Fonticulus Fides

Friday, May 05, 2006

Texas Ranch House

Did you watch this series on PBS? If not, they’re probably replaying it on your local station sometime this weekend.

I’m a sucker for shows like that. I love American history, especially when delivered in interactive form (which is why I love visiting historic sites). I have often wished I could step into a time machine and head back to a given era, just so I could see if I could hack it. And that’s what this “house” series is like on PBS.

“The 1900 House” was the first edition, and I immediately fell in love with the format of the show. A modern family is “sent back in time” to live as our ancestors did, with period clothing, food, tools, etc. It’s interesting to see how different people struggle with different aspects. Invariably, modern women feel oppressed by the roles of their historic forebears. They resist the clothing, the relentless housework, the social morés, etc. I’d like to think that I could deal with the social mores and even the housework (seeing as how I don’t have a dishwasher or a garbage disposal in my 21st century life!), and that I’d adjust to the clothing, but it’s not something you know unless you get out and do it.

See why I like the series so much?

Spoilers will follow, so stop reading if you want to see the series for yourself before reading my opinion!

In “Texas Ranch House,” we have 15 people living as an 1867 ranch family and workers. Five are the family; the other ten are the workers. One woman is a servant; the other four are family. One man is family; the other nine are workers.

I know they typically get lots of applicants for these programs, and the producers do seem to take care in casting people who are eager for the experience as well as articulate enough to give good interviews. They also seemed to gravitate toward people who have a connection to the era – in this case, one of the ranch hands was a descendant of one of the founders of the Pony Express. The ranch owner’s wife was the descendant of a Texas ranch family whose mother was brutally killed by Native Americans, retaliating against the intrusion on their land.

In modern times, Mr. Bill Cooke, the ranch owner, has some sort of upper management position in a Southern California hospital (I’ve seen it listed as two different things on the Internet, so I’m not going to claim one or the other). Mrs. Lisa Cooke is a stay-at-home mom who runs the drama program at the family’s Baptist church. The three daughters – all quite beautiful -- were aged 19, 17 and 14 during filming. They are Vienna, Lacey and Hannah.

For their housekeeper, a young anthropology student who is all about “gender issues” was hired to be the “girl of all work.” I got the feeling that she was kind of set up to feel oppressed and rebellious. Had they hired a demure girl who embraced tough labor without caring whether or not she was doing “girl” tough labor or “guy” tough labor, it wouldn’t have made for very interesting footage. Sorry, Maura Finkelstein – I know you thought you were out there blazing trails, but you were really just the producers’ pawn, and you fell for it, hook, line and sinker.

The ranch staff included a curmudgeonly former military guy as foreman who was rapidly fired for picking a fight with the cook. The bunkhouse cook, who is a trained chef from New York, crumbled under the pressure of everybody expecting fantastic food while he had no clue how to manage in the rustic outdoor kitchen. (Honestly, I wouldn’t either. The only successful cook in this entire series of programs was the French chef who was hired to run the kitchen on "Manor House". He had done his homework before showing up and knew what to do. Consequently, he did a very fine job, even though he annoyed the heck out of everybody. The "1940s House" women learned to cook in the long run, which was great, but they were really unprepared.)

The bunkhouse cook was also fired rather quickly, and Shaun Terhune, the youngest cowboy, was forced to hang up his saddle and take to the kitchen.

After the foreman was fired, the only guy in the bunkhouse who had a clue, Robby Cabezuela, was promoted to foreman. He did a fine job training and leading the ranch hands, a motley mix of a couple of immigrants, a couple of local guys. One poor fellow, Ian Roberts, ended up leading the program early when he was sent news that one of his best friends was tragically killed back home.

The cowboys were far from perfect. They had moments of laziness. And how hard is it to build yourself a three-sided cart and wheel the manure away so that you don’t have a major fly infestation that endangers the health of humans and livestock alike?

That leaves us with the Cookes. They are a very nice family, the type you would love to have as your neighbors. They are all intelligent, articulate and loyal…to each other, anyway. I was appalled at their treatment of the ranch hands. When the Cookes arrived at the ranch, they directed the hands to carry their belongings a mile up the road to the house without so much as a how-do-you-do, let alone a glad-to-be-working-with-you. They completely ignored the men as if they were not men, but robots or some other sort of mindless machinery that served a purpose. That was a bad way to get started.

Unfortunately, it got worse. Mr. and Mrs. Cooke were consistently condescending to the ranch hands, and to Robby in particular, even though he was running a successful operation. They made promises and broke them. They showed amazing favoritism toward Maura and complete disdain for the work accomplished by the ranch hands.

Oh, once in a while they took little stabs at being nice to the ranch hands, but it was always in such a condescending way.

The worst of it all was what Mr. Cooke did to ranch hand Jared Ficklin. Toward the end of the project, Jared approached Mr. Cooke about wanting to buy the horse he had been riding. Mr. Cooke had bought the horse for $24. Jared wanted $25 deducted from his one and only payday in exchange for the horse. Mr. Cooke thought about it, consulted with his wife, and agreed to the deal. On payday, the horse would become Jared’s. They shook on it.

