The K Diamond K Story

Steve Konz, on lunch break in Cle Elum, Wash. Photo by: Steve Davis
"My first thought was to call a psychiatrist and have their heads examined."
Steve Konz
who was shocked ‚ but pleased ‚that the kids wanted to keep the ranch going in some form.

It was good to connect with my old friend I-90 again this past week for a short 322-mile trip over to Tacoma from Republic. (Three of us from SU drove out here from Syracuse two weeks ago, and the 2,500-mile journey has changed my perspective on words such as "short" and "long". My travel partners to Tacoma were K Diamond K patriarch Steve Konz and the ranch wrangler, Shelby Carradine. Our destination: Romancing the Spouse, an event in Tacoma for Ft. Lewis soldiers and families.

Businesses and services gathered for a daylong promotion aimed at making homecomings special for 18,000 soldiers who'll be returning over the summer months. Vendors offered everything from makeovers for women who were prepping for the special event, to cut-rate vacations at resorts like K Diamond K, to pet boarding. Shelby was sprawled across the back bench seat in Steve's throaty Ford-350 diesel, the best position to accommodate the broken leg that's on the mend after a horse threw her several weeks ago. Steve, 83, is not the least intimidated by the winding roads that cut through the Okanogan Highlands and Cascades, so he took the first shift behind the wheel, finally handing over the driving at a Dairy Queen where we stopped for a late lunch. (Steve has a rancher's appetite. He ate all of his sandwich and cleaned up half of Shelby's, plus a Dilly Bar.) Our 8 hours in the car was occasion for me to learn a little about the history of the K Diamond K dude ranch, where our News21 team is bunking. To start, the name combines Steve's last name and his wife's maiden name, Kumaz.

They'd considered a heart symbol rather than a diamond, but rejected it because the ink mottled sometimes in the printing. With Shelby konked out on pain meds and buried under a heavy blanket and four pillows, Steve explained that he and his wife ‚a veterinarian, June‚ are on the cusp of a half-century anniversary. They bought the 1,300-acre ranch for $50,000 back in 1961, though it was some 25 times more than the 50 or so acres they had in mind. June was a hot commodity because there was no vet in the city. Steve was lucky to find a job teaching fifth grade; it helped that the school was eager to hire its first male teacher. They got their ranch running, too. The Konzes did well for themselves, but as their children grew up and then headed to college, family cattle ranches were disappearing from the countryside. They just weren't economical. Steve figured his ranch would go the way of many others, so he was shocked when the children stepped forward with a question: "Dad, what can we do to keep the ranch going?" Inspiration came from the kids themselves, who often brought "city friends" home from college, friends who fell in love with the place. Steve recalls that many of these visitors eagerly went to work doing small jobs, and they punctuated the visit at weekend's end with a hug for him and a warm message.

"Thank you Mr. Konz." It was a template for the future. "What do you think about a dude ranch?" Steve asked the kids one day. He recalls their answer: "Dad, let‚'s go for it." But first there was research: In 1993, Steve funded a "dude ranch road trip" to Montana so the future entrepreneurs could see what they were getting into. The next year, it was a dude ranch convention in Arizona, where the kids were under orders to split up and talk to as many people as possible. (There are 85-90 members in a national dude ranch association.) Their enthusiasm never swayed. But the beautiful 12-room lodge didn't just rise in a matter of months from an architect's plans. It's been years in the making. (I say "it's been," not "it was," because work is still being done, with the last couple rooms still in progress.) Until the lodge was habitable, the Konzes hosted their guests in their own home on the same plot of land, where they could handle 10-12 guests at a time compared to 40 today. The timber came from their own land and the sweat from their own brows. (Interestingly, I never heard the phrase "it was hard work", or anything like it ‚ in the several hours Steve and I talked about K Diamond K). K Diamond K has hosted regular family vacations, weddings and even bachelor parties (including one where all the men brought their future father-in-laws with them).

Our trip to Tacoma ended with a two-night stay at the home of Jerry and Mary Anne Woodard, friends of the Konzes. Jerry is a retired carpenter and builder, and his story is pretty typical. The Konz and Woodard families developed a friendship after meeting at the state fair, and Mary Anne eventually bought Jerry a weekend at the ranch as a present. Jerry spent the time not relaxing, but working. He eventually built a desktop model the Konzes followed, and he's invested hundreds of hours of his own time working for free for his friend. I had figured I'd stay in a motel for our two nights in Tacoma, but when I asked the Woodards for a lead on a place down the road from their home, they said they might have a corner in their modest-sized, beautiful home to accommodate all three of us. They never actually said you're staying here," it just kind of happened. I slept well after downing a steak the size of my foot (size 13), a glass of wine, a monster baked potato that looked like something Peyton Manning would hoist, and a "small" piece of berry pie. ****** (Steve is a veteran himself: Navy, 1944-1946.)


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