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E.A. "Doc" Blanchard

By Chris Guthrie

When one walks through the first floor of Tarleton’s Student Development Center today, one of the first things that strike the eye is a perfectly restored 1911 red and brass fire chief’s car. The man who restored this car, and then later gave it to the university for permanent display in the SDC, was E.A. “Doc” Blanchard, a long time faculty member and devoted friend of Tarleton for over fifty years. His life and career have become so intertwined with the history of this institution that he entered the realm of legend even before his death in 1997.

Doc Blanchard was born in Fredricksburg, Texas, on January 13, 1897. He attended school in that Hill Country town and even remembered that, as a child, playing in the bar of the Nimitiz Hotel with Chester Nimitz, the famous American admiral during the Second World War. He left Fredricksburg to work in San Antonio after graduation from high school, but, at the age of twenty-one in 1918, he joined the United States Army as a private. After basic training, he joined the American Expeditionary Force in France, using his knowledge of German to serve as interpreter for the Army Intelligence Corps.

Discharged from the army in 1919, Blanchard found employment in the Ford assembly factory in Houston. A few years later, he used his company connections to become service manager at a Ford dealership in Austin. He was working in that capacity when, in 1926, he was contacted by the Texas Director of Industrial Education concerning a job that had suddenly opened up at John Tarleton Agricultural College. The Industrial Education teacher at JTAC, E.A. Funkhowser, had accidentally electrocuted himself and the school needed a replacement quickly. Blanchard had never heard of Tarleton but he nonetheless agreed to accept the position of associate professor and head of the Department of Vocational Agriculture for one year. He would remain at the school until his retirement in 1962.

Although Blanchard arrived at Tarleton with only a high school diploma, he learned as he taught. He already possessed considerable knowledge of automobile mechanics and many other of the “manual arts” when he came to Stephenville. He supplemented this practical knowledge with classes at Howard Payne College in Brownwood, earning his B.A. degree in 1936. A year later, in 1937, he completed his master’s degree at Texas Christian University. During the course of his career, he also earned a lifetime vocational teachers certificate, a lifetime high school administrative certificate, and a license to teach meteorology and civil air commerce.

During his long tenure at Tarleton, Blanchard played an important role in various aspects of the school’s development and history. A few years after his arrival, for example, he became a critical participant in the famous 1928 “cannon incident.” As recounted elsewhere in this book, students from North Texas Agricultural College stole the campus landmark during the week of the annual JTAC-NTAC football game in November 1928. They evidentially wanted to haul the artillery piece all the way back to Arlington but, experiencing difficulties moving it, they instead dumped it into the Bosque river north of Stephenville. Blanchard learned of the theft and, with the help of Ed Emmett (Tarleton’s maintenance foreman), located the stolen cannon and pulled it from the river with a tractor. When they returned the piece to its rightful home, Blanchard discovered that several of its wooden wheel spokes had broken during the adventure. Lacking the necessary woodturning machinery to manufacture new spokes, Blanchard carefully made them by hand and repaired the cannon to its original condition. Tarleton’s most famous landmark survived due to his intervention and craftsmanship.

Blanchard would have another, less happy, experience with a cannon later in his career at Tarleton. During the 1950s, Public Relations Officer J. Louis Evans, Dean of Men Cecil Ballow, and football coach Sandy Sanford convinced him to build a working miniature replica of the cannon that could be fired when Tarleton scored a touchdown at football games. Unfortunately, no one cleared the idea with President E.J. Howell first. Blanchard nonetheless built the piece and was test firing it on a campus parking lot when Howell discovered what he was doing. Perhaps angry about not being consulted about the project or maybe motivated by safety concerns, Howell ordered Blanchard to dismantle the cannon and stated in no uncertain terms that he never wanted to see it or hear it again. Blanchard put his project in the trunk of his car and, later, “it just disappeared.”

