One Chapter Closes & A New Adventure Begins
Special Tribute to the Leishman Family, honoring the heart & soul that built this ranch and introducing new ownership
The idea of the Bar W Guest Ranch began with a father’s longing to escape the rigors and chaos of the office and avoid the burnout of a 7 days a week 15-hour day lifestyle. Dave Leishman (previous Bar W owner) and two of his three his daughters, Meghan, and Emily were convinced by a long-time friend to head west and visit a dude ranch. Having a very flexible and caring wife Janet, the trip was able to happen. It turned out to be a life-changing, priority altering vacation.
That one vacation left Dave with an unforgettable experience that many people wait a lifetime to encounter. It was a complete package – the riding, Western Way of life, rodeos, the work, and the people. Dave was hooked and knew with the support of Jan that this would change their family for the better. That trip inspired Dave and Jan to create a place of their own where they could help people live that same, life-changing experience. The Bar W Guest Ranch was born.
In the Spring of 2005, Dave, Jan, and the Leishman Family teamed-up and turned their dream into a reality in Whitefish, Montana. They built Bar W from the ground up! The Leishman’s were able to outfit the 142-acre property with horses, tack, staff, housing, and meals all within 75 days. Bar W Guest Ranch hit the ground running and it never stopped! Dave Jan and the kids carried out their Western Way of Life dream for over 16 years. Blood, sweat, tears, heart, and soul went into Bar W, working with guests to make it something they’ll never forget.
In the beginning, Bar W had minimal lodging, owned only 12 horses, 1 truck, and 1 trailer, and operated with only 12 staff members. The Trading Post started with just a few items hanging on display. Eventually, the momentum built, marketing fell into place, the tourism industry picked up and Bar W continued to grow over 16 seasons. Eventually, more lodging was built, more vehicles were added to the fleet, more land was added, a full Trading Post was created, more staff came onboard, and Bar W eventually ran nearly 100 horses.
Throughout the years the Leishman family created life-altering memories amongst themselves as a family and with the guests. The three Leishman daughters, Haley, Emily, and Meghan were ages 9 – 14 when the ranch opened and were put to work, helping out at the ranch every summer! One of Haley’s most memorable moments is, “when General Manager Dave Schettine took her to a wide-open pasture and allowed her to gallop for the first time – feeling safe on a good horse.” Something she will never forget. It was also a family affair when it came to building the Cabin Suites! It was an Amish Cabin Kit, the frame was there, but the Leishman crew had to do everything else. Outfitting the cabin was Jan’s priority right after it was built, but the whole family chipped in. Meghan Leishman explained, “I made and put in every single one of the plugs in the wooden flooring. I had to drill all holes, glue each one and hammer them all in!” Talk about sweat equity.
Guests were having the time of their lives. Bar W really enabled the guests’ family dynamic to change -during and after their stay at the ranch. Kids learned to run freely without having to look over their shoulder every few minutes. The parents learned to let go and trust. The Bar W has even been said to, “blow Disney World out of the water.” Bar W’s atmosphere allows for a more intimate setting and supports quality family time together more than ever and more than other popular vacation destinations. Dave, Janet, and the girls created the ultimate, unforgettable family experience for all guests. Their goal was to make each guest’s vacation experience one that will last a lifetime. Folks arrived as guests and left as friends and family.
Another unforgettable moment for the Leishman’s was when they donated Bar W Guest Ranch to the Special Forces for the first time, which became tradition over the next 4 years. It was, and is, very important to the Leishman’s to give back to those that serve the country.
After 16 years of running the Bar W Guest Ranch at full speed, working 7 days a week, 15-hour days from May to November, the kids all grew-up and moved away, it was finally time for the Leishman family to hang up their hats at Bar W. It was a hard decision admits Dave, and daughter Haley puts it in perspective, “I have such great memories of the ranch and growing up there, but I want my parents back.” Dave and Janet are looking forward to retiring and finding quality down-time as a family. They couldn’t be more thrilled and excited that Bill and Barbara Wetzel are continuing the legacy of family at Bar W Guest Ranch.
Bill and Barbara Wetzel, nearby Whitefish residents, saw the ranch listed for sale in early 2021. The Wetzel Family quickly decided that this was the next adventure they had been looking for. Bill and Barbara are very family focused so they created their new company, 16 Hands, LLC to represent their family (Bill & Barbara and six children) and purchased the Bar W. Bill and Barbara have an extensive background of working hard, growing a very successful business, and connecting family and friends.
16 Hands, LLC closed on the ranch in March 2021 and hit the ground running! There’s new construction, more horses, big plans for the future, continuing developing what the Leishman’s started, and the desire to build a strong team are at the forefront of the future of the Bar W Guest Ranch.
Bill, Barbara and the Wetzel family are honored to carry on the Bar W torch, and everything that Dave and Janet have created at the ranch. Dave and Janet are thrilled that the Bill and Barb are going to take Bar W to the next level. Their commitment to family, enhancing the offerings for the ranch, and the devotion to the Bar W team are a winning combination for the ranch, its guests, and the community of Whitefish. The Wetzel’s would like to welcome everyone to the family. We’ll take good care of you!
Be sure to tune into our next newsletter to learn more about the Wetzel family. Find out where they came from, what they’re all about, their pursuit of the Bar W dream and what the future holds.