Teenager J. Nelson McConahy Jr. was raking hay on a dairy farm on the day of the blast.
Lives were changed forever on July 6, 1964, when an explosion ripped through the American Cyanamid Chemical Plant in Edinburg, killing five and injuring many more.
Just like he had 17 years earlier, McConahy’s father survived the “shot,” as powder mill explosions were called.
McConahy decided to pay tribute to the men who work with explosives in a new book “DYNAMITE! A Blaster’s History.” It chronicles his experiences working at the American Cyanamid’s “powder mill” during the late 1960’s.
The plant never really recovered from the major blast, closing in 1971. The end results of this dramatic event were the loss of good paying labor jobs in an otherwise economically depressed rural area and the passing of a way of life.
He said the book is not so much a story about one man’s memories as it is a story of fellowship and survival in a truly explosive working environment. His personal reminiscences, pictures, and documents pays tribute to all those who lived through those transitional times.
McConahy, who will turn 69 this summer, was a member of the second graduating class at Mohawk High School in 1965. He took a job at JCPenney after graduation, but soon found himself working at American Cyanamid with his dad. “Whatever your father did is usually what you did,” he said.
McConahy was 19 when he joined the ranks of “powder mill” employees. He never envisioned a life journey that would take him from the mines of British Columbia, to the earthquake rubble of Mexico City.
“I learned a lot working at the American Cyanamid mill, but their layoff notice actually launched my career as a professional blaster,” says this explosive specialist.
“The cover shows my dad, Nelson McConahy Sr., working in the mix house at the American Cyanamid ‘powder mill.’ This picture appeared in Life Magazine.”
After surviving the 1964 “shot,” McConahy’s father, at his wife’s urging, bid on a job in the Boiler House on the top of the “Hill.”
“It was a safer job,” Nelson McConahy said, “but equally important, because it provided heat and power to the entire plant. Plus, my mother felt it would be better for the family, since she believed he’d be pushing his luck, after having already survived two explosions, to continue working in the ‘Bottoms.’
“He agreed, and that is when and where he met Dale Gilmore, who would become his best friend.”
Somehow, the lives of the Gilmore men and the McConahy men were destined to become intertwined. “Nearly 20 years after my dad went to work with Dale Gilmore in the Boiler House, I signed on at the mill. Over time, Dale’s son, Bobby, and I became best friends.
“This book is as much their story as my story. We were all one family,” he said.