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
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
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
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."