The following are excerpts in chronological order of this past summer project entitled “705” from Rene.
It is the story of strength, growth, friendship, family, hard labor, sweat and tears! It’s the story of kids, teens and young adults who have stepped to the plate to rebuild an old broken down adobe, to bring the building back to life hoping to inspire a village to care about its ‘downtown’ avenue.
It seems that ‘golly gee whiz Leave it to Beaver’ lives are a myth now-a-days. Just as these kids have faced the challenge of accomplishing the near impossible task of restoring an historic adobe, they each face with courage the challenges life has presented to them. Through new friendships, determination and hard work, both on the job and in their hearts, they are creating a special space where they belong together shared with the veterans of the region.
The Beginning…May 23 2017
In May, A Veteran Affair received a wonderful little grant from the First United Presbyterian Church in Las Vegas (NM) to be used to employ the kids of the village this summer. Called the ‘Mustard Seed’ grant, like the myth of the tiny mustard seed that would grow into an enormous tree, that grant inspired strangers and friends to contribute towards the growth of the project. The first kids to step to the plate were Amor, 11 years old, a wonderful, hard working, courageous little girl. She’s the boss. She, her brother Nito who is 9, cousin Andre 12 and Thaddeus 14 began the job of digging out roots growing into the 100+ year old rock foundation. First day was a very long, dusty, dirty day. We recruited Elijah, maybe 19 yrs. – now an unbelievable 6’5.” He starts tomorrow. He has worked Ft. Union. He will show us how to build the adobe brick frames. I’ll get the 1×6’s. He is certified to work on scaffolds. Little Ernie came to help set up a scaffolding that one by one the bricks can come down. The hole in the wall is getting bigger. We have two beautiful golondrinas (swallows) that come inside the building through the hole. They are our good luck.
May 25 2017
The tree roots, that is the most boring part of our work. The kids work at them awhile and move onto more interesting projects. They would rather dig the dirt in the south side ‘gulley’ way between the building and the Wigwam and wheelbarrow it to the septic hole. Great!!!! We do a little at a time with the dirt around the roots cutting the small roots. I was able to cut one large root today – so cool! Thaddeus and Andre, after some instruction from Rafael, screwed the diagonal braces to the shoring lumber. Might not be too perfect, but it is good enough and ’they’ did it. Nito and Amor will be back for the weekend. Nito just had his birthday and is TEN!!!! Joey May, of May Industry came in with donated dirt and sand. Oh, I did not have my camera for that!!!!!! He has an awesome 1965 Chevy dump truck.
With the dirt and sand we can also begin to point the handfuls of dirt into the south wall. Thaddeus has a cool peddle go-cart and they had a lot of fun on the sidewalk and in the avenue – where else can that happen?
May 29 2017
Rafael hooked the chains around the brace and pulled it down. Andre is always willing and able to help. Alfredo came over – if he were 55 years not 85 he’d repair the wall himself. He gives good advice. Our helpers are grateful for the work, extremely grateful to be rewarded for their efforts and we are exceedingly grateful for their help. It is a good little crew. We can work at a manageable pace. I trust that others will arrive to help or volunteer when the time is right. The worst part of the broken wall is down – not to worry like crazy about it falling. We can now approach the roots along that section without as much trepidation.
Today is Memorial Day – the day of remembrance for those who gave their all. Tears do fall. Across the nation are the ceremonies, speeches and taps and a call upon the conscience of the country to do for those who through military service now need assistance… and those who assist those who need assistance.
For some everyday is a day of remembrance. For some they would like to forget much that they cannot help but remember. Some make an effort to do for others. Some do not take the time, nor make the effort. We each do as best we can according to the depth of our understanding. Until the end of all wars…
May 30 2017
We are saving as many bricks as we can. It will be fun to make our own bricks. The job will be a faster if we can recycle all we can save. We all work two to four hours at a time. Today it was four hours, Robbie, me, Rafael, Andre and Thaddeus.
June 3 2017
Allow me to introduce you to HOPE. Really, these three wonderful young men working with me today, they are hope for the future of this world. Thaddeus on the left, has been digging and shoveling with the project from the start. New to the job in the middle is Abel. Non stop, smart, polite, hard worker, cheery, unassuming, couldn’t do enough – what a pleasure to begin to get to know him! On the right is Davian. He is fourteen. He is a top, top, top, top notch, smart, hard working young man new to Wagon Mound. The exemplary gentleman who is raising him as his own did several tours in Afghanistan.
