Saturday, June 27, 2015

How Mexico Got Its Own Eiffel

The story starts in the 18th century: the King of Spain, anxious to convert the natives of New Spain (Mexico) to Catholicism, sent soldiers to guard the priests.  One of these soldiers was sent to a remote location in  Baja California Sur, where he elected to stay after the end of his military service and start a ranch.  A century and a half later, one of his descendants, José Rosas Villavicencio, discovered blue-green spheres of copper—technically called boleos—simply lying on top of the ground.

Gathering up a few of the boleos, he arranged to have them shipped across the Sea of Cortez to Guaymas, where the ore was analyzed and found to be high grade copper—so high, in fact, that the ore required no processing before smelting.   For the meager sum of 16 pesos, José disclosed the location of the copper ore.

For a few years, there was just a little general prospecting (nothing too elaborate), and, then, Porfirio Díaz became President of Mexico.  It is a strange irony that a man who came to prominence fighting against the French invaders, eventually decided to be French.  He dressed in French fashions, ate French food, learned the French language and tried as much as possible to rebuild Mexico in the French model.  And when the people had had enough of this brutal tyrant, he ran away from Mexico and lived the remainder of his life in Paris.

Díaz encouraged foreign development of Mexico and believed that the fastest way for Mexico to develop was for it to lose its "Mexican culture" and to adopt European ideals.  Since all mineral rights in Mexico belong to the government—not the owner of the land—in 1885, Díaz sold the copper mining rights for 70 years to a French mining company that was part of the House of Rothschild.

The Boleo Mining Company descended on this isolated area and started building...BIG:  roads, ranches, farms, water lines, a harbor, and housing for the miners.  They literally built the town of Santa Rosalia, building everything miners needed to work—but not much else.  One of the things considered unnecessary was a church—which is ironic if we consider why the Europeans first came to the area!

Meanwhile, back in France, Alexander Gustave Eiffel—yes, that Eiffel—began a company, Le Compagnie des Etablissements Eiffel, that was experimenting with new methods of construction.  Using puddled iron (commonly called "wrought iron"), a small number of standardized structural pieces could be created and used in multiple construction projects.  After a lengthy discussion with the French Governor of Cochin-China (a French colony known today as Viet Nam), Eiffel saw the need for prefabricated bridges and buildings.

Eiffel designed these prefabricated pieces to be small enough to be easily transported to even the most remote locations.  A limited number of types of versatile small pieces meant that each piece could be produced quickly and used in multiple projects.

From his factory just four miles from the center of Paris, Eiffel could build the necessary structures, but instead of joining the pieces together with iron rivets, Eiffel used large nuts and bolts.  This would eliminate the need for skilled labor at the construction site.  Then the structure would be carefully dismantled, shipped to the desired location, and reassembled.  Sort of an Erector set (Meccano to you Europeans)—for big boys.

The concept worked, and was used all over the world.  The Post Office in Ho Chi Minh City, a church for an earthquake area of Chile, a bridge over the Nile River, and even the interior frame for the Statue of Liberty—all were prefabricated in France, disassembled and shipped to the construction site.  Eiffel did this with dozens of structures all over the world.

Which brings us to the Eiffel Tower.  (Trust me, we will be back in Mexico right after we go to Panama.  And Egypt.  And Brussels.)

In 1889, Paris hosted the Exposition Universelle, a world's fair.  The event planners wanted something big, something dramatic to serve as the entrance to the fair.  And they wanted something that could be easily demolished when the affair was over Eiffel's company suggested an iron tower with three levels, that was bolted together to facilitate its eventual removal.

Though somewhat dubious about the project, the fair officials gave him the job of erecting a 986 foot tower in just a little over two years.  Once constructed, it would charge admission for 20 years to recoup the cost of construction, and then be removed.  You wouldn't believe the loud opposition to the "monstrosity" by the artistic set of Paris.  The French writer, Guy de Maupassant, supposedly ate lunch in the tower's restaurant every day because it was the one place in Paris where the tower was not visible.

Ignoring his critics, Eiffel built the tower in just 26 months.  (And while he was building it, he created a small, secret, private apartment on the top floor—just for himself.  It is still there, but that is another story.)  When the fair started, Eiffel exhibited, besides the tower, several of his other creations.  One of these was a pre-fabricated metal church that could be easily shipped to remote locations in Africa, and be reassembled without difficulty.  Since the entire building was made of galvanized iron, it would be hardy enough to withstand the fiercest tropical weather.

