A group at the Portales Senior Citizens Center enjoys a game of “Mexican Train” on a recent Thursday afternoon. Players are, clockwise from left, Estelle Jones, Billie Reagan, Earl Busby, Ralph Little and Judy Riddle. (Freedom Newspapers: Karl Terry)
By Karl Terry: Freedom Newspapers
A version of dominoes fans say has the ability to tighten bonds and raise blood pressure is quickly finding its niche at senior centers and family gatherings all over the Southwest.
“Mexican Train” has caught on quickly in places where “42” and dominoes have reigned.
The Portales Senior Citizens Center has regularly appointed hours for game players each week, and there is usually at least one large table of “Mexican Train” going.
Rupert and Dot Gamble said they frequently attend the Thursday noon potluck at the Portales center, followed by an afternoon of “Mexican Train.”
Rupert Gamble said he and his wife started playing the game 15 years ago when they lived in San Antonio. They have been playing for the last five years at the center.
“It’s a real simple game, and you can play it and talk and don’t have to get real serious about it,” he said. “We’ve played numerous other types of domino games like ‘Chicken Foot’ and ‘Geronimo,’ but we really like this.”
The origin of the game is foggy, but many sets of the double-12 tiles come with a set of rules copyrighted by Roy and Katie Parsons of Newport Coast, Calif. Katie Parsons said she and her husband started playing the game back in the early 1990s with members of their motor home club in Texas.
“We were in six campgrounds that year, and we asked for instructions each time we played,” Parsons said. “Everybody told us they didn’t have instructions; they just played by word of mouth. Of course the rules varied from one campground to another.”
The Parsons wrote down the rules and began passing them out among their motor home club members, and eventually a company that makes the double-12 dominoes asked them to use their rules to ship with their sets. Once the rules were copyrighted, the company offered to pay the Parsons 50 cents per set sold. They refused the money, asking it be sent to a Christian mission in India they were involved with in Texas.
“All we were doing was putting something in writing for the club,” Parsons said.
Cliff and Hazel Dunson of Clovis said they too started playing about 15 years ago when they lived in Fort Sumner. Don Sweet, curator of the museum in Fort Sumner, brought them back a set of the dominoes after a trip, and the Dunsons said they started playing frequently with three other couples who were retired railroad families like themselves.
“We just like to play games and be with friends,” Hazel Dunson said. “You have to think a little bit (to play) but not a whole lot.”
The Dunsons also play “42” and “Spinner,” but think “Mexican Train” is good because it’s so social. They play a little less frequently since they moved to Clovis nine years ago, but say it’s still a great thing to do when they get together with friends or family.
“We play with (our children and grandchildren) and they have different rules,” Dunson said. “I presume they just change the rules to suit themselves,” she said, acknowledging the rule differences that are common.
Edith Mulesky of Clovis plays regularly at the Friendship Senior Center in Clovis, where the game has caught on in just the last year or so. She said the aggravation associated with the game that includes the strategy of blocking other players from playing their tiles leads to friendly rivalry.
“We get aggravated,” Mulesky said. “It’s just a fun thing though. The more people that are playing, the better it is. It’s all in fun.”