Anyone who believes kids were better behaved in the “good ol’ days” answer this: How often do today’s ten-year-olds attempt to derail passenger trains?

This is the third and final item on Santa Rosa’s juvenile delinquents, class of 1908. Earlier installments covered lesser crimes, such as vandalism and burglary. Misbehavior, to be sure, but nothing like 1907’s summer of the incorrigibles, when kids were hustling stolen eggs, hijacking buggies, and starting fires. But the miscreants of 1908 were generally younger and their crimes more serious; aside from the aforementioned attempted train derailment, some of our great-grandfathers when young were robbing, stealing horses and bicycles, and riffling through the pockets of drunks.

The train incident involved a pair of boys, age ten and eleven. This was no spontaneous prank; they had planned it for a week, and wore blackface to disguise themselves. They placed the four-foot length of steel (apparently a scrap of old track) on a blind curve near Penngrove. “Fortunately the engineer of the Camp Vacation special noticed the obstruction and applied his brakes,” the Press Democrat reported. “He could not stop in time to prevent hitting the piece of old steel rail, but fortunately the wheel of the ‘poney trucks’ [sic] threw it to one side” (the “pony truck” is the two-wheeled leading axle of a steam locomotive, unconnected to the engine).

Thwarted in their “fun train wrecking,” the boys hung around the tracks until another train passed by, when they threw stones to break windows. Shattered glass cut passengers, and a San Francisco woman was hit directly in the face by one of the rocks. Chased down by two men, the boys were captured and sent to the county jail in Santa Rosa, where they were allowed to play outside their cells (although the jailer gave the 11-year-old and another boy a spanking “just to make them mind”). The 10-year-old was permitted to go home after a stern lecture; the other boy was sent to reform school.

Another 10-year-old was caught trying to sell a rented horse. The court turned him over to the custody of his father in Healdsburg, but soon he was in trouble again, this time for stealing a purse with $17 from a woman who gave him a lift in her buggy. The PD lamented that the young hooligan was probably going to reform school this time, even though “this youngster is a mere slip of humanity, who, when he goes to set himself in a chair has to step on the rung.”

Then there was the gang of five boys who had a stolen bicycle ring. Plan A was to rent bikes from local cycleries and pedal as fast as they could out of town. Somehow the storekeepers got wind of this, and the boys were chased back to Santa Rosa, getting no farther than Kenwood. No charges were pressed, but a few days later the group was in court for stealing “a number of bicycles and numerous other articles” around town. Apparently in their future likewise loomed the Preston School of Industry, the reform school that was a sister institution to San Quentin.

Healdsburg Ten-Year-Old in Trouble Again–Dilemma as to Know What to Do With Him

A ten-year-old boy is in trouble again. Some time since he hired a saddle horse from a Healdsburg liveryman and rode to Petaluma, where he tried to dispose of the animal. He was turned over to the custody of his father, who promised to take care of him in San Francisco, and find a place for him. It seems that he may have been remiss in the fulfillment of this promise to care for the lad.

At any rate the boy came back to Healdsburg and the other day, in response to a request, a lady gave him a ride. On the buggy seat was her purse containing seventeen dollars. The boy is charged with purloining the cash and the purse. Among other things he bought a bicycle for a dollar and a half, and shortly afterwards left for San Francisco.

District Attorney Lea will have the boy brought to Santa Rosa on Friday and will then ascertain what is best to do with him. Mr. Lea dislikes to send children of such tender years to any state institution for fear that their contact with boys whose characters are worse than theirs may contaminate them. This youngster is a mere slip of humanity, who, when he goes to set himself in a chair has to step on the rung.

– Press Democrat, August 21, 1908

Two Naughty Boys Are Landed in the County Jail
Place Obstruction on Track Near Penngrove, Hurl Rocks Through Windows of Passing Train, Severely Hurting Woman

Two children, would-be train wreckers and hurlers of rocks through the windows of passing trains, occupy an upper room at the county jail on Third street, where they were landed shortly after noon on Monday. One is ten-year-old Austin Davis Studerbaker, and the other is eleven-year-old Henry Fehler. They do not realize the enormity of their offenses, and to the charge of attempted train wrecking they plead “only fun.”

The boys, who claim that when they put a four-foot length of heavy steel across the rail on a dangerous curve between Ely’s and Corona, near Penngrove, they did it just for fun to see what a big engine would do if it struck it, never thought, they say, that they were imperiling many human lives by their act. Fortunately the engineer of the Camp Vacation special noticed the obstruction and applied his brakes. He could not stop in time to prevent hitting the piece of old steel rail, but fortunately the wheel of the “poney trucks” threw it to one side.

After putting the obstruction on the track the lads went further down the road and hurled rocks through the windows of the passing train. Then they ran back into the fields and escaped detection for some time. One rock thrown through a car window struck Mrs. T. J. Boone, a San Francisco woman, in the face and painful lacerations resulted. Splinters of glass also struck and cut other passengers. The crashing glass and splinters occasioned considerable excitement aboard. When Penngrove was reached A. J. Ronshelmer was notified, and in company with another man, he started in pursuit and captured the boys. Later Deputy Sheriff and Jailer Joe Barry went down from Santa Rosa and brought the boys to jail.

In their frolic and to give their deeds a touch of the dime novel flourish the lads disguised their faces with the application of black crayon.

When District Attorney Lea saw the boys and took their statements they admitted having put the obstruction on the track, stating that they desired to see what the “cow catcher” on the locomotive would do when it hit the same, and that they did it all for fun. It was only in a childish frolic–a decidedly dangerous one–so they say, that they threw the rocks through the windows of the passing car.

The elder lad will probably be sent to a reform school as his conduct has been bad. What will be done with the other lad remains to be seen.

