It's a nice little town, and lot's going on ...

1977 was a good year. I met my future wife, graduated high school, and enjoyed a mid-summer visit to Disneyland. Rather than spend the long drive in the Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon with my parents, and four other siblings, I managed to fly down from Oakland to Ontario, and managed to ride Amtrak from San Bernadino to LA and then on to Martinez. As much as I like the train, I have only ridden this route a total of four times. This first trip was aboard the Southwest Limited (now the Southwest Chief) for the short haul and then the Coast Starlight for the rest of the way. I made an identical trip a few years later when returning my sister and her Volkswagen Beetle to Cal Poly Pomona. (Okay, so it was an excuse to go for the train ride home ...) Then Michele and I rode the Starlight down and back on our honeymoon in April of 1986. I've made a few other trips down by rail on the San Joaquin with it's bus connections to various LA basin locations, including the Disneyland hotel.

If memory serves, I made my first visit to Harris Ranch the following summer. The Star Trek hobby got me involved with a bunch of folks volunteering at various conventions. One group I shared time with was the crew for a stage illusion based on the original series transporter effect. Under the right circumstances, it was pretty good and you couldn't see how it was done. One event we were going to set up and perform at was at the Anaheim Convention Center. So one the trip down and back, I'm fairly certain we made a stop at I-5 and Highway 198 in Coalinga. Since then, it's a regular event on almost any trip down the Five.

Now according to their web pages, the family has been involved in ranching in the area since 1937, and they opened the doors on the restaurant and hotel complex in 1977. Sharing their passions for good food and good times, they've created a great place. Whether for a quick stop to refuel your vehicle and or your body, or for the chance to linger over a meal at one of the four opportunities, or spend the night or longer, they have you covered! And if you're capable, you can even fly in to this place! A landing strip adjacent to the hotel offers pilots the perfect place for lunch. One friend says that whenever he needs to spend some hours keeping himself current, this is his favorite destination.

And if you need another excuse to stop, the place has a great store offering all of the great food products from Harris Ranch along with a Country Store and bakery. On a number of trips, I've made purchases of all kinds for birthdays, holidays and just plain fun. One item of note was the Pepper Patch Tipsy Cake. As the web page says, "To make the award-winning Tipsy Cake, we mix pure butter, fresh eggs, new crop pecans and plump raisins, bake 'till golden, and then soak the whole cake in premium Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey." Or as a friend said while enjoying this cake with his cup of coffee at the local emporium, "It's only nine o'clock in the morning and this cake is seriously kicking my ass!" Sadly, the last time I passed through Coalinga, they were no longer selling the cake there ... It made one heck of great gift!

Now the four places to eat ... The Horseshoe Bar "... is the more casual option for a decent meal. Relax by the fireplace, or outside by the fountain. Either way, you can watch any one of our dozen televisions, or enjoy live entertainment on select nights." (Spent an enjoyable evening here watching Monday Night Football with all the trimmings ...) The Jockey Club ... "is a favorite establishment among ranchers and local business professionals. Located in our award winning, beautifully appointed Steakhouse, enjoy the ambiance and rich history of the Harris Farm Thoroughbred racing memorabilia. This exclusive, reservation only lunch club, offers small intimate dining areas, perfect for business discussions or private celebrations. Our Executive Chef shares his imaginative and innovative approach to fine dining through his weekly gourmet lunch creations." Then there is the Steak House. It's one place I have yet to enjoy, mostly because I fear having to have a room to sleep off a meal here.

But my place of choice here is the Ranch Kitchen. I've enjoyed breakfast (eggs and chile rellenos, yumola!), lunch (how about a tri-tip club sandwich?), dinner (beef is best!) and even a late night snack (we're talking serious pie here) and cup of coffee ... A look at the menu gives you an idea of just how industrial a place this is. We are not talking a place for light eaters. The menu does offer choices for smaller appetites. But if you're hungry, they have you covered!

Now if you've driven the Five you can't help but notice the place. The exit north (of Harris Ranch) is the junction of State Route 33, Highway 145 and the Five. It's also the location of the Harris Ranch feedlot. That means a large number of cattle and tons of manure. That smell is one powerful odor. If you're caught unaware, likely it will be with you for more than a few miles. Usually, I turn the air conditioning full up and recirculate the inside air, keeping the odor to a minimum. Sometimes, even that won't help.

