BIG TIMBER, Mont. -

The Lazy K Bar Ranch is in Paul "Tack" Van Cleve's blood.

He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the area. Every trail, every turn, every bit of the dude ranch's history is etched in his mind.

Van Cleve's summered there for all 76 years of his life and the guests who pay to stay there are considered family.

"You've seen them grow old, they've seen me grow old. I've seen their grandchildren grow old from little kids to having their own children and it's just lovely," says Van Cleve.

Yet, there were tough days in the beginning.

Tack's great grandfather ran the working ranch.

Some dudes, outsiders looking to taste a bit of the wild west, paid for their room and board.

Tack claims President Teddy Roosevelt may have been the first.

"My great granddad was complaining to Teddy about how expensive it was feeding all these easterners that came out to the ranch to see what the western ranch life was like and Teddy said, well I have the same problem Paul, but he said, I've figured out how to take care of it," says Van Cleve.

Thirty years later, sheep and cattle prices dropped simultaneously, forcing the family to look for another source of income. Paul Sr. reminded his son of an earlier conversation he had with Roosevelt. Tack's grandfather bought 8,500 acres at the base of the Crazy Mountains, including Crazy Peak, and the rest is history.

Initial lodging was crude, made up of tents and outhouses with no electricity or running water. Eventually they built cabins and hired guides.

"Dad, who had an ivy league education, prep school and then Harvard, said once that dude ranching was a better education than and ivy league education," says Van Cleve.

Historians confirm dude ranches played an important role in Montana's history.

"It has helped Montana and I think it has helped preserve a lot of heritage because it revolves around the history of the American West," says Gallatin County Historical Society's John Russell.

In addition, Russell says the ranches did a lot for those who had never had a taste of the wild West.

"It had to be extremely relaxing. It had to be extremely fun for somebody that had to commute around a big city every day to go to work, to go to school, to get away from all of that, it had to be quite therapeutic," says Russell.

You won't find TV's, cell service or staff shows every night but Van Cleve says he wouldn't change a thing.

"We see new guests get here and we think, 'Boy, they are wound up tight,' and you have to give them a little leeway because they're snap-ish. Maybe they didn't want to come, maybe some guys wife insisted and in a day or so, 'By golly that's a nice guy, he's loosening up, he's relaxing, he's staying at the dinner table and visiting,'" says Van Cleve.

Yet, Tack isn't well. While, he and his sister are all that are left to protect three generations of family history, Tack says the decision to sell wasn't a difficult one.

"If I were suddenly to go bad, it'd leave Carol in a hell of a bind. If something were to happen to her, I couldn't run the kitchen and dining room and cabins, that's her bale of wick...So, I'm just very realistic," says Van Cleve.

Nevertheless, he'll keep his memories and says he'll miss the guests the most. He's met people from around the globe, from politicians and moviestars to the Duponts and Roosevelts.

"You just meet the most lovely people," says Van Cleve.

Van Cleve says he hopes the next owner will run the ranch like his family has for the past 90 years, with genuine western hospitality.

While he says he can't control what the new owner does to the ranch, Tack says he's more than willing to help him or her get going if they choose to keep the ranch operating.