– Press Democrat, August 18, 1908
Youngsters Have No Idea How Near They Came to Wrecking the Camp Vacation Train

Detective Helmore, of the Northwestern Pacific railroad, was in this city on Wednesday, and called at the jail to see the boys who placed an obstruction on the tracks near Penngrove, and came near wrecking the Camp Vacation train. He heard their stories and will report the same to General Manager Palmer.

When a Press Democrat representative called at the jail the boys were having a fine frolic in the room they are occupying there. The lad’s merriment was catching, and as Sheriff Smith remarked, they are “Just kids.” The youngsters have no idea of the enormity of their offense, even though it has developed that they talked over the matter for a week before they blackened their faces and sallied forth on their “fun train wrecking” escapade.

– Press Democrat, August 20, 1908
Decision of District Attorney Regarding Older of Boys–Spanking Follows “Game of Jail Break”

District Attorney Lea has decided the best thing to do with the elder of the two lads who attempted wreck a train near Penngrove several days ago, and who threw rocks through the windows of another passing train, is to send him to the Preston School of Industry at Ione. He will be given an examination before Justice Atchinson today and Judge Seawell will be asked to commit the boy to the school. Mr. Lea has not decided what is best to do with the younger boy. He will see what his home conditions are. The little fellow is the best behaved of the two, and as Jailer Joe Barry says: “He tells the truth.” Barry was overheard telling the boy yesterday afternoon: “Tell the truth, my boy, whatever you do. I do like a boy who tells the truth, and I never punish one when he does.” Pretty good advice.

On Thursday night, during the temporary absence of Jailer Barry, the two boys and another also confined in an upstairs room, thought they would have some more fun by playing at jail breaking. The trio, on account of their youth and good behavior, had been allowed the freedom of the corridor upstairs. They managed to tear loose the upper portion of a wire screen above the bars at the top of the stairs, and were having a game of hid and seek when Jailer Barry arrived. To their stock in trade the boys had added some old keys. They quickly scampered back to bed and the two older ones were given a spanking by Barry just to make them mind. Whatever intentions the boys had in their game of attempted jailbreaking, they came off second best, for yesterday they were denied the privilege of the corridor and had to remain in their rooms in solitude.

– Press Democrat, August 22, 1908
Youngster Who Played Train Wrecker is Turned Over to His Relatives on Monday

“Now remember, I want you to be a good boy. Do every thing that your father tells you to do. Don’t let foolish things come into your mind that will lead you to be a bad boy. You are going to be allowed to leave jail with him and make up your mind never to come back here or anywhere else on account of bad behavior. Let this be a lesson to you.”

Under Sheriff W. C. Lindsay gave this good advice to ten-year-old Austin Davis, before turning him over on Monday to the care of his foster father, Mr. Studebaker, who resides near Penngrove. The lad promised obedience and good behavior in the future. He left his room in the jail with the broadest smile of satisfaction on his face, poor little chap. He was one of the duo who placed a bar of iron on the track in front of the Camp Vacation train, “just for fun and to see how the train would look going over the embankment.” The older lad will go to the reform school.

– Press Democrat, August 25, 1908
Three Youngsters Do Not Proceed Far With Plan to See World Before They Are Balked

Three small lads named Allen, Ray and Davis, bethought themselves that they would leave their homes in Santa Rosa and strike out for themselves on Monday afternoon. They had arranged things pretty well to carry out their intentions, but they reckoned without the fast automobile that was to take after them and bring them back.

The lads chose the bicycle as the means of putting miles between their Santa Rosa homes and some other part of the country. Accordingly each lad went to a different cyclery in Santa Rosa and secured a wheel for a short time. Each boys had once in a while rented a bike and so the cyclery proprietors let him have one again readily enough.

The lads had a good hour and a half’s start before word came to Proprietor Henry Jenkins of the Acme Cyclery that the boys did not intend to return with the bicycles unless they were brought back. Word was also passed to the Cash Cyclery and to Burmeister’s Cyclery. The boys had been seen heading down the Sonoma road and Mr. Jenkins got out his automobile, and accompanied by Burmeister, gave chase. The automobile went the speed limit and one mile this side of Kenwood the boys were overtaken. Jenkins told them to “right about face” and head for Santa Rosa again as fast as they could ride. The automobile kept right up behind and the lads were not allowed to lag, but were encouraged by the men in the automobile to “keep going.” And they did so.

Finally, when still a number of miles from town Davis jumped from his wheel and bounding over the fence was last seen heading towards the hills. His wheel was placed in the auto and Ray and Allen went it alone the rest of the way to town. While riding down Fourth street the Allen boy came into collision and fell from his bike and got in under the front wheel of the automobile. Beyond getting his suit muddy it was ascertained that he was not hurt.

All the cyclery men wanted was their bicycles and will not prosecute the lads. Jenkins and Burmeister both agree that the race the boys put up in making time after their capture was in itself worth the price of the trouble they were put to in getting their bicycles back.

– Press Democrat, December 15, 1908

Five Lads Arrested Here Thursday Afternoon and Will be Detained for Examination

The theft of a number of bicycles and numerous other articles within a few days past in this city was traced by the police to a gang of young boys Thursday and late in the afternoon five were in jail pending an examination for their offenses.

John and Willie Allen, Henry Davis, Ernest and Russel Rhea are those accused of causing all the trouble. Three bicycles were recovered in various parts of town where they had been left by the boys, as well as a complete camp outfit, where they had made their rendezvous.

Several of the lads are old offenders, having been in trouble numerous times. They are well known to the police and it is probable that they will be sent to the reform school. The boys will be taken into court probably this morning to answer to the charges against them.

– Press Democrat, December 18, 1908

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