We left Largo Canyon in a snow-storm, heading north to take advantage of the somewhat better road. It was still early enough for the muddy road to be frozen solid. I had a pile of checks and cash to get deposited in the bank. Since I was never one to expect community support, the $2045 in my purse from our supporters was an ineffable treasure of love to be kept safe in the growing savings account. As we bumped and slid our way to town, empowered by the $12,000 we had accumulated in donations and a promise from the Mustang Heritage Foundation (MHF) to pay for 200 adoptions, John and I discussed our plan to secure a location to start training horses in the next few months.
The original plan (build the facility, train animals, get them adopted, bill the MHF) called for two months of operating money to be in the bank, giving us time to get horses through the training and into adoption, before we had to run solely on earned income. We realized that sticking with this plan meant we were letting time slip through our fingers; we worried that the MHF commitment to provide animals might vanish if we didn’t perform in a timely way.
What if we didn’t wait for the operating capital but we just boot-strapped our cash position by getting five or six horses into training immediately, then as the weather warmed up, getting volunteers to ratchet production to 10 horses a month? By July we could afford full scale production with paid staff. Sounded good on paper, we just needed a place to start. We had to find an affordable place that offered shelter from the prairie winds.
This wasn’t our first trip to Tucumcari this week. Google Earth had taken us to a virtual view of the farms and fields as we sat by the parlor wood-stove at home. We studied the maps carefully, looking for large and numerous pens that had an unused appearance. You might like to look at some of them yourself:
I was partial to the Racetrack Training Facility. It was covered in Kochia scoparia (a.k.a. Curtis weed) so it had not been used in years. There were almost 25 empty stalls jutting out from a central barn. The row of long straight pens were intriguing. I could start there tomorrow if I got it leased. It was owned by the former Magistrate Judge, D.J. Garrett, who according to my research was about 68 years old and retired. Not in the phone book. Hmm. Magistrate court would not give us his number. Hmm. Not on Facebook or Twitter. Hmmm. We were going to have to track him down.
John’s favorite was Daniel’s Feedlot, a protected and abandoned property on the west side of town that was accessible across a narrow bridge. We were finding property owners names using the property tax database that the counties use. Most properties have parcel numbers and names. Some have mailing addresses and a few have phone numbers. Daniel’s was another mystery. John called his brother, who is a big-wig in the Mason’s of NM. There have always been a lot of Mason’s in eastern NM and the history of this state since 1877 is intricately bound with the history of the Masons. So of course, the Daniel’s clan would be Masons and, of course, John’s brother would know him. Of course. We left messages on Daniel’s phone a week before setting out on the journey. Of course he had not returned the calls.
John had looked at the Kraft place last time he drove through Tucumcari on the way to Texas. It’s clean and well-kept. A little set of pens on a hilltop in the middle of a large ranch. The realtor told us it was owned by a woman who is a nurse-practitioner in Edgewood, NM and she is a little eccentric. We thought it sounded hopeful. But she is not in the phone book and not on social media, and her place of employment won’t take a message or give us contact info. I left her a message on LinkedIn, but she had not responded. Is there a pattern here?
So it was a clear winter evening as we drove east on I-40. The sky turned pink and I was reminded of the December night before my son was born in 1978. His father and I were doing reforestation contracts with the US Forest Service and there was a bid due in Springerville, AZ for some tree planting. The sky was that same shimmering pink in the evening dusk as we pulled into Gallup, NM for the night. Gallup, another Route 66 town. Just as now, we did not have a television at home, so I flipped the hotel TV on and we watched what seemed to be very appropriate for the environment: the
National Finals Rodeo. We watched the bareback bronc riders before falling asleep. My son was born the next day in the hospital at Springerville. That was 40 years ago, but it all came flooding into my mind as we drove east to Tucumcari.
Earlier in the day, I had called my brother on his cell phone. He is a truck driver and delivers pork from Oklahoma to Oakland, CA and wine from Napa, CA to Albuquerque. He can usually be found somewhere along I-40 and he happened to be leaving Tucumcari when I caught him. He would go on to pick up the pork and come back to Tucumcari for the night. We could have breakfast together in the morning. Meanwhile he suggested that we try the Silver Moon Cafe in Santa Rosa. The green enchiladas were superb, he said.