But beef is really what this is all about. Harris Ranch beef is some of the best available in the Golden State. I've enjoyed some fine Tri-Tip during a few meals. But it is the Pot Roast that is my entrée of choice. Now it's a sentimental favorite with me anyway. Something about my grandmother and mother both offering it for Sunday dinners. The kind where it just falls apart on the fork, tender and juicy, served with a fresh steamed vegetable and a mound of mashed potatoes with gravy. Pardon me, while I drool at the memories for a few minutes ...




It's always a great moment to pull in to the parking lot here and find the grill stoked up out in front of the place. Just the smell of all that meat cooking is enough to make me stop, no questions asked!

Stepping inside, you check in at the desk in front of the Ranch Kitchen. (Take the Virtual Tour for a look at the place!) The wait isn't very long -- I've never had one more than thirty minutes -- and then you're seated at a table or in a booth inside. On your way in, you pass by some of the local produce displayed, and it is for sale. The décor is just what you would expect with photo's and artifacts from various things connected with the family's past. One favorite room has a great display of vintage fruit crate labels. (My personal favorite is "Big Game" showing a Stanford football player (from the Twenties) superimposed above Stanford Stadium.

The staff is part of the success here. I can say in all honesty that these folks do this right. We've always been asked about a favorite beverage (both alcoholic and non) soon after being seated, and had our meal choices taken in quick order. And the kitchen staff doesn't disappoint either; as food somehow seems to end up on our tables quickly.

For me, the Pot Roast or the Pot Roast Sandwich are the usual suspects. This slow roasted tender brisket of beef is served with a selection of fresh steamed vegetables and some great mashed potatoes and gravy. The Pot Roast Sandwich came on fantastic toasted garlic sourdough bread, instead of potatoes, the last time I enjoyed it! I suspect one could even order Pot Roast and eggs for breakfast, but I haven't made that leap quite yet.

But you don't need to drive all that way, just for pot roast. As part of their retail efforts, Pot Roast is one of the items easily available from Harris Ranch -- either by mail order or from a local retailer. On several train trips, including a short afternoon tour a few months back, we've made use of it because of the simplicity of preparation. Fully cooked entrees needing a short time for preparation also include Beef Stew, Tri-Tip Roast, Swiss Steak, Beef Stroganoff and Short Ribs.

If the pre-cooked entrees don't quite hit the spot, they don't disappoint. Lots of other great beef packages are available from the web pages. These include select steaks (Filet Mignon, New York Striploin, Sirloins, Porterhouse, Rib Eye and T-Bone cuts) and beef roasts (Santa Maria Tri-Tip, Chipotle Tri-Tip, Beer 'n' Spice Tri-Tip, Tri-Tip, Tri-Tip Lovers Special, Santa Maria Barbecue, Corned Beef Brisket, Corned Beef Boneless Round, Boneless Prime Rib, 3 Bone-In Prime Rib Roast, 4 Bone-In Prime Rib Roast, and the 7 Bone-In Prime Rib Roast!)

And they have lots of other great goodies to tempt you to go along with all of this from bakery goods right down to hats, t-shirts and aprons, so you're all set to handle the next barbecue on your own spread ...

Now, I'll admit that beef is not for everyone. But if you're like me and enjoy a good slab of cow now and then, a stop here on your next trip down the Five will be worth your time. Check out the menu for the Ranch Kitchen. There's a great selection of things to tempt your palate.

So there you have another gastronomic tale from the open road. It's been almost four months since Roger made the pilgrimage, and he's probably about ready for another road trip, just to fill up.

Next week? Finally, it's a good look at the life and art of a really nice guy, and a big influence on the Southern California car culture with hot rods, theme parks, and more tales of big food. Don't miss it!

About Roger's Amazon Honor System Paybox ... here's the shamless plug! If you've enjoyed one of these columns, you can show your appreciation by dropping a buck or two in the box. It doesn't hurt much, and it keeps him plugging away every week for another nugget of information to share.

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