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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Living Off The Land

Tuesday, September 28, 1999

Short train works long days

Staff Writer
PECOS, Sept. 28, 1999 -- When you hear that lonesome whistle blow just at daybreak, picture Guy Wayne Weatherman alone at the controls of Pecos Valley Southern's Engine #9, heading south.

Five days a week in the busy summer months - and occasionally on Saturday -- the little 900 horsepower diesel-powered engine drags a string of empty rail cars from an interchange track in Pecos to the Trans-Pecos Materials gravel plant at Hoban.

Give him an hour and a half or so, and Weatherman will park the empties on a passing track a half mile north of the plant and chug-chug into the gravel plant 15 miles south on Texas Highway 17 to pick up the loaded gondolas and hopper cars for the return trip to Pecos.

But he can't leave yet.

Unhooking the engine from the loaded cars, Weatherman pulls in behind the empty cars and pushes them into the gravel plant to be filled for the next day's run. Then it's back to the head of the loaded train and departure just before noon.

Although he's alone in the engine, Weatherman is not alone on the trip. Riding the tracks in a high-rail pickup in front of the train, switchman/brakeman Luis Medrano checks for track problems and mans the switches that let the little diesel engine move from track to track.

If a problem develops with the track, Medrano and Weatherman get out the spike hammer or sledge to make repairs. Frankie Abila may also get into the act. It's his job to keep the tracks in good working order when he's not driving the high-rail pickup himself.

Medrano has been with PVS for six years. He can't recall the "good old days" when two 70-ton engines hauled cattle, cotton, cantaloupes, onions and cabbage out of the valley alongside the gravel cars.

An oil mill, fertilizer dealers, asphalt and drilling mud kept the trains moving and four people working in the office to keep track of everything. Now Paul Gerbert handles the bookkeeping and keeps tabs on the 120 rail cars in the PVS fleet.

Gerbert's 30 years in the office have seen numerous changes, including a move from the old offices at 1636 W. Third Street to the old cantaloupe shed just across the PVS tracks at the west edge of Pecos.

Recalling the shortline railroad's history, Gerbert said it was incorporated in 1908 and made its run the following year _ making it 90 years old this year.

Originally intended to connect Pecos to Presidio, the line never got farther south than Toyahvale. When Interstate 10 crossed southern Reeves County, PVS abandoned the line south of Saragosa to save the cost of building expensive overpasses.

Capital Aggregates, who owns the gravel plant, bought PVS in 1952, and they are the only customer, except for the occasional boxcar load of recycled battery parts shipped by Battery Conservation Technology Inc.

Since they added an asphalt plant at Hoban, Trans Pecos Materials keeps the cars moving during hot weather when highway departments are building new highways and repairing old ones. Shipments go to Deming and Hobbs, N.M. and to Fort Worth.

When #9 heads north to Pecos, it may be pulling as many as 20 cars weighing 200,000 pounds each. Weatherman knows he has to watch his speed, because "you can't stop on a dime."

Having only four months' experience under his belt, Weatherman still finds it a challenge to gauge the speed of the train (the speedometer wore out long ago) and to slow down or speed up at the right time to maintain an average speed of 15 mph.

"The rails will tell you when you are going too fast," he said of the 20-mph speed limit.

He enjoys his solitary ride. Growing up the son of a rancher, Weatherman has always lived in the country. He and his wife, Jamie, recently bought a 15-acre plot near Balmorhea for a home and pasture for their horses.

As much as he enjoys riding horses and roping, Weatherman finds driving a train right up his alley.

Approaching Salt Draw or Cherry Creek, the engineer/conductor/fireman slows to a crawl, then boosts the power to climb out on the other side.

If all is well with the track, Weatherman can expect to pull into the Pecos yard about 1 p.m. He spends the next few hours placing his load on the siding, picking up empty cars and shuttling them back and forth on the siding until he gets them sorted into types.

Gondolas go in one string and hopper cars in another. Occasionally a boxcar for BCTI is in the mix, and it has to be at the end of the train so Weatherman can drop it off as he passes the battery recycling plant at the southwest edge of Pecos.