As we pulled into the parking lot in front of the Silver Moon, there was a large thin sliver of the new moon hanging in the sky. The world seemed wrapped in a layer of perfection. Money in the bank, good food, a captivating adventure, and celestial magic. Of course the enchiladas were superb. It wasn’t far to Tucumcari.
I had made reservations at the America’s Best Value Inns, where some people left negative ratings for the beds being too firm. It was a plus in our estimation. A girl with a London accent checked us in. Her parents own the motel. She considers Tucumcari a little too quiet for her tastes. We were worried that the truck wouldn’t start in the morning without being plugged in for a couple of hours, so she let us park near the front door, where the only external plug-in was for the whole building.
Flipping the TV on, I plopped down on the bed. Of course it was the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, NV and, of course, we watched the bareback bronc riders. They don’t wear helmets, but they do wear neck braces. They lay down on the horses back and raise their free hand to signal that the gate should open. NRCA broncs are top-notch buckers, professionals, that get 8 seconds to abuse cowboys as much as they wish. It’s not a bad life for a horse. No one got killed and I shut the TV off when it was done, thinking about my kid, my life, my crazy project to help get mustangs adopted. The firm bed was perfect.
In the morning it was cold. We turned the heat on. Neither of us offered to go plug the truck in. I got up at 4:30 and worked on the presentation I want to give at the Progressive Horse Forum. My presentation is going to be about credentialing science-based horse trainers. At 6:30, I called my brother, Mike, who was sleeping in his semi truck one exit west on the freeway. He has an electronic logbook that keeps track of his driving hours. He wouldn’t be allowed to drive until 9:30. Our truck started and we picked Mike up from the truckstop parking lot.
My brother is not your typical truck driver. He was a martial arts instructor and an acupuncturist before he started driving trucks. He is concerned about health and fitness, so he enjoyed being taken away from the food landscape provided by the truckstop world. We headed out to the Racetrack training facility on our way to breakfast.
There was a long narrow building visible from the road, so I got out and walked into the driveway. The pens were kennels and some of them had hound dogs. The barn was no more than 6 feet high. The racetrack was for greyhounds. We no longer needed to find the Magistrate Judge, it wasn’t going to work. How totally absurd!
It was still very early on Sunday morning. The world was pretty quiet. We drove across Tucumcari to the Daniel’s Feedlot bridge, which had a chain and a lock across it. The world was still asleep. We stepped over the chain and walked in. A gravel road led up a slope to a building and some pens. Some old house trailers had fallen into shreds on the side. A few big trucks and grain feeders stood among the weeds. The tumbleweeds and dried curtis-weed looked like a grass fire ready to happen. The pens were okay but would have to have another higher fence rail to be mustang-ready. It looked like a workable setup once the brush was cleared.
Kix on 66 was open for breakfast and we had lots of time to drink coffee and ponder the situation. At 9:30, Mike was back on the road and we were back on the hunt. As the day progressed, we realized that there are very few unoccupied farms, that the horses here tend to be very large, that windbreaks for animals were very common, and that every big set of pens outside the Daniels and Kraft facilities were full of cows. We learned about Fort Bascom, where the cavalry had based to fight the Comanche and Kiowa Indians around the time of the Civil War. Tucumcari had a lot of different names over the years, but had settled on it’s current one in about 1903. There are a lot of abandoned motels on the old Route 66, but the total number of rooms in the town has probably increased with all the big chain hotels at the five freeway exits. It doesn’t look like a run-down impoverished community. It is certainly not waiting for a mustang-training facility to show up.
The phone rang. It was Daniels. He didn’t want to sell or lease his property. He was firm. We drove around some more.
We had just been in the neighborhood where the ostrich and emu farms are plentiful and were driving up HWY 52, when John noticed the Quonset Hut barn had pens sticking out one side. It’s next to the NM State Agriculture Forage Research Station. We pulled in and the gate was open. The barn was surrounded with coppery colored wild turkeys that melted into the grassy field as we approached. It was idyllic. It had been a horse facility at some time and was in a state of abandonment. There were five pens. A white owl flew out of the Quonset hut when I peeked inside. A pair of hawks watched us from the sky above. My brother drives past this place twice a week. There are giant old trees and it feels protected. We returned to the hotel to figure out who to contact.
