This year’s Stagecoach Days’s grand marshal hails from true cowboy pedigree.
Black and white pictures on the walls of his home dating back to the early 1900s show his father Benjamin demonstrating roping skills in front of President Teddy Roosevelt.
His daughter Lori Ruehle has served on the Stagecoach Days Committee for years, and was the Stagecoach Days Queen in 1983.
As early as 8, on his way to school he would carry with him his double barrel shotgun.
Ruehle was born in 1930 as the youngest of five sisters and three brothers in Youngstown, Ohio.
He only attended school through the eighth-grade, since he was needed to help work at the height of the Great Depression.
He would set his traps before school and check them on the way home.
He would hunt for rabbits and pheasant after school to help provide meals for his family.
“We would set our guns down in the coat rats. All the boys back then did,” Ruehle recalls.
A couple of displays of media clippings exhibit stories and pictures from across the years, with him either in the headline or on a cover of publications such as Star Magazine, or a 1973 article in the Los Angeles Times showing him roping cattle on the freeway, or featured on the cover of Range Magazine. Other clippings were from the Press Enterprise, the Inland Valley Daily Builletin and the National Examiner.
According to writer Shari Marquis, a Banning resident who is writing a book on Ruehle, “The life he’s lived is a great life. He always has a huge heart, and is a man of substance.”
It is only fitting that such a man should receive the honor of being Banning’s grand marshal at the Stagecoach Days parade on Sept. 7.
Stepping into Bill Ruehle’s home in Cherry Valley is like walking into a Western-themed museum, a rustic Old West setting with harnesses, ropes, animal pelts, cowboy hats carefully displayed.
“It’s very authentic,” Marquis says. “It’s a western-themed house. The whole family — all those people — have been born and bred” to be cowboys.
Ruehle says that he was wounded in action atop Pork Chop Hill during the Korean War, bayonetted in the groin and left for dead.
In darkness, he managed to crawl down the hill before being rescued by American troops.
He claims to have contracted ebola, probably from all the rats that were there, he says, “but they kept me alive because of all the penicillin he was already receiving” from his wound.
He says that he never received a Purple Heart for his wounds.
“I was told they’d run out of Purple Hearts, or the metal for them — and to apply for one after the war,” he says.
He never bothered.
He still suffers PTSD, and regularly nightmares wake him up in the middle of the night.
His skills roping and maintaining ranchlands got him many gigs as a roper and ranch hand.
He says that he has owned or leased 39 ranches and rodeos over the years, ever since his family migrated to California in 1943.
His fields have yielded tons of wheat, barley, garbonzo beans and oats.
A rodeo he once owned in Artesia claimed its announcer was media personality Cal Worthington.
Ruehle claims titles to having won bullriding championships.
He was regularly relied upon to help corral cattle that escaped when trailers pulling them along the freeway got into accidents.
He once leased more than 1,000 acres in the Portrero area to Lockheed Martin, which used the area as a missile test site.
He claims that a couple of teenagers once trespassed onto that secured property and were shooting at rattlesnakes when they inadvertently ignited a dud, which caused serious injuries and lost him a $10 million lawsuit.
Despite waning vision and hearing, Ruehle declares himself to be in pretty good health.
“I have no cholesterol. I don’t drink, I’ve never had a DUI, never been arrested,” he says.
In 2001, he recalls, “The VA took me to San Diego for open heart surgery,” he says. “They told me that if I didn’t want to go through that again, I needed to quit smoking,” after 50 years of smoking a pack a day.
“I quit cold turkey,” he says. Now, “I can’t stand the smell of smoke.”
Every morning he is up at the crack of dawn.
He has his coffee, he lifts weights every morning.
He is a proud Donald Trump supporter, and has a large banner announcing the president’s campaign on his front porch.
More than 100 people attended his birthday the weekend of Aug. 26, when he turned 89.
“I’ve been blessed with a good family and good care,” he says. “I always went to church. I pray every day — got me through the war — and my prayers are answered.”
He was thrilled when the Banning Stagecoach Days Committee informed him that he is this year’s grand marshal for the parade.
“It’s an honor,” he acknowledges, though he thinks there are other candidates more worthy than himself who should be nominated for the title.
He will ride in the Sept. 7 starting at 10 a.m. along Ramsey Street, in his green hay wagon, accompanied by eight of his grandchildren.
Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .