Penn Valley’s Renaissance man |

Penn Valley’s Renaissance man

On Feb. 16, Ken Beatie of Rough and Ready turned 90 years old. If you’re looking for longevity tips, here are the two staples Ken has every day: One drink of 12-year old single malt scotch, with a little water, and a chocolate ice cream cone.

Beatie was born in Stockton and inherited the Northern California Caterpillar dealership his father founded in Marysville in 1931. Energetic and talented by nature, he was not content with the status quo and grew the business to where it now serves 17 counties in Northern California. It is headquartered off of Highway 99, about five miles from the Sacramento International Airport. Gordon Beatie, Ken’s son, ran the business after his dad retired in 1980. The family continues to be involved with the dealership.

Having been retired for 26 years, you might think Ken Beatie would play golf, or spend time musing on his success. But this renaissance man took the opportunity in later life to develop and express his creative talents, fashioning hundreds of beautiful stained glass works, including the wonderful circuit rider at the North San Juan Methodist Church.

Besides his stained glass art, Beatie has exhibited architectural talents, designing his original home at the Rough & Ready Ranch, a 45-acre parcel he purchased and has lived on since 1955 with his wife, the late Helen Arbogast Beatie. She died several years ago after suffering for years from the effects of a debilitating stroke. The ranch has since been subdivided into nine properties, with Gordon Beatie and daughter Karen Wood living on the ranch as well.

These days, Beatie’s activities are more curtailed due to slowing down by age, and he doesn’t particularly like it. Asked how he spends his time, he says, “You’re looking at it,” as he sits in his favorite easy chair in his study, with a bird’s eye view out to the horizon and the Sierra Buttes.

“I kind of miss getting out and doing things,” he says, “but I poop out pretty easy. The legs aren’t as good as they used to be.”

Despite being less active, Beatie still has a twinkle in his eye, a ready laugh and loves getting out each day to visit his favorite restaurants with family members. He is a regular at the Swiss House, where his standard fare is salad, french onion soup and crème brulee. Another spot he loves is the family-owned Donner Mine Camp, run by son Daniel, and a frequently used facility by nonprofits, including Music in the Mountains.

Beatie only gave up driving last year and now uses a golf cart to drive around his ranch. One of the coolest things he did is use his creativity to design a car, the Teardrop, in 1938. The open-top car had only a front seat that accommodated three people, a rear engine, and the exterior was made out of water pipe and covered in airplane cloth.

“I always did anything mechanical. I just took to it,” he says.

Beatie’s office is full of great memorabilia, from family trips to Alaska, one of his favorite destinations, to old mining tools that he inherited, to photos of he and his wife, who, as a member of Fair And Tender Sex, performed the original plays at Rough and Ready Secession Days.

A pilot – he flew his own Cessna from Marysville to Sacramento, commuting on business – a fisherman, an artist, a father, husband and designer, Ken Beatie fits the bill for a true renaissance man.


The Penn Valley Lions Club, Network Real Estate’s Penn Valley office and the Tack Room are holding a Trap Shoot on Sunday. Proceeds benefit the Walt Becker Scholarship fund for high school students. For more information contact Lions Club member Bob Webster at 432-0171.


This column celebrates the people, places and activities that define the Penn Valley, Rough and Ready and Smartville areas of Nevada County. If you have an interesting person or subject to feature in this column, or a newsworthy item, please e-mail

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