The tax records show Jack Maes to be the owner. He was, at one time, the City Manager of Tucumcari. He does not live in Quay County, but has been a vagabond city manager in many places. The Internet trail he leaves suggests he may be a rather controversial character. He knows the meaning of “early termination”. His family is from Las Vegas, NM and so is his landline. The landline and the cell phone both are answered by a “We’re sorry. This number has been temporarily disconnected” message. Jack might be down on his luck and want to sell that property. We kept trying, but got nowhere with our efforts to locate him. We considered that sending him a letter might be our best bet, but even that seemed unlikely to work. In the age of cellphones and email addresses, people are actually harder to find than ever. By this time, I was exhausted and lay on the bed, too tired to even pick up the TV remote and find a rodeo. Not that I like rodeo even. I was depressed with our lack of success.
As the sky grew dark, John suggested going to the movie theater. Wow, what a crazy idea! Sunday night in Tucumcari and we are going to go to a movie? The vintage movie theater is called the Orpheon and, and, yes, there was a 6:30 showing of a movie called “Instant Family”. Sounded less bad than watching an endless series of commercials on television, so we went. Here is the RottenTomatoes review and the trailer.
Definitely a schmaltzy movie, but the Orpheon costs just $6 a ticket, and, while seating 700, four people were in the audience. The movie is about some people that, intending to do something good, take on the task of transitioning some children from a lifetime of neglect to being part of a functional world. They meet with hardships, their efforts aren’t appreciated by many, they feel like giving up at various points, but they don’t. They know that what they do with their lives as house remodelers is taking things that other people don’t want and giving them to value. They know that these children are the continuation of that story. They don’t give up.
Wow! We take animals that are unwanted and help them transition into a new life. Few people appreciate what that means or why we would do it. There was a ton of meaning in this schmaltzy movie for our journey. It was synchronicity at work. We no longer felt defeated. It had been only a temporary setback. We knew that giving up isn’t an option.
As our hotel room started to cool down with the morning chill, we got out of our firm bed and packed up the truck. A cinnamon roll and coffee for the road, we were westbound. Somewhere west of Santa Rosa, we turned north on HWY 82 to Las Vegas. The sun came up over a beautiful landscape. It was 7:30 a.m. when we knocked at the last known address for Jack Maes.
A man too young to be Jack answered the door. The Maes had lived there years ago. We drove around Las Vegas in the cold morning air wondering what to do. John and I got married in Las Vegas, NM in 1993 in the lobby of the Palace Hotel. We were supposed to be married at the courthouse, but we didn’t have any witnesses. The Magistrate judge was willing to step next door, where the desk clerk and the restaurant chef were our witnesses. We had come to Las Vegas on the train on that snowy night, and the stationmaster had been very helpful to us so we drove to the station and got out to consider our next move. Sitting in the station, I searched the internet and found another address for Jack and his wife Joann.
No one was home, so we wrote a note and stuck it on the door. I was pessimistic. It didn’t look like someone of the right age lived there. The tiny kids bikes suggested a younger family. It may be the wrong address. But Jack’s mother died some years ago and her family is listed in the obituary. We can find him.
John’s phone rang as we drove back to the interstate. The caller ID said Manuel Armijo but the call disconnected before John could answer. It made me think of Antonio Armijo, the first commercial trader to move goods down the Spanish Trail in 1830. Our house in Largo Canyon sits on Antonio’s pathway, a route now marked with National Trail markers showing a man and a pack burro walking. John pushed the call back button, and then called Manuel “Antonio” by mistake. Manuel denied having tried to call us, but he claimed to be a detective in Taos. John instinctively spilled his guts about our search for Jack, trying to elicit some helpful advice from a professional. Manuel was friendly enough, but wasn’t getting involved. Another odd random event along our trail.
So that is where we are as of 12/11/2018. We will find Jack Maes. If nothing comes of that, we will return to the plan to build the facility on open ground and see if, meanwhile, we can’t train some horses along the Spanish Trail (at home in Largo Canyon).
8 thoughts on “Tucumcari: empty-handed but magical”
“Adventure, Tyler.” One of my favorite lines from NEVER CRY WOLF. With your persistence, you will find a place. I just hate losing you from our area.
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I lived this so much! Good luck and keep posting!
I’m in process to be a foster parent too! Loved this.
very nice, but how does this end ?