The 50th Wedding Anniversary Trip – 2004 IX

When I got to Raton, I checked the odometer, and sure enough, I was right on about the circuitous miles. I drove south on I-25 for about 40 miles to Springer, then turned east on U.S. 56 for 15 miles to Abbott where I turned right and southward on NM 39. I was really getting into some desolate territory. During this little trek, not only had the thumping noise increased, but there was now a vibration in the steering wheel. I thought, “Was the front end out of alignment?” Then it happened. Blammo! The left front tire blew out! The van swerved into the opposite lane. Fortunately, I was on a remote road and there was no oncoming traffic. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be sitting here typing this journal. By the way, I was wearing my seat belts. Nonetheless, even though I was traveling at only 55 mph, a head-on collision would have meant I had bought the farm. After the initial shock, I managed to steer over onto the shoulder on a tireless wheel. The good news was that I had survived. The bad news was that I was in the middle of nowhere.

I got out and surveyed the aftermath of destruction. Shreds of rubber of what remained of a tire were protruding everywhere. Luckily, the wheel was undamaged. Evidently, a blister had developed on the tread caused by some of the belts breaking up inside the tire. By the Grace of God, a man standing next to his pickup maybe a 100 yards down the road had witnessed the catastrophe. He drove up and offered his assistance. He was like an angel sent down from heaven, and when I learned later about his strong religious beliefs, I had to believe he just happened to be there for a purpose. The big problem was raising the rocker arm high enough to get a tire jack underneath to lift the wheel out of the dirt. He jimmy-rigged some apparatus from his pickup and somehow was able to jack up the frame high enough to get my tire jack under the rocker arm. In the meantime, I was disengaging the bicycle and the bike rack from the spare tire. We mounted the spare and used my high-pressure bike pump to inflate the tire to a comfortable 32 psi, We took a breather, leaning against his pickup bed. I said, “I can’t thank you enough for all your help. He simply replied, pointing and glancing skyward, “You were blessed.” We finally got around to introducing ourselves, and when Donald removed his John Deere cap revealing a lily-white forehead in contrast to the rest of his reddish-brown face, there was no doubt that he was a farmer. He was tall and lean and told me he was 68 years of age and read the scriptures daily. I bid farewell to one fine gentleman.

It was late afternoon as set about the task of lifting the ungodly heavy wheel and mangled tire up and into the passenger seat. I tossed the bike rack on top of the bed and positioned the velocipede on the “living room” carpet. The erstwhile spare was several sizes smaller than the other tires, so I did, as expected, experience a slight pulling to the left. I was just thankful the tire had ample tread on it, but it was very old, how old I couldn’t recall. Rubber by nature deteriorates with age and exposure, not just use. I was constantly crossing my fingers while wondering if Donald was saying a little prayer for my safe trip. Was I being presumptuous?

The sun was getting low in the sky as I passed through Mosquero, another town on the endangered list. I was getting a little itchy about where I was going to bed down for the night. Down the road a few miles, I came upon a most timely roadside picnic area. It was definitely my stop for the night. Considering all the day’s adventures, I figured the stars must have been lined up just right. I chained the bike to the door handle and tossed the bike rack under the van. Things were a little disheveled, but I was coping with the situation. There was still enough daylight left to jot down a few notes about a most eventful day. As I watched a splendid sunset sitting on the cargo door step (the ruptured tire was sitting in my easy chair), I was feeling so relieved and thankful. Yes, I was blessed, and again said to myself: “Happy 66th Birthday, Billy Bob.”

The next day was a Sunday and I realized that I would be hard put to find a tire store open anywhere along the way. I had to set my sights on getting to Lubbock on Monday. I passed through Gallegos and hooked up with U. S. 54 to Tucumcari. I had never entered the town from this northeast direction, so I had no alternative but to meander through a desolate downtown district. It was so depressing. About a mile farther, I found Historic Route 66 which still had vestiges of the Mom and Pop motels of the 1930s and 1940s like my favorite, The Blue Swallow. I had actually paid a visit to the proprietor of said motel years before after reading an article in the Smithsonian about old memorable motels across the country that were still alive and doing well.

I headed south on NM 209 and passed by a magnificent mesa, and what I had gathered from Louis Thomas’s description of the terrain, I must have been within a whipstitch of Mr. Larry “Buddy” Wright’s ranch, I guess his present of New Mexico Mesas would have to wait for another time. I ascended to a plateau where I could see in my outside mirror what a surprisingly dramatic view it was of the mesas coming from the east where it was flat as a pancake, just as Louis had described. I continued south on NM 268 to Melrose where I junctioned with U.S. 60/84. I had now come full circle, I wandered around the defunct railroad depot which was almost an exact replica of the one in Vaughn about 90 miles up the tracks (I had aquarelled that one). Several highballin’ freights roared through on the old Santa Fe mainline.

I headed east to Clovis where I made still another stop at the depot/railroad museum which had an advertisement in front reading: “Miniature Railroad Inside. Admission $5.00”. That didn’t really interest me, but what I truly enjoyed was talking with the lady in charge about railroads in general. She was both very friendly and knowledgeable. The Clovis depot was a reflection of the others along the mainline — adobe arches and red tile roofs. The architects of the Santa Fe had obviously set upon a prototypical design for their stations throughout the Southwest, similar to what H. H. Richardson had done with the Great Northern depots in the early 1900s with his trademark of strong, heavy-looking stone structures. I glanced outside and noticed an inordinate number of containerized and piggy-back freights stacked up on at least four tracks. I asked the lady, “What’s with the freight jam out there?” She replied, “Clovis is a big junction point for freights headed northeast and southeast.” I recalled the old chestnut: “A helluva way to run a railroad.” I thanked her for an enjoyable time.