Unfortunately for Eiffel, shortly after the fair closed, his reputation was damaged by his involvement in the French effort to build the Panama Canal.  Immensely popular after successfully constructing the Suez Canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps wanted to build a canal across Central America.  Unfortunately, building a sea-level canal in the desert sand was much easier than building a canal through the disease-infested jungles of the tropics.

When the de Lesseps' company, The Panama Canal Company, declared bankruptcy, it sent a financial shockwave through Europe.  Even though Eiffel's company had only accepted the contract to build the future locks for the canal, Eiffel was charged with financial fraud, assessed a large fine, and sentenced to two years in jail.  Even though the conviction was eventually overturned on appeal, Eiffel resigned from his company, in which he had been forced to make drastic cutbacks because of financial losses.

While most of Paris slowly fell in love with the tower, Eiffel himself devoted the rest of this life to conducting experiments in meteorology and aeronautics.  Working from that secret apartment 900 feet above the ground, some of the data he accumulated was later used by the Wright brothers in designing their Wright Flyer.

Although the prefabricated church had won a prize at the exposition, it never made it to a French colony in Africa.  Instead, it was disassembled, packed in crates, and stored in a Brussels warehouse, where it remained forgotten for years until a French official of the Boleo Mining Company learned of its existence, purchased it cheaply, and had it shipped to Santa Rosalia.

The Eiffel church was reassembled and named 'Iglesia de Santa Barbara'.  The seventy-year lease for the French expired in the early 1950's and since that time, Mexico has sold the lease to a South Korean Company.  The enormous open pit mine is still there, and though it is no longer a tiny village, so is Santa Rosalia, located south of La Paz, on the southern end of the Baja peninsula.

The area experiences frequent violent storms, but Eiffel's design has proved to be remarkably sturdy and efficient.  After more than a century, the galvanized iron church designed by Gustave Eiffel is still in use.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Burr's Bank (& Water Company)

Two of our founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, clearly hated each other.  Most Americans are aware that, in the summer of 1804, the two men fought a duel, in which Vice-President Burr killed the former Secretary of the Treasury.  Very few are aware of how the feud between the two patriots started or that there is still tangible evidence of that argument today.

Both men served with distinction in the army during the revolution, and—for a while—were friends.  Burr actually saved Hamilton's life at the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse.  Sadly, this friendship did not last for long.

Alexander Hamilton was the consummate politician, and was appointed Secretary of the Treasury by President Washington, while Hamilton achieved miracles in establishing a firm financial footing for the the new country.  He also established the first political party: The Federalists.  It would be correct to say that Hamilton also invented partisan politics, and this is what started the bad blood between the two men.

Hamilton, with the Federalists, established The First Bank of the United States.  Chartered for 20 years, the bank was to handle the monies of the new government, and both borrow and lend monies.  Almost immediately, it was a powerful tool for the Federalist Party and its supporters.

Just as quickly, the opposition party—the Democratic-Republicans—hated the bank.  The party's leaders, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, fought against the creation of the bank and lost.  The ultimate decision was George Washington's, and the bank was chartered in 1791, so for years, it was the 500-pound banking gorilla in New York.  Between the New York branch of the national bank and Alexander Hamilton's own bank, the Bank of New York, the Federalist party profited from the monopoly on banking and successfully fought against the creation of any other new banks.  (These were the only two banks in the both the city and state of New York).

In 1795, the city of New York saw the onset of a Yellow Fever epidemic that would last for eight years, killing thousands of people.  While every doctor in the city had a pet theory about the cause of the dreaded disease, no one knew for sure, so wild theories were offered:  swamp air, rotting coffee—a few crazy dreamers even blamed mosquitoes!  But everyone could agree on one course of action:  the city's water supply had to be improved.

Aaron Burr, Governor DeWitt Clinton, and few other members of the Democratic-Republican Party proposed a solution:  a modern water supply company.  They successfully petitioned the state assembly to charter the Manhattan Water Company to supply the lower half of Manhattan Island with water.  The company quickly sold $2 million in stock and set up business.

The company was headquartered in a house at 40 Wall Street, and quickly purchased several miles of logs, bored them out, and began using them as water mains.  Wells had to be dug, so  the company secured sites as cheaply as possible—meaning that many of the wells were located in cemeteries, in stockyards, and in feed lots.  In addition, while the company's business was to  supply water to the city, the wooden water lines were laid at first to only the most affluent parts of town. 