See that giant tree trunk in front of Thaddeus – maybe someone will come with a chainsaw and carve it into a chair. The boys dug for hours today to get to the numerous tree trunks and roots behind them that must be dealt with. The scope of this job is nearly beyond comprehension. I must have been half mad to have believed it was possible. Only I would have jumped into this stew. All the kids who have helped want so much to see something fresh, new and vibrant happen in the village. Not one of the crew of kids has a computer, nor availability to to hook up to the internet. These boys, and the others who have helped, have given me hope for the future. A lady came by today and gave us a case of bottled water. How nice.
June 4 2017
Today: Just paint!!! Hail had damaged the sign. The moment Rafael dipped his brush into paint to restore the village sign our world mellowed out. That’s why we are doing this. Become an artist. Just paint! or make bird houses, or do leather work – just do it!
My friend Ali cleaned the ‘Peace Rosa Café’ (the little room in the back where we make our coffee.) Jacob, Davian and I were working. It was too hot. I retrieved the accordion. The boys tried the squeeze box for fun. Then they took down the ‘cardboard’ wall where we will rebuild a restroom.
I was beginning to lose it. The kids and I could only do so much. Blisters were happening.The roots were too difficult, piles of dirt and broken adobes were getting too heavy.
Rafael had asked ‘God’ for help. Early evening I got the call. Daniel would arrive with the bob-cat. His kids also want to work. They can help when we get to the mud stage.
Hum… What could Daniel do? He is expert with the bob-cat. The first root was out in a few minutes, then another, then another, then another, then another, then another. We will leave the biggest trunks/roots and eventually kill them. Pulling out one root a section of the rock foundation also pulled out. Therefore, the rest of the wall section that is partially down must also be taken down to the foundation rocks.
Jacob, 11 years old, stands near the pile of roots. It was his first day. He’s excited to have a job.
Daniel switched the scoop onto the bob-cat and leveled the work zone. Another young rancher boy asked for work – sure, come on down, 10 AM. All kids get rewarded. We’ll need food ‘cause we’ve been hungry. The energy of the kids is wonderful. We are learning from each other. The best moments are when they say things like, “We need all people to get along. We need to have peace so there are no more wars.” And… “this place (the lots) would be a great park for kids.” I am very tired and really dirty. Good night
June 8 2017
Andre, far right second picture, dug that root out of the gully way by himself. If all people of this village, this county, this state, this country, these continents of this world were to get along as well and wonderfully and have as much fun as the crew working on the building, Peace would encompass the planet and spill out into the solar system and infinite universe.
June 10 2017
We all know we all have hard times and it’s OK to be honest and speak of that. As a teenager I had a very hard time. In the midst of those years of blackness, I thought that as a grown-up I’d have a big house and kids who were treated as I was treated could come and be safe.
Yesterday two of the boys helped without being asked. They wanted to work. I held them back for it was late. One boy made a comment, a gift to me from the Power without a name, … something like, ‘We’re your kids.’
Strong help is needed to move adobes from the warehouse down the street. I went to the shop of a veteran, a strong guy with a flatbed trailer. I asked for help. I asked him to help me find strong guys to help. Straight out, emphatically he said, “I’m not going to help.”
I thought of the story of Henny Penny. I thought of Amor, the little girl who helped the first day. She had said, “If we take the wall down and if we build the wall up and if we do all the work then this place is OURS.”
She was right. Already what the crew of kids has done is phenomenal. It may take us days, but using the dolly, wheelbarrow and wagon the kids can move those adobes out of the warehouse, down the street and into the lots. The summer heat is on. It will not stop the kids.
This picture was of the first day at the job. left to right – Amor, Andre, Thaddeus and Nito. My life has been enriched. These kids could and probably will save the world from poop grown-ups. One can be a grown up and still have the heart of a child – but how many choose to do so?
I feel like making a sign, ” Workers Reserve the Right of Admission “ ahahahaha
June 13 2017
Whenever the red door on Railroad is open we can expect someone to stop in. We meet great people such as the couple from Spain who stopped by hungry today. All I could give them was baloney sandwiches. Most guests ask, “What happened to this village?”
I had to rebuild the rock foundation before the recycled wall could be coursed in. I only had to redo the top layer of rocks. The rock foundation is three layers deep. Amazing. It was a few days working alone without disturbances for me to redo the foundation rocks… a lot of weight. It was a good practice with the sand and dirt, which is sandy, to find a decent mortar mix.
Today I was at the site at 7AM and worked to pain level 7 or 8 before help arrived. Today Andre worked with his brother Marcus, first day on the job. Marcus works beautifully and learns very fast. It was a great team. My hips were and still are in agony from all the heavy rocks, mortar and adobes.
