It had been one of those days when things had just been going right. The weather was perfect, the sea calm and the twin Volvo engines that powered my yacht were humming nicely as we slowly cruised the Sea of Cortez delivering building materials that I was donating to some of the orphanages dotting Baja California’s east coast. I was not expecting problems and that’s why I was taken by surprise when Mark, the foreman on my ranch in New Mexico, called on the satellite phone to tell me that the main staircase was about to collapse in the bunkhouse.
“Make sure all the hands are safe and out of the bunkhouse,” I told him, “put everyone up in the main house and I’ll be there as soon as I can.” There were plenty of bedrooms in the main house and the bunkhouse was old. It had been built by Coronado himself when he was moving north, searching for the seven cities of gold and slaughtering the indigenous people who had lived there peacefully for centuries. I needed to fix this myself as none of the local contractors understood the building methods that Coronado had employed 400 years ago and I wanted the repairs to be true to the original construction. Besides that, the local Historical Society would insist on it as well.
I kissed my wife, Paloma, and explained to her where and why I was going. I added that I would send the helicopter back for her in time for her trip. She was due in Stockholm the next week to receive her Nobel Prize. I sprinted to the chopper and Dirk, my pilot, got us airborne and headed north.
We flew through the night and thanks to the extended range modifications we had made to the chopper he took me all the way to the ranch where Mark was waiting.
“How bad does it look Mark?” I asked.
“The riser on the top step is sagging and pulling away from the landing at the top of the stair. Come on, I’ll show you.” Mark handed me safety glasses and an LED flashlight as he grabbed a ladder and led the way into the bunkhouse. Sure enough one of the old cleats had broken. It would be easy to fix.
After assessing the situation I knew that we needed a piece of Mesquite about three feet long. In my workshop I had just the right piece so Mark and I immediately got to work.
As we shaped the new cleat, using only hand tools, the way that Coronado would have done I asked Mark what had happened.
Reluctantly he told me. “Some of the boys were fooling around with their guitars downstairs. Playing Flamenco music and Rosita began dancing on the landing.”
“Rosita was dancing?” I asked. “She’s a wrangler, not a dancer.” Rosita had worked on my ranch for three years and was one of the best wranglers I had ever known.
“I gotta tell you boss,” Mark said, “She’s a really good dancer too.”
“Hmmm, I need to get to know the hands a little better. I would never have known. I blame myself too. I should have known.”
Shaving another 64th of an inch off the new cleat with my plane the shaping was completed. We headed back to the bunkhouse. Mark jacked the staircase up using a lever and fulcrum, as Coronado would have done, and I tapped the new cleat into place. Of course, it was a perfect fit. Mark lowered the staircase and we tested the repair.
“That should be good for at least another 400 years, boss.” He said. The repair had taken less than half an hour from start to finish.
That night I gathered all the hands behind the house and apologized for the poorly maintained staircase, while Chili and Ed lit the barbeque. We had steaks and cervezas, a real fiesta. Soledad and Rosita danced into the night while Guillermo played his guitar by the fire.