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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Minor damage reported from Sunday storm

Severe weather that formed in the Pecos area on Sunday and then traveled east was blamed for some light damage in western Ward County.

Barstow suffered some building damage from the mid-afternoon storm, which also dropped some small hail and about three-tenths of an inch of rain in Pecos.

Residents in Monahans weren’t hit by the storm that traveled through the area this weekend and Ward County Sheriff Mikel Strickland said “We didn’t get very many reports of major damage.”

The storm took out some shingles from homes and hail hit the area, but Strickland said that they had not received reports of major damage.

“It went through Pyote and then south, so the majority of it, the worst part of it, bypassed us,” said Strickland.

He said that the storm, which at its strongest reportedly contained golf ball-sized hail, went mainly through unpopulated areas.

“We were lucky that it didn’t come straight through here,” said Strickland.

“It was a hit and miss,” he said.

Strickland said that a car was pelted “really good” in Pyote and that the storm started six fires.

“Two of the storms were south of Wink, two in Monahans, a tank battery fire north of Pyote and one further East of the county,” said Strickland. “We had quarter size hail, but the damage wasn’t as much as we thought it would be, we were lucky,” he said.

In Pecos there was some minor wind-related damage from the storms, the first of which hit around 2:45 p.m., and was followed by the strongest storm two hours later and a third storm which hit about 7 p.m.

The rains did force the cancellation of the annual Memorial Day Concert at Maxey Park. Total rainfall at Pecos Municipal Airport was .31 inch, though areas to the north and east of the city reported up to an inch of rain from the storm.

Fuel costs, labor shortages squashing cantaloupe harvest

Stocking up on Pecos Cantaloupes may be a priority for the Pecos Cantaloupe Festival in late July, as well as for local consumers, as few melons are being planted by local farmers for harvest this summer. The owners of Pecos Cantaloupe Co., which has been the largest grower in the area, are not planting commercially this year, and their facility on the Balmorhea Highway has been leased out to an oilfield service company. Meanwhile, other area farmers aren’t doing any large-scale planting of Pecos Cantaloupes, the first of which normally come to market around the Fourth of July.

Higher energy prices, which have been a mixed blessing in the TransPecos area, are one of the main factors behind the cutback. The growth in oil and natural gas drilling over the past four years has revived the area’s economy, but the higher prices also have driven up costs of production for other businesses in the region, including those involved in the local agriculture industry. At the same time, the starting salaries in the $40,000 range in the drilling industry have taken away some of the potential workforce for harvesting cantaloupes.

“It’s the housing and labor problems,” said Randy Taylor, whose family has expanded their Pecos Tire operation to a new location on Interstate 20 while at the same time getting out of the cantaloupe business. “Labor’s hard to come by. The migrant labor has to have housing available, and they took the Farm Labor Housing away, so I decided to get out.”

The decline in the harvest of not only cantaloupes, but also of onions and bell peppers in the Trans-Pecos area, left the Farm Labor Housing without migrant workers for up to 10 months out of the year, and the board without funds to keep up the apartments. FLH directors last year reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to buy the 56-unit complex, and turn it into full-time housing at market rates. Labor shortages almost led the Taylors not to grow cantaloupes in 2007. Discussions were held about possibly acquiring surplus mobile homes from the Federal Emergency Management Administration to use as migrant housing in the future, but no action was taken.

With Pecos Cantaloupe Co. suspending operations, local farmer Roger Jones said he and a few others would be growing a small amount of melons this year, but the overall amount of acreage planted may be less than 10 percent of what was produced in the past.

“We’re doing about 250 acres of cantaloupes, 250 acres of watermelon and about 60 acres of onions,” Jones said. “That’s not a lot, but when it comes to growing circumstances, it gets harder and harder.”

He said a few other local farmers who were growing small sections of cantaloupes, but none would be at the commercial level of operation that Pecos Cantaloupe Co. has been involved with.

