Finally Ira Bradley called to tell all was arranged for the trip to Mexico and that several of the members of Mission Bells were going to meet at the viewpoint and then caravan to an El Paso campground, where the Wagonmaster and his assistant would greet us.  So the Bradleys, Armstrongs, Smiths, Wilsons and others from the Mission Bells group met at the viewpoint and we traveled to the El Paso campground together.  Our friends, the Walkers, from Tucson were there also to meet us.  We were all invited to dinner that evening and given instructions on traveling in Mexico.  Everyone was ready and excited to travel. Our first stop was to be Juarez, Mexico after going through customs the next morning.

We all went through Customs okay and the roads were pretty good.  We never knew what to expect. We gradually got acquainted with the other campers on our caravan.  We also were giving instructions for the next day’s trip to Chihuahua where we would be near the city to board the Piggy-Back Train. Saw one accident, which had happened earlier.  A bus was on its side down in the ditch.  Made one very cautious!  We were told not to drive over 50 mph and keep at least 200 feet apart from each trailer.  We would have a “tail gunner”, named Kermit, and our guide was Francisco.  Also, do not drive in too long a group.  The Mexican safety police were called Green Angels and drove green pickups with white stripes.  They would help tourists.  If disabled, stay by the side of the road and the tail gunner would arrive to aid.

We arrived at our next stop Chihuahua in plenty of time to settle in and have lunch.  After lunch we took a tour to a Mennonite Colony.  People who live without electricity or phones.  They make cheese for a living and all live in a commune.  One thing everyone noticed was the children were dressed very warmly but they did not look happy.  The Mexican children that we had seen so far were very poorly dressed but looked very happy and smiling all the time and thrilled to get the pencils and paper  that we were told to give them instead of money.

After everyone had dinner, we all went to the Community Hall where a Dance Company would perform for us. They were all local young ladies from the city of Chihuahua.  Their costumes were lovely and very colorful and they danced, danced and danced.  They put on a very good show and the audience really enjoyed them.  They showed us their dresses after the show, as to how much material went into the making of their skirts and how heavy they were.  We all felt that our trip was going to be very enjoyable and interesting.

The big day has arrived.  Today we were to board the train.  It was quite a procedure.  The large trailers would be on a railroad flat car alone and the smaller motor homes would share one flat car.

They backed the flat car into a spot next to the siding where the trailer would be driven on to the flat car.  They were only 12ft wide and the trailers are 8ft wide, so the driver had to drive the unit practically on the edge of the flat car.  He kept telling Van to get closer and all he could see was the dirt on the ground below.  Once on the flat car and the tires all secured etc, the flat car was move to the another track and in the line that it would travel.  They had to put about 28 flat cars in position before we were on our way.  So while the men were loading the vehicles on the flat car, the women who love the Mexican breads found a bakery and were busying buying biscuits for the trip.

Everyone was waiting for the trail whistle to blow the signal that we were about to move.  The train moved very slowly and at first, every one stayed close to their rig until they felt used to the movement, then the folding chairs came out to really get a good look at the view.  Our adventure was beginning.

The train traveled very smoothly, we were all surprised but thankful.  We thought there would be a lot of motion but this was great.  We traveled for a little while then the train stopped at Creel and the children came out of the woods from everywhere.  Our stops were for about twenty minutes.  Later on, we stopped again for a longer time since we took a tour to where the Tarahumara Indians lived.  They took us up the mountains a short way to a cave.  They claimed that is where and how the Indians lived.  It really didn’t look like anybody lived there.  The family just stood around and showed up some pots and pans they use to cook.  If people really did live like that, there would be lots of stuff around, beside the donation bucket.  After we arrived back on the train and start moving, we saw some the Indian youth running with the train.  They are runners.  Fast and high.

It took many years for this train track to be built.  They started proposing this railroad in the l860’s and it was finally finished in 1961.  It winds through 86 tunnels and crosses 39 bridges with never more than a 21/2 grade.  A switchback at Temoris loops the train over itself.  Many engineering feats were required to build these tracks.

At night, the train stopped on a siding and in the morning, we would turn on the Citizen Band to channel 13 and Francisco, our guide,  would tell us what to expect that day.  He usually had some interesting stories about the area we would be traveling through.

One day we were to take a trip to visit a private school community.  We were to go there by bus that would travel up a narrow dirt road part way up this big hill. The bus arrived and since it stopped near me, I got on first and took the front seat with Ethel.  The bus was full in no time at all and the driver started the bus by splicing a couple of wires together.  Ethel and I couldn’t believe our eyes.  The worst was yet to come.  The bus started to move and so did all the seats.  It seemed that some of the seats were secured with only one or two brackets.  Everyone was having trouble sitting in their seats.  Pat Wilson was way in back and I guess the four seat brackets were loose and she kept falling out of her seat.  We didn’t have too much trouble with our seat and she wanted to exchange with me.  No way.  We came to a fork in the road and our bus driver and the other driver wouldn’t let each other pass. It was about l0 minutes before one of the drivers gave in.  A real Mexican Standoff.

