This tale of ranch life in California brings me back to the classic Little Britches. There was a world that seemed to intersect with mine--a self-important twelve year old (check) who had familial connections to Maine (check) and was raised in a pre-modern era (what?). Yet it transported me to another dimension. Here, Steinbeck did the same.
But it is a dimension oddly close to other themes in my 50 in 2014 saga: the grandfather in the main story led a wagon train to California. I'll bet he went through Mormon country.
Maybe you can learn the most from incredibly vivid, fictional portraits of life in the past. Not the distant past, but the past you missed because your father was from New Jersey and the west had already been won.