Enchanting Stories of New Mexico - Episode 15 - From Oxnard Field to the Moon

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Episode 15 - From Oxnard Field to the Moon

Michael Swickard here. Welcome to Enchanting Stories of New Mexico sponsored by the Fresh Chile Company in Las Cruces, N M. Our award-winning Hatch Green and Red Chile is brought to you from locally owned farms in Hatch, NM, The Chile Capital of the World.

A quote for today in New Mexico goes back to May 25, 1961, when President John Kennedy announced the intention of the American government to go to the Moon and return safely within the 1960s. He said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

I was ten years old, about to turn eleven. Then and the next ten years of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions really spoke to me. Heck, they still speak to me. America is best when it has goals and challenges. President Kennedy’s goal was one that made us, the U. S. better.

New Mexico and especially Southern New Mexico, Las Cruces, Alamogordo, and White Sands Missile Range were front and center to much of the Space Adventure. Yes, I know we, the U. S. raced The Soviet Union to the Moon but for me, it was always about doing it, not having a badge saying we were first. But we were. I was lucky enough over the years to meet several astronauts and I was always in awe. They functioned in the team going into space.

My favorite astronaut quote was from someone I didn’t meet, Alan B. Shepard Jr. was the first to be successfully launched on May 5, 1961, in a suborbital Mercury Spacecraft, Freedom 7, and then was the Commander of Apollo 14 which landed on the moon. He was asked by a reporter what he thought about while sitting on 6.5 million gallons of volatile fuel on a rocket with millions of parts. He said, I try to not think it was all done by the lowest bidder. Funny.

Most of the work on the rocket engines was done near Las Cruces as was the beginning rocket work done at White Sands Missile Range. Tracking and other support were done and I remember well each NASA mission I was glued to the television and reading everything available to read. I built models of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo rockets and over the years was thrilled to meet and talk to several astronauts. I even worked for a year for Frank Borman in Las Cruces doing stories much like these podcasts, writing about history and culture. I also interviewed several times Jack Schmitt when he was a U.S. Senator but with my interest, you bet I talked about going into space and him being the only geologist to land on the Moon. I also was able to talk to Buzz Aldrin and several other astronauts at the Farm and Ranch Museum when there were some Space related meetings. I still look up at the stars and planets and occasionally I happily catch a glimpse of the International Space Station going overhead.

Much like all the great-tasting sauces and salsa at the Fresh Chile Company, going into space did not happen by accident and I am made better by both.

Let me tell you some good culinary news: the 2023 Hatch Chile Pepper growing season is in harvest. Therefore, the Chile Roasting Drums are fired up with that wonderful sound and smell of roasting Hatch Green Chile. Fire-roasting gives Chile a wonderful smokey flavor.

Michael Swickard here with Enchanting Stories of New Mexico sponsored by the Fresh Chile Company in Las Cruces, N M. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts.

Are you up for a challenge? At one time a place you know was called Oxnard Field. No, in New Mexico and what it is called now you will know. But it was named by someone at some time in Oxnard Field. Here is a hint. It is near Watermelon Base. Oh yes, Watermelon in Spanish. So it is near Sandia Base since Sandia means Watermelon. Being a field, it means that airplanes take off and land. Oxnard Field’s name was changed, I say amen to that, to the current name, Albuquerque International Sunport. Great Airport, I’ve flown in and out often.

Fishing is good in New Mexico. One of the great places is the San Juan River in far Northwest New Mexico, over by Farmington. The San Juan River is world famous for great fishing though I am told it is very handy to have a guide to help you get set up.

Know this: a fishing license is not required for 11-year-olds and younger. You can get a license online at the New Mexico Game and Fish website. 70 years of age or older your fishing license is free. I like free, don’t you? If you do have a fish for dinner and use the Fresh Chile Company products to enhance dinner, take a picture and post it on the Fresh Chile Company Facebook page. You can be famous for your recipe.

Now friends it has been more than warm around here for the last month. I was telling someone about the warm New Mexico feeling where you drive with two fingers and the seatbelt can be used as a branding iron. Made me think of a story from my book, Since 1950.

I was at a small gas station in the middle of the great American desert one hot sunny day. I had retrieved a lost and forgotten bolt left on the road. How a piece of steel, forged in Pittsburgh, came to be lying on a lonely road in the middle of New Mexico will never be known.

