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Big Falls Ranch, British Honduras’ 1st Agricultural Giant #549039
03/23/21 02:35 PM
03/23/21 02:35 PM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 79,699
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

Part 1: Transitioning and the Early Years

By Beth Roberson and Dottie Feucht

Some people uproot and move on because they have to; others appear to find the challenge of exploring and working in a land new to them somewhat irresistible. For Albert and Elizabeth (Betty) Bevis, successful general field crop farmers and cattle ranchers in Patterson, California, it appears to be the latter which motivated them to sell out, leaving their secure lives in the fertile San Joaquin Valley. They brought their two sons with them to begin their agricultural journey in Central America. Their lifepaths forever altered; the Bevis family at Big Falls left a strong and positive impact on the country and the people of British Honduras. The Bevis saga still kindles many fond and positive memories of British Honduras’ first agricultural giant, Big Falls Ranch Limited.

What opened the Bevis’ eyes to British Honduras? Remember, this was a decade prior to the National Geographic’s initial January 1972 article about Belize titled Belize, the Awakening Land, in which Albert and Chuck were called “Prophets of Plenty”, with an accompanying photo of them in one of their mature rice fields at Big Falls Ranch.

Travel back a few more decades: the riverside property known as Big Falls was owned by brothers Alvin and Patrick Burns (related to the Cayo Burns families). The only access was by boat, and remained so until the mid-1960’s when the Bevises remedied that. The Burns brothers ran beef cattle on the property with Jamaican John Shaw (father of David and Pat Shaw) as their manager. In the mid-1950’s, the Burns brothers sold Big Falls to some Texans. At about the same time, Machete Nile Ltd (M.N.L.) purchased Banana Bank, further up the Belize River. Chuck Bevis, son of Albert and Betty, learned about these Belizean ranches through their veterinarian in California, who was a shareholder in M.N.L. Chuck was offered and accepted a job at Banana Bank’s cattle operation in 1962. That was the critical event that triggered the still ongoing chronicles of the Bevis family in Belize. Chuck astutely assessed British Honduras’ vast agricultural potential and expressed that to his father. Albert Bevis traveled to British Honduras in August 1962 and concurred with son Chuck’s appraisal. A dialogue toward the purchase of the Big Falls property ensued, and the Bevis family began their transition from established certified seed growers/ general field crop farmers/cattle ranchers in California, to tropical agricultural pioneers. With no tropical experience under their belts, they liquidated their U.S. farm and began the process for the bold forward-looking leap to British Honduras.

With a 1960 population of approximately 100,000, Belize’s national anthem accurately declared Belize as “a tranquil haven of democracy”. The Land of the Free was written/ music composed in 1963 and adopted as national anthem upon independence in 1981. It was, and still is, as its author Governor General Coleville Young described. Although there were rules and regulations and protocols to learn, still – the Bevises had to first make the journey and get there. Some immigrants adapted fairly quickly to the colonial ambience; others did not. The Bevis family promptly adapted well, with smooth interactions between themselves and the people and governments of the day. The senior Bevis and son Chuck essentially moved down in early 1963. The family finalized and punctuated their international transition with a road trip in their 1964 Ford pick-up truck, from California to British Honduras, bringing younger son Jim, who had stayed behind attending school in California. At last, Jim would see Big Falls Ranch.

The Bevis’ style was to be as well-prepared as possible “for eventualities”; thus they contacted the Mexican Consular office in Los Angeles, and asked Consul William Harrison Furlong for advice regarding travel by road from Monterrey, N.L. to Mexico D.F. (Mexico City). Many of his cautions regarding their proposed trek might have also been applied to the general undertaking of relocating to Belize in 1963. Below is an extract from Furlong’s written advice to Albert and Betty:

“There is no question that the severity of the trip which should be undertaken only by those of venturesome inclination, willing to forego the smoothness of pavement, the comforts of the metropolitan hotel, to accept the radical changes in the preparation of food and in general ready to take things as they come, however, it may be made with reasonably good chances of going through without mishap, provided the car, preferably the small type with maximum clearance, is in top mechanical condition and judgement is exercised by the driver.”

