Conducted by Logan Wilson
April 27, 2012
Mr. Wilson: This is Logan Wilson, it is 04/27/12, and I am in the home of Mr. Benny Lucas and his wife. The next voice you hear will be that of Mr. Lucas.
Mr. Benny Lucas: Now let me say first of all, I am 80 years old. I will be 81 in June. My memory is not too well today. I remember a little bit of it, but I don’t remember a whole lot of it.
Mr. Wilson: That’s alright. Sometimes I ask questions. For example, where were you born?
Mr. Lucas: I was born in, Nell, (his wife) where was I born? I think I was born here in Mexia wasn’t I?
Mr. Wilson: You went to school here in Mexia?
Mr. Lucas: Do what now?
Mrs. Lucas: I am the only living survivor of Forest Glade. I taught in Forest Glade.
Mr. Lucas: Nell and I both taught in Forest Glade. That’s 2 survivors in Forest Glade. I guess I was born in uhh….
Mrs. Lucas: I think you were born in Mexia, out in an oil patch out west of town.
Mr. Lucas: My father worked in the oil field later after that we moved to Chapel Hill just out of Kilgore. I went to school in Lynch Chapel for my first 3 grades then Chapel Hill. Then we moved to Chapel Hill. I was in school in first grade at Lynch Chapel. Then New London blew up.
Mr. Wilson: Is that right? You remember that?
Mr. Lucas: Yeah I remember it real well. I was in the first grade at Lynch Chapel and that’s about 6 miles from New London. And I came home, my father came after me, and then he went over there to help get bodies all out and around and left me in the car and he forgot about me. I sat in the car for about 2 hours I guess. Then he thought about me, came around and carried me home and he went back. The New London school was about 5 or 6 miles from the Lynch Chapel School where I was in school in first grade. Terrible thing.
Mr. Wilson: Sure was. They just had the anniversary of that.
Mr. Lucas: Uh huh. I went to school there at the Chapel until the middle of the third grade. Then I moved out here with my father to the old home place, and I grew up right here. And went to school at Shiloh through the 8th grade I guess it was. And then we went on into Mexia school. So I finished school in Mexia and graduated from Mexia. Then I went to college at Abilene Christian College and also Texas Tech. I got my teaching certificate and Masters Degree then I taught school in Seminole, Texas for 7 or 8 years. Then we moved back down to this country and I taught school in Forest Glade and in Mexia for the rest of the time. I raised a family here, all 4 kids, of course they’re all out and gone its kinda lonely this country around here. We moved back in ’63 and been here ever since. I taught school in Mexia at the Junior High School and then at the High School. I was assistant principal at the High School for 5 years and principal at the High School for 5 years. My first principal was at Junior High, then I went up to the High School for assistant principal, and then principal. And then finished up in Mexia and retired out here to the farm and been raising stuff out here on the farm. I have a stand out there under that big ol’ tree and now the grandkids come in and sell stuff during the summer and I do all the work and they get all the money.
Mr. Wilson: Haha that’s about right!
Mr. Lucas: That’s the way it goes. But we’ve had a good life here in Mexia. I’m 81, well I’ll be 81 next month. How old are you?
Mrs. Lucas: I don’t want to say.
Mr. Lucas: You don’t wanna broadcast? She doesn’t want to broadcast. And we’ve just had a real fine life here on the farm, raised our 4 kids, and they’re all doing real well. We have 9 grandkids. We’re kinda coasting down in here in our twilight years. We really enjoying life having our stand out here in the back for years, kids and grandkids come in the summer, get most of the income out of it and I have the work.
Mr. Wilson: You do the work and the grandkids get the money.
Mr. Lucas: Yeah.
Mr. Wilson: That’s okay, that’s about right. I noticed, ya know, last year Mr. Lucas, and you know as well as anybody here, that we had a really bad summer. Terrible, I guess one could say, and usually you have the grandkids out here selling tomatoes, and I have stopped here and bought some. And I noticed last year, did you plow those tomatoes up, did they just not do anything? I know ours didn’t.
Mr. Lucas: I don’t know what happened. We just didn’t make many. We had a few but not anything like we usually have.
Mr. Wilson: I don’t doubt that. We had a bad year too over in Forest Glade. Had it not been for the irrigation system, we would’ve lost everything. And you had a peach orchard too did you not?
