It was in the early 1970s when the Peñoles Company in Química, at quite an
effort and expense, hacked a narrow road to the very top on the sloping back side of the
mountain El Rey. Química lies close to the foot of El Rey. The purpose of this was to
install a microwave telephone connection to Torreón. (There was no telephone in this
remote area.) Torreón, at a distance of one hundred and five straight-line miles to the
south was not in line of sight, but because the mountain abruptly rises three thousand
feet above the surrounding terrain, it can easily pick up signals from Torreón. And when
the microwave telephone was a success, there was talk about installing a television
repeater station for Química. Again, they would pick up faint signals from television
stations in Torreón, amplify them, and rebroadcast to the town below.
In México, as elsewhere, it is prohibited to broadcast radio or television signals
without a license of the government. But as long as the broadcast does not interfere with
a licensed station, and is not operated for the sake of profit, the government is quite
willing to close their eyes when a private initiative promotes the good of the public.
For this repeater station, Química contracted with a technician from Alpine,
Texas, and it was a great success. The name of the technician was Mr. Neu who owned
Mountain Zone TV, and his basic work was to install repeater stations in remote areas.
Now the people of La Esmeralda wanted the same thing. In Química the Peñoles
company paid all the costs; in La Esmeralda, the people would have to bear the burden.
There were several attempts made to form a committee for raising funds, but none ever
materialized because from many sad experiences no one trusted anyone to be the
And it was true. There were any number of fund raisers for different projects, like
money to buy glass for the windows in the school, to get a telephone line built into La
Esmeralda, for some improvements to the junior high school, and others. Some of these
efforts did generate substantial funds, but when the time for accounting came, records
somehow had been lost, and also a good part of the money. To be truthful, it is just in
the Mexican mentality to pull a fast one if the opportunity presents itself. To show how
imbedded this is, it even permeates the clergy. As a rule when a pastor is moved to a
different assignment, he leaves the parish penniless. When I retired, there was in motion
that project for building a little chapel in the poor workers’ area of the town in Hércules. I
wanted to help out in seeing it accomplished, and so I left some considerable funds for it,
but I did not give them to the priest in charge, but on the side gave them to a trustworthy
lady, and told her to buy and pay for things that might be needed.
I too was interested in bringing TV to La Esmeralda and Sierra Mojada. The thing
was that we were so isolated from the rest of the world that was on a faster track. Here
there was no newspaper, no telephone, no theater. There was radio, but because we
were in a tight bowl between two mountains, there was reception only at night. It was an
all-day trip just to get out of town and into ‘civilization’. It was important for the people,
and especially the young people, to be somewhat abreast of the outside world.
So one day, most likely around latter part of 1977, I posted some notices around
town proposing a meeting to form a committee for bringing a TV repeater station for
Esmeralda and Sierra Mojada. The meeting was quite well attended, and I proposed
myself as treasurer. The proposal was unanimously accepted.
Right away we contacted Mr. Nue and asked him how much it would cost. Mr.
Nue made a trip to La Esmeralda to get to know the lay of the land and know the people.
He was quite impressed at how many people attended the meeting, and their
enthusiasm. He told us what he was going to charge, and also that it was up to us to run
electricity (120V) up to the top of the mountain, and at the top build a little rain proof hut
6’ x6’ X 7’ high for the instruments. At the same time Mr. Neu cautioned us about not
promoting TV among the ranchers for the sake of asking them to contribute to the effort.
He explained that for the sake of making the equipment less costly, it would be of low
voltage, and just powerful enough to reach La Esmeralda and Sierra Mojada. But it
turned out that several ranches twenty straight-line miles away were able to pick an
At the meeting it had been decided to put a non-obligatory weekly quota on every
household. The town was divided into sectors with persons responsible for making the
weekly rounds to the houses to collect. There was sort of a competition established to
see which sector was contributing more, and which contributors were the more
generous. The names and their contributions were posted in a public place weekly. Little
slips of different colored ribbons stamped with the official seal of the committee were
tacked to the doors of the contributors indicating their degree of generosity. Those in
Sierra Mojada formed their own committees for raising funds. Since everyone in town
wanted television, there was enthusiasm and good cooperation.
