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Woods Tells All


By Sharon McIntire If there is a square foot of soil in Eddy County that doesn’t have Woods Houghton’s foot printon it, then it’s probably impossible to get there. Houghton moved to Carlsbad to be the Eddy County Extension Agent30 years ago, and has collected knowledge dailysincet hen. Anyone who has questions about our history orhasproblems with their plants or animals can find an answer in this walking encyclopedia .He learned his resourcefulness from his father who never graduated from college but was board certified in five fields of engineering. “He was all self-taught,” Houghton states proudly. “He always told me, if you can read a book, you can learn anything you need to know,because somebody’s written it down somewhere.”He took that to heart and filled the shelves in his office with books he collected to answer the myriad of questions that plague ranchers and farmers in our fragile desert climate. Take him the most obscure question plaguing your plants and animals, and if he can’tanswer off the cuff, he’ll pull out a book, thumb a few pages, and produce the precise solution you need.His educational history is a story in itself. Leaving home at 15,he shoed horses and managed a stablebefore and after school, and also trained Shetland ponies as driving ponies. He boasts that he drove his team for every homecoming queen in the Albuquerque area. At NMSU,he earneda double bachelor’s degree in range science and in animal science. Receiving his master’s degree was a bit more difficult: it took four years and included the construction of a 40-acre livestock labwhere he researched and developed medicine to alleviate the irritants of flies on cattle and horses. He also entertained students. He recalls a student who brought abird to him and asked him to identify it. “Wow,” he said, “that’s a rare bird.”“Really?” she said. “Yeah, that’s a really rare bird: it’s a croak-ed starling.” She wandered around campus proudly displaying her find. “It took her five hours to figure out croak-ed meant dead,” he laughed.“Paul Hay, who used to be a county agent here, was watching me work with the ranchers and teaching them what we were doing, why we were doing it, and how to do it, and said to me, “You need to be a county agent.” And sohe did –eventually. His first assignment was at Fort Sumner in in DeBaca County, where he worked for five years.“At Fort Sumner my primary job was 4-Hand when I came down here my primary job was agriculture,” he says. “But the philosophy that Richard Marek and Paul Hay had was that if you get a paycheck from the Extension Service, you have a 4-H appointment, so everybody works for 4-H in some way or manner or somehow.“If it came down to 4-H or running a cottonfield, 4-H had priority.”“It was a terrificgroup of people. I had a great secretary named Helen Shaw, and a really good ag teacher named Mike Scott. Between the two of them they trained me pretty well.” Well enough, in fact, that he acquired a $2 million grant for their “frontier” hospital before moving on to Carlsbadin 1990. “When I first came down here,I was helping shear sheep at the county fair and this one girl -she wasn’t in 4-H -but I said I’d help her shear her sheep. When I got to her, I’d sheared sheep all nightlong, but I won’t shear sheep for the kids –I make them at least shear part of it. They have to handle the shears, at least some cuts. That’s always been my philosophy. It takes longer, but my job was to teach kids, not to shear sheep. “About four years ago,I didn’t shear any sheep at the county fair. I was feeling pretty depressed about it. I sat down on a blocking stand and looked down the shed row. I saw all these kids on blocking standsshearing sheep. All their parents were sitting there helping ‘em and most of them were all the parents with kids I’d started with. I realized,” he said, with tears in his eyes, “you know: I did something right. That’s what it’s supposed to be: you work yourself out of a job.“Kids are the only thing God gave us to build tomorrow with. If you want to change the future, change a kid.”If education is the Service’s top priority, community is a close second. “There’s a lot of things the Extension as done here that a lot of people don’t remember is part of the Extension,” Houghton notes. “The Department of Development exists here because ofthe Extension Service. Richard Marek wrote the grant, put together the 501-3C, wrote the bylaws, -he did all that stuff. There wouldn’t be a Department of Development if it weren’t for Richard Marek.