Progress at last
Our first winter in Pie Town had its ups and downs but it brought us closer to our dream.
Our first winter in Pie Town had its ups and downs but it brought us closer to our dream.
Editor’s note: When last we left Bobbie Jo and her husband Kenny, their New Mexico ranch construction project was entering its final stages. But a few complications developed along the way that she will soon share with EQUUS readers. In the meantime, we pick up her story at the beginning of winter 2019. Final installments of this series, planned for later this year, will include details about the equine and human accommodations that she and Kenny built in Pie Town, New Mexico.
On New Year’s Day 2019, Kenny and I watched the snow wafting down, frosting the trees, the nearby mountains and the horses’ thick winter coats. Tall bunches of golden grama grass poked through the freshly fallen snow, lending texture and contrast to the winter landscape. Our Icelandic mare Gloria seemed to especially relish the subfreezing and often windy conditions, a far cry from her first (and, we hope, only) summer of heat-andhumidity-induced misery in Texas.
The colder it got, the more content she seemed to be, often lying
in the snow---in the shade.
Our intended three-week “quick visit” to New Mexico stretched into three months, and now came the holidays and our first “serious” snowfall. Although I was raised in Minnesota, it had been many decades since I had known the invigorating snap of winter wind on my face, the crunching of powdery snow underfoot and the sense of accomplishment when the horses had been fed and watered.
We had returned to our ranch-in-progress south of Pie Town, New Mexico, in late September 2018, after more than a year away from our dream. Our goal had been to push through the summer to prepare the Hondo, Texas, ranch to put on the market. But weeks of steady rain had left our ranch there a quagmire, all but putting a halt to our efforts to finish triaging the three tractortrailer storage units that stood in our way of relocating.
Maintaining two ranches had been daunting, but we were fortunate to have our longtime caretaker, Maria “Lupe” Neault, looking after our eight remaining horses, two donkeys, four cows and four cats. (We had one cat and one dog with us.) We could not have spent so much time away without her continuing dedication
We returned to our ranch-in-progress south of Pie Town, New Mexico, in September. But our intended three-week “quick visit” stretched into three months.
and reassurances that all was well. Our revised goal was now to clean up and prepare the Texas ranch to be put on the market by early spring 2019.
Again, our neighbor and friend Karl Phaler welcomed us to stay in his guest quarters, as our home was not quite ready to occupy. For one thing, we didn’t have electricity yet, and winter was fast approaching.
We arrived in Pie Town to find pack rats (more formally known as desert woodrats, genus Neotoma) had built a huge nest (midden) behind the engine in our 35 HP Mahindra tractor, but fortunately they had not yet chewed through any wiring. As most southwestern desert dwellers have learned the hard way, pack rats can quickly disable any vehicle left unattended for long. Meanwhile, our four-wheel Mahindra XTV was not running as well as it should have been, and the “check engine” light was on. We called Lorenzo
Romero at the dealer in Albuquerque; he said to check the wiring, and sure enough, Kenny found the little critters had chewed through the wiring for the oxygen sensor. Kenny repaired the wiring and all was well. The tractor also had a hydraulic leak, and Lorenzo said to check the tightness of the fittings, which solved the issue without our having to take any of the vehicles on the six-hour round trip to the dealer.
At Karl’s, we met two hardy outdoor cats, and he kindly offered to share them with us. Meow Meow and her son Zeke do a terrific job keeping mice and pack rats at bay wherever they are stationed. Eventually, we will have all of our Texas cats at our new ranch, and possibly a few more rescues.
CONVENTIONAL AND RENEWABLE POWER
First priority upon our arrival, after restoring the two Mahindras to good running condition, was establishing our electric service.
For the last year, Kenny and I had been going back and forth on solar versus land power and if by land, whether to go with overhead poles or underground wiring. Overhead would require about three additional poles; underground required trenching to a depth of four feet. We already had a solar well and loved it. We wanted to go
solar all the way, but continued hearing reports of wildly expensive costs. We already had a bid from the local electric co-op for service installation, so we elected to stick with land power and add more solar along the way.
When the co-op’s lead engineer,
Bill Harris, came out to revisit our situation, he took one look at the treestudded path from the road to the house and said, “Go underground!” We had planned to do this before but could not find anyone to do the trenching.
Bill knew an electrician near Reserve, the Catron County seat, who did that kind of work, and gave us his cell number. We connected with Jerry
Laney and he came right out to scope the property. Not only could he put in the underground conduit for our electric, he could also install our septic system. He gave us a quote for all of the work; we readily agreed and gave him a down payment.
We were eager to get started, but Jerry and his family---all horse people ---were spending the first week of November at a rodeo in Las Vegas. We waited patiently for their return. There was another delay when a county job came up and then the holiday weekend. Finally, the Monday after Thanksgiving, Jerry hauled in his big Case backhoe. He got right to it the next day. That backhoe was amazing. With Jerry trenching from the power line at the road and Kenny working with his smaller backhoe from the house, they met in the middle and got the trenching done in one day---all 600 feet.
Kenny and I had picked up the conduit for the electrical wire in Albuquerque a week earlier, and Jerry and his daughter got it all installed the next day. Bill Harris returned to inspect the pipe in the trench and gave it his blessing.