Also different groups had their own activities for raising funds, and there was
competition among the groups. Some dances were organized at which food and drinks
were sold. Of course beer was always sold, and for that we had to pay the town for
permission, and pay an official deputy to be in attendance and responsible for order. The
excitement of a dance, and inhibition engendered by a few beers were often the
occasion for settling, and sometimes terminally, seething enmities. There was hardly
ever a dance without some disturbance. It was considered a part of the excitement.
Other good money makers were rodeos and horse racing at which beer and soft
drinks were sold, and also all sorts of goodies like tacos and gorditos and tamales were
made and sold by the ladies.
In México it is forbidden to hold without a special permission, up-scale horse
races in which there is betting, and one of the conditions for a permit is to pay an armed
deputy to oversee the racing. Esmeralda was in a district where this permission had to
be obtained in some Federal Police agency in Ocampo which is ninety bone jarring miles
away. And the permission costs.
There is a good reason for this control because especially out in the remote
areas of range country the stakes and the emotions and rivalry at horse racing can be
very high. And even though no alcoholic drinks are sold among the assembled people,
there is no law against one having a bottle in the pocket. At horse racing, drinking is a
part of the exhilarating atmosphere. There were some tense situations at some of legal
horse races held in La Esmeralda. During all the years I was in the parish there was only
one case when an altercation was settled by a bullet. That was at an Easter horse race
held in Alicante, and the victim was a young man named Corral from El Guaje. He left a
widow with three young children. The mother of the victim took the widow into her own
home and raised the children. One of the boys later came to live in La Esmeralda, and
married a girl from there. The Corral family had large herds of cattle and horses, and
they were the family who took the chapel of Santa Eduvigis under their care.
At the horse races pro-TV in La Esmeralda the horses used were work-horse
plugs, and the racing was purely for entertainment. Undoubtedly there were some small
bets placed on the sly among the spectators. But for this kind of racing- entertainment no
permission was required. We did have to pay the town for permission to sell beer. At
such an even it is inevitable that some quarrels crop up, and it was probably the result of
one of those quarrels that someone, likely out of spite, reported to the Federales in
Ocampo that we were holding horse races.
The fact was that even though on paper someone else (Lili Morales) was the
President of the Pro-TV Committee, I was pretty much running the whole show. So when
the Federales arrived in La Esmeralda they were told to go see me. I suspect that the
Federales themselves knew it was a crank accusation, but it gave them an excuse for a
little outing and a bit of extortion. In Mexico the law is that one is guilty until proved
innocent, and the accused must at his own expense prove that he is innocent. So first of
all the Federales asked me to pay for the extra large amount of gasoline needed for the
trip. Next, they were very nice and jovial about the whole affair --- they were convinced
that it was a spite accusation --- but they bluntly hinted that it was only right for me to
give them something in return for not having given me a hard time. And so it was. The
real evil doer was off somewhere snickering with satisfaction.
In the meantime we were working at meeting the requirement of putting power to
the top of the mountain. For this a Nº 4 aluminum cable with a steel core wire was
needed. From the bottom of the mountain to the top would be close to 3000 feet. A
transformer exclusively for this line had to be installed at the bottom. At the top there
would be a voltage regulator because the voltage provided by the town generators
varied greatly. A route was mapped out for the power line and the workers started
setting the posts. It should be pointed out that most of this work was volunteer, and
mostly by men working in the mines. Most miners started work early in the morning, and
by two or three in the afternoon they were heading home.
Note the power line a little to the left of center
At first we were using eight foot lengths of four inch discarded steel pipe from the
sodium sulfate plant in Química. Química collaborated with the TV repeater project
because of their dolomite mine there in La Esmeralda. These pipes had been discarded
because they had become clogged by a growth of sodium sulfate crystals, and so were
useless. Because, with few exceptions, the route of the line was over rock, three quarter
inch holes twelve inches deep were hand drilled into the rock with hammer and drill. A
length of rebar was welded to the bottom of each post for setting into the holes. Near the
top of the post a cross arm was welded on to carry the two Nº 4 cables. At the very top
of the pole was another piece of rebar for carrying the Nº 9 lightening arrestor wire.
