Ranch History

Apple orchards have long been a feature of Tuolumne County.  At one time, Tuolumne County apples were well known and highly sought after, now only a few orchards are still in production.  Tuolumne County even sold itself as "The land of promise for apple growers where good unimproved land can be secured at a very reasonable figure".  One man who made this promise a reality was Frank Ralph who, around the turn of the 20th century, planted 26 acres of apples between Tuolumne and Soulsbyville.  It is a matter of record that in 1919, that orchard produced $15,000 worth of apples.  Records also show that in that same year, Tuolumne County apples were selling up to $2 a box more than other apples.  Brothers Galo and Walter, who planted apples on their bordering ranches quickly joined Frank Ralph in the apple business.  Walter's ranch is the sight of present day Cover's Apple Ranch.  Most of the trees on the Ranch today were planted by him in 1929.

In 1939, the Ranch was sold to Albert Bowlsby who developed the Ranch to its full production.  During one year, it produced 17,000 boxes of apples.  Anthony Gotelli purchased the Ranch in 1951 and operated it for the next eight years, selling apples locally and the in San Joaquin Valley.  In 1959, Rudy and Esther Cover bought the Ranch and introduced a change in the marketing.  Apples were sold almost exclusively through the added showroom/salesroom.  Cold storage was also added to keep the fruit crisp and fresh long after it was picked.  Rudy sold to Louis and Evelyn Sonka in 1971.  Changing the name to Sonka's Apple Ranch was one of the many changes made by them over the next 13 years.  New trees were planted to replace old trees and sprinkler irrigation replaced outdated flood watering.  Two wind machines were added to avoid costly freeze-outs in the Spring.  Apple pies were baked and sold on the premises as well as fresh pressed cider.  Hal and Jude Bomgardner acquired the ranch in 1984.  During their tenure, the bakery and gift shop were increased and the reputation of quality baked goods was further established.  Maintaining the Sonka's Apple Ranch name made the place seem as though it had never had any other  name and was often referred to simply as "Sonka's".  In 1987 a scale model railroad was constructed and continues to be an attraction for young and old alike.