Under Jerry’s direction, Kenny took on the task of placing a red high-voltage warning tape 18 inches above the conduit by first backfilling with dirt to that level. Jerry took photos and forwarded them to Bill for approval. Jerry also installed the pedestal with all of the connections for electrical circuitry. The portion that ran from the pedestal to the house was later inspected and given a green seal of approval by the state.
To prepare for the septic installation, Kenny got back to work on his backhoe. He trenched the septic lines from the house to the tank, starting at 30 inches to a depth of about four feet at the tank, including a short line for the RV dump station. Jerry had chosen a large-capacity cement tank, which was delivered by its manufacturer from
Show Low, Arizona. Then Jerry and his daughter ran all the lines from the house to the tank. The entire installation took about a day and a half.
Meanwhile, Kenny had been steadily progressing on the waterworks. He moved the 3,000-gallon cistern into place with the tractor after digging a hole about three feet deep. The idea was to create a lower profile and allow the ground to keep the water from freezing. The cistern is next to our new pump house, an 8-foot by 12foot structure we purchased from Weather King Portables---the same company we chose last year for a tack shed, hay shed and storage building. Inside the pump house, Kenny arranged a complex of underground pipes with a pressure tank, all insulated.
Down at the well (about 1,000 feet from the pump house), Kenny placed insulated foam panels over 75 percent of the 300-gallon tank to keep the water from freezing. The two resident mares at our ranch, Jasmine, a curlycoated Missouri Fox Trotter, and Cheval, a solidly built Quarter Horse, were both doing well with their thick winter coats, ample hay and once-a-day buckets of mash.
As the lovely November days turned into real winter, we purchased a woodburning stove for our house so we could work inside on projects while
enjoying the snow-capped mountain views. Kenny chose a model from Tractor Supply Company and had it up and running quickly, with proper venting and heat shielding. We discovered that our endless supply of wood on the ranch, most notably cedar and pinon, split easily and burned beautifully.
The wood stove was very efficient, and because it did such a wonderful job warming the entire home, we decided to forego propane. One less trench, one less inspection!
The house warm and cozy, we dove into repainting the kitchen cabinets as well as the guest bathroom cabinets with a type of chalk paint from Heritage Paints. The paint goes on easily and dries quickly to a lovely finish, especially when “stippled” with a special brush. We plan to paint most of the interior walls of the house a warm off-white, to replace the very bright white there now. And the exterior will be a combination of Sequoia, a rich reddish-brown reminiscent of southwest pueblos, with the lighter
A long run of incredible weather (temperatures in the 50s, sunshine, no wind) reminded us once again why we were here in New Mexico.
tan Ancient Papyrus for the trim. I wanted a trim color that matched the golden winter grama grass and, after much trial and error, we found just the right hue.
By early January, all we needed was the state Mobile Home Division inspector to come out and give the final blessing to the water, septic and electric. Then the co-op could come out and “pull the wire” through the conduit and we’d have power. When I called for the inspection, I learned they were running about a month behind. We resigned ourselves to waiting until spring, when we would return, to have the inspection and final installation.
Just as we were preparing to head back to Texas in late January, Lupe texted me and said not to hurry back ---she had everything under control if we had more to do. We took a deep breath and decided to stay on. I put in another call to the state inspector’s office, and this time they came out within a week!
Kenny and I were both on hand for the Big Day. On February 1, Russell “Rusty” Wink from Alamogordo drove up in his state vehicle and got to work.
First, he inspected the pedestal. Check. Next, he came inside and looked at the breaker box and the venting for the wood stove. Check. Then he went back outside and crawled under the house to inspect the pillars and tie-downs---the suitability of the home to withstand up to 80-mph winds. Check! The house also had the required skirting and venting all around. We were approved!
We were now awaiting word on when Socorro Electric Co-op will be out to pull the wire. Then it’s power on! While waiting, Kenny has been out hammering t-posts in all kinds of weather. He has fenced off another 22-acre and 39-acre tract to prepare for our horses’ arrival.
We had been apprehensive about winter, and at times conditions have indeed been challenging. In January, we had eight inches of snow and long days of slick, sticky mud as the snow melted during multiple freeze-thaw cycles. There was a weeklong stretch where we didn’t dare take our four-wheel-drive, oneton pickup down Karl’s driveway, and we could only make it to our ranch to feed the horses by traveling cross country in our XTV.
We ordered two truckloads (56 tons) of road-base gravel from Socorro, which Kenny distributed on both Karl’s and our driveways. Soon after, a long run of incredible weather (temperatures in the 50s, sunshine, no wind) reminded us once again why we are here---the endless skies, the tranquility, the mountains, the happy horses.
In our next installment, which will wrap up the series launched in 2016, we will recap what’s been accomplished along with noting a few new projects. In early 2019, for example, our electricity finally was switched on---a much-welcomed milestone on the journey.
With a new decade upon us, the ranch was finally coming together with Kenny’s trenching of a 1,000-foot line from well to pump house to ensure a steady flow of water for horses and humans.
As a fitting tribute to completion, a French photographer and house painter came from California on a British motorcycle to paint our house inside and out.