These four inch pipes, full of sodium sulfate, were very heavy to lug up the
mountain, and very quickly we substituted 2½” thin-wall black iron pipe that I had on
hand. This had been scaffolding made in Torreón for painting the exterior the church. It
proved very impractical, even to the point of being dangerous, and was never going to
be used again. Depending on the terrain, there was a post at least every fifty feet, and,
as seen in the picture, most of the way over a very steep grade. The poles were only
about eight feet tall because almost the entire course was over terrain never used by
humans, but still had to be out of reach of goats and the few deer that live on the
Mr. Neu explained that the splices along the cable had to be perfectly tight, and
that he had a special splicer that he was willing to loan. The men replied that they could
string the nearly three thousand feet of cable up the mountain in one piece. They simply
stationed men at intervals all along the route, and passed the cable hand over hand.
Being aluminum cable, it was not that heavy. Still, this simply amazed Mr. Neu. He said
he had never in all his work seen such a large group of volunteers cooperate with such
harmony, effort and enthusiasm.
(As a side note. When the mines closed in l990 and the people were hurting
bad, this cable was stolen and sold for scrap metal. Just as well. By this time the
transmitter was by way of satellite, and this was located in La Esmeralda. (See below.)
This power line would never again be used for anything, and in a way it was like a
blemish on the mountain.)
The next daunting requisite was that little rain proof hut 6’ X 6’ X 7’ high at the top
of the mountain for electronic instruments. For this we bought 4” X4” X 10” hollow clay
blocks. One person could comfortably carry two of these plus his/her drinking water. It
should be noted that for the ordinary person it took about three hours to make the
ascent, and about two hours to come back down. (There was one incredible young man
of twenty who could go up and back in two hours!) There were several who volunteered
several trips to carry the bricks, and then the Superintendent of the Senior High gave
one day off from classes for all the students (say fifty at the most) so that each could
carry two bricks to the top. Everyone started out with the two bricks, but only a few made
it to the top. There are still abandoned blocks along the trail leading to the top. And then
supposing all the bricks were up at the top; there was still the sand and the water and
the cement and the lime to be carried up for laying the bricks. A formidable task!
The very brow of the mountain is a cliff about seventy feet high, and at the
bottom of this cliff there is a relatively flat space a couple of yards wide. For the miners it
was a lot less work for them to carry up a few light sledge hammers, some star drills,
and a few sausages of explosives. So into this cliff they blasted a hole deep enough to
accommodate the rack for the instruments. The front of the hole was walled off with a
steel door and the few blocks that were already up there. It was necessary to have a
steel door with a lock to keep out those who wonder what happens when you push a
button or flip a switch.
The brow mentioned above is not actually the highest point of the mountain. At
the top of the brow the land levels off some, and at another hundred feet or so reaches
the highest point which would be another fifty feet higher than the brow. Because of the
low angle of rise, this highest point is not visible from La Esmeralda which is relatively
close to the foot of the mountain. The receiving had to be at the very highest point, and
in direct-line-of-sight with the TV transmitters in Torreón. The transmitter antenna of the
repeater station had to be in direct-line-of-sight with La Esmeralda and Sierra Mojada.
So a line was laid from the receiving antenna to the repeater hut. The line was simply
covered with rocks to protect it from being stepped on.
It was about mid 1979, a year and a half after our first contact with Mr. Neu,
when we were finally ready to ask Mr. Nue to come and make the installation. By law
this equipment should have been imported into México through customs, and duty paid
on it. But going through customs can be a bureaucratic affair involving delays for the
purpose of asking for a payoff. Mr. Neu had already installed a number of TV repeaters
in México, and he knew the ropes. So he loaded his materials, including all the pipes
and fittings for the receiving antenna into the camper atop his pickup, and on top of that
he loaded his tent and fishing gear. At the border he said he wanted to go fishing. The
fact is that the dam near Camargo is a favorite spot for Americans to go fishing. So Mr.
