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Texas Water Safari (1966)

Gordon Wilkison

Silent | 1966

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This short clip captures competitors in the 4th Annual Texas Water Safari. The race kicked off from the Aquarena staging area on the San Marcos River in San Marcos, Texas on April 29, 1966. The course extended over 500 miles of waterways between San Marcos and the finish line in Freeport, Texas. In 1966, fifteen competitors entered the race. It was sponsored by the Texas Water Safari Association and the Brazosport Chamber of Commerce at Freeport. The idea of the race originated from two men from San Marcos, Frank Brown and Bill "Big Willie" George, who paddled the distance from San Marcos to the Gulf of Mexico in 1962. After eight days of boating, the first place prize of $2,000 was awarded to J.L. Bludworth, 51, of Houston and his brother, Harold, 45. Of the fifteen boats that competed, the Bludworths were the only crew that crossed the finish line. Many crews were reportedly disqualified having been caught traveling across land. The Texas Water Safari continues to this day and is now infamously called “The World’s Toughest Canoe Race.” It has been trimmed significantly in length, from 538 miles in 1966 to 260 in 2012.
Gordon Wilkison began work as a cameraman at the local Austin television station KTBC (now FOX 7) during 1952, its first year of operation.  At the time the station was owned by the Texas Broadcasting Company, which was owned by Senator Lyndon B. and Lady Bird Johnson. This relationship would continue to shape Wilkison's career well into the next decades - during the Johnson administration, Wilkison covered the president's visits to Texas, preparing material for national and international news correspondents. 
A particularly notable moment is his career occurred on August 1, 1966, when Wilkison and KTBC reporter Neal Spelce risked their lives to capture footage of the Tower shooting at the University of Texas. 
Wilkison was also the General Manager of Photo Processors at the LBJ Broadcasting Corporation, which he later took over and renamed Cenetex Film Labs. In addition to his camera work and film processing, his work at the station also included direction of a number of television film productions.
Outside of KTBC, Wilkison shot, edited, and processed Longhorn football game footage for the University of Texas, a partnership that lasted nearly 30 years.    
Recognizing the historical value of film and news footage, Wilkison kept the material, later contributing hundreds of reels to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image's collection.