The bonfire is the best example of Aggie Spirit and cooperation we have. It’s a symbol of hard work and fun.Hal Dungan ’49
The 1947-48 freshman handbook, The Cadence, declares that “Bonfire symbolizes two things: a burning desire to beat the team from t.u., and an undying flame of love that every Aggie carries in his heart for his school.” These sentiments have been the root of Good Bull stories like this one for decades.
Bonfire in the 1940s looked very different than the Bonfire we know today, but it carried the same spirit. In the early 1940s, the pile-of-wood construction was replaced by a more structured teepee shape, and the first centerpole was used in 1945. It burned on Simpson Drill Field on a campus that was still all male, all military. The Houston Chronicle recorded the 1948 Bonfire to be around 40-feet high. Not only was this a new record height, this year also saw some unique displays of that undying love.
At this time, t.u. also built and burnt their own bonfire. The rivalry between the two schools ran deep and fierce, resulting in sabotages to each other’s fires every few years. Bonfire ‘48 was, however, an extraordinary display of how hot this rivalry could burn.
November 24, 1948, the day before Thanksgiving and the long-awaited football game down in Austin against the Longfaced Longhorns. Preparations for the Aggie’s Bonfire were being finalized, but the teasips weren’t sitting idly down in those 40 acres. Armed with railroad flairs and homemade gasoline bombs, two t.u. students began their early morning clandestine mission to prematurely light their rivals’ bonfire in a quest filled with school spirit, danger, and arson.
The teasips flew from Austin to College Station in their Taylorcraft plane. As they approached the Drill Field, the pilot made five passes over Stack, “sweating it out” as the cadets on guard duty below threw rocks at the plane. Sources differ on how many bombs were dropped and the extent of any fires that were lit. The bombardier told the t.u. Dean of Men Jack Holland that one gasoline bomb worked. A&M officials called them both “duds”. Students noted the numerous fires burning. Bishop Clements, the Assistant Director of Information at A&MC, was quoted as saying “Our boys put out the fires without any trouble.”
Regardless, the attempt to light Stack early with a few gallons of gasoline was futile since it took hundreds of gallons to officially set it ablaze later that night.
The two ‘sips were heading home, already unsuccessful, when the plane ran out of fuel and they had to make an emergency landing. The two quickly refueled using a leftover bomb (surprisingly clever thinking for two “duds” from Austin), and made it safely back home. Waiting for them, however, was Dean Holland. One of the assailants told the Dean that they had “just wanted to fire up a little school spirit by touching off the bonfire,” according to the Houston Chronicle. The pilot, a combat veteran, was temporarily suspended. The passenger was not because, as the Waco Herald quoted Holland saying, “He was just a passenger. He didn’t drop any bombs.”
The suspension did not last very long. The Daily Texan reported on December 1, 1948 that the student had been reinstated the previous day, about a week after the attack. “It was just a college prank, but it showed poor judgment,” said Dean Holland, after stating the student had complied with disciplinary actions.
Bonfire ‘48 burned successfully–and on time–in the evening on November 24, and one account of the story says that the wood from that teasipper’s plane might have even made it onto the Bonfire. The next day the Aggies tied the game against t.u.
The best part of this Good Bull story is that even if those two t-sips – or any of the others that came before or after – had succeeded, they still would have failed. Because as Hal Dungan alluded to and is still true today, Bonfire is really about building Bonfire. We only burn it to make room for another one.
Sources: The Dallas Herald, Waco Herald, Bryan Eagle, Daily Texan, and the Houston Chronicle found in Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Texas A&M University