An interview with Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez
Alamo, Tex. March 14, 1941. The worst train-truck crash in the history of the United States occurred in the City of Alamo, Texas on March 14, 1940. Of the 42 people on the truck, 25 died and the rest were severely injured. Espirion Vela, 21 at the time, walked away from crash with only minor injuries. One family lost 5 of its members. Many were teenagers.
The late 1930s model truck was the pride of Don Jose Ramon of Weslaco, accordng to surving son, Joe Ramon of Edinburg. The truck and the Missouri Pacific train collided at the railroad intersection at Tower Road on that early Thursday morning was driven by, a farm crew leader out of Weslaco. It was overcast. During the early morning Jose Ramon had collected his crew for the day and loaded them up into the tarpulin-covered truck bed. Four of the men, including Ramon’s two oldest sons, Leonel Ramon and Raul Ramon and were crammed in with him in the cab. Originally from Starr County, Don Ramon’s crew included some Starr County residents.
As was typical of the crew leader’s relationship with the packing sheds, Ramon was on the way to receive his day’s instructions at one of the packing/shipping sheds in Alamo. Based on current USDA crop reports, it is likely that Ramon’s crew was in for a day of vegetable (including onion) harvesting. Citrus orchards typically get fertilized and irrigated during March. In the Rio Grande Valley, all of the shipping and packing sheds were lined up along the railroad tracks between Raymondville (Cameron County) and Mission (Starr County). It would have been common for truck loads of farm workers to line up for their daily picking instructions right next to the railroad tracks.
All those in the cab would die. Eight of the victims who died were female. Various families lost mulitple family members, including husbands, wives, and children. Ramon and two of his older boys would die with him. His surviving family included his pregnant wife and 5 sons and 3 daughters. The newborn would be named Leonel Raul Ramon in memory of his two deceased brothers. The Ramon successors have model citizens and led exemplary lives, including as public servants. Ray Ramon, one of the youngest children who survived his father would attend Georgetown and serves as Cameron County’s first Mexican American Judge. Current county Judge and former McAllen mayor, Richard Cortez recently retired from his practice as a certified public accountant. Judge Cortez was born in 1943 as the single child of Felipe Albino Cortez, and Ramon’s eldest daugher, Natalia Ramon Cortez. The couple would take in Jose Ramon’s children and help raise them. Current Hidalgo County district Judge Israel Ramon is Don Jose’s grandson. The Ramon successors include successful independent businessmen and women and lawyers.