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Brownfield Goodpasture Explosion 1960 Revisited

For many people in Brownfield today, the name Goodpasture doesn’t even register. For most “old-timers” around however, Goodpasture Grain Elevator stands strong in our memories. The Goodpasture Grain Elevator, located at 903 West Broadway, has since been purchased by Attebury Grain but the towering elevators still stand. The letters are very faintly visible on the front to remind us of what once was. The picture at left, shows the elevator before the explosion. We, at TownTalk, felt the time was right to revisit that terrible day in July, 52 years ago when things went frighteningly wrong at the close of a normal work-day. We relied primarily on witness accounts and everyone’s memories may form a different picture, but this story is written as told by those with whom we talked.  This story will be told in 3 parts, so be sure to check back for, as Paul Harvey would say, “The rest of the story . . .”

On July 19, 1960, life for many in Brownfield changed dramatically. Just after 5:00pm on that fateful Tuesday, as many were getting off work and heading home to their loved ones, the Goodpasture Grain Elevator experienced a huge explosion. People reported hearing a loud boom and then racing to their windows to see what had happened. People in the local pool hall reported dropping their cues and heading immediately to the street to see what had happened. At Sonny’s, across the street, windows were blown out and stock began to fall from the shelves. One thing was for sure, no one expected what they actually saw.  Many felt tremors as they heard the blast. Some thought earthquake. Some thought explosion. Some even thought end of the world! But, everyone seemed to just sense that lives were being changed in that instant. Most felt that something had definitely exploded, but could not imagine the devastation they would discover as they found where the explosion actually was. As we approach the 52nd anniversary of the explosion, it seemed fitting to revisit that terrible time in Brownfield’s history.

One man who shared his experience on that horrible evening was Max Proffitt. Max had  the dubious honor of holding a bullhorn to try to calm a man trapped in the very top of the elevator. What follows is in his words:

“Just after 5PM, I was driving out of the gate of Western Cotton Oil Company where I was employed as a cashier and I saw a big puff of smoke shoot up into the sky. I could tell it came from Goodpasture’s, so I drove directly there. I was in the street in front of the elevator when Maron Norman, a deputy sheriff, pulled up and asked me to use his PA system in his car. There was a man (Philip Reeves) hanging out of the window of the header house. There was a lot of smoke coming out of the window and I used the PA to encourage the man that there was help coming. I don’t know who called Reese Air Force Base, (Weldon Callaway of Brownfield News is credited with making the call) but I told the man to keep looking north for a helicopter coming to rescue him. I don’t remember how long it took for the copter to get there. The copter lowered a rope and tried to swing it into him, but the copter’s propeller hit the radio tower on top of the header house and it crash landed behind the elevator with no injuries. Chick Clark, a crop duster, then flew over the header house trying to drop a rope to the man in the window. He made several passes and the last pass he dropped the rope and hit the antenna, knocking it down, which enabled the next helicopter to get closer.

“I was telling the man in the window there is another helicopter on its way and when it arrived, it landed and asked for a volunteer to go up and swing into the window to pull the man to safety. Donny Ethington volunteered for this task.”

Stay tuned for the continuation of this dramatic rescue!


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