Not long after that, Robby and Jared were riding the line when they stumbled upon a Comanche camp and a couple of horses stolen from the Cooke Ranch sometime earlier.

Now, back in 1867, the Comanche were so angered by the invasion of their territory by white ranchers, they would have killed Robby and Jared on the spot. But today’s Comanche are more peace-loving. Michael, the Comanche chief, sent Robby back to Mr. Cooke to set up a negotiation for cattle vs. horses, keeping Jared hostage.

When the negotiations came, Mr. Cooke knew he was over a barrel and begrudgingly settled on trading 25 head of cattle for 4 horses. Then Michael wanted to negotiate for Jared, but Mr. Cooke refused.

Did you get that? Mr. Cooke refused to negotiate for Jared’s life, even though Michael made it plain that Jared's life with the Comanche would be very short. Mr. Cooke’s position was that he didn’t “negotiate with terrorists” (a HUGE insult to the Native Americans, since they were here first and could easily make a case that Mr. Cooke was invading THEIR nation, not the other way around).

The ranch hands were torqued. After all Jared’s hard work, Mr. Cooke didn’t care one iota about the man’s life. That’s just wrong.

In the end, the Comanche liked Jared so much (he seems to be a very nice guy), they just let him go. He returned to the ranch and completed the cattle round-up and drive successfully.

Mr. Cooke pulls some other numbers, too. When he made Shaun cook, it was on the understanding that another cook would be found so that Shaun could do the cattle drive as a cowboy. Instead, Mr. & Mrs. Cooke promote Maura, the maid, to cowboy. So all of Shaun’s hard work is rewarded with – nothing but a broken promise. That’s bad management. If your employees work hard, you reward them by upholding your end of the deal. Not that the Cookes care about honoring their promises!

Mrs. Cooke shows so much disdain for Shaun when he approaches Mr. Cooke and asks him to uphold his promise, she refers to Shaun as a “19-year-old boy…” I’d lay money on it, had anybody referred to her daughter as a “19-year-old girl” with the same amount of disgust, Mrs. Cooke would have been all over them, demanding that they recognize Vienna is a “young woman, not a girl.” But no similar respect for Shaun.

On payday, Mr. Cooke, who didn’t want to play hardball with the Comanche and didn’t want to play hardball with the Army’s cattle buyer (that guy totally gave in and gave the Cookes a smokin’ good deal that they didn’t deserve, just so they could be successful) – Mr. Cooke suddenly wanted to play hardball with the ranch hands! You know, the guys who had just made the ranch’s first cattle drive successful!

Note to managers everywhere: when your employees do a good job, you reward them. You don’t try to bilk them out of what’s coming to them.

So, the price of horses went up, way up, and Robby’s prize mount was offered at $60. Robby balked and took a lesser horse for $30. One by one, the cowboys went to see Mr. Cooke and were flabbergasted that the price of horses had gotten so high.

Then it was Jared’s turn. Remember now – Jared had a sealed deal to buy his horse on payday for $25. Remember also that Mr. Cooke had refused to negotiate for Jared’s life when he was held hostage by the Comanche, and the Comanche just let him go.

Mr. Cooke sits Jared down and tells him the deal on the horse is off because Mr. Cooke had to “buy” Jared and the horse back from the Comanche.

Are you following this?!?!?!? Unbelievable, isn’t it? Mr. Cooke refused to negotiate for Jared’s life and now he is telling a flat-out lie that he had bought Jared back! He also said something stupid about how since he bought the horse back from the Comanche, it was his horse again.

Uh, no, Mr. Cooke. It was your horse the whole time, up until payday. The day the Comanche took it, it was your horse, not Jared’s, because the deal was that Jared was buying the horse for $25 on payday. But Mr. Cooke is living in a fantasy world, and he threatens to “beat the s*** out of” Jared if he tries to take the horse. Jared says go ahead and try.

So Jared is fired, takes no money and rides away on his horse (because that was the deal – he got his horse on payday for $25). The Cookes call him a horse thief, but there is no beating the s*** out of anybody. There was never any reason to suspect that there would be, because Mr. Cooke is not a man who keeps his word. Mrs. Cooke calls him her hero and gushes about how manly she is. Good gravy -- manly?!?!?!? To treat employees so badly, to break so many promises, to threaten another human with bodily harm and then cower on the shady porch rather than stand up for what you believe in??!?!? That’s not manly, that’s pathetic.

All the other ranch hands except Maura (who is favored among the others) quit and walk out with Jared. Mrs. Cooke says, “They don’t understand – they would not have jobs if it weren’t for ranch owners.”

How can she be so clueless? It’s a two-way street, Mrs. Cooke! You wouldn’t have a ranch without ranch hands, either.

My assessment of the situation is that the Cookes are elitists. They think they deserve everything. They treat their hard-working employees like dirt. They are the type of people who look upon a waitress as somebody who brings food, not somebody who is a daugher, sister, wife, mother, student, etc. They are they type of people who ignore how busy the store clerk is and gripe about not being served properly. They are the type of people who make nasty calls to customer service, cheat their way through this and that, and then go home and say, "We are not bad people..."

