1972 grain elevator fire

1972 grain elevator fire


El Campo residents didn’t know what the new year would bring a half century ago, but figured they’d better prepare for whatever it might bring.

“Mock Disaster On Jan. 25, Civil Defense Will Activate,” read the top story in the Jan. 5, 1972 El Campo Leader-News.

“The city of El Campo will be in peril Jan. 25 from a tornado or other possible natural catastrophe during a three-hour Civil Defense exercise,” the story read.

That same front page reports the death of Ed Vengler of El Campo, a Texaco employee, killed when gas lines ruptured at the Withers compressor station on the Pierce Ranch.

Having just returned to work after an illness, the man had been in the office when the lines exploded. Firefighters battled the fire for more than three hours in freezing temperatures.

The deadly blaze was reportedly the second Texaco fire of the week, the other also taking place on the Pierce Ranch New Year’s morning.

Lightning was to blame for that first fire, sparking a tank.

The new year brought life too with the city asked to salute Audion Troy Huenak, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Joe L. Hubenak of Louise. Audion was the official Baby New Year of 1972, arriving at 11:20 a.m. New Year’s morning.

The El Campo Nightingale Hospital staff were looking forward to another busy year in the delivery rooms. In 1971, 334 babies were born, amazingly, evenly divided between boys and girls.

The first baby born to an El Campo couple was reportedly Kelly Alaine Watson, daughter of Michael and Rita Watson, born at Caney Valley Hospital at 12:48 a.m. on Jan. 1.

El Campo’s three banks had a collective $4 million more in deposits between 1970 and 1971, the paper reported.

Those serving on the grand jury were named on the front page including Irvin Foytik, who would later become the city’s judge.

The county’s first highway fatality took place at 8 p.m. on New Year’s day when a Fort Worth man walking along U.S. 59 stepped out in front of a vehicle and was killed.

Slab bacon was 69 cents a pound at El Campo Packing and sirloin steak $1.10.

The A&P had bacon for 59 cents a pound, pork chops for 68 cents and red grapefruit 10 for $1. A six-pack of Falstaff beer was 95 cents.

Young’s had Maxwell House Coffee for 79 cents, whole chickens for 29 cents a pound, pork steaks for 65 cents a five-pound bag of flour for 55 cents and a six-pack of Pearl beer for 99 cents.

The Ricebird girls basketball team, apparently not yet known as the Ladybirds, opened district play with a 41-37 win over Victoria High, the defending state champions. Debbie Web was the top scorer followed by Madidlyn Merta and Rhonda Motal.

The 18-3 Ricebirds were getting ready to face Victoria for the district opener.

A 1966 Olds F-85 was for sale in the classified section for $795.

Trochta Realtor was advertising a brick two-story, three bedroom, two bath home with “huge paneled den” and air-conditioning on a one-acre lot for $27,800.

A half-block from the high school a “roomy” three-bredroom was for sale for $13,500.

At 505.5 College a four-room furnished garage apartment was renting for $50 per month.

The Rice Drive-In Theatre was showing John Wayne and Kirk Douglas in “The War Wagon” while the Normana had “Godzilla’s Revenge” and Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in “Island of the Burning Damned.”

The midnight shows there were “The Wild Rebels” and “The Velvet Vampire” – whatever that was.

Tires were being advertised between $12 and $20 each depending on size and you could get a lube and oil change for $3.66 at Good Year.

Rose Ann Clarke became the wife of Noble Holt Douglass, Patricia Ann Kainer wed Curtis Rice Duncan and Deborah Lee Pickens married Bruce C. Findley.

In the News of Danevang: “Mr. and Mrs. Curtis Jensen were hosts to a birthday party honoring son Carl Henry, on his third birthday. Seventeen children and their mothers were guests from 9:30 to 11:30 on Dec. 26 and the children played outdoors on the swings and playground equipments. A chocolate birthday cake iced in white, decorated with cowboys and blue candles with ‘Happy Birthday Carl Henry’ in blue highlighted the refreshment table. Soda water, cake and ice cream was served. The guests received party hats, balloons and snappers as favors.”

The family later had a barbecue for family.

In Louise, parents Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert Wendel got a visit from Pvt. 2 Gary Wendel after basic training.

The top story in the next edition, Jan. 12, 1972, was Mayor Harlan Nelson appointing a committee to start planning a new emergency operations center with federal funds expected to cover most of the cost.

In addition to firefighting and police equipment, emergency responders had a “200-bed mobile hospital now stored in the city barn.”

Public school financing woes were covered on the front page with concerns over the “loss of local control.”

A debate over whether city sirens would be eliminated also hit the front page. At the time, the emergency siren blew a single blast at 7 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. – had been for more than 40 years. Multiple sirens blew when there was an emergency.

The grand jury indicted four people on murder charges during a Jan. 3 session. No information was provided on who D.R. Berry, Manuel Flores, Clarence Jackson and James Albert Bedford stood accused of killing.

The paper also reported “Traffic Scene Is Quiet; Four Accidents Occur.” Apparently, that was a very low number of wrecks for a week-long period.

Maybe it was a good thing they started out the year planning for problems.

– Up next: The Leader-News looks back at 1997.

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