Ranger Exes Memorial - RHS Class of 1939

DONALD M. ERVIN, 65, was born November 15, 1922 and died March 20, 1988, and was in the Class of 1939. His four brothers who all graduated from Ranger High School were James L. (RHS-1939), Wilbur Dean (RHS- 1941), Buford Gail (RHS-1942) and Max A. (RHS-1944). TRAGEDY ON RANGER HILL (1941)- REMINDS SPECTATORS BEWARE The headlines read: "Roadside Blast Like Lightning" and "Many Burned at Ranger when Gas Tank Explodes." It was November 15, 1941. Don Ervin's 19th birthday. Don and his older brother J.L. were living and working in Dallas. They were going to Ranger to celebrate Don's birthday with their parents, Mr. and Mrs. O.R. Ervin, and three younger brothers. They would have had to ride a bus, but a friend of theirs, Robert Johnson, was also going to visit his parents in Ranger and he invited them to ride with him. The trip was uneventful from Dallas until they reached the original Ranger Hill (also called Thurber Hill and Scenic Point) some seven miles East of Ranger. About half way up the hill, a lumber truck had stalled because of a broken axle. The driver of a car going down the hill had stopped to see if he could help the truck driver. As they were talking, another truck started down the hill. It was loaded with people inside the truck and some in the back of it. They were on their way to East Texas to pick cotton. When the driver saw there was not enough room to go between the stalled truck and the stopped car, nor between the car and the hillside, he tried to stop, but his brakes failed. The truck just plowed between the car and the lumber truck, hitting both and causing several injuries. Robert, J.L. and Don were the first to come along after the accident. They stopped and put the injured in Robert's car, and he took them to a hospital in Ranger. J.L. and Don were to wait for Robert to come back to get them. The lumber truck driver had set out flares to warn other drivers coming by. A fire started in the lumber and it was assumed it was caused by a flare. As soon as the fire was reported and the fire trucks and ambulances started out with their sirens blaring, it seemed that all of Ranger and many travelers were on the way to see what had happened. Two loaded Greyhound buses also came along. Most everyone had gotten out of their cars and the two buses to get close enough to see what was happening. However, a few realized the danger and re- mained in their vehicles. It was estimated that close to 400 people had gathered around to watch the firemen attempting to put out the lumber fire. Don and J.L. were still waiting for Robert to come back to get them. J.L. just happened to notice a gasoline saddle tank underneath the truck. Knowing there would be an explosion if the fire reached it, he frantically searched for something to punch a hole in the tank. The only thing he could find was a screwdriver. He kept punching the tank until finally he made a hole in it. The gasoline started flowing from the tank and running safely down the hill. Unfortunately, there was another saddle tank on the opposite side of the truck that no one saw. Without warning, there was a huge explosion and burning gasoline sprayed over hundreds of people. J.L. was standing several feet from the edge of a cliff. The blast blew him off the cliff and down into a ravine. He was sprayed with gasoline in the explosion, but was not on fire at that time. As soon as he could, he hurried back up the hill to see if Don was alright. He looked around the burning crowd and soon saw Don running down the hill, ablaze all over. When J.L. caught up with Don, he laid him down and rolled him to put out the fire. In doing so, J.L.'s clothes caught fire and he was badly burned, especially his face, neck, chest and hands. Don was severely burned over 95% to 98% of his body. He was not expected to survive, but he did. He lacked two days being in the hospital two years. For several months he had to be turned in a sheet every few hours. His parents and my parents went day and night for a long time to help the nurses turn him. It was very difficult for them because it was so painful for Don. He was never able to walk again without crutches and was confined to a wheel chair much of the time. His legs were so badly burned they never did completely heal. He had a good attitude as long as he lived despite the almost unbearable pain he had to endure every day. After a few years, Don, J.L., and another brother, Dean took a course in jewelry and watch repair. Don opened a jewelry store in Ranger, and his mother worked in the store with him, and helped him in every way she could. His dad died August 15, 1973 and his mother died not long after that. Don then lived in Big Spring with a younger brother, Dean and his wife. Don died March 20, 1988. At the time of the accident and fire on Ranger Hill, J.L. was engaged to be married in less than a week. That had to be postponed because of his critical condition. His fiance came to Ranger and stayed until J.L. was out of danger. They did marry as soon as he was able. J.L. died two or three years before Don did. So many people were seriously burned and required hospitalization, there were not enough beds in West Texas Hospital in Ranger. Many had to lie on mat- tresses on the floor out in the hall. Some were taken to City-County Hospital, also in Ranger. At least four were taken to Payne and Lovett Hospital in Eastland. Mr. and Mrs. Bill Ramsey, of Carbon were two of those. They were both seriously burn- ed, but they survived and now live in Eastland. Seven died the night of the accident, and between 30 & 40 died later from their burns and complications. The tragic thing about all the pain, suffering and death is that most of it could have been avoided. If the sightseers had just stayed in their cars and on the two buses, there wouldn't have been so many burned. There were some who were wise enough to stay in their cars. The late R.M. Sneed of Eastland and a group of his friends watched from his car. Garland Branton, Eastland County Treasurer, had walked down closer to the action. He was one of those who were sprayed with gasoline and his clothes caught on fire. He had no hands, just stubby arms, so he could do nothing to help himself. R.M. Sneed saw him coming back up the hill ablaze all over. R.M. got out of his car and ran to help Mr. Branton. R.M. was able to get Mr. Branton's burning necktie off, but he was already burned too severely to survive. He died that night. By Mary Ervin Hearn Article was in the Ranger Times (November 16, 1997) Note (05/16/05): Lucy Branton-Shriver, granddaughter of Garland Branton who is mentioned in the article above as having so tragically died that day, wrote: "Actually Garland Branton was amazing with no arms, which were cut off in an accident at Branton's Gin. He could type on an old fashioned typewriter with his arms that were cut off at the elbows, just to mention a few things. Arms or no arms, my grandfather could not have saved himself."