Neu arrived in Camargo with all the equipment and tools. Already he had contracted with
Pablo Ginther (26 Las Hormigas) to fly him into La Esmralda.
At first Mr. Neu had stipulated as a condition for installing the repeater station
that he would be taken to the top of the mountain on horseback. No one had ever done
that before, but a party looked into the possibility and reported that it was not possible
even from the back side, for a horse to climb to the top of the mountain. For some
reason, maybe because of the enthusiasm he saw, Mr. Neu had taken a liking to the
people of La Esmeralda when he made his first visit, and so he waived this condition.
There was a crew of at least twenty-five men ready and eager for the job. I think
most of these were workers in the mine, and they had been given time off with pay to
help. After all, the mine officials also wanted TV. So the crew, shouldering the
equipment, started up the mountain. I went with them carrying my canteen of water. The
erection of the receiving antenna was the most time consuming. As I remember it, the
pipe structure was about eight feet tall, six feet wide, and twelve feet long. And it had to
be secured against the fierce winds that are at times experienced at the top of the
mountain. Several times several of the men had to make a trip back to La Esmeralda for
a piece that was missing, or for a tool that was needed from my shop. All in all, it took
two and a half days to complete the installation and fine tune the equipment.
And then there was jubilation of having two channels of television. I think one of
them with telenovels (soap opera) favored the women, and the other with sports favored
the men. The few houses that already had a television set were crowded with visitors. I
did not have a set until years later when Jack brought one down and installed it for me. I
had little spare time to watch TV.
We had been sternly warned, not only by Mr. Neu, but also by those who work
with power lines, that it was imperative to place effective grounds at intervals along the
line up the mountain. The mountain is especially prone to violent lightening storms.
Maybe the metal ore below has something to do with this propensity. So a heavy copper
wire was wound through a pit or covered pile of salt and charcoal, but only one or the
other ground had been connected to the Nº 9 lightening arrestor wire above the power
cables. It did not seem that there was a great hurry for this; there was no drastic
urgency. But within a week of installation one of these storms did strike; a lightening bolt
zapped the power line and burnt out the equipment!!!!!
The damaged equipment was returned to Alpine via Pablo Grunther for repair.
And in the meantime the grounds were duly connected.
Here it should be mentioned that there were some funds left over after the
installation, but to assure that there would always be funds for paying the electric bill and
other costs of maintenance, we placed a monthly quota on all who had a TV set. The
quota was about the price of a bottle of beer, and of course it was not obligatory. At first
several people voluntarily made the rounds every month to collect; there were a few that
simply refused to pay. Later a lady who had a small store volunteered to be a pay
station. The names of the contributors and the amount were published every month. For
sure there were those who did not bother to come to pay.
Several months later when the instruments had been repaired, Mr. Neu came
back to install and fine tune them. But there were always other problems too caused
mostly by the high fluctuation of voltage because of the marginally adequate generators
in La Esmeralda, and the marginally adequate power lines to our transformer.
The fact is that two more times the instruments had to be repaired and Mr. Nue
had to come down to reinstall. The last time he brought along his son to do the work
because in the meantime he had been diagnosed with leukemia and was no longer able
to climb the mountain. Mr. Nue stayed down below with a walkie-talkie directing the
calibration and checking on the progress using a small TV that he had brought along.
There is a man in Sierra Mojada, Charo by name, who is self-educated in basic
electronics, and he was capable of performing only a small level of calibration due to a
lack of instruments and experience. This went on for more than two years, and it was
becoming more and more obvious that maintaining in good condition the repeater at the
top of the mountain was costly and impractical. Satellite television was now coming into
its own. It was not difficult for Mr. Nue to convince us to abandon the mountain top.
Mr. Nue explained that satellite equipment is more stable, it would be right next
to town and of easy access. Too, the satellite dish would be adjustable so that it could
lock onto different satellites resulting in a wider choice of channels. Of course the
equipment would still be for transmitting only two channels. The fact is that frequently the
antenna was orientated to different satellites temporarily for special sports events.
