History: Cal Farley and Boys Ranch
Cal Farley’s Early Life
Early in life the Farley children learned the meaning of work: plowing fields, shucking corn, and all of the routine chores that had to be done to keep a struggling farm and themselves alive. Known as “Shrimp” because of his small size, Cal learned to wrestle "from the bottom up," scuffling with his big brother, Dave, in the haymow. His first love, however, was baseball. In this sport he enjoyed an excitement that provided relief from the farm chores and a measure of recognition that influenced his life greatly. He would walk ten miles to play baseball in a farmer’s cow pasture, and did many times. At sixteen he received an offer from a semi-pro team which he immediately accepted. “They never got me behind a plow again,” he said. Playing the "twilight circuit" along the Canadian border, Cal experienced the cheers from the crowd that came to an athlete in victory and the jeers he had to face in defeat. During the winter months he returned to wrestling, promoting his own bouts with local strong-men who were often amazed to find themselves defeated by a teenager nearly half their size.
Cal Joins The Army
His athletic career was interrupted by the dark clouds of World War I in 1917. Along with many other patriotic young men, Cal enlisted in the Army. In 1918 the Sixth Engineers were in the major battles of the war. Cal was one of the few in his 250 man regiment to survive the fighting. Though a young man, he was recognized as an organizer of men, and his commanding officers encouraged him to promote athletic events for the morale of the troops. The baseball and football games, some played during exchanges of Allied and German artillery fire, did much for the esprit de corps, but the wrestling matches between Cal and the champions of other outfits probably did more to help the doughboys forget the war than anything else. After the armistice his assignment was to organize athletic programs for the occupation forces. During the games he observed groups of eleven and twelve-year-old German boys gathered on the sidelines to watch these strange American sports. That they could speak no English, or that their dads, uncles, and cousins had been shooting at him a few weeks earlier, made no difference to Cal. He taught the boys how to play and organized them into baseball teams, the "Machine Gunners" and the "Kraut Eaters." As their coach, he demonstrated an interest in these boys that became a guiding philosophy of his life.
The American Expeditionary Force and Inter-Allied Games were organized, and Cal won all of his elimination matches and claimed the championship of the Third Army. He ultimately won the welterweight title at the Inter-Allied games in Europe. Back in the states, Cal won the world welterweight championship. But it was baseball which led him to Amarillo, Texas in 1923 to play for the town’s semi-pro team, The Gassers.
Cal Moves to Amarillo
In Amarillo, Cal flourished. He played baseball, wrestled and he met Mimi Fincher who would become his wife, lifelong friend and tireless partner in all his efforts. When Cal wrestled, Mimi sold tickets and kept the books for the wrestling association. She set up the books and ran the department as his business became successful. She saved his money, paid the bills, and kept the original set of records for Boys Ranch. She never questioned when Cal went into personal savings to keep Boys Ranch alive those first hard years. Without her, he would never have been free to worry over someone else's child. Cal was well aware that Mimi was the guiding force behind him.
At the ballpark, Cal was a favorite with the kids because he would deliberately hit foul balls over the fence to the kids gathered there. Returning these balls earned a youngster a free ticket to the game. Soon, Cal noticed that several youngsters often hung around the ballparks when they should have been in school. Investigating their homes, Cal usually found a broken family situation where guidance, supervision and love were often missing. He began arranging preliminary bouts between those kids at his wrestling matches so that they might earn a few dollars for food.
Cal Helps Kids – Founds America’s First Boys Ranch
In an effort to do something about these boys, Cal and other men in the community decided that a year-round program of athletics was the answer, so they formed the Maverick Club and Kids Inc., organizations that continue to provide healthy and productive activities for children in the community. These programs provided nine out of ten of these boys with not only a sports program but also food, clothing, and medical attention. It was that tenth boy, however, that Cal could not forget and he dreamed of a place where a troubled boy could be given a second chance for a successful future – away from the streets, alleys, bars and pool halls of the city. In the fall of 1938, rancher Julian Bivins told Cal about 120 acres of land 36 miles northwest of Amarillo that he would donate if Cal thought it would work. In 1939, Cal made his dream a reality as “America’s First Boys Ranch” was established and chartered in March at the site of Old Tascosa.