“Christmas on the Pecos was an Extension project. Joe Skeen had gotten money for this district through REDTT (Rural Economic Development Through Tourism) and we’d have two or three specialists come in and teach. We’d do programs like teaching waitresses how to be knowledgeable about the community so when tourists ask you what there is to do in Carlsbad, you don’t say ‘I don’t know –nothing.’ Well, I didn’t know what we were going to do here because our Chamber of Commerce had a $2 million budget. But we went to all these meetings. Johnny Johnson was the Chamber of Commerce director, and then there was Lee Watts and Don Kidd and Jack White and me. I mentioned that whenI was in Des Moinesthey had an electric light parade on the Mississippi River and all the boats went by.” From there the idea grew into lights on the shore for a month-long parade, andChristmas on the Pecos was born. Houghton also kept a protective eye on our veterans. “When I first came here there was a guy that took care of the courthouse yard. He took me over to the rose bushes in the semi-circle around the courthouse and he said, ‘There are 73 rose bushes here –one for each man that was on the Bataan Death March.’The rose bushes on the side –that’s for other memorials. But the ones in that semi-circle went with the 107mm artillery piece as a memorial for the Bataan Death March. “The guy that started all that and Mr. Parsons, who was our history teacher at the high school, told me there’s one onevery county courthouse in New Mexico,except for Bernalillo County,as a memorial to the 200 and 500 Coastal Battalions that were on the Bataan Death March. So,he started securing surplus artillery pieces that were similar to artillery pieces that were used inthe Philippines and placing them on courthouse lawns.Some have removed them, like we did –they didn’t understand why they were there.“Me and Janice Hayman spent hours putting together lists of the soldiers that were on the Bataan Death March. I had it on a disc and I also had the three lists printed out that Janice and I had done.“What we were going to do was get a metal plate that looked like a WWII dog tag and list the person’s name and the community they came from in Eddy County and put one by each rose bush. You’d think that would be easy, but it wasn’t because there are four different lists, and there were soldiers that were on one that weren’t on the others, so they didn’t match. We never did get it finalized who were the 74 that were actually on those lists.“Whenever a rose bush got sick or got old, Fred Funk at Sun Country would replace it. ‘If you ever need a rose bush for that you just come get it,’ he said. ‘You don’t have to pay me; I’ll donate it.’ We replaced quite a few of them over the years. Now, there’s a lot of holes where there’s not rose bushes. I’d like to see that get taken care of.”The Extension office also helped line up work for German POWS during WWII. “It’s interesting the diverse history the Extension Service has,”Houghton mused.“It’s not just about farms and agriculture.”“The Smith-Lever Act (a federal program adopted in 1914) authorized county offices. I found out through a roundabout deal that Eddy County played an important role in there being a nationwide extension officer service. I didn’t realize it until I was studying the history of the CID and found all these references of BOR (Bureau of Reclamation) and the Smith-Lever Act. And then Epson Sigma Phi is a fraternity for country agents, and we’re Epsilon Chapter. New Mexico is the first chapter. And so I assume the Extension Worker’s Creed was probably written by somebody in New Mexico.”So what has Houghton discovered traipsingaround Eddy County?“A small community came here,” he recalls. “I don’t know what year. They had to be some of the best stonemasons I’ve ever seen. They made dugouts, andthe dugout roofs are curved -stone native rocks put together –and it’s on a curve. Then they piled dirtand grew grasson top of that. But it’s not a wooden roof: it’s a stone rock roof. It’s not very long, probably 20feet long, but there’s six of them.Apparently,a small community or family came together –a group of people who were good stonemasons. That’s what people did when they first moved here, especially if they didn’t have money to buy lumber or make trips upthe mountainto cut lumber. They would dig down in the ground and pack the sides and then just put a roof over the top ofit.