The Burning Desire of Texas A&M

November 26, 2014 - fall Denim

JAMES FUQUA, TEXAS AM category of 1983, lives and works during a finish of a 12-mile driveway. The Lazy U ranch, median between Amarillo and Wichita Falls in a core of a Texas Panhandle, has been in his family given 1894. His great-grandfather, J.J. Summers, helped colonize a Texas-to-Kansas cattle drives that “Lonesome Dove” was formed on. Not one yet dual of Fuqua’s ancestors died during a Alamo. In downtown Dallas and Houston, there are streets named Fuqua. And rounding out his confirmed Texasness is a fact that Fuqua was a Senior Redpot in 1982, when Bonfire had arguably reached a zenith.

“The Redpots were intensely tough on any other behind then. Nowadays, they’d substantially credit us of attack and battery.”

– James Fuqua

“The Redpots were famous to be a small severe behind then,” Fuqua tells me one day from his ranch. “We were intensely tough on any other. I’m roughly fearful to get into it too much. Nowadays they’d substantially credit us of attack and battery.” The Corps of Cadets has, given a beginning, been a essence of AM; troops use is to a propagandize what Catholicism is to Notre Dame. And so in Fuqua’s day, and for roughly all of Bonfire’s story on campus, an ethos of troops ruggedness prevailed. His Redpot arising concerned ax-handle whuppings. (Imagine a beat in a batting enclosure and immature Fuqua’s backside hung out over a plate.) It also concerned something called Nezzie’s Night. Nezzie’s was a rankest dive bar in all of Brazos County. It captivated a certain throng — a redneck war-vet cowhand ex-con biker form crowd. Nezzie’s was where a Redpots any open hold a tip assembly to announce their new initiates. It being secret, usually other Redpots were authorised in a room for a meeting. Nezzie’s had usually one room. As a new initiate, “My pursuit was to transparent that bar so we could have a meeting,” Fuqua says. “Never been in a bar quarrel until that night.”

These tests of toughness were meant to steel new Redpots for a pursuit ahead. Bonfire deteriorate was strenuous on both a physique and a mind. So arduous, Fuqua says, “The football coaches any now and afterwards would send us their tough cases.” One approach or another, neophyte Redpots schooled a techniques of Bonfire government from their “dada.” Like a kind of technical folklore, they were upheld down era to era — no blueprint, zero engineered. “An ax hoop was not a apparatus of hazement, it was a apparatus of instruction,” says Griff Lasley, Redpot Headstack of 1973. “If we screwed up, we got educated on how to tie that record right. And by God you’d get it right subsequent time. Was there a devise created down? No. The devise was etched in my mind — and my backside.” Bonfire was, in that way, a ne and ultra of an Aggie judgment that lies tighten to a school’s soul: that of a “other education,” a kind of unsentimental training that comes from doing, not studying. At some indicate in Bonfire’s expansion from a rabble raise during a commencement of a 20th century to a grievous ziggurat, a routine of building Bonfire usurped a blazing of it. There was something deeply appealing about a perfect brazen pointlessness of a endeavor. As one oft-quoted Bonfire slogan, quoted to me by Fuqua, goes: “Ask any Redpot: We burnt it down to get it a ruin out of a approach for subsequent year.”

Alia Eckardt, sophomore Lechner organisation chief, stands during a fringe of Stack site before construction commences. Fredrik Broden

AT THE BONFIRE CUT site in 2014, there are no ax-handle beatings, no hard-case football players, no Redpots clearing a bikers out of Nezzie’s. There is, instead, Alia Eckardt, sophomore respectful engineering vital and one of a chiefs of a Lechner dorm crew, who are now in a routine of environment a throng in a case of a 30-foot post oak. The throng expands as a crewmembers take turns whaling during a tree. Wood chips sleet down, amid a carol of scurrilous catcalls. When a tree during final teeters — a fall-paths delicately privileged of humans — a organisation yells “Headache!” and it crashes down amid a joyous clamor.

