The Storm cloud Sighting Balcones Spring of 1975 a short story By Esteban Erik Stipnieks



The mail boxes lay caddy corner to one another. The rear entrance to one house was mysterious a mailbox through a fence a gate and a driveway. The other looked far more conventional perched south of a vacant corner lot between Laurel Lane and Balcones. The two houses contained two couples their memories and worlds that seemingly clashed with the small town they were in. They were Aushlanders from half a world away. Both families were not from the same families that had lived and built up the town for generations. In reality the two houses and a third next to it were foretelling of the forces that for the next thirty years reshape the community.

New Braunfels always has been a victim of a creation of geography. The two mailboxes were a culmination. Two rivers merged near what was down town its springs at the base of hills meant mills. The German immigrants who purchased the property off the Veremendi family were industrious. A series of mills, harnessed the water from multiple springs. The end of coastal plains against the abutment of Edward’s plateau allowed two creek and river emerge a couple miles down stream a larger river flowed down from the Texas hill country.

War came the Germans who had settled for more then a generation were viewed with suspicion during WWI. The town contributed to the war effort of WWI yet grew in hostility towards outsiders all at the same time. The strong forces that would be felt in the 1970s were born 50 years immediately after WWI and 10 years before WWII. The hard working innovative spirit of the Landa family that began to be noticed before the Civil War lead to a thriving industrial complex and multi unit power plant along a mill race built by slaves before the Civil War. The mill race dug before the Civil war directed water for what became the use of the Landa Power Plant constructed in 1927 9 years after the great war when things seemed of unlimited potential. In less then two years the economy would crash. Shortly after the power plant began some faithful decisions were made that protected the Comal. All of this was setting the scene. The most remarkable thing was the transformer yard and other aspects of the industrial complex managed not find themselves into the Comal River. Somehow the locals knew the real value of the river and its purity not just the force of the water.  The powerplant acted as a magnet for the military.  The presence of the plant meant Randolph field was developed and Kelly continued to grow. WWII saw the USAF born and the infra structure which would be later used in the Cold War was created. Germany was defeated.  Ft.Sam Houston continued to grow.  The Nazi Scientist, the Latvian family fate was sealed overseas partially by activities of a town settled by Germans nearly 100 years previous. The actions of the families Landa, Ott, Frueh, Kenuper, Koepp, Boeker, Siedel among others had generated the conditions not just in New Braunfels but in San Antonio that would impact and draw some displaced German scientists who ran to the Americans and Latvian family running for its life. The very nature of New Braunfels would be revealed to be a magnet.  Growth would be controlled and a strong vision of a close nit community remained despite the developing storm around it.  There were some things that needed to be preserved a sense of community, the water which the area had been blessed with needed to protected.  It was in the eyes of the descendants of the first settlers more precious then gold.  The Nazis could be stashed without fanfare. Wurstfest was a nice touch.  Unaware of the eventual tree an acorn was placed quite accidently in the soil. The very aspects to protect the community of New Braunfels were the very surgar which made a target for development. 

The professor from Germany sat at Krause’s café. She sat drinking coffee and eating in 1965 She had gotten a tour she was young and she was interested in finding out what became of German’s in the far off distant land of the New World. The locals knew they were being looked at. This person was an Aushlander. They reverted to the tone of condescion first done by their Opas after 1918. If you are going to think me a spy or disloyal I might as well play with you. Conversations subtly turned German. Water fell down Landa Falls free of PCBs, free of lead natural gas firing two large boilers instead of coal meant mercury was not coming out of the stacks. What she heard was German a dialect that had died out. Her ears were hard to deny. In their aloofness they had revealed a secret. She went to Southwest Texas State University surprised the linguist had discovered an extinct form held in a pocket of disappearing geographic isolation. In her own German she asked for the check. A graying couple in a booth recognized a college professor from near Heidleberg had just announced her presence. A reminder of the country they left behind had found herself in Central Texas.

