Wolf's Empire

Wolf's Empire
By Dub Ramsel

The first person I remember meeting in Georgetown in 1952 was Jay Wolf. We had just closed on a real estate transaction and bought a 437 acre ranch west of town off Hwy 29. I needed some supplies for the ranch. Jay was operating a Wool and Mohair Store on the edge of town on Hwy 29 and located east of the South San Gabriel River Bridge. Jay was a friendly man and gladly showed me all he had in way of items I was looking for. He made a good impression and I could tell he was reared in the country by his talk and mannerism. Something about him made me want to come back and try to figure out just what made the man "tick". I felt that behind his disguise was something unusual.

I learned that he was born and grew up in Blanco County near Johnson City. He had been in the war and, I figure he was about my age and was probably born in 1920 or 21.

He told me he had been living west of town about five miles on a rented ranch that had been a Dairy Farm at one time. In fact he tried his hand at doing just that. He bought some dairy cows and he and his wife Betty milked them twice a day. This proved to be too time consuming since he wanted to start going to classes at Southwestern University. Betty was being overworked with the children coming along, so they decided to give this up and move closer into town. Jay was eligible for a Texas Veterans Land Loan, and he bought a hundred acres next to town and lived there in an old house that went along with the deal.

Having had some experience in buying wool and mohair in Blanco County, he got set up in a building that had access to a railroad spur that extended along side of the building. He had just managed to buy the property at this time. It worked out well for him since Williamson County, at least, the western part was like Blanco County and had lots of Sheep and Goat ranches nearby.

Then in conjunction with his Wool and Mohair business, he managed to get the Gulf Oil Distributorship. Chili Gahagan had gotten to the age that he didn't feel like doing it any more. This venture also worked out well for Jay. By this time he had hired some help. Ray Hancock helped out with the Store, and Marvin Jansen handled the oil deliveries. He eventually put in a gasoline pump and sold gasoline to his customers-would even make deliveries to farms and ranches to fill their overhead storage tanks.

The extended drought was hurting everyone’s business in the mid fifties and Jay was getting in pretty deep in debt at the banks, so when a neighbor named Victor Williams came along with a proposition, he got Jay's attention. Being a retired farm implement dealer from west Texas and interested in the cotton business, learned of a five thousand acre farm that could be leased for a year. This farm was on the Mississippi River bottom near Vicksburg, It had a 500 acre cotton allotment, and also a big wheat allotment. A lot of Johnson grass was growing on most of the farm that was not in the cotton area.

Mr. Williams proposition was that he would pay all the expenses if Jay would move down there and run the farming operation for a year. They would split any profit they made after the expenses were deducted. Jay jumped at it and figured that Ray and Marvin were capable of running things in Georgetown for a year without losing too much. They did just as Jay had hoped and he was able to take over when he returned

Now back to Mississippi, things there was sized up and the decisions were made on just how to go about the farm. It was not as droughty there as it was in Georgetown Texas.

It was time to start getting the land prepared for first the cotton and then the wheat. With the equipment they had, they figured that they could handle the cotton land and about a thousand acres of land for wheat. This left a lot of grassland that had not been grazed for a few years. But they had better think of something, and here is what they did. They went back to Central Texas and bought five hundred head of long age yearling steers and hauled them to the farm. The cattle business was very depressed at this time, and the steers averaged costing an even 12 cents a pound-live weight and weighed under five hundred pounds. They were thin and mixed breeds of all kinds. 0ne might say they were a colorful looking herd.

When they were put out on the grass, they began gaining weight and then by finishing them up on the wheat they almost doubled their original weight. They were sold about the middle of March the following year, and the price had advanced to around 25 cents per pound.

Then the wheat got a little rain and made heads and they harvested the wheat. The yield was about 50 bushels to the acre. They got their expenses back from the grazing before harvesting the grain.

Now for the cotton - Victor talked Jay into the idea of planting the cotton in the bottom of the rows instead of on top of the rows. It was turning dry and figured it was worth the gamble. Ordinarily the seed would be put on top of the row. A wet spell would have ruined the seed but it didn't and they were the only farmers who made a cotton crop in the area. This made the price much better.

To make a long story short, Jay came home with A hundred thousand dollars in his pocket. He was proud of the good luck, but his most reward was Betty giving a birth to their first son, Jay Jr. They already had Judy, Jane and Iva.

Now things began popping for Jay. First, his neighbor next to him decided to sell a 410 acre tract of land at $100.00 per acre and carry the note. Jay jumped on that deal. Then shortly after that, his other close neighbor, Arthur Walker, decided to sell out also at the same price. Now he had the Messer land as well as the Walker tract. Since they both sold carrying the note instead of cash, he had money left in the banks. The two banks were the First National and the Farmers State.

Shortly after the purchases of the Messer land and the Walker land, another old timer, Joe Edwards, decided to get rid of a hundred or so acres N.W. of town on the old Airport Rd. This land is where the old horse racing tract was located before pari-mutuel betting on horses was abolished. It had been in the Edwards Estate for many generations. Jay had to go to the bank to buy this parcel, but he did it before Joe had a chance to change his mind. I believe the price was also a hundred bucks per acre. Jay's credit was improving by now since he had all his old loans paid off.

It was around 1960 by now and the highway Dept. was talking about extending IH 35 down to Austin and was need of right of ways. The plan was to bypass Georgetown and where they decided on going was west of town and would need some of Jays land for this purpose. I am not aware of the numbers, but I do know that he got enough money to pay most everyone off that he owed money to.