Lechner is one of AM’s dual honors dorms, and a discerning consult of this Lechner throng reveals a following majors: chemical engineering, pre-medicine, mechanism science, entomology, biochemistry-genetics (a double major), chief engineering. One scrawny-armed fish looks to be about 13. It is most unavoidable that Lechner’s crewmembers are famous during Bonfire as Lechnerds. On one side of Eckardt’s pot are a difference “NERD CHIEF,” on a other “BOTTOM POT.” The other organisation chiefs are dubbed Strange Pot and Charm Pot. Bottom? Strange? Charm? “Those are 3 forms of quarks,” one child explains. Lechnerds.

Nearly 6 feet high and trim as a tennis pro, Eckardt wears denim overalls. A fawn-colored plat falls from underneath her pot and over one shoulder. When she wields an ax, it is with power. In coming and dexterity, there is zero nerdy about Alia Eckardt. Her vital is respectful engineering. Born and lifted in Dallas to relatives who are not Aggies, she incited down Cornell to attend AM. At initial she was uncertain she’d finished a right decision. “I can simply say, if we had not found Bonfire in my initial semester, we would not be scarcely as happy during this university as we am now,” she says. “Especially for a fish, a nerdy ones, a ones who aren’t indispensably going to go out and accommodate people, Bonfire gives them a community.”

Eckardt and several other Lechnerds are wearing what seem to be special Lechner-only T-shirts. On a behind is an architectural blueprint, finish with diagrams, measurements, dimensions, degrees of angle. It’s an accurate depiction of a contemporary structure, and as it happens, a aged Lechner crews before 1999 had a identical T-shirt. When investigators went looking for any request during all with a blueprint of a wedding-cake tower, anything that could assistance them diagnose intensity pattern flaws, a Lechner T-shirt was all they found.

OF THE MANY vicious ironies of a 1999 tragedy, maybe a cruelest was that Bonfire’s tumble occurred during a propagandize famous for a eminence of a engineering programs. “It never occurred to me that a whole construction of it and a slip of it was not being finished by engineers, with Texas AM being an engineering school,” says Janice Kerlee, a mom of Tim Kerlee Jr., who died from a collapse.

Ray Bowen, AM category of 1958, who worked on Bonfire as a cadet — any cadet during AM worked on Bonfire in those days — was university boss from 1994 to 2002. Bowen himself is a automatic operative and a now-retired highbrow of a discipline. The eccentric elect set adult to examine a tumble found an roughly sum miss of consultant slip of Bonfire. It seems blindingly apparent now, yet withdrawal a structure’s growth wholly to students — that had turn a raison d’etre, a Aggies’ other preparation — constructed an ever-evolving tradition that authorised bad practices to climb in. This, maybe some-more than anything else, led to Bonfire’s demise. “A receptive authority could say: ‘Well, we were unequivocally dumb. You should have intervened,'” Bowen says. “And that competence good be true.”

It’s a covenant to a energy of a Bonfire tradition that after a elect expelled a news in May 2000, AM spent dual years deliberation from any angle how Bonfire competence be brought behind to campus. The accord among administrators and students, Bowen says, was that Bonfire ought to be brought back. He set adult a charge force that, after consulting respectful and constructional engineers, suggested a intensity redesign as good as estimable organizational changes: Although students would still “build” Bonfire, they’d be surrounded by veteran construction experts during all times. Debate ensued: If these changes were made, could Bonfire even be deliberate a tyro plan any longer? But afterwards a contention came to a halt. When AM labelled shame insurance, a estimates that came behind exceeded $2 million a year. In 2002, Bowen announced during a news contention that Bonfire was now an impossibility. “In a hearts we wanted to do it,” Bowen says. “But a smarts wouldn’t let us.”

Crewmembers tamp down earth, pitch an ax and take batch of a large felled oak. Fredrik Broden

TEXAS AM IS not a campus famous for a tyro protests. But after Bowen finished his Bonfire-nullification matter in Feb 2002, several hundred people massed in front of a president’s mansion. It was a respectful crowd. They were careful, for instance, to stay off a lawn. And when Bowen came outside, a respectful contention ensued. They called him “sir,” and afterwards dispersed. Many of them, though, gravitated subsequent to a dorm called Walton Hall. Dion McInnis was already a obvious campus figure — he’d even run for Yell Leader in 2001 — and he, too, was amped to restart a Bonfire tradition. He addressed a throng in front of Walton. “Bonfire is something we have to take back,” he remembers revelation them.