The three guys laid four courses – 20’ long.
Today is June 19. One of the old bricks which we removed today had a folded paper in it which was opened with care. It was an invoice from the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railway dated June 19, 1900.
Now we know when the cantina structure was built – summer 1900. Happy birthday 117 years today.
June 24 2017
Today we move the donated adobe bricks the ones the strong men refused to help load and unload.
First on the scene were Davian and Andre followed by Jimbo Thompson. Jimbo is late 70’s early 80’s I think with physical disabilities. Not only did he come to offer his pickup to transport the bricks but he got down and dirty with the young ones moving the adobes. Adobe bricks weigh a lot.
In the warehouse young mother Hope Alcon, a champ, dug through the dust and dirt. She started the conveyor chain that moved the bricks.
The little kids did not hesitate nor stop loading on Jimbo’s pickup, Rafael’s pickup and Freddie’s flat bed.
Two pickups and the flatbed, a mom, a grandma, two grandpas each with bad backs, Jimbo, Freddie and the kids Kelly, Jacob, Davian, Andre and Marcus loaded, moved, unloaded and stacked in the lots about 200 bricks in two hours – ready for the next phase. These bricks are not the same size as the ones we used to lay seven courses. Hum… now we have another puzzle. How shall we lay these sizes on top of the other sizes? I have an idea – unconventional of course. I’m good at puzzles. A strong wall is more important than a perfectly conventional wall. I had rebuilt the rock foundation and trust it – my idea might work.
The adobe project is underway. I have neither time to clean my house nor care for this yard or a pitiful garden. If we can save the walls this summer it will be as a miracle. It is nice work. No electricity. No loud saws and tools. Yesterday afternoon I laid in a good number of the bricks myself. The mortar is sand and dirt. According to the sand and dirt available one works out the proportions to make a strong mortar. Joey had donated the sand and dirt. The dirt is sandy. For us it is two shovels of dirt to one shovel of sand mixing in a wheelbarrow with water. You lay the mortar mix under, around and between the bricks with your hands. It is a delightful way of getting really dirty. As Rafael and I took off some of the yellow boards I discovered a BIG hole under the wall in one place. Once the bricks of the yellow board section of the wall is down, I will need to repair the foundation. That is really hard, heavy work using rocks – trying to find the right size rocks…
July 7 2017
The afternoon exploded into a grand, uproarious time. The loud laughter and subsequent mud fight was much welcomed by the universe for only the universe knows the stories of the lives of the kids. I’m honored to share this experience with them, that I am witness to the evolution of their characters and the broadening of their smiles. They do not speak much of their circumstances. They did not want to leave tonight, wanted to camp out in the lots where they feel good and can have fun. Not yet, maybe one day.
For me, best of all, was that beautiful Madison arrived to join the crew. I had never heard Madison laugh as she laughed today. I’d invited her to get down and dirty with us when we started the job in May. She said she’d never been so covered in mud and dirt in her life.
Grown-up Mikey (remember Mikey?) stopped to give us / me the biggest compliment imaginable. Mikey said, “You are doing a great job.” I said, “Yes, the kids are doing a great job.”
Mikey said, “You, lady, are doing a great job, a better job than most men.” Thank you, Mike. I was honored to receive such a compliment.
From inside the structure, I am now at eye level with the top of the wall. Little Jacob was on the job with me for over eight hours today.
From the top of the scaffolding the boys could see that three baby swallows have hatched.
This place has become so very special for me, of course, but these kids call it “Home.”
July 11 2017
The gigantic massive tree stump and root is gone. Bye Bye Baby.
Carlos came and cleared the enormous pile of roots we had already removed, scraped the dirt for drainage, broke some of the tree trunk roots and prepared the lot for the backhoe to remove the tree trunk.
Rio is in his twenties, always with a cheerful, helpful demeanor he is very hard working and expert with all the enormous equipment he operates. Not a single brick moved or shook, not a single disturbance to the building – just a massive hole and a 117 year old rock foundation that must be rebuilt. Thank You Rio. Awesome work. This is the community… the kids, the parents who check on the kids, those who are showing up to help once in a while… those helping to get lunches for the kids.
July 18 2017
Working on the adobe building has been quite the experience. We have had 20 kids to date work with us. Some of them have trusted enough to share a bit of their personal stories. We have autism, attention deficit disorder, ptsd, etc. We have received enough much appreciated donations from strangers and friends to keep the work going all summer. Rafael and I are making bricks today – very heavy work – no help the past few days.
