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Everything to know about Tarleton’s Homecoming Bonfire

Every year at Tarleton State University students look forward to Homecoming. Homecoming as a Texan includes events like the parade, Launching of the Ducks, Purple Pancakes, and the L.V. Risinger bonfire. Coming in as one of the largest collegiate bonfires in the nation, the Homecoming bonfire takes a rightful place as one of Tarleton’s most cherished  and  notorious traditions. The story behind the tradition is all the more compelling. 

It is November of 1939 and the Tarleton-North Texas Agricultural College (NTAC) rivalry is at its peak. Tensions between the two colleges are high, and pranks of all sorts are pulled in hopes of egging on the other rival. It is November 29, 1939, just days before a football game. Tarleton students had burned the NTAC bonfire preemptively and NTAC students sought revenge on Tarleton’s bonfire. A student from NTACflew overhead of the Tarleton bonfire, hurling objects at it in an attempt to dismantle it. To the rescue comes L.V. Risinger, whose airborne 2×4 hits the aircraft, and the airplane crash lands over what is now the Trogdon House. Since then, the Homecoming bonfire has been dedicated to L.V. Risinger, who died in 1994. 

The Plowboys, a spirit organization of men on campus, take on the responsibility of building the Homecoming bonfire each year. With 23 active members this year, this task is a large undertaking for what is presumably, a small group. Jessie Coker, foreman, is their leader in this quest of tradition.

The Homecoming bonfire last year was about 60 feet tall, with the first tier around 12-13 feet tall. The structure is built around a telephone pole, out of brush and wood pallets. This year, Coker plans to break the 60 foot mark. However, it is not all about height.

“The building process means more to me than watching it burn,” Coker said. 

He explains that the bonfire resembles hard work, relationship building, and most of all time management. As a double major in Agribusiness and Accounting, Coker still finds time to contribute to building our magnificent bonfire. He mentioned that in the 5 weeks they spend building the towering structure, he and the Plowboys spend up to 18 hours a day working rain or shine laying pallets. 

As far as fire safety, Coker assures that they have it covered. He explains that calling for brush early makes a huge difference in the amount of fires that spark up leading up to the time of the bonfire. Private landowners who bring him their brush are simultaneously preventing fires by removing the dead brush from their ground. In addition to this, each day that the Plowboys work with heavy machinery, Coker makes time at the end of his shift to double-check and turn off all equipment. The Plowboys also work very closely with the fire department and risk management offices, who check on them regularly starting from the time brush is collected all the way up to bonfire night. 

“There is always a risk with fire, however, we do our best to mitigate that risk,” Coker says. 

The Tarleton Homecoming bonfire is a tradition many hold very near and dear to their hearts as Texans, and as one of our longest standing traditions, the Plowboys do a fantastic job every year of ensuring fun and safety come bonfire night. Be sure to thank the  Plowboys for all their hard work this semester and all they do to showcase  their love for Tarleton.