Once the cars are lined up to his satisfaction, Weatherman parks them on a siding to await the next daybreak, when he will blow the lonesome whistle and head south once more.

Salt Cedar dying a slow death


    Staff Writer

    PECOS, Sept. 28, 1999 -- It's not only the water that moves slowly along the Pecos River.
  • With regulatory officials in two states, plus the federal government, involved in many decisions, projects designed to improve the river's flow and water quality often sit in the planning stages for years.
  • With that track record, the 2½ year gap between the proposal to eradicate salt cedars along the Pecos River in Texas and the actual spraying earlier this month qualifies almost as lightning speed.
  • Groups involved in water distribution and farming along the river began studying a test project in New Mexico back in the spring of 1997, and two weeks ago a helicopter sprayed the first section of trees south of Red Bluff Dam in Reeves and Loving counties.
  • It will be spring before anyone knows if salt cedars along 28 miles of the Pecos River will succumb to herbicide Arsenal that was sprayed on them beginning on Sept. 16.
  • Barney Lee, technician for the Upper Pecos Soil & Water Conservation District, said that 660 acres stretching from Red Bluff Dam south to near Mentone was involved in the project.
  • "We will know next year if it worked," Lee said. The arsenal has to work its way from the brushy limbs of the salt cedar into the root zone before it kills the plant.
  • "When the leaves fall off it soaks the chemical in, and in the spring it should not leaf back out," he said. "It takes two years before you know how much will actually work."
  • But the prediction is that the poison will kill 95 percent of the brush the first time.
  • "Everything went good," Lee said of the helicopter-spraying job by North Star Helicopter of Jasper.
  • "Spraying conditions were perfect; the humidity was right, there was no wind. Everything looks real good in the field," he said.
  • Red Bluff Water Power Control District and its member water districts paid for the spraying, with the Red Bluff District contributing $50,000 and the Ward County Irrigation District No. 1 (Barstow area) providing the bulk of the remaining $110,000 cost.
  • The Pecos River is the second salt cedar eradication project approved by the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission. The other plan, approved last year, involved spraying areas of the North Concho River near San Angelo to eliminate the trees, which are non-native to the area.
  • Red Bluff General Manager Jim Ed Miller thanked Lee for his work in getting the project off the drawing board. Spraying could not begin until Arsenal received an aquatic use label, which was required for use over water. Officials from American Cyanamid Corp., producers of the chemical, estimated two years ago that change in labeling classification might take until the year 2000.
  • A pilot program to eliminate the salt cedars, which absorb up to 50 percent of the river's water, has been underway since 1995 on the Pecos River south of Artesia, N.M. New Mexico State University project supervisor, Dr. Keith Duncan of the school's Artesia. branch, said that the project covered 5,000 acres of land on the west side of the Pecos River, covering a six-mile stretch from the U.S. 82 river crossing east of Artesia south towards Carlsbad.
  • "It's along the flood plain, and is one mile wide in some areas and in others 1¾ miles wide," he said when the Red Bluff Water Power Control District first started looking at the plan in 1997.
  • The 1995 spraying covered about 2,800 acres, while another 800 acres were sprayed in 1996.
  • "All were affected by the herbicide. It still looks like winter out there," Duncan said, describing the dead trees along the river's western bank. "It looks like we expected it to look."
  • "Eradication is a bad term, because it implies you can get rid of it," said Duncan. "If plans are laid out and thought out and maintained you can reduce the impact of salt cedars on the environment, and what it is doing to us.
  • "The whole concept is to remove the salt cedar and replace it with natural vegetation," which he said was mostly grassland, along with other small trees such as mesquite and wolfberry. "Salt cedar was planted on the Pecos in the early 1900s by a federal agency for stream bank stabilization."
  • The trees did stabilize the banks, but cut the water flow to a fraction of what it was 100 years ago. Duncan said around Artesia, the trees were estimated to absorb 8 acre/feet of water per acre of tree, but he added, "One salt cedar tree can transpire 200 gallons
  • of water a day, if conditions are conducive."
  • The Artesia project was designed to be a 10-year test effort, and is currently nearing its halfway point. Along with studying the river's flow, wells dug in the area are monitoring the groundwater table, to see what effect, if any, elimination of the trees has on underground supplies.
  • Spraying along the Pecos River in Texas differed from the New Mexico project in that the trees in the Artesia area are more spread out in the flood plain area. In Texas, the main concentrations are right up on the river.
  • "In Texas it is right in the river bank. Some areas it even overlaps the river," Mike McMurry of the Texas Department of Agriculture, said in the fall of 1997.
  • "It's a more sensitive site," McMurry said. "We (TDA) went to look at the river with the Soil Conservation and the EPA. Cyanamid needs to go examine it."
  • Along with providing more water for farmers and lowering the river's salt content, officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hoped endangered species would benefit from the eradication of the trees.

