By Cecily Markland
For the past 30 years, Rockin R Ranch has been known for chuckwagon dinners and foot-stompin’ entertainment, where millions of visitors have experienced a taste of Arizona’s Old West heritage. The ranch has been in the Robson family for five generations. In 1878, more than a century ago, Brigham Young sent Big Jim’s great, great grandfather, Charles Innes Robson, and three other families to establish a colony near the junction of the Salt and Verde Rivers.
The group arrived by covered wagon February 14, 1878. Soon, the town of Mesa was established. By the 1960’s, the Robson family holdings–including what is now Rockin’ R Ranch–stretched from Colorado to Arizona where the family raised thoroughbred racehorses and cattle. Big Jim grew up around working cowboys—eating BBQ beef and Dutch-oven biscuits around the chuckwagon.
Big Jim and Sweet Mary were married shortly after he returned from an LDS mission to England. Soon they were performing with their family band (The “Family Waye”), for church dances and local hotels. When they were “discovered” by a Las Vegas agent, Big Jim says, “We jumped at the chance and signed on to tour all across North America, including the Super Bowl in Phoenix and national television.”
Thirteen years later, with two children and one on the way, the Robsons returned to Mesa, with the idea of turning the old family ranch into a western town and dinner showplace. They spent six months going to bank after bank “until we found one willing to loan us barely enough to get started.
When they opened January 6, 1984, “we weren’t even half finished—out of money—with no experience and no electricity! We actually ran an extension cord from our mobile home, over to the main building for lights, and we cooked that first night’s food in our little mobile home’s oven,” Big Jim says.
With no advertising money, for the month before they opened, “Sweet Mary stood out on Baseline Road, eight month’s pregnant, with a toddler in one arm and free tickets in the other, giving the tickets away to those who drove by.”
Within a few weeks, they were filling the barn-like dining hall with 800 people a night—six nights a week, plus some matinees. Guests came by the hundreds—and kept coming.
Still today—30 years later—an evening at the Rockin’ R Ranch includes an all-you-can-eat BBQ dinner with all the trimmins’, followed by a foot stompin’, hand clappin’ western stage show with the now, “world famous,” Rockin’ R Wranglers. The evening still includes gunfights, gold panning, and gift shops. Millions from around the world have visited since its opening; hundreds have taken their wedding vows in the garden wedding areas; and thousands of school children have experienced Arizona’s history at Rockin’ R Ranch.
Voted the “Number One Place to Bring Out of Town Friends in the Valley,” the Rockin’ R is still “ridin’ high in the saddle.” Big Jim, Sweet Mary and all the cowboys at the Ranch invite everyone to pay them a visit and help them celebrate this, their 30th anniversary year. The Ranch is located 1/2 mile west of Power Road on Baseline. Call 480-832-1539 or visit www.rockinr.net, for show dates and times and to make reservations.