Central Ohio gets six inches of snow and the world grinds to a halt, it’s a school calamity day, and the sheriff issues a Level I Snow Advisory. But imagine living where the average accumulated winter snowfall exceeds 250 inches; and imagine shoveling that snow at an oxygen shy 8,300-foot elevation. (To put that in perspective, Sunbury is 1,030 feet above sea level; the highest point in Ohio is Campbell Hill in Bellefontaine at 1,549 feet.)
That’s the winters faced by Sunbury area residents Sue and Bill Comisford during the eight years that they owned and operated Ranger Creek Guest Ranch in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming.
Many folks dream of spending time at a wild west guest ranch high up in the mountains; some folks even book a week or 10 days. But now it’s possible to take an armchair visit to Ranger Creek Guest Ranch, thanks to a book Sue Comisford wrote about their experiences that will be released to bookstores on April 29.
The book, Ranger Creek Guest Ranch: Real Life, Real Faith, explains how Sue and her husband Bill purchased Ranger Creek Guest Ranch in Wyoming in 1998 after coping with their 15-year-old son’s diagnosis and treatment for cancer.
To back up a bit, Sue and Bill Comisford are from the Newark/Licking Valley area. They were high school sweethearts who married following graduation. Bill graduated from the Ohio State University and became a CPA; Sue graduated from Capital University Law School as a Legal Assistant/Paralegal and they settled in Worthington where their children Brandon, Melissa and Shane attended school.
For most folks that would have been it — the die cast, careers established, school district chosen, lifetime members of a community.
But priorities change for some folks, and Sue and Bill’s priorities were turned upside down in 1991 when their son Brandon was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. During Brandon’s treatment the entire Comisford family was granted a vacation at The White Stallion Guest Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, thanks to the efforts of the Special Wish Foundation.
Other family visits to guest ranches followed as Brandon recovered, and one day he said to Bill, “Dad, we could do something like this.”
Seven words from their son and the Comisford family’s direction in life began to change. Not overnight, but Bill began researching guest ranches as a business venture.
“This was about the same time as the movie City Slickers came out, so guest ranches were gaining in popularity,” Bill said. “We researched for three or four years, and it was a long time before we found Ranger Creek Ranch, but we bought it in 1998 and Brandon was there when we signed the papers.”
Guest ranches mean horses, but Sue and Bill were no strangers to riding. Sue was raised on a farm and grew up with horses and Brandon had lots of horse experience. Bill’s cousins had horses while he was growing up and he rode with them. Brandon attended the Back Country Horsemanship program at Hocking College in Nelsonville, and worked summers at guest ranches.
But a guest ranch that had sat empty for a year was in desperate need of improvements, and was accessible by truck or car only during summer months (Winter in the Big Horns is from October through May), presented a completely different set of challenges.
Sue’s book brings those challenges to life. In addition to stories about upgrading the ranch lodge and guest cabins, Sue tells what it’s like living with the nearest neighbor 14 miles away, a four-mile snowmobile ride to get in and out during the winter, then a 30-minute drive to Shell, Wyoming (population 50 back then, population 83 today) to pick up mail, the nearest medical clinic one hour distant.
Sue writes about the challenges of staffing a lodge that serves an average of 30 guests at a time — trail rides in the summer, snowmobiles in the winter; wrangling 40 leased horses; their children, their children’s friends, other family and friends coming to help out; no cell tower service.
“When we left Ohio and got to Wyoming it was completely different, very friendly,” Sue said. “The population of Wyoming was only 450,000 (in 1998, today it’s 576,000), that’s the whole state. We had two streetlights in the Big Horn County. It’s definitely a different world out there, and we had amazing guests from all over the world — from 41 states and 11 countries.”
Sue also writes that Brandon was with them the first two seasons. During the second summer on the ranch the Comisford’s hired Jessica as a Wrangler. As the season wound down Jess returned to her home state of Virginia; Brandon followed her two weeks later where they live today with their two sons.
“After running the ranch for eight years we sold it and moved back to Ohio in 2005 to be closer to family,” Sue said. “But we found ourselves telling stories about the ranch whenever we were together with our adult children, friends, ranch guests and ranch staff, with whom we’re still in frequent contact. But I was really motivated to write the book for our grandchildren so that they could see how faith during a difficult time carried the family through to realize a dream.”
Do Sue and Bill Comisford miss living near the sky in the Big Horn Mountains?
“We miss it very much,” Sue said. “I miss seeing the moose in the front yard, the stars at night, the blue sky, but I don’t miss the bear. We went back two years ago to visit; it’s part of us and we’ll continue to go back to visit, but our children and our grandchildren are here.”
Ranger Creek Guest Ranch: Real Life, Real Faith brings the Comisford’s experiences in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming to life through stories of the challenges and joys of running an 80 acres guest ranch (with a 1.1 million-acre trail riding permit) in an area about as pristine as they come (and as inaccessible).
Sue tells stories about family, friends, guests, staff members, even guests who returned to become staff members, and tosses in a few ranch favorite recipes given to her by guests and staff members.
Sue will hold book a book signing from 1 to 3 p.m., Saturday, March 22, at Rod’s Western Palace, 3099 Silver Drive, in Columbus. Additional book signing events are planned for Worthington and Newark in the near future.
Ranger Creek Guest Ranch: Real Life, Real Faith, Tate Publishing, will be available April 29 in bookstores and at Amazon for $13,99 plus tax. Copies of Ranger Creek Guest Ranch may also be purchased from the author — for additional information email Sue Comisford at < email@example.com >.
Sue Comisford can be found on Facebook — Sue Comisford, Author — along with a host of Ranger Creek Guest Ranch photographs.