Operation Gopher

In the 1950s, UT engineering students dug a basement for a study lounge.

Above: UT engineers gather around Patrick “Digger” O’Dell, the live mascot of Operation Gopher. Patrick was renamed Christine when the students discovered their mistake.


W
hen Texas engineers get hungry, they go digging.

In the 1950s, the University’s College of Engineering was sprawled around the East Mall. The petroleum and chemical engineering buildings – opened in 1942 and today are the Rappaport and Schoch Buildings – were placed along either side of the mall at Speedway Street. The petroleum building (image at left) was of particular pride; UT was first in the nation to offer a petroleum engineering degree, as well as devote an entire facility to the subject.

Just to the north was Engineering Building, later named Taylor Hall for Thomas Taylor, the college’s founder and first dean. It housed the mechanical, civil, aeronautical, and architectural engineering departments, research labs, administrative offices, and a newly expanded library on the second floor.

Above: Two views of Taylor Hall. Opened in 1934 as the headquarters for the College of Engineering, it has since been replaced by the Dell-Gates Computer Sciences Complex.

While the structures were modern, they didn’t include a study lounge for students or, more important, a place to eat. The nearest dining facilities were at the Texas Union on the other side of campus. Hungry engineers, or those just looking for a cup of coffee, had to hike up the hill, go past the Tower, and then down the West Mall to the Union’s commons. When time was limited, the trek was a lengthy and inconvenient one. More than a few students opted to bring lunches and coffee from home.

Above: A 1938 image of the UT campus. Engineering students in Taylor Hall (upper right) had to walk to the Texas Union (far left) for the nearest food service.

As the fall 1952 semester began, five engineering students – Charlie Anderson, Dick Bailey, Tommy Fairey, Jerry Garrett, and Charlie Mills – approached Professors Leonardt Kreisle and Carl Eckhardt with two proposals.

The first was to establish a governing body for the engineers, one that would both represent the interests of students and bring the professional and honor societies under a single umbrella. The result was the founding of the Student Engineering Council (SEC), separately incorporated by the State of Texas. Charlie Anderson was selected as its first chair, and Kreisle and Eckhardt volunteered as faculty advisors.

The second was to create a study lounge and snack bar, which the SEC chose as its initial project. As Anderson explained to The Daily Texan, “We don’t have a place to meet. It is so bad that even our library has turned into a bull session room.”

Finding a place for a lounge was tricky, as all of the engineering buildings were well occupied. There simply wasn’t a means to shift or combine offices and classrooms to provide enough space, and there certainly weren’t funds for a separate facility. The SEC then offered a novel solution: why not create a basement underneath Taylor Hall? Kreisle and Eckhardt studied the idea and found that it was structurally possible. The support piers for the building were deep, and a basement could be safely installed with the piers left in place.

There were numerous hurdles to overcome. University monies wouldn’t be available, and the estimated cost for the project was $48,000. Alumni might help with fundraising, but what would the students contribute? Anderson suggested that the students provide the labor to excavate the basement, which would save $20,000, and that engineering alumni be asked to donate the construction cost.

Plans were drawn. Dubbed “Taylor’s T Room” in honor of the first dean, the basement would be 174 feet long by 43 feet wide, and dug to a depth of eight feet. It would include meeting spaces for student groups, a lounge and recreation area, and a small cafeteria managed by the University’s Housing and Food Service. The T Room would be available to the entire University community. “Our purpose is to bring engineering students in contact with other students,” said Anderson.

Left: Thomas Taylor, first engineering dean.

Above: The layout of Taylor’s T Room. Click on the image for a larger view. From left, meeting rooms for the SEC and other engineering groups, a study lounge with sofas, a dining area with tables, chairs, and booths (blue seats with white tables), and a kitchen (white counter tops with tan floor tile) that would provide lunches, snacks, and beverages. The black squares are support piers for the building.

With patience, the students acquired the approval of the engineering faculty building committee, Dean W. R. Woolrich, Dean of Students Arno Nowotny, the University’s Development Board, and Acting UT President James Dolley.