Albert, Betty and Jim enjoyed their Mexican travels immensely and would have liked to linger longer, but as Betty wrote, they felt compelled to “push on to B. H.”. Betty kept a trip journal, beginning as they left California, on through Arizona, and New Mexico, entering Juarez, Mexico, then doubling back to El Paso as they had learned it was not advisable to bring Chuck’s hunting rifle with them. Finally they departed the U.S. again at 2:30 PM of 22nd December 1963, arriving at Chetumal, Q. R. at 6 PM on 28th December, where they overnighted at the still operational Hotel Los Cocos. Departing Chetumal at 7:10 AM, they crossed into Belize by 8:30 AM on the 29th, and proceeded to the Fort George Hotel where they met son Chuck (about whom Betty entered: [Chuck] “still has beard”. Monday 30th December, saw the Bevis men off to customs to check on imported tractors, seeds and equipment. Finally, after city business and holiday visiting, young Jim Bevis at last got his feet on the ground at Big Falls on 2nd January, 1964.

Of the 11,113 Big Falls Ranch acres which the family purchased in 1963, only about 1,000 acres along the Belize River were cleared and in pasture. A 1963 farm inventory noted 366 head of cattle, 48 horses, and 111 sheep. No crops had been grown on the farm; cattle ranching was the main activity and income for the previous owners. The Bevises imported Jamaica Black bulls by plane from Jamaica. Later they purchased some Sugarland Brahman cattle from Central Farm which further upgraded the herd. By the 1980's Big Falls had a herd of about 1,800 head, running a cow calf operation using mainly Brahman cows crossed with Jamaica Black bulls. This yielded a bovine similar to today’s Brangus. The cattle industry afforded a great lifestyle, but not a great income, so Albert focused on finding additional crops which would enable the farm to prosper.

They planted trials of various crops to determine which would give a profitable stability, importing seeds from the U.S. (California and Gainesville, Fl.) and Central America. They planted forage sorghum, RK beans, black eyes and lima beans. The row crops for the most part did well in the dry season. However, Albert wanted to find a crop he could plant semiannually, with 2 harvests per year.

How did they begin rice farming? Albert noted that although ‘rice and beans’ was a staple food in Belize, most of the rice eaten was an imported “#3 broken brewer’s rice”. Never having grown rice, he visited rice farms in Sacramento, California and in El Salvador, as well as in southern Belize. The Salvadoran farms were all dry season rice with single-cropping, as their land was not flat. The Big Falls land, dark alluvial clay soil capable of holding moisture, was fairly flat. That meant that they could create leveled-out contoured fields, enabling a flooded paddy system, seeding by plane, and harvesting 2 crops a year. This was cutting edge technology in British Honduras.

This writer gleaned (from the meticulous Bevis archives), that Betty was a strong independent Christian soul, who joyfully thrived in any location where life placed her. She and Albert resided on Eve Street in Belize City. Albert managed the business side of the farm and liaised with the GOB which was situated in Belize City, the country’s capital at that time. (Construction of Belmopan began in 1966, with GOB offices relocating there around 1970.) Son Chuck (Charles) and wife Carol, a former Papal Volunteer who had been a teacher at St. Catherine’s Academy in Belize City, spent their weekdays on the farm, as Chuck was the farm manager. On weekends the couples switched places. Both Chuck and Albert were pilots and flew their private plane back and forth.

Chuck and Carol had met in Belize, and married in October 1964 in her home town of St. Louis, Missouri. The wedding featured “two traditional 3-tiered wedding cakes, and a wedding cake baked in British Honduras by Mrs. Leopold Balderamos (sister of George Price and mother of Dolores Balderamos) and brought to St. Louis by the bridegroom.”

