FEATURE What they don’t teach you in business schoolA memoir from West Texas BY DON HENRY FORD, JR. The following article is excerpted from Contrabando: Confessions of a Drug-Smuggling Texas Cowboy, by Don Henry Ford, Jr. Copyright 2005 Cinco Puntos Press. All rights reserved. Iwas born in February 1957 at a hospital in Midland, Texasnot four blocks away from the childhood home of George W. Bush. West Texas was in the middle of a drought, and huge sandstorms filled the winter sky. My dad was twenty-seven, my mom twenty-two. I was their first child. My grandmother Ford took one look at me and nicknamed me “Cowboy.” This proclamation proved prophetic.. . The following is an account of events as I lived them. Not all of the story is here. It took years for this stuff to happen and many boring days occupied the space between events. I omitted some episodes due to possible repercussions that might come to friends or me to this day. I left out other things because I knew it would be hard for anyone to believe I didn’t quit soonerespecially if I described all the times I got arrested in Mexico. But this story isn’t only about drugs or menot entirely. It can’t be. It’s about a world gone madit’s about fire and smoke and sweat, blood and dirt and blisters, empty stomachs, sick children, the feel of wood, the smell of a horse, barbecue, grains and fruitand smooth brown skin and glistening black skin and white skin burned red, and sun and freezing cold and water, and spirits and plans and sky, stars in the nightand love. We have forgotten where we came from. I have to remind myself. I can’t forget. We must not forget. But we do. 0 ur Bakersfield farm was located in an area known as the Trans-Pecos region of Texas. The land was flat, with rich, silty loam soil. It was surrounded by flattop mesas and looked somewhat like the former floor of an ocean. A closer look at the rocks on those flattop mesas revealed evidence of sea creatures and lines that had at one time been boundaries between land and sea. Now the only water to be found in the Bakersfield valley ran underground. Minneapolis-Moline engines, which ran on natural gas also taken from the ground nearby, sucked this precious substance through wells to the surface. Without this water, the ground abovealthough rich in nutrientswould support little growth of any kind. With it, incredible yields were obtainable. But incredible yields didn’t necessarily mean a profitin fact huge yields just meant you lost less money. Everyone except a few die-hards had given up farming the Bakersfield valley. The Pecos River formed the northern border of our farm, which officially meant we were west of the Pecos, where in times past it was legal to kill Mexicans without getting charged for murder. Old timers still tell stories of people who dragged a body across that river to avoid prosecution. In their day, the Pecos was said to have been a mighty river but upstream dams put an end to that. Now it’s a pitiful stream of extremely salty water moving through a thin strip of salt cedar treesalmost the only kind of tree that will tolerate the levels of salinity found there. Preparation for a cotton crop in the Bakersfield valley began in the winter. Jose and Inez plowed, day after day, while West Texas winds raised clouds of gritty dust. Icy wind found its way through thick layers of clothing and the constant vibration and noise from the tractor left their bodies numb and sore, but they persevered, one pass at a time, breathing through bandanas wrapped around their faces. Next came the process of cutting rows, which were made with a tool-bar armed with eight rows of listers. On either side of the tool bar, telescoping marker discs marked the ground to provide proper spacing for the next pass of the tractor. Any momentary loss of concentration would cause problems the rest of the year. After rows were laid out, Inez took a three-way blade and cut dirt ditches from which we irrigated the fields. Dams were formed using tarps, four-by-fours, pieces of sucker rod and plenty of hard labor with a shovel. Water was introduced to the ditches and then drained into individual rows with siphon tubes. Balancing the number of tubes with the output of the well was critical. Too many would draw the water down until some lost their siphon and left dry rows. Not enough tubes and the water would rise until the ditch overflowed and probably broke. Each dam had to be reset every 24 hours. We had as many as five of these setups going simultaneously, not counting those on the alfalfa and coastal fields. Irrigation engines failed and had to be replaced. We kept two spares on handthe moment one failed, we replaced it. The disabled one went back to the shop to be overhauled or repaired. After pre-plant irrigation, seed was planted into moist earth. Once again, great concentration was needed. If the rows were improperly spaced, cultivators and harvesting equipment would later be unable to do their jobs. Once the plants emerged, the first cultivation was per 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 1/7/05
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