We visited the school compound, but everyone was more interested in getting back down that road, back to the train.  No one could believe that they would use such a terrible bus to carry passengers.  We were happy that the train service was so much better. As soon as everyone was settled and back with their rigs, the train moved on its way.  That bus trip was enough excitement for one day.  When we were off the bus, we happened to look at the emergency door.  It had a pad lock on it.  Everyone was so thankful that we arrived back okay.

When everyone was settled, we were on our way again, Howard Armstrong had taken care of his dog, which wouldn’t do it’s business on the flat car, so Howard had to lift it (a BIG dog) on and off the train. He was starting to complain about his back when on of the other passengers suggested that he put a few branches on the train, and the dog would be content.  Howard did that, and it worked fine! The train started moving again and everyone relaxed.

We had been warned that there were many tunnels and it was recommended that we go inside our rigs during tunnel passages, to avoid the soot, smoke and smell, especially during the mile-long tunnel, which we’d go through shortly after leaving the Copper Canyon.

Ellen on the train

Today is the day for our trip to Copper Canyon in Mexico. It claims to be greater than the one in Arizona, USA. One thing, it is more inconvenient to visit since you must go by train.  The train stops for 20 minutes to give you time for a good look, but not today.  It is raining buckets and the haze is so thick that you can only see about l00 ft away from the train.  We all were very disappointed, as we could not see 5000 ft down the canyon.  The rain stopped for a little while and everyone got off the train.  There is a hotel there and tourist can take a tour by train and visit overnight etc.  The weather was also cold so our twenty minutes was a long enough visit; just sorry to miss all the beautiful scenery.  We were on our way again, down to where the weather was warmer.

The one thing most of us disliked about the trip was that everyone had to stay on his or her own flat car while we were moving.  We could not walk from one car to another.  We did all our visiting when the train was stopped or when we would be at a siding for the night.  Most of the time when the train is moving, we sit out on the flat car and enjoy the scenery and wave to all the kids as we go by.  The kids always looked clean in the mornings, but dirty in the afternoon, but always so happy.

Howard and Wilma Armstrong had a habit of sitting in from of their truck with their radio playing classical music.  They would forget to listen to Francisco telling us what to expect.  They missed it, when Francisco mentioned that we were heading for the mile long tunnel and to be inside our rigs and keep it closed.  The tunnel would get very dark and it would smell terrible.  Everyone did as they were informed but the Armstrongs.  They were caught sitting in front of the truck and when we entered the tunnel it was so dark, they were afraid to move.  They covered their months and sat it out and hoped that they wouldn’t get sick from all the fumes.  It probably took us about l5 minutes to get through the tunnel, but it seems ages to them.  I don’t remember where the dog was, but I guess he made it okay.

It wouldn’t be long and our trip would be over.  It was different and fun, just sorry I can’t remember some of the other things we did.  We continued on our way, stopping when we would hit a small village.  If they had a bakery there, Francisco would mention it and when the train stopped for its 20 minutes, every one would run to the bakery.  They sure like the Mexican bread.

We soon arrived at Los Moches and they men unloaded all the rigs to the campground.  That evening we had a group dinner and everyone telling their own stories about the trip.  The big story, of course, was the terrible bus trip.  From here we would travel to Mazatlan and we would be back driving again.  We were to head for a campground in Mazatlan where we would stay a few days.

Francisco mentioned to be very careful of your wallet, purses and etc.  They were great at pick-pocketing here.  Ken Wilson was riding the bus and he had to stand it was so crowded.  He felt someone touching his back pocket and he turned quickly and caught his guy pulling his hands back, without the wallet. He said that he was well dressed and someone you wouldn’t expect to be robbing you.

On Sunday morning, the Catholics went to Mass at this beautiful church.  While waiting in line for communion, Pat Wilson poked me, warning me about the woman on my left.   I had my tote bag, with nothing in it to speak of, and I saw her trying to put her hand in my bag.  We all were told to leave our IDs in the rigs and just wear our Caravan IDs.  Then after I received communion, she did too.  Pat and I couldn’t believe what had happened.