Betty and Carol successfully dealt with general living and homemaking challenges. After the farm’s initial start-up, the company generators provided them with reliable power, and they learned how to deal with rain water. There were no city water systems anywhere in British Honduras; everyone relied on either catchment of rain water or river water. Several U.S. newspapers wrote articles quoting Betty as saying “well, you can always boil water…”. Both husbands were fortunate as their wives enjoyed the challenges of learning about local foods and new techniques. Betty commented to one journalist that in Belize, when you saw something in a store that you wanted, it was best to get it then – not to wait as it likely would be soon gone. That was quite common during the 1960’s and 1970’s, and curiously, seems to have returned to Belize again due to COVID’s effects on imports.

After a couple years of arduous transportation logistics – traveling either by private plane, with their own company plane and company airstrip, or via combination river and road transport to Belize City, by 1965 Big Falls was ready to build the 10 miles of road necessary to connect the ranch with the Western Highway (George Price Hwy). This involved crossing miles of swampland and building bridges, including one crossing Cox Creek, which is still in use today, 56 years later. Once the road was opened, Big Falls was able to bring in large equipment by road and also had the option to ship rice and freight out by road (rather than solely by river barge). Bus transportation from San Ignacio was also enabled for their expanding workforce, who bunked on the farm during the week.

In part 2 (next issue, #45) we will delve more into the expansion of Big Falls’ rice growing and processing, with details of the contoured fields, pumping stations, canals, irrigation and drainage systems. Big Falls became one of the biggest agricultural employers in country in the 60’s and 70’s. Parts 2 and 3 will have more information on their equipment; they even tested new equipment prototypes for Caterpillar.

Photo Details: 1. D-8 H Caterpillar with a Rome KG land clearing blade
2. Unseeded flooded rice paddies in the foreground; Hancock earth moving scrapers doing road construction on the main road through the paddies in the central portion of the photo, while in the sky, the Ag Cat can be seen passing overhead on its way to seed a different field. Circa 1965-66
3. Big Falls’ John Deere rice combine harvesting rice in the early years
4. Albert, better known as Al, and Betty circa 1965
5. Credit: National Geographic
6. Al and Chuck by the John Deere combine, circa 1966
7. Chuck inspecting newly imported Jamaica Black bulls, Harmony
Hall Charlie and Glen, February 1965. 8. Chuck, E.T. York and Eric King in a forage sorghum field, June 1966
9. Betty on one of their several D-8H Caterpillars with the Rome KG land clearing blades. Big Falls owned 4 or 5 of these machines which they used to clear thousands of acres.
10. The Big Falls company plane, Hotel Bravo Foxtrot, a Cessna 206. Note the B Falling F brand on its tail.
11. Chuck, Carol, Mark, Betty, Al and Karen Bevis, posed in front of one of the D-8H Caterpillars, January 1969. Photo taken by Charles Miller.
12. 40 - 20 Root Rake, matched to D-6B Cat used for rotten stump removal from fields, February 1967.
13. Jim and Chuck checking out the new road, cut out to Milepost 31 on the ‘Cayo Rd.’ (future Western Highway). They’re riding local ‘bamboo’ horses.
14. Taking British Honduras Ministry of Agriculture VIPS on a rice harvesting tour of one of the early years, on the John Deere combine.
15. Big Falls’ Ag Cat seeding plane with pilot Antonio Raballo.

Editor's note: We thank the Bevis family for sharing their extensive family archives, which, in addition to many photographs, include journal entries, letters and many newspaper and magazine articles. Special recognition goes to Carol Bevis, Chuck's wife who organized much of the records and to the late Betty Bevis who was quite the writer. Jim and Marguerite Bevis and family own and operate Mountain Equestrian Trails (MET) in western Belize.

From Belize Ag Report

Re: Big Falls Ranch, British Honduras’ 1st Agricultural Giant [Re: Marty] #553193
10/08/21 07:59 PM
10/08/21 07:59 PM
Joined: Oct 2021
Posts: 1
Raphael Belthrand Offline
Raphael Belthrand  Offline
Wow, incredible article.

If anything about Belize aviation, specially historic aviation, I am deeply interested.

Would like to see that Cessna 206 and that Callair A9 in a bigger picture, Is it possible for you?

Thanks for the post.

Last edited by Marty; 10/13/21 10:04 AM. Reason: Sorry, I do not have it in a larger version...

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