“There’s an original dugout that John Ballard’s father built but someone had taken an old Model T running board and used it for steps to go down into the dugout. And he added prosaically, “Have to be real careful when you go look at dugouts. That’s a real good place for rattlesnakes.” He learned lessons about tampering with Mother Nature. “The dam in Hope was built as part of a Bureau of Reclamation project. They built it in ’38 or’39 and finished it in 1940. In 1941,we got the flood and it silted that dam all the way up to the top. They cleaned itout from ’41 to ’56. Got it allcleaned out and the flood of ’56 silted it all back in. They never cleaned it out again.“There used to be a dam at Hay Hollow on the Delaware. If you look at the Delaware, it’s just a little trickle of water and you don’t realize it’s probably three miles wide when it’s flooding. One of those floods wiped out that dam. There’s irrigation works, and you lookup and see that concrete bent over andbroke andyourealize that’s done by floodwater andit’s 40 feet above your head. That’s pretty amazing to me. That’s what the Tracys and Eddys had to dealwith. You know, they had their fortunes in the wooden flume going over the river, and then the flood came. They rebuilt it twice but didn’t have enough money to rebuild again.”Water isn’t always destructive. “There’s a tree on a local ranch up in the Guadalupes. There’s a spring on that ranch and the water comes down and splits andgoes around that tree and comes back. When you’re driving up to that ranch you’ll say, ‘Boy, that’s a pretty pecan tree.’ As you get closer, you realize there’s three houses underneath it. And as you get closer andyou walk up to that pecan tree, you realize that five mencan’t reacharound that tree. The only time I’ve seen a pecan tree that big was in Georgia –General Sherman missed that one. But it is an absolutely beautiful, big pecan tree.“I don’t know when it was planted, but it’s interesting because the Stallmans always said they were the first ones to bring pecans to New Mexico, and they did it in 1938. But I have in thecounty agent’s records they brought in 250 in 1921 or’22 in Eddy County, so I think we had to have had pecans before Las Cruces because it’s written in that county record that they brought in 250 stines.So we beat Stallman’s.He also discovered cowboy ingenuity. “John White and his wife, Margaret, had a ranch 95 miles south of town. He was one of the most ingenious people I ever knew in my life. He was a good sheep farmer, and he never wasted anything. He moved to that ranch right after WWII, I think, and he was totally isolated. He blasted the road into it -he had a forge back there.“Well, they crashed a B17 out there or a B17 trainer, I don’t remember which it was. It was a military aircraft and when you drove down to his ranchand youlookedup to his barn, youcould see this faintoutline of a star on the tinroof of that barn. Well, it wasn’t a tin roof –it was aluminum that he’d stripped off that airplane. He put it on the roof of that barn, and you could see a faint white star from the wing of that airplane.“I went down there to help him shear sheep and sort wool and I said, ‘Man, John, this is the best aluminum gate I’ve ever seen. Where did you get this?’ And he said, ‘I made it from that airplane.’ And he’dused all the airframe to make gates and corrals. Well, they were all real solid!“John was very innovative. He’d built this rail in the shearing barn. And he took an old wind generator and put that motor on a swivel so that motor would swivel with youwhen you’re working on the sheep.He had this rail system so that when you sheared, you threw the wool out. Margaret would sort it on the sorting table and pull the tags off and put them in the tag bag. Then she’d grade the wool, put it in the Neal squeezemachine and then she’d put it in the bag with the appropriate wool so you had all the wool with the same grade in the same bag. Normally what the kids dois stomp the wool down in the bags. But John and Margaret never had kids, so John took some anglingiron and some rails and wheels that probably came off of something else and then he took a plunger off an old washing machinethat used to go up and down and put a wooden disc on it. Then he’d just roll that over whatever bag and hit the button and it would push that wool down and pack it in the bag. John wasn’t very big and those wool bags are big and heavy, but Johngot the bag and sewed it up. Then he gota set of ice tongs or logging tongs and you’dput that over thebag and pinch ‘em and crank it up onto anotherrail and it’d rail off the other end of the barn into apickup that was parked below it. It was an ingenious system and it worked very well. He and Margaret sheared all those sheep –they never hired a shearing crew. He was