Details of sails: Delgado’s creative remembering of life in PI

By Rene Torres
Special the NEWS/PRESS

Editor’s note: This Story is based on an interview conducted by Clint Schroeder of the Brownsville Herald in 1979. Excerpts were taken from the original article written by Schroeder.

The history of a town is the story of its past generations who leave behind facts and fiction.  One of those that left a legacy that is worth repeating is the story of a longtime resident of Port Isabel. 

Victor Delgado was one of those iconic Port Isabel old-timers that sailed the “deep blue sea,” in his youth.  After his sailing days were over, what he brought back in memories led to a life of creativity. 

By all accounts, Delgado was a genius with his hands, reproducing sailing ships that once plied the Gulf Coast.  He was guided not by images that he saw in books, but by his memories of those ships. 

“I just sit and make it work. I know the boats well; I was always on ‘em and runnin’ around with the skippers,” he told Brownsville Herald reporter Clint Schroeder in 1979.  

“Everything is handmade.  There is nothing from the factory,” he noted. He did expressed regret by saying, “I wish I had a place where I could put them where the people could see them.”  

The reproductions were crafted by a man who sailed on the real ships and remembered every detail. His models included working sails, decks and hulls made of individual planks, anchors, furnishings, and in some cases interior lights. 

His personal collection was not for sale, and he was not exactly anxious to part with his models. But he did sell one for $400, and another for $350.  “That’s what they offered me,” he explained.  One of those ended on display in an Austin museum.  

Her name was “Purking”, referring to his favorite models.  It was an English ship that transported the locomotive that ran between Brownsville and Port Isabel.  The train made the first trip from Port Isabel to Brownsville in 1872.

Victor’s work was not restricted to just reproducing ships.  He also constructed a model train, the Rio Grande Railroad Depot that once stood in Port Isabel, and the old Port Isabel School House, which he attended in 1892.  

Reflecting on the days of yesteryear, he spoke when the train would bring folks from Brownsville to PI for weekends of music, ball games, bay swimming, horseraces, cockfights and general revelry. 

Round trip fares between the cities ranged from 25 centavos for a ride on the flatcar, to one peso for the coach. 

Delgado was born in Port Isabel in 1885 and lived there most of his life, except for a period of 25 years when he served in the Lifesaving Service and Coast Guard.  The Lifesaving Service was incorporated into the Coast Guard in 1915.  

Perhaps his most memorable souvenirs were the memories of the days he spent sailing on the vessels—of which then, he reproduced, guided by his recollection.    

Even before he boarded a ship, and while his peers were playing with marbles and spinning tops, at seven years, Victor was already making model ships. 

“I’ve been building these damned things since I was incredibly young, and at 95 years old, I’m still making the son-of-a-guns; I sure like to build ‘em”, he said back in 1979.

Editor’s Note: Rene Torres is a retired assistant professor from the University of Texas at Brownsville, and Texas Southmost College. He has a long history in the Rio Grande Valley as an educator, sports historian, and humanitarian with a wealth of community service to his credit. His involvement in his community was acknowledged in 2008 when he was awarded the “Jefferson Award for Public Service” in Washington D.C. His work on numerous civic organizations made him a focal point in the community for those who desired to make a difference.

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