When the Railway Came to Town

Choo choo ch’boogie

by Celia Hayes

From the earliest days, San Antonio was strategically located at the meeting of two major roads – the Camino Real, the roughly east-west road between Monclova and Mexico City and Natchitoches in Louisiana, and the Camino Del Norte, roughly a north/south route with many variations, but generally running between San Antonio and Laredo and points south. Strategic indeed, in the days of mule trains, ox-drawn freight wagons, horse-drawn stages and messengers on horseback, with goods and settlers arriving by sail and steam in coastal ports in Mexico, along the Texas and Louisiana gulf coast.

It took more than a decade after the end of the Civil War for San Antonio to be connected by steel rails to the rest of the country. The railway arrived in early 1877, much longed-for and received with much civic rejoicing. San Antonio was the very last major American city left un-served by a railway. The upper mid-west, east of the Mississippi-Missouri rivers had been thickly interconnected, even before the Civil War, the south less well so. Within four years after the war, the steel rails connected east and west, with the driving of the last spike at Promontory Point, Utah. From that year to the end of the century the railways ruled. Travel to far places in the west was made easier, faster, safer and cheaper. Goods and people flowed west – and the change which the railway brought to San Antonio is made clear to me in comparing a pair of city views of San Antonio in a style very popular at that time birds-eye views, half panorama and half city map. The Amon Carter museum has a good collection of such views of Texas cities. Artist and map-maker Agustus Koch made the first map of San Antonio in 1873; I have a copy of it hanging over my desk at this moment. In that year, the River City was what it had been for the previous two decades or so: a tight-packed cluster of Monopoly-shaped houses around Military and Main Plaza, lining a few blocks of Soledad and Flores, much of the length of Commerce street down to Alamo Plaza, where the Long Barracks and the old Alamo chapel are clearly identifiable. All the rest of town is a scattering of more small houses along straight-ruled avenues and open squares, rectangular and triangular plazas, all of them surrounded with gardens, orchards and open meadows. King William is marked out, to the south and east, and the first glimmerings of Southtown are clear; but the town unravels into rural within six or eight blocks in any direction from Commerce.

After the railroad arrived, Agustus Koch returned in 1886 to create an updated map. Those spaces which were gardens and relatively open fields were filled in; the streets presented an aspect of side-by side urban businesses and residences, taller and more imposing than the old single-story or two story structures that once had lined the city streets. A mule-drawn streetcar system connected the railway station on one side of town to the pleasure-grounds around the original San Pedro Springs on the other, shifted the business district north to Houston Street, and allowed residential neighborhoods to spread in every direction. The Army, finding that what remained of the historic presidio and the plaza before it was just too small for their needs, had decamped to a new establishment, Fort Sam Houston, on the low hills north of the city. The 1886 map shows the Quadrangle, and the parade grounds – and most clearly of all, the rail lines which had made all the difference between being a small and rather remote town, and a city of local and national significance.

Texas Tea

South Texas Oil

I can’t say that I was very surprised to find out from various online sources last week that Texas is pumping so much oil from the Eagle Ford Shale formation in South Texas (among other oil-rich shale formations, some of which are not quite as well-along as far as drilling goes) that if it were an independent country, it would be one of the top fifteen oil producers. I am not one who follows this kind of thing, religiously – although where I grew up in Southern California, I remember seeing many a small rocking-horse pumpjacks scattered here and there, nodding busily away in the bean-fields and citrus orchards in Camarillo, or along the highways and back roads. It was just one of those things in the background. I don’t know if there are many pumpjacks left in So-Cal now. Probably not, although they are at least as unlovely as wind turbines and probably don’t kill nearly as many birds. I lament the loss of the place where I grew up, by the way; a place of citrus groves, and lonely hills, a rural, blue-collar and working-class kind of place, where you could drive in a single afternoon from a palm-tree desert to a pine tree covered mountain-top frosted in snow. Alas, it seems that the wealthy coastal enclaves drive California now, to the ruination of the places which I remember so fondly.

But I like to think of Texas as a massive producer of oil and gasoline, especially when the stuff gets to be north of $3.00 a gallon. And I should have so known that the boom was big, and doing good for South Texas, just by simple observation over the time that I have lived here, especially since I began to write historical fiction and taking long road trips – towards Beeville and Goliad and Port Lavaca and all – especially to Goliad, which we have done for a good few years now. It once was, going down 181, through Poth and Karnes City and Kenedy, or by other routes through Smiley or Stockdale and Nixon to other destinations. Four or five years ago, many of the little towns along the way appeared as if they were dying on the vine. There were so many crumbling storefronts – and the ones open for some kind of business presented a more forlorn aspect than the ones which had given up the ghost and boarded up entirely. Weekday or weekend – such towns were deserted by mid-afternoon. Even the parking lot of the Walmart in Kenedy was all but deserted the first couple of times we drove past.

