You're probably familiar with Ford's "King Ranch" premium-trim trucks that have been around since 2001, starting with that year's F-150. But what, exactly, is the King Rach?
Here's a brief conversational history about how that ranch came to be, and why Ford is so proud to put its symbol on their trucks as it's recorded by King Ranch, Ford, and the Texas State Historical Association.
I forget, what's so special about King Ranch Fords?
"King Ranch" is a trim level featuring all the best gadgets and chrome trim, but most importantly the nicest super-soft Mesa Brown Chaparral leather you can sit on in a truck today. Special colors like Caribou, Bronze Fire, Guard, and Ruby Red Metallic Clearcoat are on the options list.
Plus they've got cachet, baby! Cachet up the ying-yang!
As you might have guessed — King Ranch trucks are especially big in Texas. Ford says more than 40% of all Super Duty King Ranch pickups are sold in the Lone Star State.
Ok, so what's the deal with this King Ranch place?
Founded in 1853 by Richard King in what is now Kingsville, Texas, the King Ranch consumes 825,000 acres (1,289 square miles)... just a smidgen over the size of Rhode Island.
This guy really likes his own name...
Make no mistake, King was no silver-spoon sum'bitch. Born to a destitute Irish family in New York City, he was basically an indentured servant before adolescence. Most say he found his escape from the Concrete Jungle around 1835, stowing away on a ship out of Manhattan bound for Alabama.
King worked his way into the ship crew's ranks, learning the trade of seamanship and probably busting his ass to prove his value so he wouldn't be tossed into the Atlantic.
Apparently he stayed on the hustle, because it didn't take him long to make his way into the riverboat industry. King ended up with a river transportation empire, running supplies on the Rio Grande amidst the Texas Revolution. He settled down in Texas not long after that, and began investing his riverboat profits in land — buying up as much as he could for cultivation and cattle raising.
How'd King turn his dusty corner of Texas into an agricultural empire?
Richard King began his life in Texas camped out on the Santa Gertrudis Creek in South Texas with riverboating buddy named Gideon K. Lewis in 1852, trying to by a 15,500 acre Spanish land grant.
They made it happen a year later, and King basically spent the 1850's buying up as much contiguous land as he could on that old Texas creek. Lewis died in 1855, and King scooped up his interest in yet another plot and kept right on growing his empire. He split more and more parcels with old business partners to keep his initial outlay down.
In the early days of King's animal raising, an old boating bro named James Walworth was paying the taxes while King worked the land. King tried his luck with cattle, horses, sheep, and goats. The the foundation of the ranch would be longhorn steers, but it eventually turned out some pretty serious horses too — 2,900 quarter horses and 82 race horses lived on the ranch by 1947. So much horse.
So why the "W" symbol and not "KR?"
As you may know farmers mark their animals with brands, a unique symbol burned onto the beasts' butts so the animals don't get mixed up if they wander off. King Ranch's first brand was an "HK," but I have a feeling they dropped that over complexity. They had to make these things out of iron, after all.
The much simpler "running W" brand the Ranch and Ford Trucks use today first saw duty in the 1860s, and was officially registered on February 9th, 1869. But believe it or not, even the current King Ranch management couldn't tell you where the "W" really comes from.
So this massive business is all about animals?
Oh, no. King Ranch had become a powerhouse in Texas by the mid 1850's through livestock (some say King adopted an entire drought-stricken town of Mexicans in 1954 and "employed them") but they have deeply diversified since then.
The ranch fell on some hard times in the 1920's and 30's, like pretty much everyone else in America. But things started to turn around when the first active oil well was completed on the ranch in 1939. Something called the Borregas oilfield was discovered a few years later, which would eventually lead to the founding of King Ranch Oil & Gas in 1980. In between they threw their hat in the timber industry too, absorbing 50,340 acres of timberland in 1967.
The King Ranch empire now has satellite locations in Florida, New Mexico and South Carolina. They run a fleet of "more than 350 Ford vehicles."
Does that make it the biggest ranch in the world?
Not quite. The biggest would be Anna Creek Station; an unbelievably massive swath of dust and cow poop in South Australia at some six million acres (9,400 square miles). But counting all of its locations the King Ranch is the biggest in the US, and generally considered "one of the biggest" around the globe.
What do they do with all that space today?
The men and women of King Ranch grow crops, raise cattle, breed horses, and surely sit on porches with jugs o' moonshine. They also use their clout to provide agricultural consultation services and do R&D on new farming techniques. The ranch is still considered "a significant economic force" in the region.
So how did Ford get set up with them?
The ranch needed a lot of trucks, and Ford was on the lookout for a good branding opportunity (no pun intended, I guess).
Ford's partnership with the ranch officially began in 1999 and the Blue Oval's marketing department started leveraging the name on the 2001 F-150, essentially establishing a sub-brand for their trucks. The trim level was so successful it introduced to the Super Duty pickup in 2003 and Expedition SUV in 2005.
Will Ford keep the King Ranch trim on the 2015 trucks?
Why are we talking about this, again?
Earlier this month, Ford commemorated the fifteenth anniversary of their relationship with King Ranch. They set up a four-day photoshoot with Texas State Photographer Wyman Meinzer to celebrate. Plus, why not — this is truck history my friend!
Texas has a State Photographer?
Yes, Mr. Meinzer, who was "raised as a cowboy on a ranch" was bestowed the title by then-Texas Governor George W. Bush in 1997.