A Photographer Documents
Texas Ranch Gates
From A to Z
As he drove thousands of miles across Texas for his job, Kevin B. Stillman stayed alert by looking for ranch gates representing every letter of the alphabet.
Written by: Matt Joyce Photos by: Kevin B. Stillman
Over 31 years as a photographer for the Texas Department of Transportation, Kevin B. Stillman drove thousands of miles across the state. Somewhere along the way—near Lake Texoma in 1995, to be exact—he struck upon an idea to help the miles pass: a ranch-gate alphabet game.
“The Paradise Ranch was the first ranch gate I shot, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if I could put together ranch gates for the entire alphabet,’” says Stillman, who retired in 2019 and lives in Round Rock. “I started to do it on medium-format film because that was my medium of choice at the time, and I really liked the square shape.”
The alphabet game turned out to be a long-term challenge. Stillman says he drove an average of 16,000 miles per year as part of his job of photographing construction sites, conferences, ceremonies, and stories for Texas Highways—whatever the department needed. And though he was on the lookout for nearly 25 years, he didn’t wrap up the entire alphabet until 2019.
“I was having fun because I was taking every back road in Texas, looking for ranch gates, but I couldn’t find a V to save my life,” Stillman recalls. “I must’ve spent six months looking for a V. I found a U and a Z, but who’d a thought a V would be the one I couldn’t find? Then one day I found two on the road [Ranch Road 337] from Camp Wood down to Center Point.”
Stillman says his favorite of the gates adorns the Imhoff Ranch near Plantersville. He passes it frequently on drives to visit his wife’s family in Conroe. “We’d always say, I want to call my ranch the ‘I’m Off Ranch.’ When I get my ranch, I don’t want to work no more.”
Stillman, who now runs a beekeeping business—Sweet Ass Honey—with his wife, Dodie Stillman, says the ranch gate alphabet game offers a fun way to explore the back roads of Texas, particularly during the pandemic.
“Get out there and find ranch gates and trade them with your friends and collect them and make a game out of it,” Stillman says. “Extra points for wagon wheels, extra points for skulls, extra points for stars.”