Initially, there was some pushback from the Texas Union, when concerns were raised over how the T Room might affect business in the Union’s commons. Director Jitter Nolan met with the SEC and was convinced that any loss of customers would be slight. He applauded the engineers for their initiative. The Union’s Board voted to support the project, and donated $75 to help with mailing costs for alumni solicitations.

Above: Dean W. R. Woolrich addresses the crowd at the groundbreaking ceremony.

G-Day, or Groundbreaking Day, or, to some, “Gopher Day,” was slated for Thursday evening, December 11, 1952. More than 500 attended the ceremony, heard talks by Dean Woolrich and Professor Emeritus Ed Bantel, saw the first shovel of dirt preserved for posterity, and sang “Hi Ho Balls”, a favorite tune among UT engineers in the 1900s . (The song’s main character, Alexander Frederic Claire, became the patron saint of College of Engineering.) “A Hole lot of time and effort went into it, but Operation Gopher is ready for groundbreaking,” announced the Texan, “Engineers won’t be able to tell their new lounge from a hole in the ground.”

The students boasted they would have the basement completed by the end of the academic year, in June 1953, but soon discovered that removing almost 60,000 cubic feet of soil, rocks, and solid Austin chalk – an estimated 600 truck loads – would require significantly more time.

Shovels, pick axes, jackhammers, wheelbarrows, and a conveyor belt were all loaned by local construction companies, while students organized themselves into work crews of 25 volunteers each. In order not to disturb classes, digging was scheduled from 7 – 10 p.m. in the evenings on weekdays, and at various times on weekends. To remove the material, an access tunnel – the “gopher hole” – was dug just outside Taylor Hall and then sideways into the basement. At least once a week, a dump truck and a loader, also donated for the cause, dropped by to pick up what the students had excavated.

To help pass the time, a transistor radio was employed to play the latest tunes by Dean Martin, Patti Page, Perry Como, and a popular new song by Hank Williams: “My Cheatin’ Heart.” The Engineering Wives Club (yes, there was one, but that’s a different story), along with UT sororities, often dropped by to boost morale with coffee and soft drinks.

Right: Members of the Chi Omega sorority bring cold drinks to engineers working on Operation Gopher.

A live gopher mascot was obtained from the zoology department. Named Patrick “Digger” O’Dell, engineers had to change the name to Christine when they discovered their error. Kept in a cage, Digger was present for every work session until she was gopher-napped in early March 1953. Law students, longtime campus rivals of the engineers, claimed responsibility, but the real culprits turned out to be some prankster zoology students. A rescue party was quickly organized, and Digger soon resumed her duties

For the next two years, until January 1955, the SEC continued to organize volunteers and slowly dig out the basement. The effort required nearly 3,000 students and faculty.

In the meantime, the UT Development Board took on the task of soliciting engineering alumni for the estimated $28,000 needed to install the floor, walls, utilities, kitchen, and furniture. The alumni responded generously, and the fundraising campaign was completed ahead of schedule. Once the basement was ready, construction began immediately.

On Monday evening, May 13, 1957, nearly five years after its inception, Taylor’s T Room was formally dedicated. Governor Price Daniel (photo at left) addressed an assembly of 350 persons, “As Governor of Texas, I offer my congratulations to you engineers for your valuable contribution,” and credited University of Texas engineering alumni for much of the technical development of the state. “Taylor’s T Room will ever have a great claim to permanence for its dedicated use as envisioned by the Student Engineering Council in 1952,” Dean Woolrich wrote later. Most of the volunteers graduated before they were able to use the lounge. “It was a gift to engineering posterity, to the student generations to come.”

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Rumble at the Water Tank!

The infamous “feud” between engineering and law students began in 1904.

WaterTower2It arrived late in the summer of 1904, when a near-vacant campus was quietly wilting under the August heat. A stark-black, spindle-legged water tank was installed just north of the old Main Building. It was supposed to be temporary – a year or two at the most – but remained for sixteen years. An infamous campus landmark, the tank provided a backdrop for many campus shenanigans, and was the catalyst for a long-lasting rivalry between law and engineering students.

