The ranch, the market, the legend

Photo by George Stahl / Special to the Sun; Jim Wyly, owner of Mt. Mesa Market, carries on the tradition of helping to provide eggs for the 55th annual Kissack Ranch Easter Egg Hunt. For the past several years, 1,440 eggs have been hardboiled and then taken to the ranch to be dyed and marked just days before the big event.

By George Stahl
Special to the Sun

For 55 years an event has been taking place on the Kissack Ranch in Mt. Mesa that is nothing short of a miracle. Over those years, thousands of thousands of children have been witness to this happening, and to them, it has even been magical. Some of them are now bringing their children to see this amazing happening.

Villages and towns around the world have their version of holiday miracles in one form or another. For the children of the Kern River Valley it is the annual Easter Egg Hunt at the Kissack Ranch. It all started back in 1963, one year after Bill Kissack Sr. built the store on the corner of Hwy. 178 and McCray Rd. From the start it was called Mt. Mesa Market. Kissack didn’t run the store; he leased it to a man named Larry Lowstter. As part of the lease, Mr. Lowstter was to have dozens of eggs ready for Easter morning to hide around Kissack Ranch, where all of the children of the KRV could come to find them. Mr. Lowstter agreed and the legendary Kissack Ranch Easter Egg Hunt was born.

Another part of that legend is something that Kissack didn’t tell Lowstter. Somewhere, somehow, a third party was involved with the hunt, and it is because of the contract with this party that it has lasted as long as it has, despite it changing hands so many times over the years. The only thing that has ever been discovered about this mystery partner is that he apparently has whiskers, a squatty, furry body, and long floppy ears. He has also been referred to on occasion as Peter.

Over the years, Mt. Mesa Market has been in the hands of several other owners. Some tried to run the market themselves, and that didn’t work so well for them. Others have leased out the building, which, in some cases, proved a little more profitable. Then, in 1977, through a random act of mishaps, calculated endings and a certain amount of coincidence, the current owner, Jim Wyly, obtained the building and the market it housed. “We have never changed the name. It has never been anything other than Mt. Mesa Market,” Wyly said. Like Lowstter and the others that followed him, part of any agreement to own or operate the market was that every year, the eggs would be ready for the Easter day hunt. “This year, and for the past several years, we’ll cook 120 dozen eggs here at the market,” Wyly said. That’s 1,440 hardboiled eggs.

From 1963 to 1977, the Kissack family had help with the event from a group known as the South Fork Property Owners Association. The organization at one time, for a reason not remembered, had to not only supply the eggs to be used, but they had to prepare them in their homes. They would divide up the number they felt was needed and the members of the group would boil them and dye them at home. This lasted for one or two Easters, then, the task of preparing the eggs was redirected to the market when Wyly took over.

“I’ll start the eggs on Thursday morning here in the oven, and 6 hours later, I’ll have them packed up, ready to be taken to be dyed,” Wyly said, standing in his store.

The oven is a Combitherm Steam Injection oven. Forty dozen eggs are placed on the racks inside, and in an hour or so, they are ready to come out, thoroughly hard boiled by the steam. “Then, I’ll put them all on towels laid out in the kitchen to dry. After they are packed in egg boxes, Bill and Carla Stonebarger of Squirrel Valley come for them. The Stonebargers have been a large part of this for as long as I can remember,” Wyly said. They take them to the ranch to be dyed and marked. The Stonebargers used to do the dying in their home, but for a couple of years now they have been taking them directly to the ranch. Once there, a crew of volunteers assemble to get the huge task of coloring all 1,440 eggs done. As they do, some of them are ‘marked’ to stand out. “These come with a prize,” Wyly said. “Way back when this started, any kid who found a marked egg would get a prize. Then it was a homemade pastry or a toy,” he explained.

Today, and for as long as Wyly knows, the prizes are See’s Candy Chocolate Bunnies, toys, other candies and treats, all provided by the Kissack family. Jack and Angie Price live on the ranch now, and are a very big help with the event. One of the only surviving Kissack children, Carolyn, lives in Idaho, and according to Wyly, she is very involved with the Egg Hunt as well as with other happenings on the ranch. A number of the Kissack grandchildren contribute many selfless hours and talents to the hunt every year as well.

“I would like to really say thank you to the man who supplies all of these eggs every year. Sonny, the owner of Farmer John Eggs in Bakersfield, has been the one who gets all 120 dozen up to the valley in time for us to successfully carry out this huge event. Thank you, Sonny,” Wyly said.

So, kids, and parents, about 500 yards to the east of Mt. Mesa Market on Hwy. 178 there is the entrance to the Kissack Ranch. There is a 4’ x 8’ plywood sign that reads, “Easter Sunday Egg Hunt 1:00 p.m.” It’s yellow with blue letters. It stands at the beginning of what could only be described as ‘the bunny trail.’ It’s a tree lined dirt trail that could only lead to something magical. At the end of this dirt path, you’ll find an abundance of happy, fun, prizes and treats, and of course, there is talk that the Kissack’s original partner with the big, fluffy ears will be there too.

From all at the Ranch, the Market and the community… Happy Easter!