LBJ Ranch: National Historical Park

Have you ever heard of Air Force ½? This is one of the many interesting facts we learned when we were on the road in Texas. Beyond Luckenbach, we traveled to the Enchanted Rock once again, (to prove we could still climb it), and to visit a few places we missed last time.

We had intended to only drive around the LBJ ranch on National Park Property, but changed our minds and took the last tour of the day. We were greeted by a winter volunteer that took her job seriously and answered any questions she was asked.

The ranch once belonged to family, and when Johnson’s uncle Frank Martin died, the “dilapidated” ranch was given to Johnson, with lifetime use of the house for his widow, Johnson’s aunt.

With endless energy, Johnson grew the ranch to 2,700 acres with 400 head of Hereford cattle. As you drive around the ranch you will see herds of cattle grazing. The show barn is where the animals are primped for competition. They still take great care in breeding and showmanship at the ranch.

Deer grazing with cattle
Showman barn

Hereford Cattle

Just outside the ranger station, there sat the Air Force ½. We were able to look inside and it is smaller than anything I have been in, except a bush plane. I wonder how well Johnson fit into the plane.

Air Force 1/2

The garage housed several cars, including two Lincoln convertibles, a Thunderbird and a “floating” car he drove on the Pedernales River on the ranch property.

In the house we saw the office where former President Johnson worked. No photography was allowed, but the walls were covered in brown panels. I found it interesting that several people worked in a rather small room together. There were two things that fascinated me: probably the first “radio” phone, or old mobile phone with a box. A 60’s television set with old turn dials was built high up in the wall, across from Johnson’s desk. How did he turn it on? I know he was a very tall man, standing 6’ 4”, but this TV was very high up. Johnson had a remote! Who knows, but it might have been the first one invented.

Sometimes referred to as the Texas White House
Johnson’s favorite place to sit.

Each room was tastefully done, 60’s style, but a welcoming house. It was comfortable and lived in. We toured the kitchen with its large appliances and its colors took me back to my childhood. The Johnsons entertained their guests in the family room, which they made a cozy place. I was pleasantly surprised it was not a huge overdone mansion proving the wealth of the successful rancher/Senator/President. All of the rooms had that family lived-in look.

One of LB’s favorite places was to sit under the huge live oak in front of the house. Many times he would arrange meetings there with officials from Washington, D.C.

The Johnson family loved the ranch and added on to it, eventually putting in a pool and pool house after he had a heart attack. It seemed that Lady Bird, his wife used it more than he did.

When LB was sworn in after President Kennedy died, suddenly the ranch was surrounded by security. A building was built to house the personnel. They began calling the Johnson home the “Texas White House.”

During these times, a war was on in Vietnam and many times Lady Bird would wake to find officials talking to the president at 5 am in the morning while they were still in bed. Lady Bird put a stop to that and had her own bedroom built across from his.

Johnson never stopped while he was awake. He was a man full of energy and worked long hours. Even his bedroom had three televisions in it, and they were all on whenever he was there.

While he was president he signed into law 60 education bills, and almost 300 bills of environmental and other conservation issues.

Lady Bird cofounded the wild flower preservation with the actress, Helen Hayes. Together they planted and preserved the native plants of Texas. Lady Bird had a large flower garden in her back yard. I remember seeing native plants along the highways of Texas when Johnson was president.

We visited a Wild seed farm in Fredericksburg earlier in the day. You could purchase wild flower seeds for climate zones all over the U.S.A.

Out back there is a brick patio with cement bricks that hold the names of famous people who attended the Johnson’s famous BBQ’s. Here are a few of them:

As for why his plane was named Air Force ½: as a Senator, Johnson had his own plane to fly to Washington. Later when he came president, there was not enough room to land Air Force One, so they continued to use his plane, which they renamed Air Force 1/2.




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