The need for a tank was born in 1900, when a spring flood brought down the seven-year old Austin Dam that had created Lake Austin. City water service was interrupted and remained sporadic for years, and the frequent water shortages forced Austinites to make emergency plans until the water supply was dependable again.

Just before the start of the 1904-05 academic year, UT President William Prather ordered the elevated water tank constructed behind the auditorium of Old Main. Dubbed “Prexy Prather’s Pot” by the students (“Prexy” was slang for “President” at the time.), it towered 120 feet on four lattice supports and stood “in somber majesty on the open campus, in its coat of black paint.” The tank cost just over $11,000, but after it was ready and tested, the University discovered that the city could only provide enough water pressure to fill the tank halfway, making it almost useless. Even worse, the tank leaked, and a permanent pool of mud formed directly beneath it. Fortunately, the University didn’t experience a water emergency, but a lonely water tank on a college campus isn’t likely to be friendless for very long. It soon became a focal point for student antics.

Main Building Water Tank043

Above: The water tank sat behind the old Main Building, fairly close to the north edge of campus at 24th Street, about where Inner Campus Drive passes the west side of Painter Hall today. Its height enticed students to climb up and enjoy the view, and to paint class numerals and other decorations.

On the brisk autumn morning of October 13th, about two months after the tank’s arrival, the campus awoke to find that the junior law class (the first-year law students) had scaled the ladder attached to the northwest support and decorated the sides of the tank with white paint. The initials of the 1907 Law Class – “0L7” – were boldly displayed, along with “Beware Freshie” and some derogatory remarks about freshmen, especially first year engineering students.

“Every time we viewed the shameful sight, it burned deeper into our seared vision,” wrote Alf Toombs, then a freshman engineer. While the junior laws’ handiwork taunted from above, the engineering freshmen huddled all day and plotted their revenge. Toombs acquired a large sheet of tough paper, and drew “by aid of a bottle of Whitmore’s black shoestring dressing, the silhouette of a jackass of noble proportions, and with the brand of the ’07 Laws on his flank.”

The choice of the animal wasn’t arbitrary. In 1900, law professor William Simkins was lecturing to his first-year Equity class in Old Main and had asked a student about the day’s lesson. Before he could respond, a mule grazing outside the classroom window brayed. “Gentlemen,” said Simkins above the laughter, “one at a time!” Thereafter, junior law classes were nicknamed “Simkins’ Jackasses,” or simply, the “J.A.s.”

WaterTankFightShortly after dinner that evening, the “clans of the engineers” gathered around the water tank, shouted class cheers and yells of defiance, and dared the law students to dislodge them. “Mars was the ruling planet in the horoscope for University students for several days,” noted The Texan campus newspaper. The junior laws responded accordingly, and amassed to face off against their campus rivals. Once begun, the freshman scrap sprawled over a half-acre and lasted almost an hour. “I entered the melee with a full wardrobe,” Toombs recounted, “and emerged minus a sweater, shirt, cap and part of my ‘munsing-wear,’ not to mention about four square inches of skin.” Though the junior law students were generally older and stronger, the engineers held a numerical advantage. As opportunities arose, unwary laws were captured and “baptized” in the mud pool below the water tank. The battle didn’t subside until the both groups were exhausted, and the muddy and overpowered junior laws had retreated, at least temporarily.

Flushed with their victory, the engineers recruited Toombs, along with fellow freshmen Clarence Elmore and Drury Phillips, to climb and redecorate the water tank. The ascent was a perilous one, as the ladder only went as far as the bottom of the parapet that guarded the service platform. Each of the three would have to grab the parapet, hang by their arms, and swing their legs up and over the railing to get a foothold. Since the law students had done this the night before, the three were certain they could “do all a miserable law could do,” and set out on their mission. Armed with white paint, paintbrushes and Toombs’ sign, the group brought along a pair of blankets each, as they planned to stay and guard their work through the chilly night.

