his is a true story that has never been published.
It concerns a miniature cannon that was built at Tarleton State College (now University) in 1954. Only two individuals are still living, who remember this significant event. They are J. Louis Evans, who was the manager of the College Store, and this writer, who was director of public information and assistant professor of journalism.
The story began unfolding in 1953; however, it did not reach a climax until the 1954 fall semester.
Some time in 1953, Evans and Emil Blanchard, professor of industrial arts with a specialty in metal work, formulated plans for long-time Professor Blanchard to build a miniature cannon. It would be a replica of the cannon located in front of the Administration Building (now the E.J. Howell Building). The cannon still occupies this place on campus.
Blanchard was an expert craftsman. One of his prized projects is the restored, antique fire truck, which presently sets in the foyer of the Barry B. Thompson Student Center.
Work on the miniature cannon began some time early in 1954 in the Industrial Arts Building. The plan as outlined by Evans and Blanchard was to have something unique at Tarleton’s football games to boost school spirit. By the end of the summer, the replica cannon had been completed. It was ready for test firing. The firing mechanism used a 10-gauge shotgun shell without pellets. This would produce a loud bang.
Evans was one of the few people to see the small cannon.
“It was built to perfection, and was an exact miniature of the campus cannon,” Evans said.
On an early September afternoon, following a Plowboys’ football practice at Memorial Stadium, Tarleton’s President, E.J. Howell, and H.A. (Sandy) Sanford, athletic director and head football coach, were walking across the football field conversing about the upcoming football season.
Suddenly a loud noise came from an adjoining field, where the present Fitness Center is situated.
President Howell, displaying a surprised expression, immediately asked Sanford, “What was that?”
Sanford replied, “Oh, they’re test firing the cannon.”
President Howell quickly inquired, “What cannon?”
Sanford responded, “Oh, the one Blanchard has built.”
The conversation concluded with President Howell asking, “Blanchard has built a cannon?”
It was then Sanford realized President Howell knew nothing about the construction of the cannon.
My part in the miniature cannon episode came about shortly after I arrived on campus on Sept. 1. Evans approached me one day about writing a story about the cannon. He wanted a story with a photo to be published in The Stephenville Daily Empire and the student newspaper, The J-TAC.
The gist of the story was to encourage Tarleton students to submit names for the small cannon. The student, submitting the winning entry, would be afforded a prize from the College Store. I also did not know the president had not been briefed about the miniature cannon.
The morning after President Howell and Coach Sanford’s conversation, Dean of Men Cecil Ballow, Sanford, Blanchard and I were in Evans’ College Store office.
President Howell suddenly appeared, asking Blanchard in a firm voice, “What’s this about you building a cannon?”
Blanchard replied, “Yes sir, I’ve built a cannon to promote school spirit.”
President Howell quickly shot back, “Don’t you know that could be a dangerous ordinance weapon?”
Evans stepped forward, “President Howell, I take responsibility for the cannon. It was my idea.”
It was at this point, Ballow, Sanford and I faded away. Walking back to my office, I began to reflect about the proposed cannon article. I had completed the story; however I had not shown it to Evans or President Howell. Copies of all news stories were sent to President Howell. It was then I thought, “If I had sent the president a copy of the cannon story, I’m sure he would have called me to come to his office.”
Then I silently said to myself, “Stuart, you were lucky this time.” I never told President Howell I had prepared the proposed cannon story. I destroyed it.
The miniature cannon episode does not end here, but the mystery begins about the cannon’s whereabouts. Blanchard was firmly told by President Howell to destroy the cannon.
Weeks later, Evans and I asked Blanchard if the cannon had been destroyed? Blanchard with his typical grin and a twinkle in his eyes, replied, “Gollies man, since it was a dangerous ordinance weapon, I carried it around in the trunk of my car for a while, and then I dumped it in the Bosque River.”
Evans and I doubted his explanation, and we continue to question it today.
Blanchard died in the late 1990s, never revealing the ultimate fate of the cannon.
As for the demise of the miniature cannon, Evans and I believe Blanchard used a welding torch to cut up his masterpiece.
Emil Blanchard is probably the only person, who knew the fate of the miniature cannon, and he’s not here to reveal what happened to the little cannon that was built to develop school spirit.
Dr. Stuart Chilton, a retired educator/journalist, lives in Stephenville. He was on the administrative staff at Tarleton State College for 12 years, 1954-1966.