Madera legend, Ray Pool, dies at age 95
Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Audrey Pool joins her husband Ray after receiving flowers during the 2014 Senior Farmer award ceremony. Ray Pool passed away Saturday. He was 95 years old.
Ray Pool, highly esteemed Madera farmer, crop duster, and community benefactor, died Saturday evening, a victim of the COVID-19 virus with his family at his side. He was 95.
Ray came to Madera from Arizona in 1933 at the age of 9 with his parents, Faye and Ray Thomas Pool, and three younger sisters. They farmed in the Arcola district and moved into a farmhouse on Avenue 12 that would one day be turned into a restaurant called the Vintage House.
From that residence, Ray rode a horse to Arcola School, often with Kenny Robbins with whom he began a lifelong friendship.
The elder Pool planted alfalfa, grain, and cotton while acquiring a team, a cow, a pregnant sow, and some chickens. Before long, the Pools had all of the milk, cream, butter, veal, beef, pork chops bacon, and sausage they could eat.
Young Ray even had a hog bladder that he could blow up to use as a football. Thus, the Pools made it through the Depression.
After earning his diploma from Arcola School, Ray went on to Madera High and graduated in 1943. With the world at war, he joined the Army Air Corps and learned to fly B-17 bombers. In 1945, after his discharge from the military, he moved with his family to Nevada. His father had sold his Madera County acreage and invested in a cattle operation.
For a while, everything came up roses; Ray put his military flight training to work. With the deftness of a fighter pilot in combat, he wrangled wild mustangs into a holding pen from whence they were shipped off to California. It was ready made for Ray until that fateful day of January 11, 1948.
Ray had not been airborne for very long before he spotted the herd. He made several passes and then moved in to do business in earnest. That’s when Mother Nature joined the game. A sudden downdraft carried his plane right into the side of a mountain.
Thankfully a group of sightseers in a four-wheel-drive jeep spotted the wreckage, pulled Ray out of the twisted metal, and took him to the hospital. With the loss of his right leg and the use of one eye, Ray spent the next year in and out of Veterans Administration Hospitals.
Upon his recovery, Pool briefly went back to flying, but this time, rather than herd wild horses, he went in search of fish over the Pacific Ocean for commercial fishermen.
When this speculation played out, Ray returned to mother earth and the only place on the planet where he felt at home — Madera.
No one was surprised when Ray moved in with Robbins, who by that time was married and had his mother living with him. Robbins made room for his old friend in the garage where he put a cot and a table, and that wasn’t all.
Gathering up some of their old buddies, Robbins took a truck to Nevada and brought back all of Ray’s belongings, including the remains of the wrecked plane.
By this time, others helped put Ray back on his feet. The DaSilvas took him in for a while, as did his former schoolteacher, Eudora Rogers.
By 1950, Ray, always the gambler, decided to try again, but this time on the ground. He remembered those early years helping his dad till the soil of Madera County, so he purchased 150 acres in the hardpan area on Road 18 at a cost of $137 per acre. There, he tried growing cotton, corn, and alfalfa on half the land and put the rest into pasture.
It wasn’t a very successful venture. He knew he wanted to farm, but he needed some help. That’s when he turned to Leon Emo Sr., the owner of Cal-Air Dusters, who taught him the crop dusting business. This allowed Ray to continue and to even expand his farming adventure.
Then he hit another streak of luck. Ray found an old Stearman biplane for sale in Stockton. After he rebuilt it, he started his own crop dusting business. This would place his farming operation on firm footing.
In the 1960s, life dealt Ray two more excellent hands. One was his marriage to Audrey in 1965, and the other was a new farming opportunity.
It was while he was spraying for Bright’s Nursery in LeGrand, that the owner, Arthur Bright, found out that Pool was interested in almond trees but couldn’t afford to buy them. Bright offered to put in the trees for Ray in exchange for his crop dusting services.
Bright put in 40 acres of trees on Ray’s Road 18 property. Shortly after that, Ray bought 75 more acres, on which Bright put more almond trees.
At this point, dusting vineyards became his bread and butter while he waited on his gamble on farming to do more than break even. That’s when he discovered that grapes held out more promise for him than row crops, and that’s when Gallo Winery offered him a 20-year contract to plant 80 acres of grapes for them.
With the Gallo contract in hand, Ray made his next move. He was winning with crop dusting, and he was holding his own with pasture and almonds. Now he bought another 150 acres on Road 23 and put it to grapes.
Therefore, by 1971, Ray Pool had almond trees on 150 acres on Road 18, almond trees on another 75 acres nearby, and vines on 150 acres on Road 23.
Shortly after that, Ray began to take stock. He wanted to make sure his loved ones were secure, so he formed a family corporation and purchased another 175 acres just north of his original ranch.
Over the years, Ray has been involved in local, private philanthropy, the beneficiaries of which he and Audrey did not advertise. There was one, however, they were not able to keep under wraps; it was the Madera Method and the Madera Method Wagon Train. That one leaked out after Pool was caught riding in the head wagon on one trek leading the other wagons and 200 kids up to Jim Savage’s grave at Hensley Lake.
Ray was honored by the Madera Chamber of Commerce as Senior Farmer of the Year on March 6, 2014. Most of his family members were there, as were a huge number of friends.
Ray received kudos all evening from the packed house, and he responded with humility and a good measure of wit. As Madera County’s Senior Farmer of the Year, he acknowledged his love of farming and flying, but he also made sure that everyone knew that the real love of his life is his wife, Audrey.
For over fifty years, she stood with him, and they have always been a team. While he worked the soil from the ground and in the air, she has stood beside him and in many ways was the public face of the Ray Pool family. While Ray tended to the crops, Audrey plowed the furrows of community involvement, particularly in the area of education.
So with his wife at his side, Ray Pool made his contribution to Madera and treasured the three loves of his life: farming, flying, and Audrey.