Jay found out that the Highway Dept would need to sod the portion of the right of ways that was in excess of the road itself. He therefore, bought a hundred acre farm that was carrying a good stand of Coastal Bermuda grass. This land was near the proposed highway and on County Rd 116. He received enough for the top soil to clear the cost of the land. All he had to do was open the gate and let them enter. Now the sod has spread back on the land and a factory stands on the lower portion of it.

I do not recall when Jay finally finished his studies at Southwestern. It may have been before the trip to Mississippi, but he did. Then at some time later and unbeknown to most, he enrolled in the University Of Texas Law School. I don't think he had any intention of pass the Bar Exam. He just needed the information to help him out in doing business. I know that Jay had no scruples about taking advantage of others ignorance and getting the best of the deal. I personally believe his plan was to be able to go as far as he could without breaking the law. He liked to bend it, but never break it. He had his principles and was also a good Baptist.

From now on it was clear sailing for Jay. He only sold parcels off his original purchases when it was needed bad enough to sell by the square foot. I once went to visit him at his office which was contained in his home. When I started to sit down in an easy chair in front of his desk, I stopped suddenly because he said that was the chair he put the "suckers" in before taking the hide off them. I then felt flattered that he did not intend to skin me.

Jay and two of his old cronies Dennis Chapman and Edwin Venther formed a company and called it The Georgetown Investment Co. They would find all kinds of real estate that became available. If they thought there was some meat left on the bone, so to speak, they would buy it for speculation. These investments consisted of Commercial buildings such as the old Georgetown Oil Mill. Sometimes it would be tracts of land that looked like it might became valuable for future growth. In their agreement, any property in the company name would go to the survivors in case one of them died. It was Jay's luck to be the last survivor.

Jay was always ready with a piece of land that he had bought in addition to his original tract to let someone lease for cattle grazing. He knew that there would be young .cowboys to be that wanted to get in the business so they could be real cowboys. He would just happen to have some cows on the places that he owned. He had to do this in order to be able to hold these pieces of land and not have to pay commercial rate taxes. If the man would buy his cows he would give them five year lease. In most cases he wouldn't have to wait for five years before recovering the land. The novelty would wear out before that time. This way he saved on taxes, got repaid for any interest and other holding costs.

Jay and Betty were not much interested in traveling or socializing. Neither one knew how to dress up. Jay never wore a suit that fit him. He was of the build that required a tailor to fit him, and he didn't feel like spending any more money than necessary. He liked to hunt and sometimes he and old Ed Venther would head out to Colorado or Wyoming for a week or so.

Jay had hoped his first son Jay Jr. would take to the outdoors and do the things he liked, but to no avail. Jay took little Jay hunting and he shot a deer from a stand. When he had the deer on the ground, Jay gave the boy a knife and let him try to dress the carcass by himself. He just sat and watched - when he was through, the contents of the guts was blended with the meat and it was one big mess. Little Jay turned out to be a fine Baptist Preacher.

The next and last kid was David, and he was more like what Jay wanted. He followed his dad around and learned enough about what was doing on to take ever in fine fashion-with the help. of his three sisters. I think David and sister Iva are the ring leaders in the business since Jay passed on in the nineties.

I used to see Jay going to the Golf Course once in awhile. He would pass by our house driving an old Chevy Blazer of early vintage. I am sure it had no air conditioning in it since he never rolled up his windows except in winter.

Jay Wolf was not one to waste any money, but he had a passion for playing poker, and he met regularly with a group of old cronies. I do not recall all the members names were; but Rawleigh Elliott and Fats Kimbro were usually included. I suppose he had winning streaks or he would not have kept up doing it.

Another thing that Jay did that helped him in his dealings with land. He got himself a Real Estate License and became a Broker. This way he could net the commission or at least share in the commissions that were provided. This helped him in getting in on a deal without so much money down. He would take his portion of the commission off the down payment.

I remember going to a meeting one evening that was sponsored by the Texas agriculture Extension Service, in which Kenneth Wolf, Jays brother was the specialist making the speech or presentation. The subject was how to deal with the problems in agriculture and how to make more money. After Dr Wolf completed his presentations he asked his brother Jay to come forward and inject some of his ideas. This brought the crowd to attention, because Jay's reputation had spread and also, he was a good speaker in the countryman’s language. You might say he was a "good old boy" speaker. He answered one question about how an average farmer could make more money. The answer was for the man to start buying parcels of land as close to a growing community or town, and hold it as long as he could. Farm it or graze it with cows or something to keep it in the low tax status. Plant it if necessary so that a hasty delivery could be made in case someone had to have a piece of it to build something on. Then drive a hard bargain when selling. Interest was high so don’t hesitate to carry a note for a long time with owner financing. His point was that the man could make more from the note than he could farming the land.

Since Old Jay had become my role model, I tried to follow his advice to a degree. My failing was selling too soon when I showed a small profit. I bought and sold ranches in five counties and was always under pressure and sold out too soon. I just was not the "schemer" as Jay was.

I am sure the Jay, where ever his spirit might be, is rejoicing or even "howling" about how his kids have carried on without his guidance. The Wolf ranch will soon have a big Mall and expensive homes on the land he bought for 1 hundred bucks per acre. I doubt he could have done a better job.

I just hope Victor Williams received his due credit for kicking old Jay in the butt, and got him started sooner than he might have if he had to struggle too long. Incidentally, Victor Williams and his wife were the parents of Betty Carothers who now live in the Liberty Hill area on their ranch. Both of them are getting along in years now. H.C. Caruthers had a grocery store in Georgetown at one time.

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