Nearly 80 years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor “a day that will live in infamy,” and it certainly has. On that day, the course of history was forever altered, and so, too, were the lives of many families in the Texas Panhandle.
In the Name of National Security
Situated on 16,000 acres of farmland northeast of Amarillo, Texas, is the Pantex Plant, the country’s main facility for the final assembly, dismantlement and maintenance of nuclear weapons. The work done at Pantex has proven critical in security efforts for the United States.
“After the United States joined the war effort, the government needed a strategic location for munitions manufacturing,” said Kathrine Braughton, cultural resources senior associate at Pantex. “In a matter of weeks, the government condemned thousands of acres of west Texas farmland in the name of national defense, and a nuclear assembling plant was formed.”
Braughton said the plant began operations on Sept. 17, 1942, a short nine months after the decision to build the weapons manufacturing plant was made; this plant was the last of 14 plants constructed in Texas for the war effort. The Pantex Village, a self-sufficient community, was also built to house thousands of plant workers. More than 4 million artillery shells and conventional bombs were created leading up to the surrender from Japan on August 15, 1945.
A Relationship Forms
Following the conclusion of World War II, the plant shut down, and though it re-opened during the Cold War, much of the original land was auctioned off and donated for educational use. Kelly Lange, Ph.D., assistant professor in Texas Tech University’s agricultural and applied economics department, said Texas Technological College originally purchased the government land on April 1, 1949. Though the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps reclaimed 10,240 acres in 1951, Lange said Texas Tech was deeded 5,822 acres in 1963 under an agreement to conduct research on the land for the next 25 years. With that, the Texas Tech Research Farm was born.
Fast forward nearly 60 years, and the TTRF remains in Amarillo next to the still-active Pantex Plant. The plant plays an integral part in the surrounding area’s economy as it employees around 3,300 people. Lange said little research has been conducted on the farm since 9/11 due to national security concerns, and only security-cleared U.S. citizens can access the land. Current farming operations consist of 5,770 acres of deeded land, and 7,520 acres of government land operated for agricultural use through Texas Tech. She said the farm is a profitable and fully operational cow-calf operation.
“Farm operations are essential to both Texas Tech and the U.S. Department of Energy,” Lange said. “Profits from the farm support a number of activities in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, while also maintaining and improving the land and functioning as an informal security buffer to aid the security force at Pantex in meeting its mission.”
An Atypical Farm Operation
Jason Green, assistant director of farm operations at TTRF, said he appreciates the rich history of the land he has the opportunity to farm. Green finds his role in working with both the university and the DOE fulfilling.
“There are facilities here that were built in 1942 that we are still using,” Green said. “On this property, there are things that have never been torn down, covered up, or hauled off; they are still here, and that is the most unique part of the farm.”
Green said he is the third generation in his family to have a working relationship with the plant. He said his role requires him to be in constant communication with plant employees, and building up trust in those relationships has improved the efficiency of his work. He said despite the additional challenges that come with working so close to a weapons plant, the farm functions similarly to any farm found off-site.
“It is a normal cow-calf operation,” Green said, “except you have to work around 3,300 government employees on a plant that is active and open 24/7. At any given time, there are 500 to 600 people out here in an almost 25-mile radius.”
The impact of TTRF is still felt decades after its beginning. Green said he has spoken to past students who spent time living and researching on the farm.
“It is the history and connection I find so interesting,” Green said. “There are several people I have met that not only spent time here but started their families here. They will tell me, ‘I did this’ or ‘I built that,’ and I can tell them it is still there, and we still use it, so that has been really neat.”
Not many people outside those affiliated with the farm know this little piece of Texas Tech still exists two hours up the road from the flagship campus. New research farms closer to the Lubbock campus often dominate the minds of current students and faculty, but Lange said TTRF is often the forgotten farm.
Green said while he does receive outside inquiries into the farm from time to time, he understands it is not necessary for many people to know about daily operations. He said he does hope the work on the farm does not go unnoticed and the profitability of the farm is impactful.
Most of the profits from the farm filter directly back into CASNR, which Green said is not much compared to the actual budget of the university. But that does not mean his time and effort are not worth it.
“It would be like setting a penny against a $100 bill,” Green said. “You might wonder about the value in that, but if you keep stacking it up every year, it is worth a lot. Though we may often be forgotten, I would like people to know we are here to help.”
Following the end of World War II, an unconventional connection formed between Texas Tech and the U.S. Department of Energy. A tragic day in history lead to the positive impact of the TTRF and the Pantex Plant seen today.
“You always hear the path to success does not come from what you know but who you know,” Green said. “This whole thing is all about good relationships and good people.”