Amid shutdown, LBJ staff 'riding for the brand'

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist CHRIS SHADROCK

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on October 2, 2013 at 6:33 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 2 at 9:03 PM

STONEWALL, Texas -- Down the winding roads of the Hill Country, far from the nation's capital, lies what once served as an unofficial capital during the administration of President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Roughly 50 miles from Austin and more than 1,500 from Washington, D.C., the LBJ Ranch has nonetheless failed to escape the government shutdown that has shuttered national parks across the country.

"It has totally closed operations for the public. We do have a skeletal crew here that is taking care of our cattle herd," said administrative officer Catherine Guivas, one of the few working through the shutdown. "Today I think it's sinking in a little bit more, the possibility that this could go on for several days."

According to the National Park Service, the 1,500-acre ranch saw more than 110,000 visitors in 2012 -- an average of roughly 300 a day. On Wednesday Guivas took KVUE through the gate to see how the shutdown has affected the historic Central Texas destination.

"Yesterday, today and tomorrow we were supposed to have what is called 'Farm and Ranch Days,' and it's with local school children, and we have different exhibits that they walk, go through on the ranch," said Guivas. "Today's activities and tomorrow's activities have been canceled, and we've also had several Grey Line bus tours, for example, that come in from San Antonio that we've had to call and cancel."

Along with the centerpiece, the Johnson family homestead known as the "Texas White House," the ranch is also home to 100 head of cattle descended from LBJ's own herd. Shutdown or not, they've got to eat.

On a normal day, you could find fourth generation Texas rancher and LBJ Ranch Foreman Glen Grote either tending his animals or showing visitors how the ranch still works much as it did way back when. Grote many says visitors are particularly fascinated by the process of horn branding.

"They're registered Herefords, which means they've got a pedigree," Grote explained over a table of ranch implements laid out museum style. "So we have to be able to identify who's who."

Grote says the animals are especially popular with children, while adults tour the living quarters of the Texas White House. Kept in the same condition as during Johnson's presidency, the rooms offer a living snapshot of history.

Some 750 people, many of them soldiers and their families, are expected for the annual Barbeque on the Pedernales scheduled for late October. Yet with so much uncertainty still in Washington, the event is now up in the air.

The closed sign tells the same story at LBJ's boyhood home in nearby Johnson City. More than 40 staff members are at home, awaiting a resolution from Congress. Yet while Johnson's legacy is temporarily closed to outsiders, to those still on the inside, keeping it safe is personal.

"Even if we don't have visitors here, and we might not get paid, today it's kind of one of those deals where you just ride for the brand," said Grote.

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