“Nobody gave them nothing.” — An Interview with Brent Dietzman and Frank Nuanez: Part 1 of 2
By Bob Rosebrough
Brent Dietzman comes in with a treasure trove of historic Gallup photos. He and his good friend, Frank Nuanez, begin by talking about their parents and grandparents.
A five-year-old running a steam engine. Brent’s great-grandfather on his mother’s side came to Gallup in the late 1800s with the cavalry at Fort Wingate. His grandfather on his dad’s side “worked in the forest over around Flagstaff driving a steam engine like they did here in the twenties up at McGaffey. That’s where he got his experience running a steam engine before he moved to Gallup to work on the railroad.”
When Brent was four or five years old, “my dad used to take me down in the railroad yard. They had a place where the switch engines stayed when they weren’t using them. My dad put me up on the engine with my granddad and I’d get to run the engine.” Frank laughs at the idea of a five-year-old running a switch engine.
Brent says, “My granddad would say, ‘Let’s go,’ and I’d push the throttle for him. He said, ‘Okay stop,’ and I’d pull the throttle back and slide the wheels. And he said, ‘Now look what you did,’ and he’d take off again and the wheels would go thump, thump, thump because they were flat.
“And then my granddad and dad opened up the fire box. There is a fire inside those steam engines. I can remember that like it was yesterday. I thought it was cool. I wasn’t scared, but I probably should have been.”
Building an adobe home three blocks at a time. Frank’s grandfather worked in the coalmines until he was about 40, when a handbrake wouldn’t tighten enough to prevent two underground coal cars from colliding. “He fell off and hurt both of his knees. He was in pretty bad shape there for a couple of months. My grandparents were struggling because there was no money. There was nothing coming in. So he went to work as a shoe shine boy at a barbershop where Richardson’s Trading Post used to be on 66. The Sears store was in the same building.”
Frank’s grandparents and parents settled on Wilson Street on the North Side, a block and a half east of Saint Francis Church. He says, “My grandfather bought this house and it was a pretty nice house. When my dad got married, he said, ‘Well, just build your house back here in the back.’ I remember when I was about five or six making the adobe. Dad would bring in the bales of hay and then he would cut the dirt away from the hill where he was going to build the house. We’d mix the straw with the dirt and then dad made six-by-six square platforms. That’s what my mother and I did during the daytime while dad would go to work at Bubany’s Lumber Company.
“It was amazing. My mother would go out and we’d make the blocks and then dad would let them dry. Then early in the morning he’d get up and set maybe two or three and then mom and I would make some more. That’s the way it went until he finally got the house up.”
“No building inspectors?” asks Brent as he smiles.
Frank laughs and says, “No building inspectors. The funny part is that I used to tease everybody by saying, ‘We were so darn poor, we didn’t even have an alley.’ The street that runs behind the house my dad built is right where Black Diamond Canyon starts. The back yard goes straight up into Sky City.”
“The house is moving and my Mom’s still cooking.” Eventually, Frank’s grandparents decided to sell the house on Wilson and move to “Terrace, which was a nicer house. Eddie Munoz was his next-door neighbor to the east. My dad didn’t know where to go so he bought a house in Gamerco and moved it into town.”
“It was unbelievable. They pulled the house in and they set it up. It hadn’t been put onto a foundation yet ’cause Dad was supposed to build all that underneath it. And then the neighbor next door came up and said, ‘You know what? That house is too close to my property line’ even though his lot was empty. They got the City into it and the City told my dad, ‘Well you’re going to have to move your house.’
“The house had already been set and we were living in it. We didn’t have plumbing, but we did have a little bit of electricity and we had a coal stove. And my mom was emphatic about cooking my dad something to eat at noon every time. She had to have a meal for him.
“Well that’s about the time the guy came over to move the house. I was probably ten, maybe twelve. And they stick in these pipes underneath the house and my mom’s inside and she’s going crazy.” Frank laughs. “I said, ‘Mom, you’re not going to be able to cook for dad.’ She said, ‘Yes I am. We’re cooking for dad.’ Well the moving guy has pipes underneath the house. He’s got these cables pulling the house. I’ve got the fire started in the stove. My mom’s in there while they’re pulling the house and it’s jerking and it’s moving. My mom’s hollering at me to grab a hold of the pots and pans, the beans and the chili. My sister Gloria got a hold of the other pan. It was like, ‘Oh my God! The house is moving and my mom is still cooking! Amazing!’ To this day my sister and I joke about that constantly.”
North Siders and South Siders mixing: “It wasn’t like there was ever any hassle.” Brent and Frank start talking about where they went to school. Brent says, “The primary school I went to burned down. I went to first grade at El Rancho School, which was there where the special ed. teachers are behind the supermarket. Then when my folks got their house built up on Mesa and Country Club, I went to First Ward. That’s up there where Roosevelt is now. I think it burned down too or they tore it down. And then I went down to Central School, which is where the federal building is. And that’s where the North Side and the South Side kids met – when we went to school at Central. That’s how we got acquainted with each other. When we were in grade school, there was the South Side and the North Side.”
Thinking back to the age when the North Siders and South Siders met at the same school Brent says, “Oh, it was great.”
“Very great,” says Frank emphatically.
Brent says, “We all got along. When we had our 50th class reunion; somebody come up from the paper. She went around asking, ‘What do you remember about high school?’ She said about 75% of the kids said, ‘We all got along.’”
Frank agrees, “It was always like that. It wasn’t like there was ever any hassle. It wasn’t a big issue like it is now.”
COMING IN JULY: The McGaffey Power Plant and Sawmill, McGaffey Settlers, El Barkos and George Bubany’s Chrysler: “It wasn’t going to stop.”