Mrs. Cooke, in articles published on the Internet, said she returned home and “hugged her dishwasher.” But the men who worked their tails off all summer to make her ranch a successful one? She has nothing but disdain for them. And when the independent panel of historians assess the ranch and give her objective feedback on where she succeeded and where she failed, Mrs. Cooke just says, “Why are we reading this?” You know she’s just going to toss it off and ignore it, because that’s what elitists do.

It’s a huge problem in this country. Managers, typically in the baby boomer age bracket of 45-60, consistently treat their employees this way, offering rewards and then backing out of the deal. Demanding loyalty, but refusing to show it to the employees. Taking credit for success and refusing to properly compensate the employees who made the success possible.

I used to work for a Mr. Cooke, who suggested I wasn’t doing my job properly when he really had no clue how the job was done – which is what Mr. Cooke did to Robby and the ranch hands. My former boss promised me things and then backed out at the last minute, just like Mr. Cooke did to Shaun. In the end, he decided to get rid of me and trumped up fake charges against me, just like Mr. Cooke did to Jared. I left with my head held high, knowing that I had behaved honorably; I just was working for a bad manager. He’s the cowering one – saw him at a wedding reception last fall, and he couldn’t get out of there fast enough once he saw me. I think he knows that he did not behave honorably, and that’s why he can’t look me in the eye.

My hope is that the Cooke family will have watched themselves on television and realized their folly. I mean, how could they ignore the FACT that Mr. Cooke told the Comanche he would not negotiate for Jared’s life and then turned around and lied to Jared that he had? How could they not see the contrast between Vienna saying they were all lazing around in their underwear taking many naps during the cattle drive and Lacey crying that the men thought they didn’t do any work during the cattle drive? How could they not see the silliness of Vienna complaining that the ranch hands didn’t talk to her when Mr. Cooke had told the foreman himself that he didn’t want the hands socializing with his daughters?

And if you are a manager and watched this program, I hope it will help you gain the objectivity to step back and examine your own dealings with your staff. If they are working hard, are you acknowledging and rewarding them for their work or are you taking credit for yourself? Do you try to "get involved" and end up causing more work because you really don't know how to do what your employees do, like Mr. Cooke did on the cattle drive? Do you recognize that each employee has a life outside of the office – a spouse, kids, a home, bills, interests, etc? Do you uphold your promises or try to weasel out of them when it’s time to make good? Do you foster loyalty by taking the lead and being loyal to your employees? Do you foster respect by showing respect?

The Cookes and any of the other participants in Texas Ranch House are more than welcome to comment here, should they stumble across my blog. Not that they are likely to do so -- I'm just saying.



  • Don't forget that average CEOs nowaday receive salary + compensations more than 10 times salary of average workers. Furthermore, reduction in health care benefits, pension...have become a trent for the workers (not the CEOs). Employees are disposable (layoff, cut and deal). All in the name of profit. Middle management style similar to Mr. Cooke's is considered as leadership skill and taught at MBA schools. Who needs integrity when one always can blame the failures, mistakes on someone else, and then can always act as church goers to spin the image of "good Christian" family values?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:17 AM  

  • Thank the Maker, I thought I was taking crazy pills, after Mr. Cooke defrauded (the law student in me is shouting, "litigate!") Jared of his horse, and I felt like, simply by having watched, I had to take a long shower. Now I see I'm not alone, sweet. As for Mr. Cooke, wouldn't you say his problem wasn't that he's evil, but rather spineless? I mean he at first wanted to accept Robby's kind offer to escort the daughters & bury the hatchet, till the boss vetoed that idea...

    By Blogger Lost in Academia, at 1:21 PM  

  • Anon, you are totally right about CEO compensation and employees being considered "expendable." Happens in small businesses, too. My husband is on his second employer in a row who "doesn't believe in raises." The first one told him flat out to quit and go elsewhere, because he could find another sucker to work for the same pay. The current one is a little nicer -- he actually thanked my husband for coming up with new sources of revenue...before his wife started hen-pecking him to leave my husband in charge of the store and get another job so they could be Rich Richer Richest. That's when my husband was demoted out of his managerial role and told, "You've got a family, so I'll understand if you quit." Well, why can't my husband work at a job he loves for a boss he likes and just be given basic cost-of-living wages for being a good employee? Why does he have to quit and find another job when he is doing this one so well and everybody likes him and he has a spotless record?

    Lost, at first I thought Mr. Cooke was just spineless, but I don't think that any more, not after his dealings with Jared. Even if Mrs. Cooke outlined the whole scheme, Mr. Cooke stepped up and behaved without honor and feld darn good about it. Bleh!

    I do feel sorry for the kids, as they are reading plenty of nasty things about thier parents on the internet today. And I imagine it won't let up!

    By Blogger Sparki, at 3:39 PM  

  • Sparki- I read your blog after I had done mine. Great minds think alike! I really really want the Cooke's to watch the show. Hopefully, but doubtfully, they will see the way they really were. The lies were almost as bad as their treatment of the ranch hands.
    I have to agree with Maura's placement in the mix as well...she was a Pawn but thought she was the Queen.

    By Blogger Honest Pete, at 4:22 AM  

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