Living History Adventure Tours

“If you can DRAW it, you can BUILD it!”

Okay, so you’re probably wondering what that means, right?

Living History, as interpreted by us, means just that: Living History. You get to experience what life was like back then. Except that we called them Living History ADVENTURE Tours. We started with the old 1870 Gold Rush Mine at Smith Ranch in Julian, CA, that we had been working on cleaning out. It was a hobby, just to see where it went. When we first moved to the ranch, you could only crawl on your belly into the mine because it was so full of dirt. My wife said, “No way, I’m not going in there!”

Okay, well, since there might be wild animals in there that bite, I crawled in with a bayonet clenched between my teeth. Just kidding! But it wouldn’t have been a bad idea. When I got inside, I did run into…that’s another story. So we got the railroad well underway. We had the mine, the upper pond, the Trading Post, the large parking field, the 1880 Utah Bartlett Pear Tree, all this amazing history on Smith Ranch. I had my teaching credential and was teaching at the Julian Junior High School at the time when the idea came to us something like this…

“We’ve been hosting our annual “Julian Pioneer Day” for the Julian community here since 1987. Why don’t we make it bigger? There isn’t much for children to do in Julian, CA, when they come to visit with their parents. Why don’t we open up Smith Ranch Pioneer Day to visitors to Julian and make Pioneer Day happen all year long, Monday-Saturday? We could finish the railroad, clean out some more in the Gold Mine, build a rope bridge across the Upper Pond, farm in the Old Orchard. If we can draw it, we can build it.” We DREW it!

I finished the year teaching and then we shifted gears. We began searching for more equipment for the railroad and other projects. People donated old broken hand plows, lanterns, hand grinders, and more. What about costumes? Activities? Picnic tables? Where can our guests park? How can we make it a fun and educational tour for young and old alike?

We started with just the “Julian Train and Gold Mine Tour” but realized, “Why just limit it to that?” Soon, we were planning the 1600s”Pilgrim Thanksgiving Adventure”, “The American Revolution Adventure” for the 1700s, and “The Julian California Gold Rush Adventure” for the 1800s. It took us 3 more years before we could have things complete enough to host our first paying guests. Meanwhile, we continued to host our annual Pioneer Day for the community. It was just too much fun!

We contacted our San Diego county board of supervisor’s office and they said “no problem” with doing the tours at our ranch. We put everything we had into it. By Spring 2007, we had our first school visit: two 4th grade classrooms from Julian Elementary. I wish I could say it was all a cakewalk from there, but it wasn’t. But we grew by word of mouth and reaching out to people in the tourist town of Julian, the community, and online to people, schools, and groups all over southern California. Word sread. We were written about by a magazine in Germany. After several lean, growing years, we began to host visitors and guests from all around the world. We became one of the “Top 10 Things to Do in San Diego.” In eight years, we endded up traveling more than 16,000 miles on our trains! We met people, sweet friends, from Iceland, the UK, Canada, Germany, France and the rest of Europe, India, Russia, China, Pakistan, the Middle East, Africa, Australia, every continent, the Pacific–you name it, people came. It was a fun way to meet people and teach history, real, hands-on history, at the same time.

Author Greg Smith driving train across bridge at Smith Ranch
Author Gregory O. Smith driving a battery-powered Gold Mining Locomotive, pulling passengers in train cars, during his popular and successful living history adventure tour program.