Bucky, the Bucknell Bison
by William “Bill” Watkinson Jr. ’49
I was a freshman at Bucknell in fall 1941. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December, I signed up to be a naval aviation cadet. I was a naval air ferry pilot for a year, then flew every type of single-propeller aircraft made for the Navy in 1943 and 1944, bringing beat-up or combat-damaged planes across the country to be used for training purposes on the East Coast. In 1945 I became a night fighter pilot because of my keen eyesight and flying experience, and I flew F6F-5 Hellcats and F6F-5N Hellcat night fighters off the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown CV10 in the Pacific until the end of the war.
Shirley Shumberger ’49, left, and Jean McKernan ’47 with Bucky
Photo: Special Collections/University Archives
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Shirley Shumberger ’49, left, and Jean McKernan ’47 with Bucky, who made his first appearance at the 1946 Centennial Homecoming game. According to The Bucknellian, Bucky was a gift of Shumberger’s father and A.T. Hertzog of Allentown, Pa.
In 1946, I returned to Bucknell on the GI Bill. I lived on a farm in Montandon, Pa., which had a herd of cows. Another student told me about a family that had a herd of buffalo. One mother had rejected her calf, and the family had to bottle feed him. I offered to take the bison calf to my farm, where a mother cow who’d lost her calf could nurse him. Some funny incidents ensued. Several cars driving by the farm landed in a ditch after the driver saw a buffalo with a herd of cows. I would hitch up a team of horses and pull the cars out.

I had an old Mercury convertible and began to take the young bison, now named Bucky, to football games in the car. Friends would help me put the roof down, take out the rear seats, then put a lot of straw in the back. They enticed Bucky to butt me as I backed into the car. They closed the back door of the convertible behind the bison, while I jumped out the other door, closing it behind him. My friends would put the roof of the convertible up, entrapping Bucky for his ride to the football field.

During the 1946 season my friends and I took Bucky to almost every home and away football game. With their help, I got the bison out of the convertible, using a harness and long leash. At halftime, I would hold one end of the leash behind my back and run around the field with the bison chasing me, about 10 feet behind. The crowd in the stadium roared.

One football game day a police officer stopped me and told me the road to the stadium was closed to through traffic. I explained that Bucky was the team mascot and that he had to get to the stadium. The officer said, “What do you mean you have a buffalo in your car?”

I replied, “You can see for yourself.” The officer put his head inside to look, and Bucky butted him in the head, his hat falling into the car. After retrieving his hat, he yelled at me to get Bucky “the hell out of here!” So I drove off to the stadium.

Bucky only lasted one season, as he died after the first season. He was not healthy at birth, and that is why his mother rejected him.

Due to the interruption from the war I didn’t graduate until 1949. Two years later, I joined Eastern Airlines and flew until mandatory retirement in 1982 at age 60. I served as a Navy pilot from 1942 to 1953, then retired from the Navy. Today, I reside in Flemington, N.J. At age 96, I still look back fondly on my days with Bucky.