Blanchard did not concern himself merely with cannons. He developed a number of vocational programs at Tarleton that adhered to the provisions of the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917, a law that created certification procedures and training guidelines for vocational education teachers. He also played a key role in the introduction of the Civil Aviation Authority pilot training course at Tarleton during the late 1930s and early 1940s, chairing the college committee, which examined applicants for the program and deciding whether they met the strict requirements for admission. In addition, once it became clear that America’s involvement into the Second World War was all but inevitable, Blanchard helped to expand course offerings in automobile, diesel, and airplane engine mechanics to prepare students for jobs in defense industries. He also taught free courses for the “National Defense Training Program for Out-of-School Youth,” a government-funded program to train high school graduates as mechanics for the military and defense industries.

When the United States finally entered the war in December 1941, Blanchard rejoined the Army Intelligence Corps as a Second Lieutenant, making him one of the few Tarleton faculty members to have the distinction lf serving in both the First and Second World Wars. He originally served in the Pacific and participated in the invasion of New Guinea and the liberation of Manila in the Philippines. He returned to the United States in early 1943 and assumed various jobs in the Pentagon. Not only did he serve as an advisor on the Senate Development Committee which studied the feasibility of a glider program for the Army Air Force, but he also wrote a manual for training intelligence officers how to interrogate German prisoners and edited Army Motors Magazine. But his most important contribution, at least as far as Tarleton was concerned, was his role in bringing the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) to the Stephenville college. The purpose of ASTP was to produce, as rapidly as possible, 15,000 young officers with specialties in medicine, engineering, languages, science, mathematics, and psychology and thereby meet the pressing wartime need for more officers with highly technical training. Blanchard knew very well that Tarleton suffered from declining enrollments and economic difficulties at the time and realized that the establishment of an ASTP training facility on the campus would help to reduce these war-induced problems. Even though the original plan for the program targeted only four-year institutions as sites for ASTP facilities, Blanchard convinced Colonel Forrest Agee, overall director of the program and a former assistant registrar at Tarleton, that “we owed Dean Davis” and managed to get a contingent of about 500 ASTP trainees to the junior college. The program lasted nine months at Tarleton, from July 1943 to February 1944, and probably pulled the college through one of the most dismal enrollment periods in its history.

Blanchard left the army in 1946 as a major and returned to civilian life at Tarleton. In 1951, Texas A&M College presented him with a special award for twenty-five years of vocational education instruction. A devout Roman Catholic, he supervised the establishment of a Catholic Student Center on campus in the 1930s. Before the creation of this center, he routinely drove Roman Catholic students to church service in other towns every Sunday. He retired from Tarleton with thirty-six years of service in May 1962 and received the honorary title of Professor Emeritus of Industrial Arts. On November 6, 1976, the university invested him with its Distinguished Faculty Award. It would also honor him by naming the street that runs south from Vanderbilt Street, past the E.J. Howell Building and to Military Drive as “Doc Blanchard Boulevard.”

Blanchard spent much of his retirement rebuilding Model T Fords, many of which appeared in Tarleton’s Homecoming parades into the 1990s. He also rebuilt his famous 1911 fire chief’s car during this period and ultimately donated it to the university. Members of the Tarleton Society of Industrial Technology, led by students Virgil Murphy and Mark Smith, cleaned polished, and detailed the rare vehicle (it is the only one of its kind in existence) and put it on permanent display in the Student Development Center in 1995. Every visitor to the SDC who stops to admire this magnificent restoration is reminded of the skill, dedication, and generosity of its creator.

Doc Blanchard remained an active participant in the Tarleton community for most of his life. He kept a box at the university post office and would visit the campus every day to collect his mail until he was well into his nineties. He would visit old friends and colleagues and often make fresh acquaintances with the new generations of students and teachers who had come to the school after his retirement. Sadly, his daily visits to his beloved college came to an end on September 1, 1997, when Doc Blanchard died at the age of 100.

Guthrie, Christopher. John Tarleton and his Legacy: The History of Tarleton State University, 1899-1999. Acton, MA: Tapestry Press, 1999. pp. 385-388.