We first began noticing the changes along about Christmas 2010, driving down to Goliad to take part in Christmas on the Square. Suddenly – there were oilfield developments, truck parks and wells, dotted here and there among the pastures and brushlands; newly paved and graveled, lit up boldly at night. There was a little more traffic on the roads and the small towns didn’t look nearly so forlorn. The crumbling motel suddenly was rehabbed, and a number of new cabin-style units added to the row of existing roomettes. There were lights in the café, new vehicles parked out front, and on the edge of town there were several new RV parks – which, since there were no golf-courses, lakes or riverfront amusements – were obviously for workers rather than vacationers. New housing developments were going in, outside of Karnes City and Poth – and the Walmart parking lot was full. We remarked on this, to some old friends in Goliad – long-time residents, who confirmed our observations. There were neighbors and residents who owned country acreage who had been scraping by on a shoestring for decades – and now they had regular and generous checks for leasing their land.

On the whole, this is a good thing – and a good thing to know that this new oil boom has bought some prosperity to places that hadn’t seen much of it lately. I’d much rather that some of what I pay at the pump for unleaded is going right back here to Texas.

A Vegetable Medley

Vegetariana

 

by Celia Hayes

Alack and alas, the squashes which I planted in the spring, which came up, leafed out and flowered bountifully never actually produced any squash plants before they gracefully sank to the ground, withered and gave up the ghost. This has been to my complete mystification – they were provided plenty of sun, water and fertilizer, and I did not see that any of the plants were afflicted with vine borers. Well, next spring is another chance for a San Antonio home backyard garden; meanwhile I have pulled up the dead plants and harvested the small crop of red potatoes … which did thrive, although most of the resulting potatoes were the size of marbles and radishes. We have already eaten the largest of them – and tasty indeed they were, although I mourn they are not zucchini and patty-pan squash … I would have made ratatouille from the zucchini, the eggplant and the garden tomatoes. And no – ratatouille does not normally involve rats. This is a recipe that my mother loved, from Sunset’s French Cookbook 1976 edition. Just think of it as a vegetable medley – sometimes I have made it with fresh tomatoes, too.

Combine in an 3-quart ovenproof casserole:

3 TBsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove minced garlic
1 1-lb eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 medium zucchini, cut in 1-inch slices
1 1-lb can whole tomatoes and their juice, chopping tomatoes roughly with a spoon
1 tsp basil leaves
1/2 tsp salt

Cover and bake in a 400 deg. oven for about two hours, or cover and simmer gently on the stove-top, until vegetables are very soft, uncovering and stirring once or twice. Garnish with parsley and serve.

The tomatoes didn’t do well this year, either. Again, I am not certain why – except that perhaps my personal tomato curse has returned, or that it was, like previous years, just too darned hot for them by mid-spring.

However, and on the bright side – we had beans, lots of lovely green beans, and now that the first planting has given up the ghost, I have planted another round. Eggplants we have – not very many, but it’s not one of my absolute faves as a vegetable, either. But as for peppers … cayenne and bell peppers and jalapenos – all of those plants are thriving, many of them on their second or third year. Very likely I can grind up my own chili powder or cayenne pepper from that I have.

Another vegetable delight that I hope someday to make from home-grown vegetables is vegetable chili – this from Nava Atlas’s Vegeteriana

Sautee in 2 Tbsp olive oil: 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped bell pepper until the onion is limp. Then add 1 zucchini, sliced, 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, 1 14-oz can whole tomatoes with their liquid, 1 6-oz tomato paste, 3 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 tsp chili powder (more or less to taste), 1 teasp ground cumin, ½ teasp each ground coriander and oregano, ¼ teasp dried thyme, dash cayenne pepper, and 2 ½ cups cooked or canned kidney beans. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are done, about fifteen to twenty minutes. Serve garnished with grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, pickled green chilis and warm tortillas on the side; food of the gods, vegetarian division.

 

Boerne Sculpture Garden

Boerne’s Sculpture Garden

by Celia Hayes

So we had noted some … well, some outdoor works of art, arranged in a landscaped space on River Road next to the Ewe and Eye yarns and handicrafts establishment, and last week we stopped for a few minutes to check it out up close. It’s the Texas Treasures Fine Art Sculpture Garden– they have a post on the Boerne Chamber of Commerce’s Facebook page. While Texas Treasures Fine Art Gallery does have an indoor and roofed over fine art gallery on Main Street, it looks as if some of the larger and more weighty pieces of sculpture have been put on display out in the open air … which is about the only place that one can visualize some of them, notably a huge west Texas landscape called … well, Landscape.

