Finland has been called the most American country after America. Dallas, the tv-series, was extremely popular in Finland and the dysfunctional family of the Ewings was truly loved. Everybody knew the name of the ranch, Southfork and the company name, Ewing Oil. Everyone secretly liked the narsistic stars. Through the years a lot of Finns probably got a bizarre and twisted idea of the American lifestyle by following the vain and more or less paranoid Ewings.
As we started planning our time in Dallas, the first place we googled was Southfork Ranch. We were pleased and exited to find out it’s not far from the city and it’s open for visitors every day of the year. That was such a good start for planning that we got tempted to play the Dallas theme and look for some memorable J.R. quotes. Like
“You know, Sue Ellen, I do believe you’re going ninety miles an hour toward a nervous breakdown. We’re going to have to do something about your ravings.”
The Imaginary world of the Ewings
Two months later we sit inside the white main building of Southfork Ranch, in sort of a dining room with people from all over the world. We were taken here from the welcome center in a train pulled by a tractor. The driver, speaking in a distinctive Texas accent leaving out the g’s of each word ending in “ing” and shedding syllables by leaving out vowels, explains us that Southfork is no longer a working ranch, although they do have some horses and longhorns. And a couple of lamas.
Contrary to the Dallas viewers common belief, there are no working oil pumps on the ranch. There is, however, the support construction of a pump. One of the earlier owners of the ranch purchased a pump believing there must be oil on the grounds and when he later was broke he had to sell stuff like the pump. The ranch now serves as a venue for conventions, meetings and parties. It must be fun to get married here.
Inside the house our guide starts by telling about the history of the ranch and it’s role in the Dallas tv-series. And we hear many surprises. Firstly, the first five episodes of Dallas were actually shot on a totally different ranch in Texas and Dallas was originally a miniseries. The success of those five episodes led to more and Dallas was broadcasted ’till 1991. Secondly, Southfork Ranch was only used for part of the outdoor scenes of the original series as this was an actual home of a family called the Duncans and the owners didn’t want the filming interfere in their life.
All indoor filming and also part of the outdoor scenes were filmed in California, in a studio. The MGM built a full-size replica of the ranch main building, including the backyard and the pool, inside one of their soundstages. The new Dallas (2012-2014) was able to shoot inside, as this is no longer a family home.
Family Duncan got a fair compensation for letting the film crew run around their 364 acres of land, drive up and down the driveway and splash in the pool from six to eight weeks every summer prior to the season. Dallas re-created the ranch in a lot of ways. Tv-viewers were told the estate size is 100 000 acres (like, one-third size of Dallas). The very normal lenght, asphalt driveway of the ranch was made to look miles long by the talented film makers by combining a series of drive scenes together. And because they wanted to create an illusion of a gravel road and have dust rising as someone drove to the ranch, they used regular flour on the sides of the asphalt driveway to make it look like dust on film.
And the Olympic-size pool on the yard that Bobby was so happy of, that only exists in Dallas. The production team used mirrors to make the tiny pool appear suitable for serious training.
How did they manage to do all that without anyone noticing? Well, the Duncan family had made sure the location remained a secret. It was important for them for privacy and to the filming company, too. No-one should know that the front porch of Southfork is actually super modest compared to the images shown in Dallas (however, there is the same glass table that can be seen on breakfast scenes).
Everything was good until the evening of the third season finale, the cliffhanger episode “A House Divided” that created the “Who Shot J.R.?” phenomenom. For some reason, the CBS’s presenter Phyllis George happened to reveal the location of Southfork Ranch on air. The next morning the family Duncan woke up to witness curious crowds that had come to see how’s J.R. Some even went swimming. Soon, the Duncans had enough and moved out.
Our group is led through the hallways, past the kitchen, the dining room and into the living room. There is a cardboard J.R. standing by the home bar waiting for the visitors have a whisky with him. We see rooms and a hallway that were made to look like a Mexican hotel. The hotel, in which J.R. finally was shot to death in the new episodes of Dallas. That had to be done as the actor Larry Hagman actually passed away.
We get to see the balcony and the views are pretty. Missing the cattle, though. And the oil pumps. And the cowboys. But the familiar white and yellow striped blinds on some of the windows are exactly like in the series. Upstairs we see the bedrooms, over the top bathrooms, a sauna and the staircase that was only used once in Dallas. After the tour there’s a possibility to walk back to the welcome center or take the train.
It feels funny that this is the Dallas location, yet it isn’t. Things happened here, but didn’t.
We had decided to schedule our Southfork Ranch trip for the first Dallas day. Southfork is located in Parker, approximately 30 Miles north of Dallas. As we had an early start, we were also the first visitors of the day.
The main doors lead to the Dallas store, which is filled with Dallas memorabilia, western wear and gifts. You can buy the tour tickets at the counter and will be given a tour time. Before the tour we had time to wander in the “Dallas Legends” exhibition and get some major flashbacks to the events of the tv-series.
There’s a vast collection of magazine covers and newspaper clippings on the series. One wall is covered with a “Dallas family tree” explaining the odd relationships that were formed between the characters through the years. Displayed are some very interesting items, such as the gun that shot J.R. and the luxury gas grill that was specially designed for Dallas in the late 1970’s. Also, check out the episode scripts that the actors have used, made their own notes and underlined words.
Dallas has really created legends. The fictional world of the rich and the famous deserves a place where you can get flashbacks and remember stuff that happened. Maybe not on Southfork Ranch, but it doesn’t matter.
“Look up the word cheap in a dictionary, and you’ll see his picture there!” (J.R. about Cliff Barnes)