By Don McAlvy: Columnist
In 1950 I graduated from Clovis High School. In the middle of July that year, after plowing wheat stubble, I came into town and I saw the bold headlines on the left front side of the Clovis News Journal of Friday, July 14, 1950. It said “Two Killed In 133-Foot Fall.”
According to then-construction superintendent Bob Lott, a 2-by-12 plank supporting a scaffolding on which the men were standing gave way inside a new grain elevator under construction. It was the largest in New Mexico and more than half finished.
The accident was believed to be the first serious mishap to occur at the Farmer’s Cooperative Mill and Elevator. The site was at 505 E. First St. Two laborers were instantly killed about noon when they plunged 133 feet to the concrete bottom inside a 21-and-a-half-foot-diameter tank.
The men were Norman A. Leslie of Clovis and Lindel Vandiver of Oklahoma. Both had been on the job since building of the one-and-a-quarter-million-bushel elevator began several months before. Both men had safety ropes on, but the ropes apparently broke from the weight of the falling bodies.
The two men were putting three 2-by-12 planks across two other 2-and-12 planks that had been suspended from the top of the elevator by four cables, when one of the two supporting ledgers apparently snapped. The scaffold was only a short distance from the top of the tank.
One of the men reportedly had just gotten the third plank “just to be safe” as he put it, when the supporting beam broke.
Lott said he was 50 feet away standing on top of another tank. He heard a sudden cracking sound and looked over toward the tank where the men had fallen. Two other workers who had been handing down the planks told him what had happened.
The two workers were not identified and it could not be determined whether they had been eyewitness to the tragedy.
The tank, similar to others in the process of construction, was the fourth one from the west end of that big elevator.
According to Lott, the lumber used was the best type, having no knots. He said the men were preparing to tear out the wooden concrete forms. The bodies were removed through a porthole opening about 13 feet from the ground level. The opening measured 20 inches in diameter.
Leslie was survived by his wife and four children. Leslie was in the Army for three years and was stationed at Clovis Air Force Base during most of that time.