Tucumcari High School seniors stood in the back of trucks borrowed from the Arch Hurley Conservancy District, bouncing their way to the top of the town’s most recognizable feature.
“This is what we lovingly refer to as a ‘primitive road,’” said Michael Latham as he drove a fire department brush buggy over terrain that left lesser vehicles on the side of the road.
At least it was a road.
“We had to walk up,” said amateur Quay County historian, Rattler alumna and former teacher Lynn Moncus. “At one time, everybody carried a bucket. Then the National Guard started bringing water. That made it a lot easier.”
Originally, it wasn’t the senior class that repainted the ‘T’ on Tucumcari Mountain each year, it was part of freshmen initiation.
“They thought it would be an honor for the seniors,” she said. “We got to do it as both.”
She then went back to the top of the mountain as a sponsor in the 1950s. She said she thought she had been asked to do it because she was one of the youngest teachers at the time and one of the most likely to make it up and down the mountain on her own power.
“I was doing all right until the boys ganged up on me and carried me to the top of the ‘T’,” she said.
But the tradition ended for a few years until Tucumcari alumni returning for the Rattler Reunion began hauling their paint cans back up the mountain.
Since then, the senior class has gone up the mountain with whitewash or lime as part of its senior week activities.
Larry Moore, whose daughter Brianna was among the seniors, watched the activities and reminisced about when his class made their mark on the mountain.
“It usually goes pretty well until someone slings it — then they start wondering about how to get back at them,” he said. “When we were in school, they made us walk down because we were covered in it.”
Moore said the fire department didn’t run a hose up the mountain. There were barrels of water at the base of the ‘T,’ and the class formed a bucket brigade to bring the water to the top.
Moncus said she was unsure of the history of the ‘T.’
“It was done throughout the state and elsewhere, I’m sure,” she said. “Every town that had a knoll used to put its school letter on it.”
Tucumcari’s ‘T’ appeared in the 1930s, she said, because it doesn’t appear in pictures earlier than that.