Cal Serves His Community
It was the beginning of a period in his life that called for more hard work and dedication to his idea than ever before. Along with helping boys through the Maverick Club, Cal was elected president of the Amarillo Rotary Club and later, district governor. Cal’s honesty and integrity were above question and he had earned such respect and confidence that he became something of a legend. He was approached to run for sheriff, three times was asked to lead Amarillo as mayor, and he was urged to run for Congress. But, there was another, more important challenge in his life. Nearly one hundred boys were now at the Ranch and Cal’s telephone rang at all hours. Trying to keep up with his growing family of boys weighed most heavily on Cal’s mind. They required food, shelter, and clothing, and he had to make decisions that would ultimately affect the lives of hundreds of boys. For supplies, salaries, and equipment, he had to reach into his own wallet many times.
Boys Ranch Continues to Grow
Cal Farley became a tireless promoter of both his business and his Ranch and his name became a household word throughout the Panhandle, and beyond. The "Cal Farley Show" was broadcast from his store for fifteen years and his talent for showmanship helped build the business. The program was aired over the Panhandle's only radio station, WDAC, and was the most popular local production in Texas at the time. It was on this program that listeners first heard about the homeless, drifting boys that Cal was giving a "Shirttail To Hang Onto". Cash was short for most, but those first supporters did have food, clothing, bedding and farm tools, which they shared with the boys.
It was also over the broadcast that Cal communicated with the Ranch. There was no telephone communication out there, and talking directly to the radio listener was strictly forbidden, but he solved this in a dialogue over the microphone with another person, usually Stuttering Sam: "Sam, I'm leaving town tomorrow. " "Where you going, Cal?" "Have to be at the Ranch in the morning." "What time you leaving, Cal?" "Around 4:30 or 5:00" "What time you gonna get there?" "Oh, about 6:30 or 7:00" Some of the older boys would be waiting at the river the following morning, standing by with a tractor in case Cal's car got stuck in the quicksand.
Cal Plans a Rodeo for the Boys
Having the boys in the country and away from the city temptations was good, but other problems were created by the isolation. Most of the boys adapted well to ranch life, but they had few visitors. The thirty-six miles from Amarillo - traveling over a dirt road and fording the Canadian River with its quicksand - was a journey not many people cared to undertake. There had been talk about putting on a rodeo just to get someone to come out and visit the boys. Cal agreed. He understood their loneliness and longing to be part of a larger world. He also saw the rodeo as a way to call attention to the Ranch. In the fall of 1944, he let them put on their first rodeo, with the boys riding and branding a few calves. About one hundred people showed up, mostly from Cal's Amarillo Rotary Club. After a couple years of this he decided to promote it more, hoping for a thousand people. On Rodeo day, three thousand cars showed up. The result was one of the biggest traffic jams in the history of Texas.
Boys Ranch Fame Spreads
Word was beginning to spread to other parts of the country. Newspapers, periodicals, and national publications like Readers Digest published feature articles. These, and the Saturday Evening Post's "Alley Cowboys", spread the word nationwide. It was this way Cal's work with boys came to the attention of Hollywood, resulting in the production of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer’s film, Boys Ranch. The movie was promoted so well by Cal and other Amarillo businessmen that it out-grossed every premiere ever held up to that time, including Gone with the Wind. Twenty-eight thousand dollars' worth of tickets were sold and the proceeds enabled Cal to purchase seven Air Force surplus buildings for expansion of the Ranch.
The national attention had put the Ranch on the map. The mailbags grew heavier with requests to take boys, and Cal's telephone rang at all hours. Arriving at his office one morning, he found three brothers, aged five, ten, and fourteen, sitting on the curb in front of the store. Their mother had bought one-way tickets from a distant city, hung tags around their necks, and deposited them on a Greyhound bus. The tags read: “Deliver to Boys Ranch, Amarillo, Texas.” It was emergencies like this that helped make Cal’s choice between business, community and the Ranch. When he announced that he was selling his business, the Amarillo Globe-Times carried the story on its front page. The headline stated simply, “THE KIDS WIN AGAIN.”
For the next 30 years Cal and Mimi worked side by side helping boys find a “Shirttail to Hang Onto” at the Ranch.
On February 19, 1967, Cal sat down in the back pew of the Boys Ranch Chapel. He greeted a boy sitting in front of him, sat back, and as the congregation sang “Glorious Is Thy Name,” Cal closed his eyes and peacefully died. Mimi followed him in death exactly one month later.