By KATHY BROWN

Gillette News-Record via Associated Press

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) -- The rhythmic rattle of rail cars as they pass by the Hines Ranch eight miles west of Gillette has intricately woven the lives of three generations of ranchers.

Their place, near the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line, is the highest altitude between Omaha, Neb., and Billings, Mont. It's always been that way.

When John Hines arrived in northeastern Wyoming in what was then Crook County in about 1900, he chose to make his homestead near the Oriva community, just off what is now Echeta Road.

Once he crossed the railroad tracks, where passenger and freight trains went by twice a day, he saw grasslands, springs, nearby hills topped by red scoria and canyons and washes that drew abundant wildlife. He decided to stay and make his home there.

For his descendants, it remains the best place in the world.

Born on May 1, 1875, in Louisville, Ky., Hines was raised in an orphanage in Pennsylvania. Little else is known about him, although his grandson, Bill Bruce Hines of Gillette, said John Hines' mother died when he was just 1.

At the time, his great-grandfather, who was born in Ireland in 1848, had four children. That's when the children were likely put in an orphanage by their father.

When he first came to Wyoming just a decade after statehood in 1900, Hines worked as teamster in LeRoy in southwestern Wyoming, a siding on the railroad.

"He helped build the railroad grade where the UP split off and one branches to Idaho," said his grandson, John Hines, who has owned and operated the ranch where his grandfather homesteaded for the past 51 years. "He worked down there and also on the (sheep) shearing."

Hines filed for his homestead on Nov. 21, 1901, where the ranch headquarters and his grandson's log home now stand.

At some point, he somehow ended up in Carlyle, Ill., a small town about 50 miles east of St. Louis, where he met Tague "Tiggie" M. Eagle. Just 14 days after filing for his homestead, they married and the couple moved to Wyoming with their belongings loaded in a railroad freight car.

"You wonder why they picked this spot," John Hines said. "And I don't know, really. My grandmother and her sister (Kate Eagle), they had a farm in Illinois, their family. I think they irrigated and it was different than this old, dry country."

The Hines' only child, John Dwight Hines, was born May 24, 1903, at the ranch home. The family lived on the ranch raising cattle and horses, while the homesteader traveled every summer to southern Wyoming to work his blades in shearing pens. He liked sheep shearing, but his main occupation was always hauling freight.

Dwight later attended military school in Kearney, Neb., and afterward joined three buddies who traveled to Nevada and worked on some ranches. He spent about 10 years there, and ended up working for the railroad in northern Nevada from Sparks to east of Reno on Battle Mountain.

In 1929, his father bought a new truck for his freighting business, often hauling coal throughout Campbell County.

But on Sept. 18, 1930, John Hines was killed when his truck turned over while hauling railroad ties nearly 20 miles south of Gillette on Bishop Road. He was just 55.

His wife -- traveling with him -- was thrown across the truck and suffered bruises.

Soon after, Dwight returned to Gillette and began operating the ranch with the Depression and drought in full swing.

Dwight married Oriva neighbor Annie Mary McKenzie on Sept. 1, 1932.

The McKenzies ranched just four miles west of the Hineses. The couple had met at a country dance when Annie had gone with another neighbor.

Annie moved to the Hines Ranch, where her mother-in-law and her sister still lived, and did all the cooking, cleaning, laundry and sewing.

She also raised four children -- one of whom, Helen Kathleen, died in 1937 -- in a house without running water.

Their daughter, Dorothy Jean, was born in 1933, John was born in 1936 and Bill Bruce in 1944.

"Our mom was a saint," Dorothy Jean Davis said. "She never seemed to complain. She told me she used to wash all the windows each week, and iron the sheets and pillowcases."

In 1936, the horse and cattle operation converted to the sheep business out of necessity.

Their sheep wagon -- one the children would later use to herd sheep and sleep out in during the summers -- was recently restored by Bill Hines, along with a buggy dating back to the days of Tiggie and Kate Eagle.

Dwight's operation on the ranch was short lived. He died in May 1952 from a heart condition. He was just 49.

When his father died, John was in high school. He had bought his own brand, one he still uses today, the lazy J H.

It was his mother who made the choice to continue operating the ranch to keep its legacy alive.

"She did things that weren't easy," Hine said. "She was the type that would tell you to do something and if I didn't, she wouldn't tell me again. She just went and did it.

In 1957, John Hines entered the Army in veterinary service. He wanted to see the world.

But during his stint, his part of the world was in Kansas City, where he worked in packing plants as a food inspector.

"I always said that that was the best thing I ever did, because when I got done with that, I was ready to come home and try to be a rancher," Hines said. "And so, I'm still trying."

He took over ranch operations in 1960 and bought the ranch from his mother. In time, he's added a few more acres and the ranch now tops 5,000 acres and leases another 10,000 from adjoining neighbors.

In 1978, he began building his first modern home on the ranch, a log house, on the site of the old house his grandfather had built in the early 1900s.

He continued in the sheep business until 2009, when he sold the sheep and went into cattle. He now has a herd of 500 cows and heifers.

He saw the ranch earn its centennial honors from the state of Wyoming in 2001. It's now reached the ripe old age of 110.

But is there a future for the ranch after he's gone?

"Well, probably not," said Hines, who has never married. 'I guess I don't have to make that decision. I would like it to continue. But the younger kids, like my nieces and nephews, they're all interested but not interested enough to come work it. It's a different lifestyle."

In 1985, Hines was elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives. He was elected to the state Senate in 2003 and the Republican served as president of the Senate in 2009 and 2010 and was re-elected to the Senate in 2010. He now is a member of the statewide committee reapportioning Wyoming's election districts.

For him, the best place in the world is in the shadow of the hill they call Slide Down Hill or, as his younger brother dubbed it many years ago, Red Rock Hill.

"People ask me where is the best place, and I say right here at home. What traveling has done for me is make me appreciate Wyoming all the more."

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Information from: The Gillette News Record - Gillette, http://www.gillettenewsrecord.com

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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