McInnis currently lives with his mother and dual immature daughters in an unit nearby a categorical frame of College Station nightlife, such as it is. From his front door, it’s about a one-minute travel to a Dixie Chicken, that has served given a investiture in 1974 as Bonfire’s unaccepted clubhouse. The extraneous resembles a honky-tonk as dreamed adult by a Disney people who designed Frontierland. On a inside, it’s pristine Texas, with outlaw nation on an gigantic loop and Lone Star longnecks shifting down a bars, not to discuss photos of aged Bonfires all over a walls. When we accommodate McInnis there, he wears a Dixie Chicken round tip and a brave he always grows for a generation of Bonfire season. In further to being a Student Bonfire house member, he’s turn a print documentarian, sharpened cinema any Bonfire workday from Sep by November, to a discomfit of his wife, whom he calls a “Bonfire widow.”

Ever given he was a kid, McInnis desperately wanted to be an Aggie, yet he entered AM as a send tyro in Jan 2000, a second division of his beginner year — thereby blank a 1999 Bonfire, a source of contrition and even shame for him to this day. He was put into Walton Hall, a bare-bones all-male dust retard dormitory directly opposite a travel from a Dixie Chicken, and one that had prolonged had a repute for residents with a unruly and fatiguing devotion to Bonfire.

In 2002, a same tumble as a impetus on a president’s mansion, a organisation of Waltonites and some others from a throng that day hacked some brush and illuminated a ensuing raise of sticks a day before a Thanksgiving game. Through word of mouth, they were means to attract some-more than a thousand spectators. The subsequent year, their ambitions grew. They motionless they wanted to build a correct straight Stack, with a core stick and tiers of logs. But they also knew there was no approach they could go behind to a aged structure. As it happened, Bowen’s charge force had published a news that contained a intensity redesign of a Stack. The organisation had also reached out to a few Old Ags who’d worked on Bonfire before 1999 and were sensitive to a cause. One of these, a operative constructional engineer, helped a organisation put a pattern specs from a news into practice.

The executive thought of a re-envisioned Bonfire structure was ingenious. Most importantly, any record would hold a ground. In 1999 and for some-more than 30 years prior, any tier of logs above a initial radically complacent on a one below. Now, to reserve that classical wedding-cake shape, they would simply use logs of opposite heights to emanate a 5 tiers. The tallest, cut to a uniform length of 32 feet, would approximate a core pole, a rather shorter set would approximate that tallest group, and so on. The ensuing structure would be equivalent to a entirely extended telescope. Each “layer” would be cumulative internally by restraining particular logs to their neighbors with baling handle — a pre-collapse technique. Then, as a final fail-safe, any doughnut-shaped tier would be wound with supposed “supersets” — aircraft-grade steel wire wrapped around and around, afterwards cinched tight. The outcome was a shrunken chronicle — reduction than half a size, impossibly — of a behemoths that had emerged in a 1960s. In those days, dual application poles were spliced together to emanate a mountainous 90-foot pillar as a core pole. No longer. One application stick would now do, sunk 15 feet into a ground. To yield support during construction, 4 shorter poles would be set in a belligerent during any of a principal directions, afterwards related to a core stick adult tip with pipes welded to collars on any of a poles. That way, as teams of students connected logs into place, a building structure would be reduction expected to shift.

The pattern hasn’t altered given 2003, and Student Bonfire has orderly itself in a years given specifically to safeguard that it doesn’t. Now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, a organisation has bylaws and a house of directors finished adult of 6 AM graduates. The directors have finished reserve in all phases, from Cut to Stack, a religion. Alcohol and hazing are forbidden. Many of a teenager traditions that had turn woven into a incomparable Bonfire tradition have been rejected as irrelevant or dangerous or both. The authority of a house is Scott Coker, 44, who was a Yellowpot in a 1990s. “What we tell a students is, if we wish to pad your ego and try to surpass a year before you, afterwards surpass them on reserve or removing appearance adult or fundraising. But outdoing them on how large Stack is, that’s not going to happen. It’s going to be a same tallness and same pattern any year.”

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