Considering the rotting wooden pipes, the potentially tainted locations of the wells, and the total lack of any purification treatment, it is amazing that anyone who actually drank any of the water lived to tell about it!  The few who did, usually added copious amounts of alcohol to the water in the vain hope of making it safe to drink.  (I would love to say this was the birth of the Manhattan cocktail....but it wasn't.  While there are conflicting theories as to the cocktail's origin, it appeared on the scene at least half a century after the water company was chartered.)

Obviously, as a "public utility", the Manhattan Water Company was not really trying too hard.  As a matter of fact, from that original sale of $2 million worth of stock, only $100,000 was used for the water company.   A closer look at the company's corporation charter will reveal what it was actually doing.

Even today, when a new corporation writes its charter application, it pretty much claims that the company will be engaged in every sort of business imaginable, and then waits for the chartering commission to whittle that down.  In the case of the Manhattan company, Aaron Burr had quietly included a clause that allowed the water company "to use surplus capital for banking transaction."

In plain English:  besides selling water, the "water company" could also be a bank.

Since it had only used 5% of its capital for piping bad water to people who wouldn't drink it, the remaining $1.9 million was used to start the bank.  After ten years, the company sold its water assets to the city for an additional $1.9 million.

Alexander Hamilton was furious and never forgave Burr for ending his banking monopoly.  In 1804, when Burr ran for governor of New York, Hamilton denounced him publicly.  Insulted, Burr demanded an apology—which Hamilton refused to give—so the argument was settled in the famous duel on July 11, 1804.

The Bank of the United States didn't last much longer  In 1811, when the charter came up for renewal, the Senate vote was tied, forcing Vice-President Clinton to cast the deciding vote to deny the charter's renewal.  (I'm sure that his being one of the stockholder's in the Manhattan Water Company did not influence his vote.)

The Manhattan Water Company continued as a bank, and since  its charter still called for it to sell water, it continued to offer water for sale until late in the 19th century.  At board meetings, a pitcher of water sat symbolically on the table (though as far as the company records show, no one ever sampled it).

By the turn of the 19th century, the bank bought and merged with other banks, becoming (for a while), the Chase Manhattan Bank with its headquarters still at 40 Wall Street in the Chase Manhattan Building.   Today, the bank is simply known as the Chase Bank, and 40 Wall Street is now called the Trump Tower.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Mad Jack

In the history of warfare, there are a few universal constants—a historian once stated that all of military technology could be categorized into hit, cut, throw, and burn.  Sharp sticks, rocks, and clubs turn into swords, bombs, and guns.  Follow the evolutionary trail upward long enough and you get to cannons, and, (eventually) missiles, but no matter how sophisticated the device, you are still hitting, cutting, throwing, and burning. 

Some weapons disappear over time:  I'm not aware of any modern army still using the atl-atl, war clubs, or catapults.  Other weapons make surprising returns: take, for example, the British longbow. 

During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, archery became the passion of English males.  Both men and boys endlessly practiced with the longbow—a yew bow roughly six feet long, with an incredible pull weight of up to 140 pounds.  To develop the muscles required to use such a bow took years and years of hard work, but a good archer could release a dozen arrows every minute, with a range of 400 yards.

These bows gave the English victories over the French during the Hundred Years' War, in such battles as Agincourt and Crécy.  There is a tendency for every army to prepare to fight the next war exactly like the last.  (And history has proven that if you are fighting the French, this will work for decades).  But eventually, the French learned, used the same system, and defeated the English.  Of course, it did take 100 years…  A very large piece of paper, would allow us to plot the French Military Learning Curve.

During the American Revolution, the Continental army was desperately short of everything.  Somehow, George Washington had to raise an army, train it, equip it, find officers to lead it to victory over the best army in the world...AND pay for it all.  The colonies manufactured very few guns.  To outfit a man with a flintlock musket, powder, shot, and provisions, cost on average the equivalent of two weeks' wages. 

Benjamin Franklin had a novel solution.  While the fledgling country could not make sufficient muskets, it could produce bows and arrows in an almost unlimited number.   Franklin argued that compared to a musket, a bow and arrow fired faster, was more lethal, and had a longer range than the Brown Bess Musket that the British army was using.  We will never know how such an army would have fared against the British, because the French decided to exact a little revenge for Agincourt and supplied America with sufficient muskets, powder, and bullets to help the colonies gain independence. 

