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WHERE'S J.R. WHEN YOU NEED HIM? SOUTHFORK RANCH HAS GONE BANKRUPT

Southfork Ranch was spared the recent flooding in north Texas, but J.R. Ewing's home on "Dallas" hasn't exactly been left high and dry.

In fact, recent events sound more like a soap opera than many of those shown this season on the TV series.The international symbol of Texas glitz and glamour as portrayed on the series filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, temporarily blocking the 41-acre tourist operation from being sold at auction.

Employees also say:

- There have been two rounds of staff layoffs.

- Ranch house carpeting required replacement because pipes burst during a winter freeze.

- Two Texas Longhorns broke down part of a fence trying to get at a tourist who was irritating them by snapping photographs.

- And Buffie, the ranch buffalo, is pregnant.

"It's discouraging, but I think we'll remain open," said ranch tour guide Paul Smith, 23, of Garland.

It's no secret any longer that times are tough on the ranch, filmed as the home of the fictional J.R., his mother Miss Ellie and the rest of his extended family.

The ranch, 25 miles north of downtown Dallas, is the state's ninth most-visited tourist attraction. Its fortunes seem to have fallen, just as in real life the Texas oil industry's aura of invincibility evaporated. And its ties to the television series are all but cut.

Even the neighbors have noticed.

"J.R. Ewing would be welcome out here, if he needs to move," joked Nelda Burge, manager of the Southfork Mobile Home Park just down the road. "We have a J.R. Avenue and a Miss Ellie Lane."

Owner Terry V. Trippet did not return several phone calls made over two weeks by The Associated Press.

In August, Lorimar Distribution, producer of "Dallas," filed a lawsuit to cut off sales at the ranch of any souvenirs or other items related to the series. Lorimar contends Trippet didn't renew a licensing agreement and even wants him to remove the encircled SF from the front gate.

"It is Lorimar Television's policy never to discuss pending litigation," said Lorimar spokesman David Stapf in Culver City, Calif., when asked the status of the lawsuit.

Trippet, who like J.R. was once an oilman, bought the ranch in 1984 for $7 million in a heavily financed transaction. The ranch generates income from groups who rent it for private parties.

"We've had a couple proms already this year," Smith said. "There are dinners maybe four nights a week."

Although some first-time visitors are shocked at how small the ranchhouse really is - "It's amazing what a wide-angle lens can do," says Smith - Southfork holds a special place in the hearts of "Dallas" fans worldwide.

The show is broadcast in more than 100 countries and has been translated into more than 30 languages.

On a recent afternoon, a family from Malaysia, a foursome from Great Britain and a Swedish man toured the ranch and snapped pictures.

"I'm interested to see the entire world, but especially this," said Hans Helgemar, 40, of Uppsala, Sweden.

His only disappointment was the absence of the man he knows as "Yay-Are."

That is a constant disappointment for many other visitors.

Stapf, the Lorimar spokesman, said the season that ended Friday was the first in 13 years in which no episodes were filmed in the Dallas area.

Smith promised a group of tourists that the cast members would be back this summer for more filming. But Stapf said he does not know if that is so.

Ms. Burge said many foreign tourists knock on her door, asking for directions.

But Ms. Burge has wearied of the series herself. "To be honest, I've quit watching it," she said.

The series' contract with CBS has one more year to run.