SAN BENITO — When his friend called for help, Leo Hernandez planned to fix one of the area’s worst roads.

On Railroad Avenue, the ruts were so deep an ambulance couldn’t get through the dirt road to help an elderly woman, Hernandez said.

“I had a lot of people come up to me and say the road is really, really bad,” said Hernandez, who runs a backhoe service out of his gravel yard.

For 30 years, residents living in about 12 homes have asked city officials for help, but Union Pacific Railroad owns the 344-foot stretch, so city crews can’t maintain the roadway.

Under heavy rains, the road turns into a muddy, rutted trail, cutting neighbors off from public services.

Residents say the police and fire departments even have trouble responding to calls there.

Still, Dolores Cuellar’s family pays the city $476.24 a year in property taxes because their home stands within city limits.

“Our hopes were real low,” resident Enrique Reyes, a newspaper carrier, said. “We weren’t getting anywhere with the city.”

So seven families each gave Hernandez $100 to pay for his fuel.

“I thought I’d put out a helping hand,” Hernandez said. “I had the materials. I decided to be a Good Samaritan.”

Like other residents, Cuellar has torn up her pickup trucks after driving up and down the road for years.

“It feels really exciting,” Cuellar, an office manager, said after Hernandez began fixing the road. “This gentleman is taking it all in his hands. At least someone’s coming out.”

Big, costly job

From his Harlingen gravel yard, Hernandez hauls truck loads of caliche, cement and asphalt to help fill the ruts and level the road.

Then he uses his backhoe to spread the mix.

“I buy material and sometimes you get it cheap,” he said.

Taking time away from his business, Hernandez is working long days.

“It’s a lot of hours. There were a couple of days I was there a full day,” he said. “When I saw the problem I knew it was going to take a lot of material — but I didn’t think it would take this much time.”

First, he laid down a cement-base coat across the road.

Then, he spread a caliche mix.

By Friday, he was spreading an asphalt mix.

“It’s 100-percent better — compared to what it was,” Hernandez said. “The road was real bad. You couldn’t drive through this thing.”

Hernandez estimates he’s hauled and spread about 40 loads of material.

“If I was to sell everything I put there, just in materials, not labor, it would about $7,500 to $9,000,” he said.

Rough road takes its toll

But hard work on the rugged road has taken its toll on his backhoe.

Now, he’s got to fix the backhoe’s injectors — and its hydraulic system is leaking oil.

“See how it’s leaking oil because of all the bouncing around going up and down the road,” Hernandez said Friday as he pointed to his backhoe. “I tore up my tractor doing a good deed. I use this tractor all the time. This is what I live off.”

Even with his broken backhoe, he’s planning to work until Tuesday or Wednesday to finish the job.

“I still got one coat of millings to put down,” he said.

Call for donations

Now, Hernandez is asking for help.

The backhoe, he said, will cost $3,000 to $4,000 to fix.

“I put all the money I had into this road,” he said. “I hope I’m not left out in the cold.”