That evening, those in charge of the Caravan had a Margarita Party.  In a large metal laundry tub they filled it to the hilt with Margaritas.  The party had music and dancing and everyone was having a good time.  It seemed like the tub never got empty, but everyone was getting their full of margaritas.  Somehow, it seemed to hit the men first.  Van wanted to go back to the trailer and so did Ken Wilson, so I took them back.  Ken sat in the chair that was in front of his rig and I helped Van get settled in bed.  A few minutes later, there was a bang on the door.  When I opened it, it was Pat Wilson and she was mad and inquired about her husband.  I asked her if she looked in front of her rig and off she went.  I went back to check on Van, and he was all ready asleep.  I went over to Pat’s rig and she found Ken, fast asleep in front of the rig and bitten alive by misquotes.  I left Pat and went back to the party.  Ethel was still there and we stayed a while and listened to the music and had another margarita.  One more day to tour the sights in Mazatlan, then we would be on our way north, back to the states.

The trip back was on the same road until we reached Los Moches, then we headed north, with several stops.  The caravan had been doing great, no problems to worry about, but half way to our next stop, the Wests had an axle break on their rig.  They stayed until the Tail Gunner Kermit caught up to them.  He went and found someone to help, but they would be delayed a day.  We travel rather slowly and we had another stop soon, so they would catch up to the caravan shortly.  That’s one advantage of being with a caravan, you never feel lost or alone.

We all made our way to the next campground and settled in for the night.  It was such a pretty place that everyone was taking a walk.  It was such a surprise to have such a lovely campground in this area.  The Wests arrived the next day, and that evening we had our farewell party, it was all you can eat shrimp and everyone had a good time.  We all said our “goodbyes” to the ones who would be heading east, after we hit the States.  Once we drove through Nogales a few miles, we would be back in Arizona and heading west.  Everyone who took the tour enjoyed the experience very much.  Riding in our trailer on the Piggy Back on a train flat bed is something you don’t   plan to do very often.  I just wish that I could remember some of the sights we saw and kept notes about the trip.

Now it was time to go back to El Cajon and Van back to work.   Carl and Charlene had found a place to live and they seemed to be doing okay.  Carl still worked at the furniture store and seemed to like his job.

Van worked for about six more months.  He used to go to work early, missing a lot of the traffic, and he would be in the office to get the phone calls from Washington and other cities on the East Coast.  It was okay until they changed bosses and the new one complained about him coming in early and leaving work early.  They talked to him and suggested that he come to work at the same time as everyone else. He talked to me about it, and really didn’t like the idea of going to work later in the morning.  I just told him that if he wanted to quit to do so.  He thought about it for a few days and then he put in his resignation. To his surprise, on the day he was to leave, they held a big party for him with cake and all the trimmings.  But he was glad he quit.

We were home when Carra was born on September 16, 1981.  And since we were going to stay in the house for a while, we had a new roof put on the house and did other improvements.  I decided to go the Sewing Class at the Adult Center and found it fun and interesting.  Also I joined a group at church that was in process of making craft for the Christmas In July Craft Sale.  That really kept me busy until we decided to visit Dorrie in Germany for the summer months.  The group wanted me the make as many crafts as I could make before I left.  I couldn’t believe myself the number of things I made.  I made a dozen pincushions.  I also made about a dozen tote bags that I learned in sewing class.  Everyone just loved them, and I had plenty of pretty material.  One other thing that I remember making was the Christmas Advent Calendars.  They were made of felt and quite easy to make. Only thing was that I did not print the days of the month on them.  I thought I’d spoil them, so the leader said she would do it.  And she spoiled them.  I felt terrible, but what can you say.

Van and I left for Germany at the end of May and Dorrie and Mike showed us a good time.  We had our own bedroom upstairs and private bath.  Dorrie was really into flying lessons and doing the computer work for the flying club, we had beautiful San Diego weather the whole three months.  We also took a trip to Holland and I had an address of Van’s cousin and when Dorrie and I checked the map, it was close to where we would be driving.  So Dorrie headed that way.  Dorrie does the driving in Holland as Mike said that he drives too fast and he didn’t want to get a ticket in Holland.

We had no trouble finding the address and Dorrie went to check the apartment, but there was no answer.  I mention to Dorrie that Hollanders don’t move as often as Americans, and maybe the people in the next apartment would know something.  And sure enough, the lady did, and also had the address and told us how to find the city.  We decided we would wait until after we were settled in the hotel and maybe try another day to find them.   They had moved way up north near the ocean and it was a long trip.

Our weather was still great. We went to a yearly flower show. It was huge and you can get lost in it, but all kinds of flowers. It was something to see. Our hotel was okay but the bathroom was in the hall. The view out our window was great. We were on the edge of a river and they had a bridge that was very ancient. But the river was very quiet and only a few boats passed by. There was a bar on the first floor and we were on the second. Dorrie and Michael were invited to stay at a friend's house so, the next morning, they surprised us at breakfast. Our breakfast was included for us, but not for them. But the next morning, the young man asked if our children would be by for breakfast. We told them they would and they didn't charge them.


updated: 20.11.2011