July 30, 1962
It was a Monday and we had returned from the Concho River the day before. Wop Smith took several of us boys on a survival weekend each summer and as a result of being in the sun roofing… and the river trip I was very, very dark. I had worn nothing but shorts and cross countries most of the summer. I went out to visit Lela (my girl then, my wife of 40+ years now) the night before and told her I would be back at the end of the week after the baseball tournament in Lovington, NM. I am sure I made some big boast and I’m sure she believed it.
I remember I was learning Roses Are Red (My Love) by Bobby Vinton and I Can’t Stop Loving You by Ray Charles on my guitar. Gonna start a Rock & Roll band. We were not leaving early that morning as we were meeting the Snyder bunch in Snyder around noon. I had my football physical early that morning (5′-11″ & 170 lbs). I remember I dropped by Noles Drug for a soda and saw Jay Brown working that day…funny how things stick in your mind. Somewhere I acquired a copy of the July 1962 Playboy and hid it away for later in the day.
The thirty minute trip to Snyder allowed us to meet the others at the athletic store owned by the Markham family (nice folks). We packed up the 1961 Ford Falcon station wagon owned by the Hueys with gear and people…8 in all. JB and Lena shared the front seat with Donnie Daniels. The back seat (L to R) Bob Waddell, myself and ???. The back-back (no seat there) held Tony Foreman and John Barry Huey. Quite a load for what was considered a compact car in those days. We struck out, caravan style, for Lovington, NM with only one car behind us…occupied by the reporter/photographer from the Snyder newspaper.
As we headed out on the Gail highway (SH 180) we were about 12 – 14 miles out when a butane truck (yes in those days it was butane…not propane) had missed his turn and after backing up had the road completely blocked. JB in an attempt to not get us all decapitated by sliding under the truck struck the back set of tires. I was, being in the middle of the back seat, in the safest seat in the car. I heard Lena tell JB to watch out, felt the wheels start sliding…looked over the front seat just in time to get a close up view of the collision.
It was like one of those movies where everything goes to slow-motion and the sound-track is muted. I remember my arms being completely thru the seat in front of me. I remember being concerned for JB as I could see him slumped across the steering wheel (or what was left of it). There was blood…I learned after it was from Lena’s mouth and her shins (air conditioners used to hang under the dash on some models). It was absolutely quite…for me.
Not to drag this out…they pulled me out thru the front door…loaded me into a 58 Chevy ambulance conversion along with Lena in the front seat and me in the back…there may have been another occupant in the back. Fuzzy then and certainly fuzzy now. The whole thing caught in black and white 35mm by the photographer following us…see these few photos.
I had an incomplete fracture of the T-10/T11 vertebra. JB had broken ribs and a concussion. Lena had lots of scrapes and bruises. There were bruises and bumps in the others but nothing even requiring hospitalization. I think a couple even hitched a ride to Lovington and played that night.
And so starts Yogi Gilleland Part II