a good rancher and agood person. I’m glad I got to know him.”Extension agents seem to like it here. “The interesting thing about Eddy County is that from 1915 until now there have only been seven agents in this county. Richard Marek, 32 years;Dan Liesner, 13 years;and me, 30 years. That’s over half of it right there –just the three of us. It’s a good place to work: good farmers, good ranchers.”And good produce. “We had the finest, highest-grading wool in the world when we had a lot of sheep production here. I was sought after because the wool was such good quality. “We had the finest cotton in the world, recognized by spinners all over the world. David Clowe, when he was running the cotton gin in Artesia, had a letter from a German spinner telling him how great the cotton was that he was spinning from his gin. Said they used some of the cotton from other parts of the world and blended it with cotton from Artesia,New Mexico to make it acceptable. So,we had some of the highest quality wools fromthe highest quality cotton.“We had the highest quality pecans.“We had some of the best cantaloupe when we had cantaloupe. It’s good agriculture production.”“I sent a sample of our alfalfa to a dairy becausewe were doing a lot of sampling when I first gothere. The lab called me up and said, ‘Did you put anything in that sample?’ I said, ‘No, I just bored it through the hole like we’re supposed to.’ He said, ‘We had to run it through twice and it came out 32 percent protein -twice.’” Alfalfa, Houghton says, is usually 18-22 percent protein.“I’m sorry to see so much of it go away as more and more farms disappear because land has higher value as a truckyard for oil and gas.“One of the sad things about Eddy County is only 14 percent of the land outside the municipalities is private; the rest is federal. Most of that land outside the municipalities and villages is farmland, so when there’s going to be development it’s goingto have to take farms out of production because that’s who owns the land. And it’s sad that we have all this rangeland. Some of it’s not good enough for anything except holding the earth together and we can’t develop it because it’s federal land. To me that’s one of the saddest things to sit back and watch. It’s hit our farms pretty hard.”“The thing that’s always meant something to me was the Extension Worker’s Creed. That was one thing the county agent in Tucumcari, Ted Peabody, said to me. He came to see me right after I came to work with the Extension in Fort Sumner and brought me a copy of the creed. He handed it to me and said, “If you’ll do this, you’ll be okay. And he walked out.“I’ve had that copy on the wall by my desk ever since and I’ve read it almost every day. That’s what I’ve tried to live up to –that Extension Worker’s Creed.”That creed is evidently good advice. But any farmer will tell you the best way to know if you have a good Extension agent is to go up to a farmer and ask himwhere the Extension office is. If you have a good agent, the farmer won’t be able to answer that question, but he’ll be able to tell you what kind of truck he drives, what sort of cap he wears, and where he hangs out for coffee.Apparently Woods Houghton meets the standard.Extension Worker’s CreedI Believe in people and their hopes, their aspirations, and their faith;in their right to make their own plans and arrive at their own decisions;in their ability and power to enlarge their lives and plan for the happiness of those they love.I Believe that education, of which Extension is an essential part,is basic in stimulating individual initiative, self-determination, and leadership;that these are the keys to democracy and that people when given facts theyunderstand, will act not only in their self-interest but also in the interest of society.I Believe that education is a lifelong process and the greatest university is the home;that my success as a teacher is proportional to those qualities of mindand spiritthat give me welcome entrance to the homes of the families I serve.I Believe in intellectual freedom to search for and present the truth withoutbias and with courteous tolerance toward the views of others.I Believe that Extension is a link between the people and the ever-changing discoveries in the laboratories.I Believe in the public institutions of which I am a part.I Believe in my own work and in the opportunity I have tomake my life useful to humanity.Because I Believe these things, I am an Extension professional.Written by W.A. Lloyd in 1922; adopted by ESP in 1927.Courtesy Texas A&M University

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