Mr. Lucas: Yeah, we had just 5 different peach orchards. We started doing peaches way back in early summer. A peach tree can produce til the time it dies, if you’re real lucky, it can go about 15 or 16 years old. A peach is not made in this country. I guess that’s the reason they’re short lived. By that house up yonder was my first peach orchard. The second peach orchard was on this slope right out here. The third peach orchard was across the creek over there. The fourth peach orchard was down by the pond down there. You go down here to pond and it’s got a big creek right next to it and it’s a pretty nice little road across it. But with all the big rains we had it’s about waist deep going across that road. Ran across the road down to the highway.
Mrs. Lucas: That creek goes all the way up here down to Edwin Plummer’s place.
Mr. Lucas: Yeah, but we’ve had some good years here. I have really enjoyed it. No regrets.
Mr. Wilson: That’s good. You know, not many people know anything about that disaster at new London other than the fact that your dad helped in the immediate aftermath with the bodies and everything, do you remember anything else about it?
Mr. Lucas: Well, the way that came about, was that oil field over there has a lot of gas, and they had that gas piped in there with nothing in it. No odor in the building at all. And the whole town was on it, and most of it, as I understand, was just tied into lines and wasn’t even paying for it. The school was paying for it. And there wasn’t any odor or anything in it and somehow there was a leak, but you couldn’t smell it. There was a leak in the school building there and it sparked somewhere and the whole thing blew up.
Mr. Wilson: That was a pretty new building too wasn’t it?
Mr. Lucas: Yes sir. And there was several hundred kids killed.
Mr. Wilson: Yeah, 260 something.
Mr. Lucas: I remember I was in the first grade I think it was, at Lynch Chapel and my dad had come and got me to bring me home, and he heard about what had happened there, so he went by there. And I have a memory remembering, he pulled right up next to it, a big burning building and then he went around to help get the bodies out. He had forgot about me, and I sat there for I don’t know how long, it seemed like several hours and he happened to think about me being in the car and he came back and carried me home, then turned around and he went back. And I remember that very vividly. The ambulances were about a straight stream from where we lived, only about 6 miles. But that sticks in my memory very vivid. I sat in the car I don’t know how long. It seems to me like it was several hours, but it might not have been that long.
Mr. Wilson: It is my understanding that that’s when the Texas Railroad Commission required from that point on for all gas to be odorized. So people would know.
Mr. Lucas: That was the beginning of it.
Mr. Wilson: Boy that was a terrible thing wasn’t it?
Mr. Lucas: Yeah. They claimed people all over town had used that gas and not even paying for it. They just tie it on to the lines and the gas companies didn’t pay any attention to it but after that, they put that odorizer on it.
Mr. Wilson: You know, it’s something we take that for granted now and the very idea of having an explosive gas not odorized. That was a rookie mistake wasn’t it?
Mr. Lucas: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
Mr. Wilson: That was a bad mistake. It took something like that to make people think we ought to put something in there where you can smell it. Bad. Really bad.
Mr. Lucas: You know, I taught school out at Forest Glade when we moved back here and then went on into Mexia. I taught school for a couple years. I taught school at Colorado right after we married. Non-accredited, 12 grades. Now the preaching was real good in that church out in Colorado and I hadn’t even thought about teaching school. But then I as working for some outfit up there in the summertime, preaching for a little congregation out in Colorado. And it was just a small group there and then the men and I met with them in the later part of the summer and graduated in June. And I went up there and started preaching and working on the side there, then Nell and I married in September and went back up there. So I got the guys together there at the church and I told them, I said, now you guys are gonna have to find me a job. I’ve been working out there this summer building houses, you’re gonna have to find me a job. I’m gonna have to go back to Texas and find me some work there. And I never will forget what one old man there said to me just before he died. He said have you ever thought about teaching school? I said, no I never have given it any thought at all, but I’d be willing to. Well over there in Haskell about 15-20 miles over here. It was a 5 people school and one teacher quit and they were trying to hire a teacher, so I just go over there. Well, a 2-story school house was sitting just off the road there about 100 yards. I went up to the school house and there was about 3 or 4 guys sitting on the front porch there and I got out and went up there and got acquainted with them and they were the school board members, and one teacher had quit right there just before school started. And they were meeting there to hire other people. I tell you what, I visited with them for a little bit and they did hire me right there. I didn’t even have a teaching certificate, nothing.
Mr. Wilson: Yeah but the timing was perfect.
Mr. Lucas: Yeah, the timing was perfect. So they hired me to teach school there, so I went to school at night, taking extra courses then and in the summer. Nell and I had married in September of that year. We went back up there and I was teaching school, I was there for 2 years, and I decided to go back to college and do everything right and that’s when I went to Abilene Christian College.