[su_column size=”1/2″] Yesterday, working together harmoniously, Rafael, Davian and I made 14 bricks. Fourteen bricks in one day might not seem many. However, for an injured grandpa and a grandma and one young man in the heat pacing ourselves, resting in the shade, pushing and mixing the mud, sand and straw in a wheelbarrow that was a productive day. We’ve a total of 39 bricks drying fast. Because of the weight of the bricks it is my intention that the larger size (the boys made the forms) will be the lower courses. All those strong enough to make the bricks are proud of the accomplishment. The little ones will mud the walls. I’ve begun contemplating the heavy puzzle repair of the broken rock foundation. Quinton, 7, wants to help with the foundation work on Monday.
[su_column size=”1/2″]On June 19th the boys were dismantling the broken wall. In one of the adobe bricks they found the invoice below dated June 19, 1900. It was made out to Romaldo Roybal. A village street was named after him – perhaps because his cantina provided the libations and he got the village drunk. It says 1 keg of liquor $.50 weighing 100 pounds $.01 per pound freight and $.01 cent = total price $1.51. There is a signature in pencil on the back side of the invoice. We will frame it in a two sided glass frame.
July 26 2017
This was today’s team. They made ten bricks in less than two hours. Everyone worked together because the work and the mud is so heavy. Two kids lift each form together. Work was done in harmony as each learned their tasks according to their ability. It is amazing the very dirty work they accomplished in a short time inside the building. New to the job today are Rachel (11), Rebecca (14) and Mike (13) Chavez, Maddie (11), Layla (9) and Quentin (7) Whitfield. Bottom picture left to right Maddie, Layla, Rachel, Becky, Quinton and Mike. That little kid Quinton – he works on pure determination. He was determined to shovel the mud and fill one of the forms by himself. One shovel full of mud probably weighed more than he did.
The bricks we have used to date are recycled. Mike laid in the first of the new bricks – wow, it is a beauty. Quinton is good with the pick ax. His job tomorrow will be – once the shade hits the wall – to loosen the dirt so we can all shovel it away from the wall to have the rains drain away from and not into the wall. Big job.
A few hours each day is enough. The Whitfield’s father came up today and thanked me for this for his kids. He is curious to learn how to make bricks. One or two more days and these kids will be ‘expert.’ They’ll teach him. This project has become the Wagon Mound kid project.
Who is going to make for a better future on this Earth? Kids like this. Rachel wants to work as much as possible – her dream, to buy a horse. She has already chosen the young horse she would like.
July 28 2017
Today, too much rain and mud. I’m working on the booklet today. Lots of work – writer’s block – going to make this happen for the kids and the vets.
(Here Rene is referring to the 705 short story booklet which entails the strength of the kids this summer and some history of Wagon Mound. Complete with current and historical photos. You can download it below or request a printed copy by contacting her.)
July 30 2017
We are getting our monsoon rains, much loved for the water, but at the project site we have a major drainage problem. By myself I had to clear a lot of stuff including a dismantled scaffolding out of the lots for Daniel to come in with his bobcat to move earth so the water would not run into the building from under the bricks. I made four bricks myself and covered them with plastic. I hope they survived last night’s rain.
It was nearly dark when Rafael went to lock the gates. He could see that Daniel had been there and had moved the earth. It will be exciting to see what it looks like on the lots today. We must do very heavy work with really big rocks to rebuild the foundation. Elijah and Dominic,16, are on the job. We have some good workers.
August 5 2017
Well, well, well, lo and behold – such a surprise. We thought there were three golondrinas in the nest but there were four. They do not fit in the nest any more.
They have learned to fly and are out and about returning home to the wire when it rains and at night. Mom and Pop have begun teaching the kids survival 101.
August 8 2017
We had a massive rain last night that hit horizontally from every direction. There is not a dry exterior wall on a single building in the village.
The art center building is soaked inside and out – not a dry brick anywhere and the interior of the building is saturated.
The mud is too slippery for any work.
We are expected to have more of the same today and later in the week.
One step at a time, doing as best we can. You will see the recently printed booklet sometime soon. In it I mentioned the flood of 1906.
August 9 2017
Today Becky was on the job. She will be 15 in September, working with me and three more kids. By the end of the day we were all doing great.
The sun came out and we began to dry up a bit at the project site. I got everything covered with plastic before we had another horizontal downpour late afternoon. The girls and I began ‘pointing’ – pushing the sand and dirt mortar into all the holes and cracks. Layla was putting down considerable mortar at the bottom of the wall. We’ll keep at it slow but steady. The boys dug a trench so the water can drain into the trench. I’m putting down big rocks and gravel in the trench. We all know this project will take us years. At least I have something to do. I just hope I can get some work done on the south wall before the cold comes in.
