Ever watch the "Spin and Marty" serials on "The Mickey Mouse Club" and wish you could visit the Triple R Ranch? Well, that was one of my childhood goals, but little did I dream while growing up in Brooklyn that one day I would actually find it.

I started working for Disney in 1976, and much to my surprise, one of my first projects was at Disney's Golden Oak Ranch, which was the real-life site used for the Triple R. The ranch is located on Placerita Canyon Road in Newhall, California, which is less than a one-hour drive from the heart of Los Angeles. To reach the ranch, you head north out of Los Angeles on Interstate 5, then continue onto Route 14. Just one or two exits later is Placerita Canyon Road. Exit and turn right, then start looking for the entrance to the ranch. It will be about 2 miles ahead on the left.

A word to the wise: stay out of the ranch! It is private property and the rule is strictly enforced. However, if you pass by the entrance, you can get a nice view of the town built for "Roots II". Go just a little further still to the Placerita Canyon Nature Center, for there's a trail up to the edge of the ranch where you can spot the tree the ranch was named after (keep reading for more information on that.)

When I first visited the ranch, filming had just been completed on segments of "Pete's Dragon", and there were road signs all over for the fictitious town of "Passamaquody". There was also a huge pile of lumber, the remnants of Mame's house from the Lucille Ball version of "Mame". But, best of all, there were the buildings of the Triple R! The ranch foreman's office is in the building that was seen as Logan's office, and the bunkhouse and barn were there as well.

One other very familiar structure still stands there today.  It's a covered bridge - probably the only one in southern California - spanning a man-made stream.  This bridge has been in countless movies, tv shows and commercials; you can spot it in Disney films like "Follow Me, Boys!" with Fred MacMurray and non-Disney productions such as "Bonanza" and "The Greatest American Hero".  Look for it below.

The ranch was used then, and now, as an executive retreat. There's a very comfortable house and pool for visitors. In fact, there's two pools, but you will have to look long and hard to find the old one; it was damaged in the 1971 earthquake and filled in, but it was still there in 1976, half buried by brush.

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I hope that gives you some information on the ranch. For more, here's an article that appeared in the January 21, 1983 edition of the "Disney Newsreel", an employee publication:


The Golden Oak Ranch: Disney's Western Frontier

In 1849, John A. Sutter, a 19th-century pioneer trader, discovered gold at his sawmill in the Sacramento Valley. The news spread like wildfire, and thousands of "forty-niners" poured into California from all parts of the world. Few people realize, however, that while this was the most well-known California gold rush, it was not really the first.

In 1842, seven years prior to Sutter's famous gold strike, a rancher named Francisco Lopez was gathering wild onions beneath an oak tree on his Placerita Canyon ranch. While pulling the onions from the fertile soil, Francisco found a handful of shiny gold nuggets caught in their roots, and it was this discovery that set off California's first gold rush. For two years miners, prospectors, Chinese laborers, and outlaws flocked to the canyon to seek their fortunes.

golden oak 1.jpg (21400 bytes)The gold soon ran out, however, and the canyon returned to its tranquil state. More than 100 years later, Walt Disney Productions needed a place to film the Triple R Ranch scenes for the Mickey Mouse Club's "Spin and Marty" series. Prior to that time, we had been traveling long distances to do location shooting for our live-action films, but when we began doing television shows as well, it became necessary to find a more economical location site close to the Studio.

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In the late 1950's we discovered the Golden Oak Ranch, named for the gold that Francisco Lopez discovered at the base of the oak tree, and made arrangements to film there. About that same time, many of the ranches that other movie studios had been using to film their exterior scenes were gradually being sub-divided, and Walt Disney feared that the motion picture ranches might cease to exist. So, in 1959, he purchased the 315-acre Golden Oak Ranch for $300,000. During the next five years, the Company also bought additional land around the ranch, enlarging the area to its present 691 acres.

The added acreage was necessary to insure unhindered vistas in all directions so movies set in the 1800's wouldn't show condominiums, T.V. antennas, cars or other evidence of 20th-century life in the background. The Company worked closely with the State of California when a portion of the western border of the ranch was purchased for the Antelope Valley Freeway so that it didn't intrude into the film settings and motorists wouldn't rear end their fellow travelers while glimpsing a Civil War battle raging on an adjacent meadow.

golden oak 3.jpg (26982 bytes)The first movie that was filmed on the ranch after Disney purchased it was "Toby Tyler". Since that time it has been the site for numerous films, T.V. shows, and commercials produced by Disney as well as other major studios. In addition to Disney movies, including ''The Apple Dumpling Gang," "Treasure of Matecumbe," ''Pete's Dragon," and others, the Ranch has been used for "Roots II", "Bonanza," "Little House on the Prairie," "The Waltons,'' "The Muppet Movie," ''The Electric Horseman," Colonel Sanders chicken commercials, and much more.

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The ranch itself has gone through many changes over the years. In 1965, 38 acres were set aside by Walt Disney for construction of the Cal Arts campus, but eventually the school was built in Valencia instead. Also in the 1960's, the ranch was home for a herd of eight buffalo. Later Walt donated the buffalo to the William S. Hart State Park in Newhall, where they could be viewed and enjoyed by visitors to the park. Then in the 1970's, several development concepts were proposed for the ranch, including a residential community and a themed village and outdoor recreational center. None of these ideas was ever seriously considered, however.

Today the ranch is maintained by Pat Patterson, the foreman, and his assistant, Jesus Guerrero, who are the only two people that live on the ranch. They are responsible for keeping the ranch in working order, mowing its meadows, pruning, caring for livestock, and keeping our lessees within their bounds.

golden oak 5.jpg (27748 bytes)Besides being an inexpensive and convenient place to do our exterior filming, the real beauty of the ranch is its diversity. Within its 691 acres, there are permanent rural town sets, ''Roots Street" - which was built for "Roots II," several houses and barns, a lake with a covered bridge, sprawling meadows, majestic oak trees, creeks, and water falls - a virtual dreamland for almost any outdoor filming need. The ranch even has its own wildlife - beautiful peacocks run wild, ducks swim in the lake, and a few horses live in the stables.

Over the last 24 years, the prediction Walt Disney made in 1959 has come true. The large Fox and Paramount ranches near Malibu have been sold, and the once-popular Albertson Ranch is now covered with houses. The Golden Oak Ranch has become practically the only surviving movie ranch, and other Hollywood production companies are very grateful that Disney has made it available to them. Once again, Walt's intuition was right, and thanks to his great foresight, Disney and the other studios still have a beautiful wilderness area for their exterior filming needs.

 


Here are some pictures from June 2002 of the Golden Oak Ranch, taken from Placerita Canyon Road.


The main gate to the Ranch, with two large signs warning away uninvited visitors.

I wouldn't drop by without an invitation!

This western town was originally built for Roots 2.

This unusual looking track was supposedly built to test the vehicles for the new World of Motion attraction at Epcot.

Want more information on Disney films and television shows filmed at the Golden Oak Ranch?
Check out my book "The Wonderful World of Disney Television", published by Disney in 1997.


Here's some information on the official Disney sites for Golden Oak Ranch:

Main Disney page on the Ranch
Pictures of the Ranch

For more information or rental rates and policies, please call Walt Disney Studios Production Services at (818)560-5298.


You can also check out an interesting website on the ranch by clicking here.

Finally, you can send me an e-mail if you have any questions.

Bill Cotter
July 14, 2002