Mr. Wilson: But you had already been teaching school and did that.
Mr. Lucas: Yeah, I had taught 2 years.
Mrs. Lucas: He taught 7th, 8th, and 9th grade, all subjects.
Mr. Lucas: They were all in the same room. There was about 25 kids and they were all in the same room, 7th, 8th, and 9th.
Mr. Wilson: Were you any better for having earned a certificate or were you just legal?
Mr. Lucas: I don’t know. But I came on back then and took the courses to get my teaching certificate. Then I taught school. From there, we went out to Seminole, Texas. Out there on the border line. Nell’s folks lived in Seminole and I taught school in Seminole for 7 years. Then moved down here and started teaching out at Forest Glade for 2 or 3 years. And then they moved it all in to Mexia, and I taught at Mexia for a number of years and was assistant principal at the High School for 5 years and principal for 5 years. I taught at the Junior High for 5 years and went to the High School and was there for about 10 or 12 years.
Mr. Wilson: Now looking back on it, your career as a school teacher, would you do it again?
Mr. Lucas: I probably would. I don’t know if I could really enjoy it the way it is now. It’s not the way it was then. Because when I was assistant principal of the High School I was in charge of all the discipline, all of it. And the band director put out a calendar every year in order to raise money, and for 25 cents, you could put your birthday on it or anniversary and we got a new band director, and he didn’t realize that you had to screen that thing before you sent it to get it run off, and he didn’t know to do that. And he printed several hundreds of them and by the time I got hold of it, I told him for 25 cents they can put their birthday on them. He didn’t screen it out, somebody put in a very bad insult to the black students. They put “nigger” down there and that calendar came out and was passed out to everybody that bought one and all of a sudden everyone saw that and the black students walked out outside, a day or 2 after that they all walked out. In the Conduct Code, we had it plainly stated for skipping school, you could be penalized and put out for 3 more days.
Mr. Wilson: I think I would have called a meeting of the people that left and their parents, and sat down and talked about how it was the wrong thing to do and encourage them to come back to class. That’s what I would have done, had a meeting. Eye-ball to eye-ball, face to face, talk it out.
Mr. Lucas: We had it written in the Conduct Code that you would be suspended 3 days for any activity that was out of order. So they all got suspended for 3 days.
Mr. Wilson: Did yall ever find out who did it?
Mr. Lucas: I don’t guess we really ever did find out who did it. The band director that had turned it in didn’t look at it. It was never screened, he didn’t look at.
Mr. Wilson: Did he screen it pretty well the next year?
Mr. Lucas: Oh yeah. He did that. And after they took the 3 day suspension and came back in, I had conferences with all their parents and a lot of outsiders came in to hear it and it was no problem whatsoever. I was the assistant principal for 5 years and then was principal for 6 or 7 years. I had charge of all the discipline, the principal didn’t touch anything. If I recall, one kid skipped school and showed up the next day and I took him out there to see his daddy to tell him what had happened. And his daddy was walking around out there and had a Volkswagen motor in his hand walking around there, and I told him what happened to the boy and he sat one of them motors down, and he took his fist and he hit that kid up-side the head, it didn’t knock him out, but it knocked him white.
Mr. Wilson: Did that fix the truancy thing?
Mr. Lucas: Oh yeah, there wasn’t any more truancy for that kid. He picked up.
Mr. Wilson: He came back to school huh?
Mr. Lucas: In that day in time, 3 day suspension solved any problem we had with any student.
Mr. Wilson: Can’t do that now!
Mr. Lucas: Nope. That’s a thing of the past.
Mr. Wilson: Well I sure appreciate your time. And you’ve had some great experiences. And I tell you what, at the conclusion of these interviews, I always ask the same question, back to the beginning, the first day. And believe it or not, I get pretty much the same answer, different words, but the same answer. Now it’s your turn. Mr. Lucas, if you were to give one piece of advice to the young people today, what would it be?
Mr. Lucas: One piece of advice, well I would probably tell them to set their mind on the goal of what they plan to do in life and get after it! And don’t be deterred by anything else along the way.
Mr. Wilson: That sounds like good advice. Get an education, set yourself some goals, and get after it. Your words were “Get after it!” right?
Mr. Lucas: Yeah.
Mr. Wilson: Thank you sir. We sure appreciate your time!
Mr. Lucas: We appreciate you coming out!
Mr. Wilson: Thank you very much.