BJ Blanchard: Stories from Glen Ellen and beyond

Meet the Grand Marshall of the 2016 Glen Ellen Fair.


Hell has frozen over. The rumors are true. Glen Ellen’s Sylvia and Bill Crawford have left town. Gone. Creekbottom House sold, and as of Sept. 1, they are Portland, Oregon, people. Leaving for closeness to grand-children. As the world turns ... In the meantime, I’m delighted to step into Sylvia’s shoes with news and stories of our fine village.

Neil Shepard, grand marshal of the 2016 Glen Ellen Village Fair

There is a calmness when talking to a man who is simply himself. An uncomplicated fellow, whose genetic connection to celebrity is undeniable, whose sweat is in the soil of these famous hills. Yet he remains himself.

Neil Shepard still lives on Jack London’s Beauty Ranch. Gets up at 3 a.m. to put in a full day’s work, stops by to feed the Clydesdales Willie, Sunny, Gus and Max on his way home. He wears boots, jeans, T-shirt, cowboy hat, and has the dusty, sunburned skin of a man who works outdoors.

He’s known in town as Neil. His father, Milo, was Eliza Shepard’s grandson. Milo rode these hills daily on horseback with the dynamic Charmian, Jack’s widow, and died in 2010.

Neil’s love for his draft horses started years ago when he received one as a gift. Now, there’s a full team that he shows at Plowing Play Day, and hauls laughing children around town at Christmas. Neil’s big Willie the Clydesdale was studied by Pixar animators and used as a model for “Angus,” Merida’s faithful companion in “Brave.” Willie will be in the team pulling Neil’s wagon in the Glen Ellen Village Fair Parade this year.

Neil is animated when talking about the past. “That old WWII Army transport truck rusting under the falling-down oak I got from so and so for $200 and hauled firewood all over the Valley for spending money when I was 16. ... That old horse wagon collapsing on three wheels in the pile of leaves hauled 500-pound hay bales up from Sears Point in the 1800s.”

What moves a guy like Neil Shepard? In 2007, when his wooden barn burned down with tack, feed and wagons gone, the Girl Scouts of Glen Ellen Troop 406 held a root beer float sale. They gave Neil a check from their proceeds to help rebuild and, indeed, his new wagon bears the words “Troop 406” in their honor.

This year Neil will be honored as the grand marshal of the Glen Ellen Village Fair on Sunday, Oct. 9. He will be driving his beautiful team of Clydesdales and will be piped in with bagpipers. After the festivities, he will drive his team back up the hill past Jack’s stand of Eucalyptus, past the cottage and the stone barns, to their corral, to their place in history, quiet, shaded, uncomplicated.

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