Tanya Kiehne, Farm Service Agency Director for Reeves County, said she didn’t have any exact numbers for acres planted, but added, “People who grow cantaloupes usually purchase NIAP (Non-Insured Assistance Program) insurance. Right now we’ve got six policies. That means we have six different producers intending to grow cantaloupes.”

Jones said the up-front costs in fuel both for the irrigation systems and for the diesel to run the farm machinery have affected growers. “Eventually, it’s going to drop, but it’s just gotten so expensive with over $4 diesel on the farm,” he said.

“Cantaloupe is kind of risky, because if you get hail, you completely lose your crop, and insurance doesn’t pay what you would have made from it,” Kiehne said.

She said the her office wouldn’t have the full number of growers in the TransPecos area, because much of the area’s cantaloupe crop in the past has been grown in the Coyanosa area of northern Pecos County, including those harvested by Pecos Cantaloupe Co.

Cuelene Heritage, with the Pecos County Farm Service Agency Office in Fort Stockton, said she also had about half a dozen farmers who had taken out crop insurance on cantaloupes this spring. “We’ve got one I’d consider large scale, but not to the scale of Pecos Cantaloupe,” she said, adding that the total number of acres under cultivation in Pecos County also is unknown.

“They have not certified this year. The final certification date is July 15, so any number right now would just be speculation,” Heritage said.

In Coyanosa, the Mandujano family has had the largest farming operation in recent years, but they don’t plan to increase their production over recent years.

“I love growing cantaloupes, but there are too many issues,” said Armando Manujano. Aside from the high fuel costs, he also cited the area’s labor shortage as a problem, with a lack of available housing for migrant workers and higher salaries available in the energy industry for local workers.

“We’re going to have enough for our local customers, but we’re not going to go in a do a big-time operation like the Taylors were doing,” Mandujano said.

Pecos Cantaloupe’s operations for the last three years also included a contract with Blue Bell Creameries of Brenham to supply cantaloupes for the company’s seasonal cantaloupe ice cream. Mark Patrnallea, director of purchasing for Blue Bell said as of Friday, his company did not have an alternate source for Cantaloupes contracted.

Kiehne said her office has been contacted by growers out of California and other parts of Texas about cultivating Reeves County land, but that talk was not specifically about cantaloupes.

“They were talking about watermelons, so we may have some watermelons in the next couple of years,” she said. “Melons just seem to do really well in this salty soil.”

While there may be more growers in the area in the future, this year people looking for Pecos Cantaloupes will probably only see them available in limited areas and for a limited time.

“It’s getting mighty thin,” Jones said. “It used to be we had 8,000 acres, but it’s getting tougher and tougher to grow them.”

As for the Pecos Cantaloupe Festival, scheduled for the final weekend of July, Taylor said he has talked with his sister, Pecos Chamber of Commerce executive director Linda Gholson.

“I talked with Linda and said I’d plant a few for her, so she’ll probably have some,” he said.

“There will probably be some,” Gholson said. “But as far as packing them to be sent out, there won’t be the gift packs that there were in the past.”

Tales of Villa, revolution part of Herrera’s heritage

Maria Herrera has a lot of stories to tell her numerous grandchildren, because her parents were caught up in Mexico’s revolution during the years that Pancho Villa raided haciendas in Mexico.

Holding her newest grandson, 3-month-old Danny Herrera, Maria recalled stories from her childhood at Fabens.

“Mom used to tell us about what happened when they were fighting,” she said. “She had a scar on her leg where they shot her. Her first husband was on Villa’s side and she was with him. In those times the wife went and they fought. They took the kids too. They were having babies during the fight. I shouldn’t say, but it was fun.”

Her mother rode with Villa until her husband was killed, then worked as a waitress in Chihuahua City to make enough money to return home to Mexico City.

“My daddy was fighting in the revolution since he was 15 years old,” said Herrera, 84. “They picked him up to fight. He wanted to (quit), and they wouldn’t let him, so he deserted.”