So many yards of metal squares, set together … and yep, that’s just what it looks like from the air; mostly flat, a little rolling, with depressions that collect rainwater in season, moving up into a range of peaks on the far horizon, neatly crossed by a regular grid of roads and fences. It’s a modern piece, which I usually don’t care for at all, but it is strangely appealing, and outdoors is just the place for it. Presumably the whole place is under camera surveillance, 24-7, and since shoplifting any of the pieces would involve a heavy-duty winch, welding gear, a reinforced vehicle and a couple of hours work – they’re probably pretty secure.

I also liked the enormous panted metal cacti – with red flower buds the size of D-cell batteries, and yellow blossoms like enormous bright bridal bouquets. That particular artist, Joe Barrington, apparently loves to sculpt outsized pieces and to use interesting and useful metal junk as the raw material. One of his famous pieces is a full-sized pickup truck, with a gargantuan metal catfish filling the back and draped over the cab. That one is not here in the sculpture garden – but an enormous brooding metal raven on a tall perch is back in one corner, and I could imagine it solemnly croaking, “Nevermore, y’all!” I like that kind of playful sculpture, like the raven, and the blooming cactus. My dad, who adored messing around with a blow torch and assorted bits of scrap metal would have loved it too, and likely would have had a go himself at astonishing the neighbors with a gigantic metal fish in the back of a rusty pickup. Whatever amuses people to look at, and keep it out of the landfill is certainly a commendable and refreshing attitude for a modern artist. I’ve just seen to darned much of the incomprehensible and ugly sort – both the privately purchased kind, and the kind that is left to adorn public squares in the last half of the 20th century. Look, I didn’t mind the concrete, metal and glass Bauhaus cubes so much … but why did they have to leave a fountain in the plaza in front of it with an enormous concrete t*rd in it?

So, no – Mrs. Hayes’ little girl Celia is not, or ever has been a fan of the usual run of modern art, nor of strictly kitsch like Thomas Kinkade, either. But the bits and bobs in the Texas Treasures sculpture garden is fun and funny, and some of it is old-style (19th century style) meaningful, without clubbing yourself over the head, or having to have a masters’ degree in 20th century art and cultural appreciation to really like and/or understand. Check it out, next time you’re in Boerne. And by the way – the Riverside Market – in the Shell Station on the corner of River Road and Main Street? They have just finished redoing the inside of the seating area, and added a covered outside deck for your dining pleasure. The BBQ chicken and the brisket are the food of the gods, people, the food of the gods.

Call Team Randy Watson of Mission Realty at 210-319-4960 for Boerne Homes for Sale

Making the Art Scene in San Antonio

The Art Scene

by Celia Hayes

So, contra the belief that the wild and crazy art scene is all in Austin, and there is nothing much in San Antonio save the military bases, medical centers and the Alamo … there is an art scene, and I have pictorial proof, now that my daughter is becoming interested in it. And more than just interested – it’s a matter of professional involvement.

To backtrack a little; my daughter and Edith, her best friend from high school (St. Francis Academy, Class of 1998) having despaired of ever finding full-time, well-paid and remunerative employment doing something rewarding – or at least, something they do not hate – have decided to go into business together. Edith is an artist in pastels, and quite gifted. My daughter is madly creative with origami, the art of folding paper into astonishing and ornamental shapes – including tiny crane and tulip earrings – and all sorts of other charming ephemera. As I told Edith, when she was worrying about being seen as a sell-out by trying to make a living from her painting, there is a word for someone with a gift who just plays around with it and never tries to get back expenses. That word is ‘hobbyist.’ And someone who creates art, shares it with the world at a fair market value – whatever that value might be – the word for that person is ‘professional.’ I wouldn’t want to see her go as far into monetizing and mass-producing her paintings like Thomas Kinkade The Painter of Light ™ did – but the guy did manage to make a very good living from it, and I wouldn’t mind seeing my daughter and Edith meeting a market demand.

So, I have urged them both to try and start making a living doing what they love to do; starting small, of course – working the website (Pastel Junque) and various local art shows and events. Edith does have a following already; she was much more deeply involved in the local art scene … but I think her involvement was more like wading knee-deep in it. Now their joint venture is making a concerted effort to plunge into the deep end; to make more appearances at craft shows and art events with an eye to being where the customers are. They had their first roll-out a couple of Saturdays ago at Renewable Republic on St. Mary’s Street, downtown. Besides being a provider of solar panels, insulation and general green services to homeowners, they also have a garden and party venue out in back … along with a yurt. It was boiling hot, and threatening thunderstorms later on, and they didn’t actually sell all that much in the way of trinkets, prints and paintings – but it’s just the first step.

They hope to be included in the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center’s Hecho A Mano/Made by Hand this fall, and to have a vendor table at couple of local Christmas markets in November and December. In the mean time, they’ll be at various First Friday events in Southtown, and Second Friday at Tobin Hill … and who knows? They just might be as popular as Thomas Kinkade.