Unfortunately, I retrieved the bolt with the left front tire of my car, so I was watching with mild interest as the owner of the only gas station in town wrestled the tire off of my car.

The sign said, Jake's Gas and Repair. Jake was busy with my tire. “Sure is hot,” I said. “Sure is,” Jake agreed. I added, “I imagine you are used to it by now,”. “Accustomed and accepting, but never say I’m used to it,” he corrected. “Now if you think this hot, you should have seen how hot it got one day.” “When was that?” I prompted. With a wave of his hand, he explained, “That silver truck over there made me think of that hot time.” I squinted across the shimmering road at a long silver milk carrier parked at a cafe. “I worked on the railroad as an engineer before I retired and bought this gas station.” He worked and talked patiently with well-spaced pauses in both. “Working as a railroad engineer, now that is hot work,” he paused to mop his forehead with his sleeve, leaving a streak of grease. “Diesel was a mite bit hot when it was freezing outside and boiling at all other times. Being an engineer isn’t all the fun people think. In fact, at times it gets to be downright dull.”

He handed me the bolt he had just pulled out of the tire and started to fix the hole. Every so often as he talked, he reached under the bench next to him for his beverage.

Taking a long swallow, he said, “One time I was taking a load of box cars through some mountains when I came around a hill and up the tracks in front of me, where I had no chance to stop, I saw a long silver tube shaped Semi truck setting dead across the tracks and not moving.”

He did a good imitation of a windmill turned loose in a high wind as he described, “Well, I pulled the horn, set the brakes and kinda leaned back against the seat saying to myself: I hope it’s milk. I hope it’s milk, I hope it’s milk.”

Jake consulted the beverage again, so I asked, “Well, what happened then?” “I stuck my head out the window and looking closer at the truck that was sitting on the tracks at the crossing, I realized that Shell didn’t carry milk. Lucky for me the gas didn’t catch on fire until after the engine I was in was through. It was hot when it caught, though.”

My car came off the rack and Jake made change from the twenty I gave him. He was still thinking about that time. As I got in my car, we both looked at the silver truck again.

“You know,” he said meditatively, “I don’t have any use for milk, seeing how I drink my coffee black, but at times I sure wonder what it would have been like if that had been a milk truck instead of a Shell gasoline carrier.”

He added, “I believe I could have gotten to like milk.” I think of that story when it is hot around here and when I see Milk Carriers.

Michael Swickard here with Enchanting Stories of New Mexico. What is coming with this 2023 Hatch Chile Harvest is that the Fresh Chile Company is offering a special reserve release of the Hatch Green Chile varietal Big Jim in a 16-ounce jar. Varietal means that this product will only be made with Big Jim Chile, which is sweet and has a medium heat level.

Big Jim is very popular in New Mexico restaurants & homes. In 1975, Big Jim was listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as having the largest Chile Pods, perfect for Chile Rellenos. It was developed by Chile Researcher Dr. Roy Nakayama at New Mexico State University. It is a hybrid of New Mexico Chile Peppers and a Peruvian pepper Nakayama and fellow researcher Jim Lytle combined. Big Jim is named for Jim Lytle who died unexpectedly at that time. I’m going to talk about Dr. Roy Nakayama on next Wednesday’s podcast.

One thing that happens when people live in Las Cruces or happen to be in our little slice of paradise. They can come by the Fresh Chile Company Gift Shop at 1160 El Paseo Rd, Suite D7A in Las Cruces, NM. It is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Now I need to tell you about some new products at the Fresh Chile Company that I find wonderful. There is a Local Honey with Hatch Red Chile that is great on biscuits. French fries are so much more with the Fresh Chile Company’s Hatchup which is ketchup and Hatch Red Chile. Come browse and there are many more surprises and also, there are some frozen surprises that I assure you are wonderful. Again from Monday to Saturday, the Fresh Chile Company Gift Shop at 1160 El Paseo Rd, Suite D7A in Las Cruces, NM. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

This is Michael Swickard with Enchanting Stories of New Mexico brought to you by The Fresh Chile Company. Thank you for your time today. We will have lots of News and stories about New Mexico for you on these Podcasts If you have something or someone you want me to talk about, write to: michael@freshchileco.com Have a great rest of your day. Oh yes and eat plenty of that good Hatch Valley Chile. Like I always say, “Some Chile is good, more is better.” Bye for now.

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