Ranch Rudolf is a 195 acre resort in the heart of the Pere Marquette State Forest on the Boardman River. It is one of Traverse City’s first known landmarks dating back to the early 1900s. It is located only sixteen (16) miles from downtown Traverse City.
You will feel as though you have been taken back in time with its “Out West” feel as you drive through the main entrance. The main lodge and dining room have a western theme, from the high beamed vaulted ceilings to the hard wood floors and the huge circular fireplace. The Ranch welcomes you whether you are here as an overnight guest, a bite to eat, an activity or a special function.
No you will not see reindeer on the property but, in season, you will see thirty-five (35) head of horses. Ranch Rudolf (not Rudolph) was named after a gentleman by the name of Rudolf Paziener. The love of horses is what makes Ranch Rudolf what it is today. Three of the main owners of the Ranch property were brought here because of that labor of love for these magnificent animals.
Rudolf was born in Austrian-Hungary August 11, 1887. He was a former officer in the Prussian Army and was taken prisoner in World War 1. In 1916, he came to the United States and later became a citizen. By 1922, he was an executive chef at one of Chicago’s largest hotels. In that same year a realty company offered him a job running a small ranch resort in northern Michigan. Once a homestead and sheep ranch, the place had become a hunting and fishing camp for Chicago area businessmen and their families. The resort had three homes on the property, two were used to house guests called Fishing Lodges and the third one is where Rudolf lived. Today that same house still stands and is called the Bunkhouse.
In 1930, an artist from Chicago who would come often to the resort named it “Ranch Rudolf”. With Rudolf’s fabulous cooking, the Ranch quickly became a renowned haven for hunters and fishermen seeking excellent food and lodging in a natural setting. His reputation for dry wit and tall tales meant he was soon established as a man worth visiting while passing by on trips down the dusty dirt roads of the Boardman Valley. If Rudolf took a special liking to his visitors, it was not unusual for him to cook up a feast to rival anything found in the big cities. Legend has it Rudolf carried a peculiar powder in a pouch on his belt, which he used to tenderize steaks. Some said the powder was an aphrodisiac made from ground deer horns, but Rudolf always kept the identity of his special ingredient a secret.
When the realty company, from Chicago, went bankrupt during the depression, Rudolf stayed on at the Ranch. He remained a kind of permanent fixture and was the caretaker of the land until around 1950 when he managed to borrow enough money purchase it.
Rudolf became somewhat of a legend in the Boardman Valley; some even referred to him as the mayor. Friends and strangers came many miles to the ranch just to talk, or listen and be entertained. His subjects ranged from fishing prospects to astrology, from wild blueberry patches to politics and to history with knowledge. He could also sing the five Wagnerian operas in a booming voice that could more than just carry a tune. He also taught many a lesson in pride of American citizenship.
Eugene Knight lived just down the road from Rudolf, he used the surrounding State land to pasture his cattle and hogs. The animals would just run wild throughout the plains to graze. Mr. Knight had to pay the State $1.00 per head for the season to use the land. Eugene Knight was also a horse trader. Some of his horses were specially shipped in for the West. They too would pasture on State land and many times end up on Rudolf’s land. Rudolf was also an animal lover and horseman, at one time boasting “thirty and eight” on the property. Rudolf took a liking to the horses and helped to care for them.
Doc Aeschliman, a river character of some legend, remembers the time he asked Rudolf to board a horse for him. The horse was used in skidding Jack Pine pulp wood out of the forest. Doc thought the old horse would be happy with a bale of hay and to drink from the river, that nothing more would be needed. Rudolf did not agree, he found shelter for the horse in one of the storage sheds, covered the old horse with a blanket and even heated her drinking water.
In 1963, the land was purchased by Harvey & Joanne Montgomery, who had 2 children Harvey Jr., then twelve (12) years old and Nora who was nine (9). When Nora was just a little girl she had always loved horses, each year for her birthday she would ask her parents for a horse of her own, finally one day her Dad took her to a farm where they had horses and asked the owner to put her on the biggest horse they had, he had to try to get this notion out of Nora’s head that she could have a horse. He, of course, did not want her to get hurt but just wanted to scare her a little. They lived in Traverse City and there was no way they could keep a horse there. The gentleman put her up on a horse and she ended up loving it even more. Her next birthday she did get a horse, named Coke, and they boarded it south of town. Once her parents spent more time around horses from taking Nora back and forth to the boarding facility they too started to think that horses where pretty neat animals. Soon came a 2nd one and then a 3rd. When it was all said and done they had 5 of their own. They purchased the land in the fall of 1963 built the stables and barn, put up fence and moved the horses out of the boarding place. The spring of 1964 they started to build their house. Soon, just before the house was completed, Mr. Montgomery had a vision of a resort. The Montgomery’s could see hunting, fishing, cross country skiing, horseback riding and snowmobiling for the guests at their resort. They were planning to name the resort “Roving M Lodge” but Rudolf spoke up and said “its name is Ranch Rudolf and it will remain.” When the Montgomery’s opened up the new “Ranch Rudolf” in June of 1966 it was the fifth largest all wood constructed building in the United States. The exterior and interior was all wood, from floors to ceilings inside and out.
Rudolf still lived on the property in the Bunkhouse in 1964 when the Montgomery’s took over. His health was starting to take a toll on him, finally he could no longer live alone and spent his last few years in a Traverse City Medical Care Facility. He passed away April 22, 1968 at the age of eighty (80), leaving behind him a folksy legacy that is written into the history books of Grand Traverse County.
The Montgomery’s sold the resort to Dr. Powers, owner of the Park Place Motor Lodge in downtown Traverse City, in the early 70’s. The Park Place operated the property for about ten (10) years and was then purchased by a couple, Sid and Melody Hamill in 1982.
Sid and Melody moved north to Traverse City, from the thumb area, in 1979. Sid started working at an office job, but soon found he was not well suited to the confines of a desk. Both Sid and Melody had horses growing up and Sid had also worked with them at his brothers riding stable. After doing some research the couple found out that the area no longer offered horseback riding, years ago there was a riding stable at Ranch Rudolf ran by Park Place but it was no longer being operated. Actually Ranch Rudolf itself was closed and up for sale. Sid and Melody purchased Ranch Rudolf the spring of 1982. It has been close to three (3) decades now that they have owned the Ranch and their grown children, LeeAnn and Justin, are also on board. It was a love for horses that brought the Hamills’ here and now over the years returned guests who started out as friends seem more like family.
Today the Ranch has a motel, campground, and the bunkhouse is a rental for larger groups. There is a restaurant, horseback riding stable, canoe & kayak livery, and innertubing. The Ranch is in the hub of the snowmobile trails, close to cross country ski trails, and has fishing both in stocked ponds and also in the Boardman River. There is also hiking, hay rides and sleigh rides and many children’s horse camps. We also host private gatherings such as family reunions, weddings & receptions, corporate outings, holiday parties and birthday parties of all ages.
And so his name remains. Thus giving “Ranch Rudolf” not only a truly unique history but also a tradition of hospitality as old as the ranch itself.
Rudolf wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. So, from Rudolf and from us – Welcome to RANCH RUDOLF.
We hope you enjoy your stay! Sid, Melody, LeeAnn and Justin Hamill