The tone caught his ear. The previous day began early with a five o’clock wake up call and six o’clock drive down I-35 then a right onto highway 90. Getting to the underground work area involved multiple checkpoints. Very few people knew what went on in the hill by golf course. Kelly and Lackland had developed because of the power plant that could be seen not to far from his house in New Braunfels. Its lights dominated the predawn drive to the highway that lead to San Antonio. The power plant provided electricity for the training bases that trained the pilots that brought the Luftwaffe to its knees. Now he had obtained the citizenship and oddly enough he was still fighting an old enemy the Soviets. Photos from a Special RC-135 had arrived negatives had been looked at. The data had to be interpreted in terms of identifying what was burnt to drive the missile skyward. The missile had been launched of Sakhalin Peninsula. A B-58 flying in for Maintence had flown in the developed film. The film had made its way from the Hustler via a man carrying 1911 Colt auto the .45 caliber pistol the final line of defense. The negatives and prints both offered hints. Shutter speed information and chemical samples all told the rocket scientist much about what was being aimed at the country he called home. The Soviet Menace had to be held at bay. It was a paycheck and payback for the children lost. It was strange hearing German that Saturday morning at Krause’s café his wife had the look of grief on her face.

The retirement Ceremony had been brief 1975 oddly enough the mail box caddy corner across the street appeared. The great power plant that brought Randolph had set the conditions was now silent.  The growing school district needed bilingual director. The sister in law of the first Hispanic really Apache Opa had applied and gotten the position. Ft. Sam had brought a man who had seen the fire bombing of Dresden his father had fled Smiltene Latvia. The immigrant had saved enough money to buy a corner of the block across the street. The tight bonds of the Germans who sought only to be left alone and build their own town with its intense community bonds had appealed to his youngest son’s Tejana wife whose sister was the first Hispanic Oma of the Wurst Association. The Latvian was going to bring his next oldest son and his wife.

The two mail boxes stood on Balcones. Another on Laurel Lane the changes that had started in the 60s with the Walter Fellers house being sold to another scientist were now accelerating. San Antonio and New Braunfels were growing together. The Cultural Revolution that had occurred in the sixties would be felt over the next 15 years as more and more people drawn to the rivers and the tight community of New Braunfels and its close proximity to San Antonio would be felt. A plan begun at Landa Resort would take shape and forever alter the course the of a town. Two mail boxes a subtle signal a Latvian ex patriot and an Ex Nazi scientist the town of New Braunfels was inexorably moving closer to suburb status not separate but rather an extension of San Antonio. The seeds sown in the 1920s placed in soil formed in 1845 had germinated and popped out of the soil in 1975 over the next 20 years what would emerge would put the small town forever in the memory.



To the Backroads Buzzard's Cafe

Back to Tales of Dead Armadillo a Novel about Cross Country running

Fact from Fiction

Fact from fiction: There were several Nazi scientists stashed in New Braunfels after WWII. There was mailbox stuck through a fence and a house seemingly isolated set further back. In 1998 it was the scene of murder suicide. The couple did it in a very orderly manner within a block of my childhood home. Yes they were Rocket Scientists. The Obit hinted at Security Hill.

The fury of Holocaust deniers fall of 1991 also revealed potential for others having been stashed. The letters to the editor occurred after a French Teacher had a Holocaust survivor speak. There were many letters to editor denying the Holocaust.

Security Hill during the 60s while much is classified reasonable conjecture that this was a location of intelligence analysis. The term carries a connotation and its origins go back. In conversations church services once you hear Security hill as a location of work you change the subject.

J-79s jet engines were overhauled at Kelly! I have seen websites multiple sources on this. Google B-58 and Kelly. B-58s did go to Kelly for major work. There was also an RC-135 based out of Alaska that did monitor Soviet Activity off the Sakhalin Peninsula. It is entirely possible that a chain of events happened. The scenario of a travel for the film is probable. That is speculation.

Now for linguistic side: There were many New Braunfels residents who grew up trilingual Spanish or English the first language followed by Spanish or English the second language. Then English wound up being the third. Bill Kenuper my scout master late 80s early 1990s related the story of a linguistic prof from Germany be shocked to hear an extinct form of German being heard spoken in New Braunfels. Locals going to German when around an aushlander speaking in German in then 60s once again a scene imagination based on local knowledge. The scene is probable.

Ok Landmark Lofts has a good history of the power plant. Visit Landmark Lofts and read their history....good little bit. There are also numerous websites about the clean up. The Sophienberg archives produced a local history and their shows the extent of industrialization at the headwaters of Comal. The mill race according to local lore was built by slave labor much to consternation of other locals. Other sources show PCB contamination remained on the site of the power plant and remained confined to the power plant grounds not even the hydroelectric plant which reopened in the early 1980s. The hydro electric plant is fed by the mill pond and Landa falls.

Finally the Stipnieks family settled in New Braunfels 1975. The patriarch got introduced to the community while his second oldest son was at Ft. Sam and later served in Vietnam. Latvian and proud.