The kids are already speaking of working again next summer and having another booklet with their pictures.
August 15 2017
Everyone is safe. All is well. I’d been cleaning the area between the shoring and the wall yesterday evening leaving the building late. This morning we arrived at the site to discover the remaining mid-section of the wall had fallen. The rain – never mind it is a long story – that section must have been rebuilt after the tornado in a most bizarre fashion. It had to come down so it did. The weight of the fallen bricks busted the shoring but the roof still remains.
Becky was with me this morning. We returned to the ranch to pick up Mike and Rachael knocking on the door, “The wall fell down. We need you.” Great crew. Great kids. Davian has returned for two weeks. He’ll join us tomorrow. We’ll clear the debris, save all recyclable bricks and find a way to repair the shoring.
Dangerous – yes. We will not have any of the little kids with us on this. We may have a break in the rains for a couple of days. It is great weather to make bricks – no time for that. Rafael is directing and orchestrating all of us, caring first about safety. We are not giving up.
August 16 2017
[su_column size=”1/2″]Three teenagers, two girls and Mike with us yesterday, and five today, two girls and three boys – we did some major work. You would not believe how dirty we get in a few hours. We moved and stacked as many bricks as our bodies could handle, shoveled dirt and plaster, smashed up the cement that had been a very rotten foundation of sorts clearing it until we found the floor again. The floor was so beautiful to see. Then Gilbert and Rafael sledge hammered the middle section of shoring back into place – it had been knocked out of place by at least a foot.
Filthy and tired we quit for the day. That third section of shoring had been knocked out of place nearly two feet by a thousand pounds of falling bricks. We will get to it tomorrow. Another young boy wants to work – told him he will get very tired, have blisters and by the end of a few hours work be extremely dirty. He and his grandma said, ’sure.’
September is flying by. After a couple weeks hiatus to regroup on weekends the crew is back on the job.
The work continues and will continue as long as weather and funding will allow.
If a way could be found to express my gratitude to you for your support of “Veteran Affair” I would do so. I cannot paint a picture for you of all the moments that have transpired at the dirty, dusty, busted cantina building this summer. Of the 23 kids on the job, some who worked only one day others for weeks, some who live in the village others here only for a time this summer, these notes are just a taste of what you made possible. To hear these children laugh and play, some who needed just that – to laugh and play – it is a joy you helped make possible.
I’m aware that sometimes with the kids I was a bit strongly worded. Safety was and remains my first and foremost concern. Aside from blisters and a splinter or two we have all safely enjoyed wonderful times together on Railroad Avenue. Although it can be rather confronting, at times we learn the most about ourselves when someone who cares tells us it is time to evolve – in whatever words those words are. Occasionally these kids expressed their opinions about the shabby village main street and the neglected parks… and of course other stuff. I wish they would dare to speak to the grown-ups. The grown-ups could learn a lot from the kids. The kids are the future of our world. They deserve the best.
The challenges to be met to accomplish the dream could shake anyone to the core. When the kids arrive to work nothing seems a problem. We’ve broken shovels, wheelbarrow wheels, sledge hammers and hoes, used boxes of dust masks and dozens of pairs of gloves. But… two pallets of rocks for the new foundation are being donated. Grown up Mikey said he would help with the foundation. The weather may allow for us to make more bricks. We shall find some means of accomplishing proper drainage before winter. It might take a few more years but we shall rebuild the old adobe. Veterans shall have a center. They know they have a center even if it is open air. They do come. They do visit. They give advice. They do encourage. They are proud to know someone cares enough to do this for them. The kids shall have a movie house. We shall invite Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer to opening matinee showing of ‘The Lone Ranger’ (our dream) and we shall have movies and popcorn and a place to gather and have fun. It would seem that some of our friendships will last for life.
Many, many, many thanks from me, Rene on behalf of A Veteran Affair.
ps. I deeply, sincerely thank Sabrina Tortora who I met and befriended when she was a 16 year old student. Now a graphic designer, mom and para in the schools for special needs children, Sabrina, always willing to assist, has created this website… could not have done it without her.
Although we have made great waves, progress, this summer there is much to do. Any help or donations are GREATLY appreciated and put to use honestly and ethically. Please contact us for more information. THANK YOU AGAIN.
To receive a nicely printed exclusive 8×10 “705” Booklet. A historical account of Wagon Mound and this summer’s project please contact us. We are happy to assist!