When he moved with his family to Chihuahua City, he met the woman he would marry in the restaurant where she worked.

“They started seeing each other. Daddy decided to come to the United States, because they would kill him,” Herrera said. “They called him fusillado because they would put him in a lineup and shoot him.

”Since he knew my mom, he asked her to come with him to the U.S. That’s when they crossed the line. In those days (1918) along the river there was open land to start farming cotton and vegetables.”

Her daddy got a ranch job at las haciendas las islas (near Fabens) that barely paid enough for food and a place to sleep.

“I was about 3 or 4 years old when they moved to another ranch with a watchman named Bob Ivy. He gave them a house to live in. He used to call my daddy chapa because he was short,” said Herrera Her daddy then built an adobe house by making the bricks himself. “Every Sunday we would go to Fabens to make his adobes and turn them over to dry. He made the house by himself.”

He didn’t talk about the revolution, but her mother did.

Herrera remembers one story her mother told about a woman who had three children with her during the fighting.

“She had one on her back, another one sitting on the back of the horse and one on the front, and the horse was running. Sometimes they even lost the kids when they fell during the fight,” said Herrera. Villa raided large haciendas for years as vengeance for the death of his mother in a raid on their humble home.

As a young boy, Villa lived with his mom in a little house called a jacal. Herrera said.

“They were very, very poor and lived by just what they produced on the ranch, such as corn and beans. One day Villa went to town and when he came back, the house was burned and his mama was dead.

Villa never tried to investigate and find out who killed his mother. “They were burning even churches. They would get the nuns out and violate them,” she said. “I think it was the government.”

“They said he used to be a very patient boy and didn’t bother nobody,” she said. “But he got mad because of what they did, so he went to the mountains. When he came back, he had a group of men. They helped him start his revolution for liberty for the things they do to the poor.”

Villa’s revolution was against the rich people, she said. He and his army would go to big haciendas, kill anyone who tried to stop them, and took whatever he needed for his people to eat.

“He wanted to teach them that we are all equal; not just rich people and poor people,” she said.

At one hacienda, Villa found everything locked up and nobody around. Finally, they found the ranch manager in the basement, but he refused to give them the keys.

They shot the doors open and found lots of food. They took the food and hanged the manager.

“They never knew where the owners were, because they hid. They were afraid,” she said.

“If they gave him what he asked for, and it was always food and something for the horses, he wouldn’t bother them. Instead he protected them.”

At one hacienda, the owner pretended to like Villa and offered to let him court one of his three daughters, Herrera said.

“He came to see her at night sometimes. When he got there, the daddy always received him. They made food especially for him.”

After being away for awhile, Villa returned to see the novia (young woman), and they received him like a king.” She said. “After they had dinner, the Papa says, ‘come in the living room and sit down so we can talk.’”

The young woman also enticed him to sit in a big chair, saying, “Oh honey, we have something real nice. I have a big surprise for you.”

Suspecting something, Villa took the girl by the shoulders and said, “Honey, why don’t you try it first,” and pushed her into the chair.

“They had electricity (to the chair) and the girl died and Villa ordered his men to hang the Papa. He told them, ‘This is for being so nice to me’,” Herrera said.

Villa was so wary of those trying to kill him that he never slept in camp, Herrera said. He would make his bed to look like someone was in it, then slip away by himself. Even his own men didn’t know where he slept.

Villa also fought the United States, and one time they sent a train full of black American soldiers to fight him, Herrera said. Villa put up a big sign to greet the train, reading “Sorry, but Mexico don’t use charcoal,” and forced them back.

“They kept trying to kill Villa but couldn’t. When they did kill him, the war stopped,” Herrera said.

Council votes to return Torres to PEDC board

Town of Pecos City Council on Thursday voted to fill a vacancy on the Pecos Economic Development Corp. board of directors with the man the PEDC board voted to remove a month ago.