Talking Herbs

By Sue Toone
  • Here we are in the transitional period of time between the hot, hot temperatures of summer and the coldness of winter. The cool front last week was greatly appreciated and gave a hint of things to come. Fall is a wonderful time of the year. This period of time gives the gardener another window of opportunity in which to do many things in the flower, herb and vegetable garden. And today we will talk about some of the things that can be done during this period of time.
  • Perhaps the first thing to do is construct a compost bin. Of course, I have compost on my mind. Gretchen Luna and I will have a "Don't Bag It" booth at the Reeves-Loving County Fall Fair on Friday, Oct. 1, 1:00-10:00 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 2, 8:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. We will have literature showing several different ways to build a compost bin. It doesn't have to be a magnificent structure.
  • A compost bin needs four basic ingredients: nitrogen from green plants, fruits and vegetables, carbon from brown (dry) materials like gin trash, air, and water. You can put anything in the compost bin that is or was a living plant or a part of a living plant.
  • The fall also offers the gardener an opportunity to prepare and or repair the flowerbeds. Building some raised beds, if you do not have them, could be the answer to a lot of problems in our area. If you add a height of six or so inches above your top soil, you can add your prepared soil of peat moss, gin trash, compost, potting soil or any combination that is conducive to plant growth. You will be pleasantly surprised at the results of the raised beds next spring.
  • The third thing that can be done at this time of year is making plans to transplant and divide perennials. We will talk about four of these herbs. The roots of the hardy perennial herb sorrel, Rumex acetosa, can be divided at this time if it is a couple of years old. The plant needs to be contained because the spreading root system.
  • I have a container of sorrel I plan to display at the fair _ if all goes well. In the spring, the leaves of the plant have little taste, but later the leaves have a lemon-like taste and are said to be high in vitamin C. Plant can be divided or grown from seed. It self seeds if given a chance. It grows best in the cooler weather. There are three varieties of sorrel: R. acetosa, a larger broad leaf garden sorrel, R. scutatus, French sorrel, used as an ornamental as well as in cooking, and R.crispus, used in cooking.
  • Cilantro, Coriandrum sativum, is an annual, cool weather herb that has leaves, roots, and seeds that are edible. It seems to do well when seeded in the fall. This gives the plant a bit of a head start to grow before hot weather sets in and causes the cilantro to go to seed prematurely which is called bolting. My friend, Eva, who lives in Pecos, grows cilantro in one of her flowerbeds and it self seeds every year. As cilantro has a taproot, it does not transplant well so choose your spot and plant a few seeds now for next spring.
  • Another herb that can be planted in the fall is the semi-hardy perennial fennel. You may want to choose F. vulgare, common fennel usually grown as an annual is drought tolerant. Leaves taste like licorice and are used in soup and salad. Florence or Finocchio fennel, F. vulgare var azoricum, has large celery type stems and a swollen leaf base for eating raw, steamed or baked. Bronze fennel, F. vulgare `Rubrum, grows up to six feet in height. The bronze color and size makes a beautiful background for blooming plants. So you can have a beautiful ornamental plant as well as well as having a plant that has a nutty, anise taste.
  • The last perennial herb we will talk about planting this fall is the tough Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare (Chrysanthemum vulgare). The strong smell of the yellow-shaped button flowers makes the plant a natural insect repellent. If not contained, tansy will spread runners and will choke out other plants.
  • The tansy plant is used in potpourris, and the fern-like leaves and bright yellow flowers are used in dried arrangements, swags, and wreaths. Tansy can be divided or seeded in the fall. The seedheads will self seed. DO NOT USE TANSY AS FOOD, MEDICINE OR TEA. IT IS TOXIC.
  • Just about any plant you would like to have can be seeded or transplanted during the fall of the year. I hope to have my tansy at the fair.
  • There are a lot more perennial herbs from which to choose so have fun choosing but be sure and get them transplanted or seeded soon.
  • Hope you will enter some of your plants in the Fall Fair. If you need a fair booklet, call the Extension Office, 447-9041. If you do not want to be in competition, just say your plant is for display only. All entries for most all categories: 1-7 p.m. Thursday. Culinary and herbs, 7-10 a.m. Friday in the Reeves County Civic Center.
  • This is all for this time. In October we will be talking about saving seed from the herb garden, tomato garden, and native plants.

