501 Ranch in South Texas

The Locomotive 501 Ranch Events Center south of Uvalde opened its doors to the public in 2009 for the first time and has much to offer in the way of entertaining and meeting options. The goal for the center, according to Dwight Belicek, who oversaw construction of the approximately 14,000-square foot facility for owner John McCall, was to create a place that blends with nature and can be used to host gatherings of any size.

The options for entertaining groups from 12 to 500 at the facility seem to allow just that, with everything from a patio area to a bunkhouse to a dining room , along with a large lodge all under one metal roof inside a building designed, with a rock and wood exterior, to blend with its surroundings. Added to that are a nearby lighted rodeo arena and skeet, trap and sporting clay ranges.

The rock patio at the back of the building features a wooden arbor and barbecue pits, along with a rock serving area. In front a covered entry leads to a Southwestern style patio that serves up a hint of the hospitality inside the main lodge room, which features two fireplaces and a marble-topped bar with unique lighting above. These were satellite dishes on a microwave tower, Belicek said, gesturing toward the fixtures above. They hung four years in his warehouse in Austin. He said McCall, whose family was a part of Armstrong McCall wholesale beauty-supply company founded in 1939, believes in reusing things when possible. He does not waste. He’s a waste-not, want-not kind of guy, Belicek said.

Another example of that philosophy is found in a set of antique doors with colorful stained glass windows at the end of the bar. They came from the basement of a building McCall bought, and are believed to have been used in a bar located on Austin’s Sixth Street in the early 1900s. The main room of the Locomotive 501 Ranch Events Center features two fireplaces and a bar among other amenities.

McCall took a particular liking to the doors, and they became an important feature of the lodge. That whole bar started from the doors, Belicek said of the long bar that features a backdrop of woodwork, mirrors and an expansive marble top. A large safe featuring the University of Texas logo located adjacent to the indoor dance area and mesquite-floored bandstand also has an interesting history. It was made in 1877 and was given to the university with its contents, a collection of ancient coins that was valued at $200,000. An insurance company, however, at some point took exception to the contents being kept in the safe since it was not fire proof, and it was retired from service.

Not everything is old or recycled, though. Brand new but perfectly blended with the homey feel of the place is a state-of-the-art restaurant-style kitchen and, a nod to the business of the ranch, which is hunting, a game-cleaning and storage facility. While the older items add flavor and the new amenities provide convenience, there are also features that are just plain interesting. The tile on the floor of the main room, dining room and bunkhouse came from Jerusalem. While that may seem an unusual choice and is definitely different from the original plan of staining concrete floors, there’s a simple explanation. When McCall sold Armstrong McCall he went on to become partners with Farouk Systems in Houston. John’s business partner is from Palestine and they were over in the Middle East, Belicek said. In Jerusalem the tile is commonplace, and McCall saw its beauty and its potential for use back in Texas. He wanted to make it nice, Belicek said. The tiles, in three different sizes and six colors, fit the elegant but comfortable character of the lodge that is decorated with McCall’s hunting trophies and artwork.

The bunkhouse is more like an elegant attached apartment with its own private bathroom complete with shower, kitchen, living room and loft bedroom, and has its own unique features, including mesquite flooring in the Ioft that is flanked by two huge Ponderosa pine trees, two-story pillars that accent the kitchen bar downstairs. We cut a hole in the ceiling and lowered them down, Belicek said of the construction process. Custom cabinetry and other work in the lodge was done by Uvalde businessman Cale Bullard and River Ridge Builders and includes reused barn wood and long-leaf pine.

The waste-not philosophy is exemplified on a larger scale in the basic structure of the lodge, which was already on the property when it was purchased. When John bought the place, this building was here. It was about a foot thick of pigeon and bat guano, Belicek said. It had set from ’99 to ’04. It was pretty rank in here. Rather than knocking it down though, McCall worked with what was there.

The original slab was just a hair under 13,000, and then we added the patio, Belicek said. Also in keeping with the waste-not philosophy, the patio is accented with xeriscape featuring native plants and a drip-irrigation system. There is a water catchment system and solar panels on the roof will also provide power for the facility, with the excess being sold back to an electric company, If it’s not using it, Belicek said of the electricity produced, it goes back to the grid. We believe that within several years it will pay for itself.

The overall theme is to blend in, and don’t come in and use up all the natural resources, Belicek said. We’re trying to blend in with nature. We cherish everything, Belicek said. That approach must come, in some part, from the fact that McCall has long loved the area where his ranch and event center are located. For as long as I remember John said, ‘When I retire I’m going to buy a ranch in South Texas,’ said Belicek. When he says I’m coming home, he means Uvalde. He just loves Uvalde.

This page was originally titled “Events center offers facilities for groups ranging in size from 12 to 500” and was published on March 9, 2009 in the Uvalde Leader-News. Written by Carol Kothmann. Permission for use requested November 12, 2013 and reprinted with permission from the Uvalde Leader-News.