City manager Joseph Torres was removed from the board as a voting member by its other members in March in a split decision, after they decided there was not enough representation by local businessmen on the seven-person 4B board. However, on Thursday, the council voted to restore Torres as a voting member of the board, following a one-hour executive session.

Mayor Pro-Tem Gerald Tellez made the motion to put Torres back on the board, and it was seconded by councilman and PEDC board chairman Danny Rodriguez.

“We did give everybody the opportunity to apply, along with Mr. Torres,” said councilman Frank Sanchez. “But after looking at all the applicants, I recommend we go with Mr. Torres.”

Torres was one of the original appointments to the 4B board when it was created last October, and spent four months as interim president following the resignation of 4A PEDC president Mike Burkholder.

Following the hiring of Robert M. Tobias Jr., as PEDC president in February, Torres remained as a board member, but was voted off the board under protest in May by a 3-1 margin, in a measure that presented the city council with the option of leaving the board as is, or naming a replacement. Board member Bill Oglesby was the lone vote to keep Torres on the board.

In other action, the council agreed to contract with the new Buck Jackson Rodeo Arena Venue Tax Authority at a minimal fee to provide services for next month’s West of the Pecos Rodeo. The $1 contract for the services allows the city and the venue tax board to comply with state law, which prohibits ad valorem taxes from the city or Reeves County to be directly spent at the facility, due to the venue tax board having access to its own funds, though the 2 percent hotel/motel tax approved by voters three years ago.

Disagreements between the city and county held up formation of the board, and tax collection didn’t start until Jan. 1. The agreements with the city and county will allow work on the arena to proceed normally as in previous years.

Council members also agreed to the sale of four lots along Stafford Boulevard to the PEDC at a fair market value price to be determined.

PEDC board members voted on May 19 to make the request, as part of a plan to re-sell the land to a company for construction of an apartment complex.

“At this time we desperately need housing for the community,” said Rodriguez.

“This is just a matter of do you agree with the intent of the EDC,” said city attorney Scott Johnson. “Somebody already said we need housing, and these people seem to be able to perform.”

Tobias said the company would build at least 100 apartments at a cost of between $6 and $7 million, and that any deal the PEDC makes with the company, whose has not yet been revealed, would be subject to performance guarantees.

The council also approved resolutions towards obtaining $2 million in funds from the Texas Department of Transportation for repaving runways at the Pecos Municipal Airport. The grant, which would involve work in 2010, requires a 10 percent match, and Reeves County has agreed to pay half of the $200,000 in matching funds needed for the project.

City awards bid for motel infrastructure

Town of Pecos City Council members awarded a contract for infrastructure engineering at one of the city’s planned new motels to Frank X. Spencer & Associates, during their regular meeting on Thursday at City Hall.

Spencer and Parkhill, Smith & Cooper were the two companies that submitted bids for the work on the northeast corner of the Interstate 20 and U.S. 285 interchange, where the owners of a Monahans motel are planning to construct a LaQuinta motel, one of six planned or under construction in Pecos.

Carlos Colina-Vargas, the city’s grant writer, explained that Pecos Lodging Group owner Andy Patel was seeking the city’s help in building the infrastructure, which would include water and sewer line extensions and a new street leading to the motel.

“They want to develop a 65-room motel that would have 18 permanent employees,” Colina-Vargas told the council. He said the motel would be about 100 feet back from U.S. 285, and the grant being sought from the Texas Capital Fund would be for up to $450,000.

Both Spencer and engineer Ralph E. Truszkowski of Parkhill, Smith and Cooper made 20-minute presentations to the council. Both groups pointed out their past work with the city and their work with other projects in West Texas, including ones done with TCF grants.

“We’re actually doing the site design for the owner of the building,” Spencer said. “So on this particular project, we know it, we know the location, and we know what the designs are going to be.”

Truszkowski said his company was already doing similar work on the Hampton Inn motel project three miles west on I-20, that also involved working with the city to get a TCF grant. “The things we’re working on now for that project, we’ll just be able to parallel,” he said.