Guidelines for controlling mosquitos

By Rex Friesen
Extension Entomologist

They are here and boy are they a nuisancemosquitos! We must first stop for a moment and give thanks for the "above normal" rain we have received this year. However, along with the blessing of increased moisture comes the unfortunate problem with mosquitos. The years of drought have helped greatly in keeping mosquito populations to low levels, to the point of almost being a pest "non-issue"

But, once a population becomes established and gets going, they will take advantage of any situation favorable to their breeding and survival, which means problems for you and me.

Why are mosquitos important? The first reason is a no-brainerthey are very annoying! As most people know and have experienced for themselves, they can turn an evening walk, a visit to the park, or a neighborly visit on the back patio into pure misery.

Persons especially sensitive to their bites can be quickly covered with many itchy, red welts that persist for several days. If you are sensitive to mosquito bites, there are a number of products available over-the-counter that will reduce the itching and swelling.

Many of these may contain cortisone or some other itch-relieving ingredient. If these do not work for you, consult your physician.

The second reason mosquitos are important is more serious in that they can serve as vectors ("carriers") for several serious diseases to man, fowl, livestock, and pets, such as varieties of encephalitis (sleeping sickness), yellow fever, dengue, malaria, and others including heartworms, which is a commonly treated condition of dogs in West Texas.

The most common species of mosquitos belong to the genera of Culex and Aedes. An important fact about mosquitos is that all species require standing water to reproduce, even if the water is present only a few days. Aedes mosquitos usually lay eggs singly in moist areas that are prone to periodic flooding.

Once the eggs are laid, they remain dormant until the next time they are submerged by water which triggers the hatching of the eggs. In a matter of only 7-10 days, the larvae, which are actually aquatic maggots (mosquitos are a type of fly), can mature and pupate and emerge as adults to bite you.

Culex species of mosquitos are more likely to breed in permanent or semi-permanent bodies of water because they need more time, that is, 10-14 days to go from egg to adulthood. Culex mosquitos lay their eggs in floating egg masses or "rafts". Aedes mosquitos may attack you both day and night, but Culex species feed only at night. In either case, the blood meal is needed by the female to develop her eggs, whereas males feed on nectar and pollen and are not a pest.

What to do about them?

The single most important action that you and preferably your neighbors together can do is to eliminate or clean out or treat any sources of standing waterbird baths, pet water dishes, rain barrels, plant water dishes, stock tanks, puddles from dripping faucets, old tires, unused childrens' swimming pools, etc. Water dishes for pets need to be changed at least twice per week.

Rain barrels must be tightly closed or treated. Stock tanks can be treated periodically with several different types of chemicals, "toss-ins", or introduction of mosquito fish, etc. to control mosquito larval populations.

