“It takes days to see it all,” says Bernard Uechtritz. The real estate broker is steering his black Ford F-350 pickup over one of the hundreds of miles of roads ribboning the W.T. Waggoner Estate Ranch 175 miles (280 kilometers) northwest of Dallas. Squinting into the sun, Uechtritz gestures to the sky on his right. “Everything you can see, as far as the eye can see, is the ranch,” he says. He points straight ahead, then behind him, then left. “Each horizon is this ranch.”
Uechtritz (YOO-tridge) is one of two brokers entrusted with the singular task of selling the Waggoner ranch and everything attached to it, from the 29 tractors, to the cut-rock polo barn, to the emptied bottles of Old Taylor bourbon in an abandoned hunting lodge. At 510,527 acres (207,000 hectares), or 800 square miles (2,072 square kilometers), the Waggoner sprawls over six counties and is bigger than Los Angeles and New York City combined. At almost three-quarters of a billion dollars, the asking price is more than quadruple the biggest publicly known sum fetched by a U.S. ranch, $175 million for a Colorado spread in 2007. The Waggoner is one of the 20 largest cattle ranches in the U.S. and is known worldwide for its quarter horses.
It’s been owned by the same family almost as long as Texas has been a state. Last year, a judge in Vernon—a town of about 11,000, 13 miles north of the ranch—ordered a sale of the property and appointed Uechtritz and a co-broker to market it worldwide. The ruling of District Judge Dan Mike Bird ended more than 20 years of litigation between opposing branches of the Waggoner family who couldn’t agree whether to liquidate the property or split it up among themselves.
“It’s history,” says Uechtritz, a blue-eyed, square-jawed 50-year-old who can pass for the Marlboro Man—until he greets you with “G’day” in his Australian accent. “What we’re doing here never happened before and will never happen again.”
As Uechtritz drives the ranch on this warm June afternoon, he takes a call from an oilman in Europe. Over speakerphone, the guy says his company tried to bid for the Waggoner years ago, “but all we got was bullshit.” Uechtritz tells him, “That’s not going to happen, mate.”
He wends his pickup past an old rodeo corral, a truck scale, and a cook shack where cowboys still gobble pre-dawn biscuits and gravy, as they have for more than a century. Uechtritz says the European caller is among more than 600 people who’ve expressed interest in the ranch, “ranging from the really real to the really not.” He says he’s confident a sale will close by year’s end. His co-broker on the deal is Sam Middleton, of Chas. S. Middleton & Son of Lubbock, Texas. That firm and Uechtritz’s employer, Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty of Dallas, each will collect a commission of $7.625 million if the ranch commands its asking price.
Uechtritz acknowledges a new owner might sell the property off in pieces, fire its 120 employees, and let the Waggoner brand fade away. “That would be a tragedy,” he says. “The challenge is not finding the money; it’s finding the steward. Who is going to put the money up, keep putting the money in, keep the brand alive? I think you owe it to the families who build ranches like the Waggoner.”