The choice for the location of the satellite installation was just about half way
between La Esmeralda and Sierra Mojada. At this point there is the junior high school at
which there were already power lines and a transformer. Too, by this time the stability of
the voltage had improved considerably. Actually the land on which this new TV station
was being built was donated by the school. This school had been established only a few
years before, and had been orientated as an agricultural school for the simple reason
that it was in a rural area. For that reason the Cooperative Mine donated hundreds of
acres to the school. The truth is that from the very start no practical agriculture could be
practiced because the rains are inadequate. A decent crop once in five years is normal.
Next, for that reason very very few of the students, especially the girls, had any interest
in learning how to plant, hoe and harvest. This was during the time when there was a
strong Communist influence in the Mexican School System. So a small tractor
manufactured in the Soviet was purchased for the school. It came painted red of course.
It was used by inexperienced operators, and soon one and then another part got broken
or wore out. There were no replacement parts in all of México. So there it sat while the
weeds grew up around it. For a while they did have a herd of about twenty pigs for
chicarrones and Christmas tamales. Later on the school was re-designated as a
vocational school. The girls took sewing lessons and the boys had carpentry and a
In accordance with instructions from Mr. Neu, the foundations, with preset bolts,
were poured for the dish and the transmitter tower. For the dish, the bolts had to be set
in such an orientation so as to assure that the dish would be orientated toward due
south. When it came time to orientate the template for setting the bolts, we could not find
a single compass in the whole town. So we wound a few turns of insulated wire around a
four inch nail, zapped the two poles of a car battery with the two ends of the wire, and
then hung the nail, balanced level, on the end of a thread.
Satellite repeater station as seen May 19, 2007.
The dish in the picture is the original dish. This was just when satellite TV was
starting to come in, and so the dish looks like it could be twelve feet in diameter. From
the way I see it, it looks like it is no longer being used because the central piece, I guess
you would call it the receptor, is missing. The 6’ X 6’ X 7’ high instrument hut is just
behind and to the left of the dish. A cement block wall was built around the installation
primarily to keep the burros from scratching themselves on the dish and nudging it out of
alignment. It looks like part of the wall to the right of the gate has been altered for some
reason or the other. I have no idea what the structure to the left of the wall is. Remedios,
the school maintenance man who lives right close by, was always building something so
that the scraps he collected did not go to waste.
The fact that things are green and wild flowers are blooming indicates that there
had been a good rain lately. Take a close look at the brown and white goat to the right.
Right above it is a scraggly plant with some few small yellow flowers above the wall at
the top. This is called gatuña, ‘cat’s claw’. The name fits literally because the scraggly
branches are covered with thorns the size and shape of small cat’s claws. It grows most
everywhere, and it is something you don’t mess with. When it is dry, all the leaves fall
off. Immediately after a good rain the leaves appear along with the flowers which are
headily fragrant. In the still of a damp dawn the perfume penetrates into the house.
Enchanting. It makes you want to go out and make the day a beautiful one.
We had on hand a small amount of funds because of the monthly contributions.
The people again mounted a fund raising program for what was still needed. The
satellite equipment was less costly and the preparations were less work intensive than
for the repeater at the top of the mountain. So when everything was ready we informed
Mr. Nue. Installing the dish and the tower and the equipment took several days. This
was about the middle of 1983.
The reception was much better than from the repeater at the top of the mountain,
but there were more blind spots. Raising the antenna at the house which was affected
usually corrected this problem. In Sierra Mojada there are a number of houses in an
arroyo, and there was nothing that could be done to solve that problem. Yet in El Oro,
some ten miles away and not quite in direct line of sight, the signal was fairly good. Even
though we had complete confidence in the super ground of salt and charcoal we had
made for the antenna tower, when there was an electric storm either a school
maintenance man who lived next door or the night watchman at the school would go
over and disconnect the instruments.