There are some very "environmentally friendly" insecticides available that target only the mosquitos and are not toxic to fish or other organisms (including you) if you decide to treat any bodies of water.

The above measures focus control on the larval stages.

To control adults, there are several chemicals that are labeled to treat indoors and or out-of-doors.

If treating with chemicals, focus on spraying problem areas, shrubs, shaded areas, etc., where the adults hide out during the day. Be sure to read any labels carefully for maximum safety and effectiveness before using any insecticides.

Yard foggers can provide temporary relief in back yards or patios. Other control measures can include use of small-mesh screens over windows or closed in patios, insect repellents applied to skin and clothes when out-of-doors.

Repellents containing DEET are the most effective, however, there are significant concerns to side effects on children or DEET-senstitive persons.

Wearing clothes, pants and long-sleeves shirts made of tightly woven materials may provide some protection as well.

Some people may ask about items advertised to ward off mosquitos by using ultrasonic waves, or use "bug zappers" to try to repel or control mosquitos. The effectiveness of either one of these products is questionable at best.

For more information, contact the Extension Service.

Outdoors In The Desert

By Jim Allen
Game Warden

PECOS, Sept. 28, 1999 -- The past two weeks of dove season have been a little below normal as far as the number of dove that have been seen. I have seen a few people with their daily bag limits.

A small cold front that came through the area on September the 13th did bring some northern dove into the area. The Tuesday following the cold front, I contacted several hunters in the field and they advised me they were seeing some larger northern birds and the numbers of birds seemed to be greater. I myself witnessed a larger number of birds on some fields that had low numbers at the beginning of the season.

I have been asked by several hunters what a white tipped dove looks like and how many can we have? The White Tipped dove is going to be found in the extreme lower valley of south Texas. If someone comes across one here in west Texas call me.

The small Inca or Ground Dove that are common in our back yards and out in the field are a protected species.

I have been approached by several hunters in the field regarding a White Winged dove stamp. The question I have been asked a lot is, "Do you need a White Wing Dove stamp to hunt White Wings in your county of residence?" The answer is yes. Those individuals under the age of 17 that qualify for a Special Resident Hunting License are the only individuals exempt from stamp requirements. Anyone hunting under the age of 17 is required to obtain a State Hunting License.

On a different note the fishing seems to be pretty good at Balmorhea Lake. I have seen several good catches of Channel Catfish. The Large Mouth Bass are not of legal length yet, but several fisherman have advised me that they are catching and releasing a lot of them and they seem to be a very agressive fish. This time next year the lake could be a pretty good bass lake.

If you happen to catch a small undersized Black Bass and it swallowed the hook, just cut the line as close as you can to the hook and release the fish. The hook will eventually rust out and the fish will do fine.

For those of you that are planning on a deer hunt this fall be sure to sight your guns in. Having a firearm that is not on sight is going to cripple an animal. A good ethical hunter will have his or her firearm sighted in before going afield.

If you come across any illegal hunting activity please contact Operation Game Thief at 1-800-792-GAME or the Pecos Police Department at 445-4911.

Hunters donate deer to hungry

AUSTIN, Texas—With deer hunting season just around the corner, it's time again for hunters to consider what to do with their game.

One option is to donate deer meat to the statewide Hunters for the Hungry program.

"Last year 50,000 pounds of venison were donated to feed our fellow Texans, and this year can be even better," said Stella Rodriguez, executive director of the Texas Association of Community Action Agencies, administrators of the program.

This low-fat, nutritious meat has been greatly appreciated by the food banks and pantries that serve Texans in need. In addition to the food donation, it's also a great way for hunters to promote a positive aspect of hunting to the community at large, Rodriguez said.

It's very easy for hunters to participate. Hunters simply tag their legally harvested deer, take it to one of the participating meat processing plants around the state and pay a tax-deductible processing fee of $20 per deer. Participating meat processors handle the meat at a fraction of the usual fee, package it and distribute it.

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Pecos Enterprise
York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
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