The law students’ graffiti was replaced by a skull and crossbones, class initials “C.E. ‘08” and “E.E. ‘08” for the civil and electrical engineers, along with, “Down with the Laws,” and “Malted Milk for Junior Laws.” Toombs’ painting, “a meek, symbolic jackass, branded 0L7,” was hung in a prominent position. Before bedding down for the night atop the water tank, the three discussed what to do if the laws should return. As one of them had brought along some chewing tobacco, it was decided that if their “fort” was invaded, all of them would “chew tobacco for dear life and expectorate on the attacking party.” A late-night visit by four freshmen in the Academic Department caused some alarm, and the defense was employed. The pleading Academs insisted that they only wanted to add their own class initials to the side of the tank. After some heated deliberation, the engineers grudgingly consented. The rest of the night passed quietly, but it was a miserable one for Toombs. “You see, I was not a user of tobacco, and my gallant defense got the best of me. I was deathly sick for two hours.”

The tank’s revised appearance had the campus buzzing the following morning, and the talk continued for weeks. Engineers and Laws both claimed victory, and expressed their views poetically in “The Radiator” column of The Texan. The law students boasted:

Take your dues, ye engineers. Take a mudding mid the jeers of the ‘Varsity’s population –Simkins’ Equity is just. And the Laws will, when they must, give to you its application.

While the engineers parried:

That same night the Engineers, a noisy, noisome crowd, took lessons in high art at which no Law man was allowed. And those few Laws that hung around, knew not which way to turn. On every hand the enemy,whose need seemed to be stern.

President Prather, though, was not amused, and by mid-morning had hired someone to repaint the entire tank in gray and remove the ladder. Of course, this only provided an irresistible challenge to the students, and the water tank was regularly decorated through the rest of the academic year.

When Dr. David Houston succeeded Prather as president in 1905, he adopted a different strategy, and told the students they were welcome to paint the tank as often as they wished. This took all of the fun out of the deed, and the tank was neglected for years. William Battle, a Greek and Classics professor who had also founded the University Co-op and designed the UT Seal, rose through the academic ranks and in 1914 was appointed acting president. His attitude was “touch not,” which promptly re-ignited student interest. The tank was decorated once more, including a 1915 incident where several professors had to guard the tank overnight.

WaterTowerThe water tank remained on the campus through World War I. Along with the usual class initials and slogans, the tank sported the insignias of the military schools stationed at the University through the war, including a particularly well-done mural of a bi-plane painted by a soldier in the School for Military Aeronautics.

In 1920, the tank was sold to a Houston contractor for $2,000 and finally removed. Its passing was eulogized in the student newspaper: “Our old historic and beloved tank is no more. This old tank was to the University what the Statue of Liberty at the entrance to New York Harbor is to the lover of American democracy. It is the embodiment and emblem of all the splendid traditions, good or bad, of this still more splendid institution.”

The Thrilling Adventures of Alec!

Or, How April 1st became a UT Holiday

The Texan.April 4 1908

Above: Headlines from The Texan in April 1908. “Holiday Inaugurated” – “Professors Given Needed Rest.” How considerate of UT students to give the faculty a day off!

All hail UT’s patron saints!! Among the schools and colleges on campus, a few have taken on mascots which have affectionately been promoted to patron saints. The law school has its staid Peregrinus, business boasts the wily Hermes, architecture claims the mysterious Ptah. But the best-known is the patron saint of the Texas engineers: Alexander Frederic Claire, or simply, Alec. His arrival created an annual UT holiday.

When the University first opened in 1883, the academic calendar of choice was the quarter system, and holidays were in short supply. The fall term opened in early October, with final exams completed just in time for Christmas. Winter classes resumed the third or fourth day of January and ran through mid-March. And without a pause, the spring term began immediately after winter finals and continued mercilessly until the first week of June. In the spring, students were permitted only two days to catch their breath: March 2nd in honor of Texas Independence Day, and April 21st for San Jacinto Day.

In 1908, the start of spring classes was joined by a student movement for a third spring holiday, preferably April 1st, which was about halfway between the other two. Officially, the faculty opposed the idea, though professors did nothing to prevent the cause from gaining momentum. As the students began to organize, there were indications that if their request was refused, they would simply stage group walkout for the day.