So the bow is dead—tossed out as useless in modern warfare.  Well, not quite yet!

John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill—commonly called Mad Jack or Fighting Jack—was not ready to let a few of those ancient weapons go.  For years to come, historians  will continue to  argue whether Jack was a shrewd soldier or simply stark raving mad.

Jack was born in Ceylon and was educated first on the Isle of Man, and then at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.  Graduating in 1926, Jack served as a lieutenant in Burma for ten years, where he passed the time practicing archery, playing the bagpipes, and racing motorcycles.  Growing bored of a peacetime army, he resigned his commission and got work as an editor for a Nairobi newspaper,  as a male model, and had small acting parts in several movies, in which  he demonstrated his archery skills.  (You can catch a glimpse of him in The Thief of Bagdad and A Yank at Oxford.)

When Hitler invaded Poland, Jack rejoined the army and served with the British Expeditionary Force in France.  When France surrendered, the British forces at Dunkirk were surrounded by the German army, making their eventual escape all but impossible.  When a German patrol came close to his unit stationed near the Pais-de-Calais, Churchill killed the sergeant leading the patrol.  His weapon?—the longbow he carried!  When he shot the sergeant in the chest with a barbed arrow, he became last British soldier in history to kill an enemy with a British longbow. 

Back in England, Churchill joined a new unit, the Commandos, primarily because it sounded dangerous.  Almost immediately, he became known for his unusual fighting style.  On a raid in Norway, he left the landing craft on a motorcycle, his longbow and bag pipes on his back, and a Scottish basket-hilted sword on his hip.  As he charged the enemy forces, he was heard screaming his war cry, "COMMANDOOOO!" 

The effect on the enemy can only be imagined.  The legend of Mad Jack began growing immediately.

The sword became something of a trademark for him.  In the photo to the right, you can see him in the bottom right, sword in hand, leading troops ashore during a training exercise.  According to Mad Jack, "Any officer who goes into battle without his sword is improperly dressed."

In 1943, Lieutenant-Colonel Churchill led a Commando raid on the coast of Sicily to remove a Nazi observation post.  It was a dark night, so Mad Jack left most of his unit in safety and crawled forward to scout out the enemy position.  When he finally returned, he had 42 German prisoners that he had captured at sword point!  When he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, he stated:  “I maintain that, as long as you tell a German loudly and clearly what to do, if you are senior to him he will cry, ‘jawohl’ and get on with it enthusiastically and efficiently,”

In 1943, Mad Jack led a Commando raid into Yugoslavia where he was to link up with partisans.  Though he and six commandos made their objectives, they were surrounded by Germans who methodically surrounded the unit and began attacking them with hand grenades.  When all of his men were either killed or incapacitated, Mad Jack continued to play "Will Ye No Come Back Again" on his pipes until he was rendered unconscious by a grenade.

Hitler had a standing order to execute all captured Commandos, but either the Nazis respected Mad Jack's bravery or they incorrectly believed he was related to Winston Churchill.

Now, a prisoner, he was taken to Berlin for questioning (you can imagine how well that worked) and then he was transferred to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.  This move was, in part, to prevent him from engaging in any more arson attacks on German facilities.  In September 1944, Churchill and a RAF pilot crawled under the wire and through a drain, and then attempted to walk 125 miles to the Baltic coast.  When they were captured, the two were just a few miles from the coast. 

In April 1945, he was taken to a camp in Tyrol where the prisoners were guarded by SS troops.  When a delegation of prisoners told senior German Army officers they feared being executed by the SS officers at the end of the war, the German Army forcibly took over the camp from the SS and released the prisoners.

Churchill, now 93 miles behind enemy lines, began making his way, traveling at night, toward the Allied troops.  Along the way, he used water from puddles in the road to drink and to cook in a rusty can the onions he liberated from farms in the occupied territory.  He eventually made it to an American armored unit outside Verona.

Churchill was then sent to Burma, but by the time he arrived, the war was over.  Furious, Mad Jack stated: "Damn those Yanks! If they’d stayed out of it we could have been fighting for another ten years."

After the war, Churchill served in the Palestine conflicts, and was posted to instruct at a training camp in Australia.  There, he became an avid surfer, who eventually designed his own boards.  When he retired in 1959, he took up surfing in England, being the first person to surf down the 5 foot tidal bore on the River Severn.  In his later years, he could be seen sailing coal-fired boats on the Thames River.