In the end, the council opted to go with Spencer & Associates, after submitting ratings of the two companies based on several criteria, including minority ownership points. Spencer’s firm was awarded 360 out of 400 points, compared with 333 for Parkhill, Smith & Cooper.

Councilman Danny Rodriguez asked if the new sewer line could be tied into a new sewer line running along the south side of Interstate 20 from Country Club Drive. Spencer said such a project would add to the cost and wouldn’t solve the problem of sewer line back-ups in the Country Club Drive area. He said plans were to tie into the existing water and sewer lines that serve other businesses on U.S. 285.

Along with the engineering contract, the council also awarded the grant management contract to Colina-Vargas for the La Quinta project.

Earlier in the meeting, Truszkowski gave the council a update on the city’s Texas Water Development Board grant request. The city contracted with Parkhill, Smith and Cooper back in January to help construct a new wastewater treatment facility on the far east side of town, which included helping to file the application for a state grant to construct the plant, which is expected to cost between $6 and $7 million.

Truszkowski told the council TWDB officials put a deadline on the time period for the city’s application under the original terms. “They said if we do not have the application ready for the board by the 19th of May, you’re going to lose your 0 percent loan,” he said, adding that his staff and city officials were able to get the needed reports completed and sent to Austin before last Monday’s deadline.

“We’re on the (TWDB) agenda for Tuesday, which is a consent agenda,” Truszkowski said. He told the council that being part of the consent agenda should make approve of the application a formality. The funds will then be allocated to the city in sections, as each step of the engineering and construction project is reached.

“All together, we’re probably looking at a two-year process,” he said. “So far we’ve stayed on our timetables for this, so in a couple of years we’re looking at having a better operating plant.”

In a related item, the council tabled any action on the audit report for the city, due to the absence of CPA Tracy Tartar. City finance director John Phillip said Tartar cancelled out at the last minute due to his brother being in the hospital, but Alligood noted this was the latest in a series of delays, and that Tartar had been late delivering the city’s audit report last year.

“We did not anticipate he would cancel out on us. When we talked to him three weeks ago, he said it was ready,” said city manager Joseph Torres.

“At least he should have agreed to send somebody else,” said councilman Frank Sanchez. “He’s done it so many times in the past.”

“Our time is running out,” Alligood said. “It is the desire and wishes of the council that we see this report, and if we have to have a special meeting, we can do that.”

The mayor said the report was needed by Tuesday because the TWDB needed the city’s audit statement. Torres said Tartar has completed the preliminary audit report and found no problems, and that TWDB was willing to commit based on the preliminary report.

Exum retiring as P-B-T technology director

A longtime educator will be leaving the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD, after spending the past 13 years procuring grants and updating technology for the district.

Jodi Exum came to Pecos in January 1973 to come and teach at the kindergarten for one semester and that semester led to 22 years in the P-B-T classrooms. She will be retiring are 35 years with the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD.

Exum graduated from Texas Tech University: Bachelor of Science in Education with a minor in Art and a Kindergarten endorsement.

“I was asked in May 1995 to take the Technology Coordinator's job for one semester...that lasted 13 years,” said Exum.

She said that her biggest accomplishment was getting fiber optic cables installed between the campuses.

“That was a dream I had for many years for this district that, quite honestly, I did not think would happen in my tenure,” said Exum. “However, the interim Superintendent before Mr. (Manny) Espino arrived, Bob McCall, started the talk among the district leaders about P-B-T needing to get optic fiber in while he was here. Then, when Mr. Espino took the Superintendent's job, he championed the fiber project and our Board of Trustees agreed,” she said. 

Exum said she has always had wholehearted support for technology from the administration and the boards during the 13 years in her current job.

“We have been very fortunate in that regard,” she said.

Exum said that the challenge of each and every day was both invigorating and exhausting. “ No two days were ever the same.  I will miss the excitement of new projects, new challenges, and new technologies,” she said.