About the same time, UT engineering students received an invitation from their counterparts at the University of Missouri to travel north to the Show Me State for St. Patrick’s Day. Since 1903, Missouri engineers have declared St. Patrick to be one of their own, and have used March 17th to celebrate.

As for the Texas engineers, they’d already claimed a patron saint. Since 1901, Alexander Frederick Claire – or “Alec” – was the main character in Hi Ho Balls, a favorite song of the engineers. But Alec was known in name only. There was neither an appropriate physical rendering, nor a special day, for UT’s patron saint.

Alec.Hi Ho Balls Music. - Processed

The invitation from Missouri, along with the students’ request for a holiday, sparked an idea. If the Missouri engineers take a day off to honor their patron saint, why not dedicate the first of April as a day of homage to Alec?

On the evening of March 31st, student members of the TECEM Club – which stood for Texas Engineers: Civil, Electrical, Mining – gathered for their weekly meeting on the second floor of the Engineering Building (today’s Gebauer Building). The group’s purpose, according to Dean Thomas Taylor, was to “promote practically everything but learning and scholarly attainments.”

Old Engineering.Gebauer Building

Above: students practice surveying in front of the old Engineering Building, today’s Gebauer Building, just east of the UT Tower.

First on the agenda was to make plans for April 1st. To encourage their fellow students to cut classes, the group wanted to smuggle a few stray dogs up to the top floor of the old Main Building, tie tin cans to their tails, and let them loose during the first class hour at 9 a.m. It was hoped the ruckus would create enough chaos to disrupt classes for the day. The group adjourned to find the required canines, but the neighborhood dogs weren’t very cooperative, and the idea was dropped due to a lack of volunteers. Instead, the club adjourned to Jacoby’s Beer Garden, just south of the campus on Lavaca Street.

Dean Thomas Taylor and Alec.Just after midnight, as the group was about to depart, they spied a wooden statue under a porch shed near the exit. Meant to promote Falstaff Beer, it was a chubby, medieval character. After a quick conference, the group decided to “borrow” the statue and quietly spirited it away to old B. Hall, the men’s dorm, where they perfected plans for the next day. (Photo at left: Engineering Dean Thomas Taylor stands next to Alec in the 1930s.)

On the sunny and humid morning of Wednesday, April 1st, everyone in the Engineering Building knew “something was up.” Professor Bantel went to his office and locked the door, while Dr. Benedict, who had scheduled a quiz for his first class, failed to show up at all. The engineering students gathered in front of the building and lined up in rows of four, while a few created a makeshift band from some tin horns, hastily crafted kazoos, and an improvised percussion section of trash cans and lids. At precisely 9 a.m., a noisy procession set off across the campus. The engineers marched around the perimeter, entered into the west wing of the old Main Building, through the central rotunda, then out the south main door. There, the group formed a circle around the new likeness of their patron saint.

In front of Old Main, Alec was formally unveiled as a handkerchief tacked on to his head was removed with great flourish. Sophomore Joe Gill spoke eloquently on the life of Alec, who, Gill claimed, was the founder of engineering science. It was Alec who created the Pyramids of Egypt, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and the Great Wall of China. Alec himself surveyed and built the roads of Ancient Rome, dug the Suez Canal, and invented the T-square, the original model still on display in the United States Patent Office. Alec’s achievements were so moving to Gill, he was reportedly overcome with emotion several times and had to constantly wipe away a stream of tears from his face.

Following Gill’s tribute, the engineering students filed past their patron saint one-by-one. Each placed a small bouquet of hand-picked bluebonnets at the base of the statue, then swore allegiance to Alec with their right hand resting on a “holy” calculus textbook.

The ceremony concluded, senior engineers promptly kidnapped Dean Taylor (who had neglected to lock his office door) and went for a picnic at Bull Creek. The rest of the engineers set out for a trip to the Austin Dam and a day of swimming. Not wanting to be left out, law students abandoned their classes en masse and turned the city’s electric street cars into roving party vehicles, while the Academic Department (Arts and Sciences) went as a group to Sixth Street. Though it was never officially approved, for years April 1st became an annual “cut class” day.

