From Tepatitlan, Mexico: The man who could fix anything

articles History & People

John Pint

Some stories are too good to forget. This one is told by Tepatitlán chronicler Francisco Gallegos Franco in his book Leyendas de Tepatitlán (Legends of Tepatitlán) — John Pint.

Francisco Gallegos, left, shows museum visitor Pedro Fernandez one of fourteen books he has written about the history of the Tepatitlan area. © John Pint, 2011
Francisco Gallegos, left, shows museum visitor Pedro Fernandez one of fourteen books he has written about the history of the Tepatitlan area. © John Pint, 2011
In 1870, the richest man in Guadalajara was, without a doubt, Don Manuel Escandón, owner of La Escoba Yarn and Fabric Company. In this year, however, a terrible setback had befallen him. The brand new and expensive equipment he had recently imported all the way from Germany was now sitting idle because something had damaged the intricate gear assembly which made the whole thing work. Local engineers had tried to fix it without success and experts called in from Puebla and Monterrey had thrown up their hands in despair. To make matters worse, it was impossible to find replacement parts, even in the USA.

Don Manuel was nearly out of his mind because it would take up to eight months to get the parts from Germany and, besides, he’d have to buy a whole new assembly, not just the gears that needed replacing. Meanwhile, his 300 employees would be sitting idle while the competition stole all his customers.

Francisco Gallegos Franco in La Leonera Canyon, one of several popular hiking and camping areas along the Rio Verde in the northern Jalisco region of Mexico known as Los Altos. © John Pint, 2011
Francisco Gallegos Franco in La Leonera Canyon, one of several popular hiking and camping areas along the Rio Verde in the northern Jalisco region of Mexico known as Los Altos. © John Pint, 2011

Now, right in the middle of this crisis, Don Manuel happened to receive a visit from his friend Don Lucas González Rubio, a businessman from Tepatitlán. No sooner had he explained his aggravating problem than Don Lucas exclaimed, “Hombre, your troubles are over. There’s a man in our parts who can fix your machine in the blink of an eye.”

¡Caray!” exclaimed Don Manuel, “but I can’t believe anyone in Tepatitlán could… tell me, is this man an engineer?”

“Engineer?” Well, not exactly. The fact is, he barely made it through elementary school, but I tell you, he’s dead smart.”

“Thank you so much, my dear friend, but this machine has a whole new kind of gear train that our best engineers can’t fix. It’s hopeless.”

“Maybe you’re right,” said Don Lucas, “but after all, you have nothing to lose.”

“Whatever you say,” replied Don Manuel politely and promptly forgot the whole thing.

Don Lucas returned to Tepa and told the story to Don Mariano Esparza, whose accomplishments included the construction of the parish clock which has run continuously for 130 years and is still running today, even though some of its cogwheels are made of mesquite wood. It was also rumored that Don Mariano had invented an automatic revolver far superior to the famous Colt, but had smashed the prototype to pieces when he realized it would be used to kill people.

Without much difficulty, Don Lucas convinced him to undertake the long trip to Guadalajara, which involved spending two days on horseback.

So it was that one week later Don Lucas reappeared in the sprawling factory accompanied by a man of humble aspect wearing a poncho and a wide sombrero. Don Lucas was greeted by one and all whereas his companion barely received a nod and was no doubt taken to be a servant.

Upon seeing Don Manuel Escandón, Don Lucas shouted, “Buenos días, my friend, where’s your machine? There’s not a minute to waste!”

“Machine? Oh, the broken gear train? Why do you want to see it?” asked the fabric magnate, confused.

“You forgot? I told you I was bringing the man who could fix it,” said the man from Tepa.

“What? Who? Where is he? Asked Escandón, looking around.

“Mariano Esparza para servirle,” said the inventor.

“You?” cried the factory owner. “Let me tell you up front that I’ve consulted the very best experts and they told me the parts can’t be made here, only in Germany.”

“Germany?” Where’s that?” said Don Mariano.

“In Europe, across the sea.”

“To me that sounds like somewhere on this earth and if that machine was made on this earth,” then I can fix it. Let me give it a try and we’ll see what happens. Do you have a workshop — with a lathe?”

Escandón nodded and then took the inventor to the German machine. Don Mariano examined the workings with the greatest of care, made meticulous measurements and then shut himself up in the workshop, asking not to be interrupted.

For three days, he stayed inside, receiving his meals through a little window. Then he carefully installed the new parts.

The machinery worked with water power and Don Manuel told his foreman to turn the pressure on slowly, expecting to see parts flying across the room at any moment. Don Mariano saw what he was doing and opened the valve full blast. The gears meshed and the machine sprang to life… and continued to work for many years thereafter.

Words cannot describe the factory owner’s joy when he realized what had happened. “You are a genius, Engineer Mariano!” he shouted. “Tell me what your fee is and don’t be shy. Whatever you ask, I will pay.”

Legends of Tepatitlán contains 21 stories collected by Historian Francisco Gallegos. Gallegos is presently a consultant to the newly renovated Tepatitlán Museum. © John Pint, 2011
Legends of Tepatitlán contains 21 stories collected by Historian Francisco Gallegos. Gallegos is presently a consultant to the newly renovated Tepatitlán Museum. © John Pint, 2011

Don Mariano took out a notebook and mumbled. “Let me see… Don Lucas paid my travel expenses and you paid my meals… Now, three days work at one peso per day plus… bueno, that comes to ten pesos total.”

“You must be kidding, engineer! Anyone else would charge hundreds of pesos, maybe thousands! Think again.”

“I have already thought. What you owe me is ten pesos, exactly what I would have earned in Tepa. So if you’d like to pay me, I’ll be on my way.”

It seemed no human power could change Don Mariano’s mind and off he went with his modest payment.

Several weeks later, Don Manuel Escandón took a trip to Tepa and handed the man who could fix anything the deed to a house in Tepatitlán. This, Don Mariano could not refuse because he had been specifically told that it was a gift and as a persona educada — a properly brought up Mexican — he was bound to accept it. And to this day, the street where this house was located still bears the name of Don Mariano Esparza.

Leyendas de Tepatitlán by Francisco Gallegos Franco, has 126 pages, and was published in 2006 by the Consejo de Cronistas de Tepatitlán. It is for sale at the Tepatitlán museum, TEL: (378) 782-4277.

Published or Updated on: December 9, 2011 by John Pint © 2011
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