Lt. Colonel Jack Churchill, DSO and Bar, MC and Bar, died in 1996 at the age of 89.  As far as anyone can tell, he was the last individual to ever use either a basket-hilted sword or a British longbow in combat. 

But wait a while.  These kind of weapons have a way of popping back up.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Seasonal Employment


Mike, the old rancher, and his hired hand, Sergio, got out early, while it was still cold—a time when Mike's father would have said there was "still frost on the pumpkin."

Mike had always wondered about this, since as far as he knew, his father had never grown any pumpkins, nor had he ever worked on a farm.  The only kind of pumpkins in which his father had ever shown any interest had come in pies.

Still, after a long, cold winter, now it was only half-cold: colder than bus station stew in the morning and hot as sin by the early afternoon.  This reminded him of something else his father used to say:

"Weather in Texas only comes in extremes—we don't do moderate round here."

Mike nudged his horse, Man, toward the left fork in the trail that would take them toward the south stock tank.  He had to estimate how much work the stock tank would need before the "monsoon season" started in May.  The drought in Palo Pinto had reached crisis stage, but this might be the flood year that came along about every few decades.  If he didn't get the Case down here to work with the front-end loader before the rains started, the ground would be too soft for the Case to work.  And if he didn't rebuild the stock tank in time to retain what little rain water they did get, he'd be trucking in water a hundred gallons at a time all summer.

As he rode, Mike kept an eye out for his cows.  This was the time of year for new calves, and while the cows rarely needed any help, the old rancher had too much money invested in them—some of it borrowed—to let nature take its course. 

He felt a little guilty about riding his horse this early in the day, the pickup would have been faster and more efficient, but the old rancher had justified taking a ride because the horse needed exercise.  He deeply believed that fun was anything you did after the chores were done, and he was weeks away from being caught up with those chores, so he justified the indulgence "for the horse’s sake.”

Damn!—The hoped-for spring rains made him think about the spring winds.  If he didn't get up on the roof of the barn soon, it would be too hot to work up there.  Besides, he'd have to wait until his wife, Barbara, was shopping in Fort Worth before he could drag the big ladder out of the barn and get up there.  Barbara seemed to believe that as he got older, gravity got stronger.  She wouldn't let him replace the missing shingles if she knew what he was planning.

As he rode Man up the trail, he notice that the buffalo grass—always the first grass of spring—was coming in nicely.  He would have to remember to get Sergio to move the cattle up here to take advantage of the cheap feed, then he'd have to...


The damn hydraulic line was busted on the Case again!  Mike would have taken the infernal contraption to the dealer to be fixed if the damn line hadn't broken with the backhoe arm in the down position.  Now, there was no way to drive it onto the trailer.  The old rancher had to fix it here, or pay a small fortune to have a mechanic make an expensive road trip.

Mike swore for the third time that day that he didn't like hydraulics, had no talent for working with hydraulics, and generally hated everyone who did.  He stood there in the blistering sun, and estimated that about a quart of hydraulic fluid had soaked into his clothes while he had tried—mostly unsuccessfully—to bleed the air out of the new replacement line. 

The old rancher remembered a time, five decades previously, when he had asked his father—the "original" old rancher—to explain how hydraulics worked.  His father had spent his whole life on this ranch, save for the three years he had spent in the Army Air Corps as a flight mechanic on a B-25 in the Pacific.  His father had spent 20 minutes discussing hydraulic pumps and accumulators, at the end of which, Mike had learned two things:  First, his father knew less about hydraulics than he did, and second, if all the bombers had mechanics like his father, it was a miracle the Japanese had not won the war.

Mike stopped, and walked to the back of his truck to get another long drink from the 5 gallon water jug in the bed of the truck.  The aging Coleman jug was insulated and had been loaded with ice this morning, but by now the water was tepid.  The sun and the heat meant he was  constantly in need of more water and the armpits of his shirt were stiff with the salt he had lost.  What he really wanted was an ice cold beer—something he couldn't have until he had fixed the Case.  Instead of the beer, he took off his John Deere gimme cap and splashed a little water into it before he threw it back on top of his head, relishing the cool fresh feeling as the water ran down his neck and the back of his shirt.