The celebration for Alec also became an annual ritual, much to the chagrin of the rival law students, who had designs on the statue for their own purposes. (Read more on the origin of the UT engineering – law rivalry.)

In the spring of 1913, while Alec was resting comfortably at the foot of the stairs to the Engineering Building, law students captured the patron saint took him to a farm near Pflugerville. Placed in a pig sty and knee-deep in swine, Alec was photographed for the Cactus yearbook. “This,” claimed the lawyers, “shows Alec in his true element.”

“No!” retorted the engineers. “That is Alec feeding the laws.”

Alec has been found.1913.

Above: In November 1913, engineers celebrated the rescue of the original Alec after the laws took the patron saint to farm in Pflugerville.

In 1916, armed with the knowledge that Alec had initially been “borrowed” from Jacoby’s Beer Garden, the statue was kidnapped again when the laws approached Mr. Jacoby’s widow and “legally purchased” the statue from her. Armed with a bill of sale, the laws brought Alec before the Justice of the Peace, had him declared a vagrant, and sent him to the city jail. Dean Taylor and the engineers appealed to Governor James Ferguson, who issued a full pardon, and warned Alec to beware of “out-law-yers.”

Alec Pardon.1917

Above: After being declared a “vagrant” at the hands of the law students, Governor James Ferguson issued a pardon to Alec in 1917. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Because the laws still held a bill of sale, Dean Taylor elected to retire the original statue. In 1917, Alec’s right leg was cut into small strips, branded “CELAFOTRAP” (“Part of Alec” spelled backwards) and sent to Texas Engineers fighting in the American Expeditionary Force during the First World War A second statue was created by local woodcarver Peter Mansbendel. The new Alec was kept locked in a vault in the Littlefield Building downtown, where he could make a short but safe trip to the annual Engineer’s Banquet at the Driskill Hotel next door.

A decade later, on February 21, 1927, the evening of an Engineer’s Banquet, the Laws took Alec once again. Sixteen law students climbed up a fire escape to enter a hotel room guarded from the hallway by Dean Taylor and several engineers. The laws dismembered the statue, sent the head to Governor Daniel Moody, and delivered other pieces to law alumni. The torso was hung in a tree on the campus for a brief time, then disappeared, only to turn up years later in the Law School library.

Governor Moody returned Alec’s head to Dean Taylor, who commissioned a third rendering by Austin master woodcarver Peter Mansbendel, who incorporated the head and other salvaged pieces of the patron saint.

Alec Display.Engineering LibrayAs retirement approached, Dean Taylor was very secretive about Alec. The statue was seen in public only a few times, always surrounded by an armed guard of engineers. After Taylor’s death in 1941, Alec remained in hiding, stored by the Texas Memorial Museum in a house north of the campus. Some journalism students discovered him there in 1964, after a report that someone had spotted a coffin in the basement. Alec was restored, and in 1972 was put on display in the engineering library. (Photo at left: Alec secured in a glass case with a concrete base in the engineering library.)

In March, 1987, word reached the College of Engineering that the dismembered torso of the second Alec had recently been discovered in the Tarleton Law Library, an opportunity the engineers couldn’t resist. On March 30th, David Walker and Chris Flynn, then engineering seniors and members of the newly formed “Order of Alec,” approached Julia Ashworth, an archivist at the law library. The two claimed to be from the Cactus yearbook, and asked if they could take a photograph of the torso. Ashworth agreed. Making the excuse that there wasn’t enough light in the library, Walker persuaded Ashworth to take the torso outside. Once outdoors, three masked “unknown and unnamed ruffians” rushed by, grabbed the torso and disappeared.

The events seemed far too coincidental. Law School Dean Mark Yudof wrote a scathing memo to his engineering counterpart, Dean Earnest Gloyna, demanded the torso’s return, and labeled the scandal “Gloynagate.”

On April Fool’s Day, Gloyna was subpoenaed, along with a few engineering student leaders, to appear in court. The laws argued the engineers had waited too long to claim ownership of the torso, and demanded Alec be returned to them.

