W.R. McAfee

Copyright©2012 by W.R. McAfee.  All rights reserved

OP-ED

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Travel IH-10 West from San Antonio and you will eventually pass through Fort Stockton, Texas. Continue on and you will notice grass-covered mountains coming into view on the left side of  IH-10.  These mountains are the Barrilla Mountains. They blend with the Davis Mountains and others that  stretch south of the highway for more than a hundred miles to the Rio Grande;  mountains covered with rich, rocky, volcanic soil that can’t be plowed; mountains good only for ranching—the bigger the better.  Water in theseThunderhead mountains is scarce and deep except for an occasional spring. Ranchers there are totally dependent upon rainfall to produce the protein-rich gramma grasses for which the mountains are known.

Opposite the mountains and to the right of IH-10 west, the land is level and stretches miles north, checker-boarded by farms sitting atop good soil and an aquifer that supplies water for crop  irrigation or sprinklers or cienegas.

Thunderheads bring rain to both sides of this stretch of IH-10.  They form naturally in the west and northwestern sky and move east, raining on rancher and farmer alike. The ranchers watch these thunderheads and hope for rain.  The farmers watch these thunderheads and hope it doesn’t.

The hardest drought ever to hit West Texas began in the 1950s.  Southwest Weather Research, a company that seeded clouds, began to dissipate forming thunderheads to eliminate the possibility of  hail north of IH-10.

Ranchers in the Davis Mountains asked the farmers to not do this. They needed the rain.  Many were teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and one more dry summer would  push some over the edge. They were running out of water and grass and watching livestock die as springs and dirt tanks went dry.

The farmers said no.  Lines were drawn. Thunderheads would form, the cloud seeding planes would arrive, and 20 minutes later the cloud would be dissipated. In desperation, some individual(s)—no one is quite sure who—climbed atop their windmill(s) in the afternoon when the thunderheads formed and seeded them with lead when the  planes arrived.

They never downed any, but seeding pilots began discovering an occasional bullet hole during preflight checks. Protests were lodged with local gendarmes.

“You get a look at who it was ashootin’ at cha?”

“Hell no. I was too busy flying.”

“You sure someone was ashootin’ at cha?”

“Hell yes I’m sure. I got a bullet hole right here in my plane you can stick a finger in.”

“Well, see if you can get a good look at who it is that’s ashootin’  at cha, and where he was ashootin’ at cha from, and we’ll go talk to him. Otherwise, ain’t a whole lot we can do.”

Or words to that effect.

Pilot enthusiasm for seeding clouds above the Davis Mountains faded. More