“I have basically spent my whole adult life in this district and I love it.  I came straight out of Texas Tech University to teach at Earl Bell Kindergarten, then went on to teach at Bessie Haynes, Pecos Elementary, Pecos Kindergarten and Austin Elementary,” said Exum. “Over the 22 years I was in these classrooms, I taught kinder, first grade, second grade music, fourth grade Social Studies, sixth grade Art, and finally facilitated computer labs for K-1st grade students.  13 years ago, the superintendent, Mario Sotelo, called me in and asked if I would take the Tech job for one semester,” she said.

The district had had three people in that position over the previous two years and no one seemed to be the right fit. “ That was 13 years ago and what a great 13 years it has been,” she said. 

She said that she has seen many changes throughout her career as an educator.

“When I first started teaching, teachers did not have a 30 minute duty free lunch.  We brought our students to the cafeteria, helped them through the serving line, helped open milk cartons and cut up meat, sat with them, ate with them, helped them throw their trash after the meal, then walked them back to our classrooms,” said Exum.

 “When the state mandated duty free lunches for teachers, we all felt we had been given a big gift.  After that, we still got them through the cafeteria line and helped them get settled, but at least we had about 15 minutes to ourselves during the lunchtime.  That was a needed break,” she said.

Exum said that when she first came to P-B-T, there was one computer on each campus that was in the office.

?“Now, we have over 1,000 computers for our students and staff and, according to most of them, it is not nearly enough!  Back in 1973, I never dreamed I would end my career with Internet to all classrooms, libraries and offices.  What a great stride educational technology has made over the years,” she said.

Exum said that she has definite plans for her future as a retiree.

“I was an Art minor at Texas Tech and through the last 13 years have really missed being able to use my artistic nature in what I do all day,” she said. “I want to get back into working with stained and leaded glass, painting with watercolors and acrylics, making hooked rugs, and maybe even sewing again.”

Her decision to leave her career at this time was mostly based on her family.

“My family, my husband, Rickey Exum, retired after 40 years with the Union Pacific Railroad in January and there are monumental things going on in the lives of our children, J.J. and Lindsey, in the near future,” said Exum. “We both want to be there for them.  Rickey traveled for the railroad for the last 18 years, so we are looking forward to time together, off the road, and with our kids.”

At this time, she does not plan to work for the school in any other form, after her retirement.

“Not right now.  They will easily replace me with someone new and wonderful and this district will do just fine without me.  However, I have written grants and worked on filing E-rate all during my years as Technology Coordinator and could possibly do some of that in the future, if needed, by a district somewhere down the line,” said Exum. 

"It has truly been my privilege and honor to be part of something so transforming in our classrooms as the educational technology metamorphosis we have witnessed the last few years,” said Exum.

The Pecos Area Chamber of Commerce named Exum Educator of the Year in 2006.

She had also received a state award for her technology work for the district prior to that.

Exum was named Technology Administrator of the Yea and she was announced as the winner at the TCEA annual convention in Austin, Texas in 2006.

Exum was selected by a committee of TCEA members from among the nominees. The Technology Administrator of the Year is presented to a technology administrator who exhibits exemplary vision and management of technology at the district level.

During her term as Technology Coordinator: Grants were written; libraries automated; equipment purchasing standards set; Cat5 installed; fiber strung; teachers were trained; campus students and staff were linked to the Internet; e-mail was king; computers ordered in bulk; 24/7 school TV channel was a reality; laptops became the computer of choice; a district web site was developed; new district Tech Center was built; PALMS were procured for testing; video systems were put in schools; campus electrical systems were upgraded; threw-out the old gradebooks because it’s on-line now; SMARTBOARDS, InterWrite School Pads, projectors and doc cameras were put in classrooms and libraries; everyone wanted a flash drive; IP Phone systems were installed in each campus & classroom; old POTS campus lines were replaced with digital PRI lines and wireless suddenly ruled.


Felix Gonzales, Gene Haley and George Riggs

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