As mentioned in the October update, we arrived in Harlingen several days earlier than planned. It was such a blessing to be able to have a home base and not be camped in the parking lot of a transmission shop in Laredo. We would have been under pressure to replace the failed stock transmission with a rebuild of similar inadequate capability. I called the nearest shop that handled BD-Engineering performance transmissions and he forcefully made it clear that it would be no advantage to order the transmission through him. When I considered the hassle of picking up a several hundred pound crate fifty miles away and unloading it at the Harlingen end I listened to him. Both of us could use some communication and thinking skill improvements, because later when I asked for some minor technical assistance even willing to spend a couple of thousand dollars in additional purchases to make it worth his while all he seemed concerned about was my not ordering the transmission through his shop, but that is getting ahead of the story.
After pulling the pan on the transmission and admiring the shiny metal flakes I ordered a performance transmission, heavy duty torque converter and heavy duty flex plate over the Internet. The order was to a Canadian company, but through a California dealer so there was California tax and duty to the US built in, plus we will get to pay GST and possibly duty on the way back into Canada next spring.
Once the transmission had been shipped we (Matt and I, but mostly Matt) removed the old transmission and the transfer case. Then I pressure washed the transfer case and underside of the truck and replaced a seal and the fluid in the transfer case. I cleaned and painted the cross members and since the hoist was not needed left the truck there until the transmission arrived.
When the transmission arrived UPS dropped delivered it to the concrete slab next to the hoist the truck was on. It arrived at noon and by five Matt and I had installed it physically and he left for home. I then finished installing the external filter and went out to buy a longer piece of hose. The hose supplied was not long enough to reach the spot I chose as more accessible for servicing. It would have reached where a shop may have put it.
The next day it took a couple of hours to finish the install, do the test drive and adjust the linkage. There was an additional gizmo called a Pressureloc to help the torque converter lock up more positively at high rpm's. It required a test gauge for installation so I ordered that and we installed the Pressureloc about a week later. The transmission generally runs well and shifts more positively than the stock one. Every once in a while it hesitates in shifting between first and second gears and that makes me nervous.
Between SOWER projects at the end of November I tried to get the valley guy to look at it and he was singularly focused on making the experience as unpleasant as possible so we drove two hours to Corpus Christi for the rep there to look at it. I was willing to spend a couple of hundred dollars for additional toys highly necessary accessories, but that dealer was pretty busy and claimed not to know transmissions that well so he referred us to a shop he spoke very highly of, Great State Transmission.
What a friendly, knowledgeable bunch of guys. What a clean facility with such a good spirit about it. They looked over the installation, test drove it and declared things fine and would not let me pay. Even when I insisted on paying and said I needed a receipt for warranty records, they gave me a no charge receipt. It may be a bit soon for the first full service on the transmission by the time we head north, but if there is any way I can manage it we will be stopping there to get it done! If every business was run this way we would have dealt in the valley.
After that we drove out to South Padre Island to the local R-Vision dealer to buy some matching light fixtures, but they had none in stock. One of the ladies there looked like she might know something about restaurants so we asked about a good place for Chinese food and got printed out directions to an excellent spot. Just the thing before a two hour drive home - a big buffet lunch.
Outreaches in Mexico
SOWER projects last three weeks and start on pre-specified Mondays each month with the SOWERS arriving the Friday or Saturday before. While we waited for the start of the next project and for the transmission to arrive we kept somewhat busy. Paul repaired some clothes driers at the training center ("centre" for us Canadians) and Juanita did some tending of the garden and laundry of linens, etc. We also participated with Way of the Cross staff in several outreaches to Mexico.
All the outreaches were in the frontera (border) zone. Some were near Valle Hermosa and Matamoros, but one was to Puerto el Mezquital. a fishing village which technically is beyond the frontier zone, but is on an island at the end of a coastal road. You don't cross the checkpoint out of the frontera zone and don't need a travel permit.
The format is typically to either drive around with a sound system on the truck and announce to the neighborhood that an event is occurring or pick a spot near a school at the "shift change" between morning and afternoon classes. Then the group sings and gets participation in songs from the gathering crowd. After a couple of testimonies there is a brief message and a call for decisions with a show of hands and and then gift bags are handed out. The bags contain a small toy, some school supplies and candy and a tract and maybe a scripture booklet.
The three SOWER couples started work on Monday, November 3rd and it seemed like they were surrounded by insurmountable opportunity.
Hurricane Dolly went through Harlingen this past summer and threw a lot of water around. The roof of the training center sustained damage and leaked causing significant damage to various portions of the ceiling and any particleboard based cabinetry below them.
The GL (group leader) report for the three weeks in November reads: "Men removed portions of hurricane damaged sheetrock from the training center ceilings and replaced with new sheetrock and did the initial taping and filling. Also removed some water damaged bathroom cabinets for replacement. Did alterations to serving line cabinet and helped with carpentry for a church structure. Ladies did some clean up of the garden at the cross, painted doors at the motel and cleaned the training center kitchen."
On days off and at other times the SOWERS also took part in outreaches and in helping to move outreach material across the border for future outreaches.
Building a Mexican Church
One of the things that Way of the Cross does is facilitate the building of churches. They match a willing team of short term missionaries together with a pastor whose congregation needs a church and provide the logistical support and preparation to permit a team to come down and build a church in a few days. They built their first church about sixteen years ago and have built "hundreds" since. Typically the structure is a pole barn affair with tin walls and roof. Over time the typical congregation will build a masonry church around the original structure. When the masonry structure is done they take the old tin one out through the door in pieces and use the material for Sunday school rooms.
There was a church started in a neighborhood in Matamoros, last Spring. The team that had lined up to finish it had arrived right after Hurricane Dolly and what with the pressing need to deal with hurricane damage had ended up working on the training center.
This November there was a team coming down from Michigan that wanted to do a church. One day, the week before, Byron and Phillip (WOTC staff) and Len and Paul (SOWERS) went across and finished the structure so it was ready for tin and windows. One day half the team of teenagers put on the vertical tin and half the roof. The next day the other half of the group put on the rest of the roof, the gables and the door. Paul and Byron assisted on the first day and Byron on the second.
Cross Border Explorations and other interests
On days off Juanita and I did a bit of exploring. The cross border part of that consisted of walking across the bridge from Roma to Ciudad Miguel Aleman, and the bridge at Neuvo Progreso and riding the ferry across the Rio Grande at Los Ebanos (The Ebonies).
The Los Ebanos ferry gets it's motive power by the passengers pulling on the rope strung across the river. The nearest village on the other side is a five dollar cab ride away and reportedly not much there so we just rode across, bought some snacks, handed out some tracts and rode back.
The day we went across at Miguel Aleman we went through a military checkpoint at the end of the bridge on the Mexican side where they checked Juanita's purse. After we wandered around town a bit and had lunch we were looking for a furniture store we had seen last year and realized the military had a couple of streets blocked off. Merchants were hanging balloons on lamp posts. I asked one of them why. Apparently the state governor was coming from Ciudad Victoria. As much as we like that little town and its non touristy atmosphere we decided it was good time to leave and go back across the bridge.