The Egg Ranch by Bill Englander
I grew up among avocado groves in a rural area, east of San Diego in the 1950’s. My Uncle
Stuart owned and operated an egg ranch (a place where there were many hens who laid many
eggs that were sold to markets and eventually wound up on breakfast tables accompanied by
ham or bacon). It was located near Lakeside. The egg ranch held many more attractions for a
young boy than a bunch of old avocado trees.
Uncle Stuart was an amazing man. He was descended from Dutch royalty. Among many jobs
over his lifetime, he served as personal assistant to A. P. Gianini, founder of Bank of America.
At one point, he measured the hottest temperature ever recorded in California. He was so good
at reading people and situations that he easily made money in Real Estate, even during the Great
My uncle’s real passion, though, was hard work, really hard physical work. And, as anyone can
tell you, anything Ag-related involves plenty of it. Uncle Stuart started the egg ranch with
about 5,000 hens and increased it over time to around 20,000. He operated the entire egg ranch
with just four people: himself, my aunt, my grandmother and a worker named Ramon.
As a child, I occasionally got to stay on the Ranch for a week or two and “help”. I loved to
drive the electric cart among the hens’ cages and deposit the grain that they so eagerly
consumed. I also got to stand in front of the egg-sorting machine (in total fascination) and pack
the eggs that remained unbroken into large cartons for shipment. It was really fun when the
baby wanna-be hens would arrive at the ranch. They were cute little balls of yellow fuzz that
you could hold in your hand and hear go “peep peep”.
Ramon, who spoke no English, took a liking to me. Once in a while, he would let me join him
when he went up to the hill where he and his fellow workers from other ranches and farms
would spend their evening sitting around a fire and swapping stories. At the time, I didn’t
understand a word of Spanish, but I had a wonderful time, hanging out with the guys.
In my youthful ignorance, I thought working all day at the fascinating ranch and then sharing a
campfire with your buddies in the evening was the ideal life. Little did I know that Ramon had
asked my aunt to mail his entire wages to his family in Mexico each payday or that the stories
that they were swapping were often about how much they longed to be with their loved ones. I
also didn’t realize that if you counted up all the hours that my uncle worked each week, it was
probably in the vicinity of 100.
As an adult, I’ve reflected on how incredibly hard everyone connected with the ranch worked
and how my naïve, blissful, child’s-eye view of things bore little relationship to the reality. On
the other hand, my uncle Stuart who loved hard work and who reveled in the satisfaction of “a
good job well done” died a very old and very happy man.