While he was drinking, Sergio came up and told him that the county had said it was too hot, dry, and windy to allow anyone to burn.  Sergio had—before the damn Case decided to take a vacation—been clearing the fire breaks along the fence line of the creosote and cedar brush that grew back every year.  By summer, this brush would be a dry as a preacher's sermon and could catch fire from a cold glance from a hot blonde. 

"Damn!" the old rancher grumbled.  "When it's dry we can't burn and when it's wet, that crap won't burn."

Then the old rancher signed.  For the third time that day, he remembered that Sergio didn't understand English, and his atrocious border Spanglish didn't stretch far enough for his sarcasm.  In Spanish, he told Sergio—at least that is what he thought he was saying—to repair the soft spots in the fence he had discovered while clearing the fire breaks.

Mike took off an oil soaked glove to wipe the sweat off his forehead with an equally oil drenched hand, then turned back to the Case—almost too hot to touch from the noon sun—and started bleeding the air out of the new hydraulic line, again.


For the third time that day, Mike wondered why he didn't get out of the cattle business and start over in the cattle feed business.  He was damn tired of borrowing almost a thousand dollars a year on each calf he hoped to sell a year later.

Hell!—He knew the answer:  He had a cousin who worked in the rodeo, but after years of competition, was far too busted up to ride or rope any more.  Hell, he had so much metal in his hip and both knees, he couldn't get through airport security without carrying a waiver card from the TSA.  The rodeo had found a minimum wage job for him, helping to load and unload the livestock trailers.  In between these jobs, he spent every available moment shoveling manure out of the trailers.

Mike had never asked him why he didn't get a better job, because he already knew the answer.

"What?" his cousin would exclaim.  "And quit the rodeo?"

The problem was that some professions you were just born into.  You couldn't quit, you couldn't just walk away from the land your father and his father had worked.  Somewhere along the way, that sandy red soil got into your blood, so you just kept on.  You were born into ranching, kind of like slavery—which it was—and you couldn't leave this way of life while you were still vertical.

The old rancher had time to think about things like this while he hauled water to the cattle 100 gallons at a time.  While the water gurgled out of the trailer, he moved a little hay out of the bed of the pickup to the waiting cattle.

As he worked, he kept an eye open for Rich, the delivery driver for the local farm and ranch supply.  Sometime today, he was expecting a new cattle guard to replace the one the propane truck had taken out.  The fool driver had taken a wrong turn and used a 10 ton truck to demolish an ancient cattle guard rated to 4 tons when it was new.

When Sergio was finished re-greasing the windmill pump rod, he would join Mike so they could start giving shots to the cattle.  Fall was when you tend to the health needs of your livestock, but the drought was playing hell with the available grass, so occasionally Mike had to drop everything and move feed to the livestock, even though every time he did this, the cost of the feed dipped into his narrow profits.  Maybe next year, the old rancher could do this differently, maybe he could...


God almighty!—it was cold.  Mike took off his gloves and stared at the tips of his fingers, where there was a definite blue tint forming under the finger nails.  While he was terribly cold, his fingers felt like they were burning.

It wouldn't have been so bad if he hadn't gotten wet while breaking up the ice in the watering troughs so that the cattle could get a drink.  Now, he had to trace the electrical lines back from the metal tanks to find out why the electric tank heaters weren't keeping the tanks from freezing over.  The work would have been a lot easier if his fingers haven't been so stiff from the cold.

Yesterday had been harsh: he and Kent had had to patch the barbed wire fence along the state highway where some damn fool had driven off the road and broken the wire.  Since yesterday, the wind—already blowing hard enough to neuter a rooster—had actually started blowing harder.  That was the trouble every winter in Texas—a blue norther would start blowing south from Canada, and as it went south, there was nothing but the occasional barbed wire fence to slow it down.  By the time the wind hit you in Texas, it felt like you were being shot with a frozen nail gun.

The horses had to be moved into the barn, and feed had to be put out for the cattle.  What little grass was still available was covered in snow that had melted and refrozen until the grass was hidden in rock hard snow. 

Desperate for a little warmth, he drove back to the house for a cup of coffee.  He was standing at the living room window, holding his coffee cup between both hands, watching the snow coming down sideways in the stiff wind.  As he sipped his coffee, his wife came and stood beside him and together, they stared out into the frozen landscape.

"Wow!  How beautiful!" Barbara exclaimed.  "Don't you just love the changing of the seasons?"