The two groups met in court on Friday, April 3rd. On one side were the “law nerds” while others wore buttons that read “unknown and unnamed engineering geeks.” Judge Harley Clark (who, as head cheerleader in 1955 introduced the “Hook ’em Horns” hand signal) presided, and listened to both arguments. In the end, Clark made no decision of ownership, hoped that Alec’s “thieves” would keep him safe, and that the rivalry between the two schools would continue.

Today, Alec, along with the recovered torso, are stored in sealed exhibit cases in the engineering library. The statue is bolted to the display case, which has a heavy concrete base.

Alec is safe, for now.

Alec Display.Torso

Above: The recovered torso and pieces of the original Alec statue – included one branded “CELAFOTRAP” – are on display in the engineering library.

How to Rescue a Dean

Taylors Bandits.1913.

Dean Thomas Taylor (center), and the nine “Taylor’s Bandits” unmasked. Yes, each of those UT students is brandishing a six-shooter. Click on the image for a larger view.

Engineering Dean Thomas Taylor was in serious trouble.

It was a balmy spring evening a century ago, April 1, 1913, when the UT faculty gathered at 8p.m. for their monthly dinner. A mostly-social event, it was held at the University Faculty Club in the YMCA building, next to campus on Guadalupe Street. The professors from each academic department took turns as hosts, and were responsible for the evening’s entertainment. It might include a musical performance or skit by the host faculty, a special lecture, or a debate. This particular evening, it was the law department’s turn, but the professors had devised something rather sinister: they hoped to hold a surprise kangaroo court against engineering dean Thomas Taylor.

Thomas Taylor and AlecApril 1st is a special day for UT engineers. Since 1908, the day has been reserved for tribute to Alexander Frederick Claire – or “Alec” for short – patron saint of Texas engineering students and alumni. Students “permanently borrowed” a wooden statue from a local beer garden, declared it to be the likeness of Alec, paraded the figure around the campus, swore allegiance on holy calculus books, and cut classes for the rest of the day. For over two decades, the ceremony was repeated. Today, the Cockrell School of Engineering continues to remember Alec on the first day of April, and the patron saint is on display in the engineering library. (Photo: Dean Taylor with engineering patron saint Alec.)

The law and engineering departments were longtime, mostly-friendly rivals, and the 1913 law professors saw the date as a ripe opportunity. They planned to have the red-haired dean stand trial for some vagrancy (just being an engineer was a criminal offense, in the eyes of the law department), and once convicted, the “culprit” Taylor would be assessed a dinner for the law faculty at the dean’s expense. As bailiff, the lawyers recruited Charles Ramsdell, a first-year member of the history faculty from Columbia University, whose youth, height, size, and strength was thought to be sufficient to retain the dean, should he have any thoughts about leaving the proceedings early.

Just a few hours before dinnertime, Taylor was tipped-off to the dastardly plans, and quickly arranged for a group of nine trusted engineering students – later dubbed “Taylor’s Bandits” – to come to his rescue at the appropriate time.

As the dinner began, there was a general feeling of pleasant anticipation among the law faculty. But the grapevine had been busy. The engineering professors possessed a similar mood, but for an entirely different reason.

Just as the main courses had been finished and dessert was to be served, the kangaroo court was sprung, and the bailiff ordered to take Dean Taylor into custody. But a pre-arranged signal from Taylor brought his masked bandits screaming into the room from their hideout in the kitchen. All were armed with actual six-shooters (loaded with blanks!), and the “courtroom” was suddenly filled with yelling, the loud pops of gunfire, gun smoke, and utter confusion. Dean Taylor was hustled out of the dining room. Bailiff Ramsdell tried to retain his charge, but was no match for the rowdy bandits. Taylor was led out the back door, taken directly to the downtown train station at 3rd Street and Congress Avenue, and, taking no chances on his escape, was put on an evening train bound for San Antonio.

A few days later, Dean Taylor did indeed host a dinner at his expense, but it was for his faithful bandits. The chagrined law professors, their plans foiled, weren’t invited.