JOHN GORDON CRAN SR. / 1927-2007
Resilient Big Isle rancher was ‘a quiet leader’
John Gordon Cran Sr., known to friends as Gordon, owner of Kapapala Ranch on the Big Island, died at his ranch home Thursday. He was 80.
Born and raised in Hilo and having worked on a variety of ranches such as Mokuleia on Oahu and others in Arizona, Cran was widely known in ranching circles. Yet many people didn't know many details about him, partly because the 30,000 acres of leased state land making up Kapapala, surrounded on three sides by Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, is so remote.
"He was not a guy you could Google and find out about him," said his daughter, Lani Cran Petrie.
Two natural disasters gave insight to his character.
On Nov. 16, 1983, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake struck the ranch area at 6:13 a.m. "In 40 seconds, we lost 30 miles of pipeline. There were 200 breaks," Petrie said.
Cran said, "Let's go see how bad it is." When he found the tunnel that supplied the ranch's water had collapsed, he declared, "We're wiped out," Petrie said.
He had to find water for 1,500 cattle within 24 hours or they would die. Volunteers from Kau Agribusiness started hauling up to 30,000 gallons of water a day and continued for four months, Petrie said.
On Nov. 1-2, 2000, some 4 1/2 feet of rain fell on Kapapala in 48 hours, wiping out bridges on the Hawaii Belt Road below the ranch. Cran returned the favor of 17 years earlier, bulldozing an emergency road across his ranch.
Kapapala was not an easy place to ranch, said Waimea veterinarian Billy Bergin. "It is a rugged, rugged ranch," he said, extending from forests high on Mauna Loa to lava-strewn pastures in the lowlands.
In the 1950s, when Cran worked there as a foreman, it had been a model of animal husbandry, Bergin said. But after going through several hands, it had turned into a haven for wild cattle by the time Cran acquired the lease in 1977. Cran made the ranch work again.
"He was a quiet leader," Bergin said.
"'Let's go.' That was his way," Petrie said.
"He was a thinker, a real thinker," said Corky Bryan, Parker Ranch's vice president for livestock.
In his final evening hours, Cran was worried about his two dogs, Petrie said. "He wanted his dogs to know he'd passed away," she said.
He'd known other dogs whose master had died without them being present. Every time a car passed, they'd perk up, hoping to see him, she said.
In the morning, the family set Cran's body in a chair on the porch, she said. The dogs came to visit, and they seemed to understand what had happened.
Cran is survived by his wife, the former Genevieve Bertlemann, son John Gordon Cran Jr., daughter Petrie and seven grandchildren. Services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the ranch.