Just south of Healdsburg on the east side of Highway 101 was the Campbell Ranch. Almost every resident of Healdsburg and many on the North Coast knew the ranch with the friendly two-story house sitting up on a slight knoll. Today the house is surrounded by grapevines. A “For Sale” sign has been removed, leading me to believe there are new owners. It will always be the Campbell Ranch to me. Bruce Campbell — the last child of Charles Campbell, DVM and Ruth Campbell — died at just 64 years old. I watched Bruce and his two sisters grow up. Bruce outlived his sisters Suzie and Linda who both died at a young age.
In Sonoma County agriculture Bruce was an icon. Bruce loved agriculture and its people. Shortly after graduating from high school and college, he ran unsuccessfully for county supervisor.
Besides sheep, people and women, Bruce loved his sheep dogs. I needed a dog some 40 years ago and Bruce’s bitch had just had a litter. Bruce, at that time was working at the Hot Springs Ranch outside of Cloverdale. I grabbed my friend Jonnie Edgar (JET Trucking) and we drove out to the ranch one afternoon to get a pick of the litter. Bruce invited us in to pick out a puppy and have a little hit. The mother and all of the puppies were housed in a corner of the front room. Three or four chairs surrounded a wooden table piled high with dirty dishes. Bruce just shoved some of the dishes aside and, found some partially used glasses. He proceeded to pour us a small hit.
Bruce owned a three-legged Border Collie dog named Archie, who competed at sheep dog trials. In the 70s and 80s, as it is today, it is very competitive. I speak as someone who tried sheepdog trials and failed. Dogs, at the command of their owner/trainer, direct four sheep through a set course. The first thing is to have the dog complete the course which consists of a chute, wide panels and then work three sheep into a pen. The next thing is to complete the course in the shortest time. Archie completed the course with only the use of his three legs. Archie won many blue ribbons.
The next thing I knew Bruce had become an auctioneer. He auctioned at fairs, fundraisers and anything else that contributed funds for the support of 4-H and FFA members. Along this time Bruce married a wonderful lady from Cloverdale. All of this time he continued to raise sheep at the Healdsburg ranch. Within a few years he lost the wonderful Cloverdale wife. Shortly thereafter, he married another wonderful lady, Nancy, and built a small house on the Healdsburg ranch.
Somewhere in the 1980s Bruce started a lamb meat marketing company called CK Lamb. CK stood for Campbell Kids, the mantra used by Bruce and his two sisters while growing up showing at fairs and other competitions. Bruce’s company sold lamb meat directly to local restaurants and Bay Area meat markets. Bruce selectively purchased lambs from Sonoma County producers paying a decent price for grass-fed lambs that were never treated with antibiotics or hormones.
Lady number two worked alongside Bruce, who by this time had a well-known brand. The local press would cover the progress of CK Lamb at stores and restaurants. I would see his pickup and sheep trailer come and go. Bruce was everywhere, when not selling lamb he would be auctioneering. He truly was a great ambassador for Sonoma County.
Besides his lamb business and auctioneering, Bruce served on the Sonoma County Harvest Fair Board of Directors. I saw him at a function there in a full suit and tie with tennis shoes. That signaled to me that his body was telling him something.
Sonoma County is truly a social county. Especially in wine country. Everyone knows about everything here that happens in agriculture. I knew that from a young age Bruce chewed tobacco. I also shared a few hits with Bruce. Somewhere Bruce made a statement that if he knew he was going to live so long, he would have taken better care of his body. The hits were more often. Then he lost lovely lady number two. He tried, I know he did. With his mom and two sisters gone, but his dad still living in the house, he knew he had to stay strong. It was time to sell the CK Lamb business. Just take care of dad and raise a few sheep on the ranch. He could still help at the fair auction. But the hits finally won the game.
A memorial service was held at the 4-H Center for Bruce Campbell. People came from all around the state. Both lovely wives attended as well as some stepchildren. Rex Williams, who bought the CK Lamb business, put the program together. It was like old home week for anyone connected with Sonoma County Agriculture.