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Texas explosion: 'He was a cowboy and he died with his boots on'

April 20, 2013|By Maeve Reston
  • This 2012 photo provided by the Uptmor family shows Buck Uptmor and his wife, Arcey.
This 2012 photo provided by the Uptmor family shows Buck Uptmor and his wife,… (AP )

As a former bull-rider, William “Buck” Uptmor didn’t get spooked by much. So when the fire began at the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, he jumped into his truck and rushed to the scene to assist volunteer firefighters.

When his 17-year-old cousin, Reagan Uptmore, heard the explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. plant — a blast so powerful it registered as a magnitude  2.1 earthquake — his first thought was Buck: “I called him … and he didn’t answer,” Uptmore said.

The family began a frantic search, but Uptmor is still missing and believed to be among the dead in the town of 2,800 in central Texas.

“He went in at the wrong time,” Uptmore said of his cousin, who lived across the pasture on an adjoining ranch. “He was a cowboy and he died with his boots on.”

The Uptmor family is a large clan within the tight-knit community of West (where some spell their last name with an “e” at the end). Buck Uptmor, 45, made a living posting barbed-wire cattle fences and had two young sons and a daughter who is a high school senior. The family lived about six miles from the plant.

The last time Reagan Uptmore saw Buck was when he drove by the day before the explosion. They exchanged a wave.

“He would do anything for anybody;  he would swim across the ocean to help you,” Uptmore said after attending a church service this week in memory of the victims. Uptmore said that Buck Uptmor taught him to ride ranch bronc horses and trained him as ranch hand, serving as a coach when Uptmore decided he too wanted to ride bulls in the competitions all across Texas.

“He was a hand," Uptmore said. “He could fix anything you wanted. He was the kind of guy that if you wanted to talk or go drink beer with him, you could do that. You needed to talk, he’d be there.”

Buck Uptmor gave up bull-riding before his early 20s because “You can’t ride bulls forever,” Reagan Uptmore said. But he kept that tough streak and continued to ride horses.

In the days since the blast, Reagan Uptmore said, he has found himself thinking of the time when a horse bucked off Buck's daughter. He was ticked, and brought in Reagan to get the horse into shape. 

“He said ‘Reagan, I want you to spur the ribs out of this horse.’ And I sure did,” Uptmore said. “He was yelling for me the whole time when I was riding that bucking horse for him.”

On his next bull ride at the rodeo, Reagan Uptmore said, he'll be wearing Buck’s name across the back of his vest.

ALSO:

West, Texas, residents push to get back to their homes

Texas explosion: At least 60 people still unaccounted for

West, Texas, grieves for its first responders in blast's wake

maeve.reston@latimes.com

Twitter: @MaeveReston

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