Charo was put in charge of maintenance and overseeing the operation of the
transmitter. Very soon this type of electronics was becoming more common and
available in México. In Química there were several professional technicians in charge of
the transmitters there, and they were willing to come to the aid of Charo when it was
necessary. Mr. Neu never had to come back again.
Except for occasional short interruptions, the women now had their telenovelas
(soap operas) to watch while the beans were burning, and the men had their soccer and
baseball with a Tecate or two.
Complacency is a pitfall. Contributions fell to next to nothing. For a while I was
paying the electric bill which at times was an outrageous over-estimate. In México you
pay an estimated bill, or else. (And at the time I did not even have a TV set.) Then the
station master who had a little store on the side took up the responsibility of paying the
bill. Then the instruments began to fail more and more until they were at the point of no
repair. New ones were needed, and they cost money. I put up signs around town asking
the people to pay their contributions, but suddenly everyone had become illiterate. And
too, these were hard times because so many were out of work because the mines had
closed. Yet, there were few who could not afford to have their cokes for breakfast, lunch
and supper. So I posted another notice saying that the point of meltdown was imminent,
and if no funds were coming in, the switch to the transmitter would be pulled after one
(An interesting little side note. In Spanish ‘opening’ and ‘closing’ an electric
switch is understood in a sense completely opposite of the way we think of it. In Spanish
when a switch is ‘open’ they understand it to mean that the way is now open for the
current to flow. When the switch is ‘closed’, they understand that way is closed off to
flowing. They understand the terminology in the metaphorical sense; we understand it in
the physical sense.)
Ninety-nine percent of the people winked at this threat first with one eye, and
then with the other. It was just a scarecrow tactic. After all, free television was now a way
and a right of life in La Esmeralda and Sierra Mojada.
There was stunned consternation everywhere when that morning nothing more
than bright light appeared on the screen when the button was pushed. The consternation
of some soon graduated into outrage. The Padre was heartless, and more. Especially
hard hit were the women who would now never know whether Juana’s insidious strategy
for breaking up María and Pepe, Juana’s heartthrob, was going to succeed.
That very day mini committees of women formed in both La Esmeralda and
Sierra Mojada, and went from door to door collecting long due contributions. In four days
time there were sufficient reasons to believe that the people were taking the situation
seriously, and the transmitter was powered up again.
When the telenovela came back on line, all the women were furious to learn that
sneaky little Juana had won out. In the meantime the people came to the realization that
the transmitter was theirs, and it was up to them to keep it operating.
So a complete overhaul and updating of the system was planned. Along with this
project I wanted to add, at my expense, a third channel for transmitting the Catholic
Channel which many wanted to watch too. So I did a lot of work renovating the interior of
the instrument hut. Originally the instruments had been bolted onto a free-standing rack
which was not too stable. Shelves of close mesh were made for the instruments so that
they could be handled without have to be unbolted and as a place for working on them.
Mesh was used for the sake of good ventilation. Even though ventilation ports were built
into the original design of the hut, there was still a problem with the instruments
overheating; in fact overheating was probably the major factor in the deterioration of the
instruments. For adequate ventilation we make a larger port and added an exhaust fan.
The Catholic Channel was on line for only a matter of months when the program
was discontinued. And so the third channel was used for another program. One of the
three instruments later failed, and so only two channels were transmitted.
It was at this time that the small home satellite dishes were becoming more and
more available. Not a few people in La Esmralda and Sierra Mojada who were better off
were already using them. It was at this time too that the Presidencia of Sierra Mojada
took an interest in promoting TV for the community. (‘Presidencia’ is the governing
body of the entire county.) At the Presidencia there is a tall town clock tower that is
visible from all parts of the town, including that arroyo to where the signals from the
transmitter cannot reach. Azteca, a Mexican TV company, cooperated with the
Presidencia, and they installed one of these smaller dishes, and also another two-
channel transmitter to reach not only these houses hidden in the arroyo, but for La
Esmeralda as well. Since the original transmitter provides two channels from Televisa,
now all the houses in La Esmeralda and most of those in Sierra Mojada now have four
So the people of Sierra Mojada and La Esmeralda have the luxury of television.