redwoodhighway

YESTERDAY IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER (PART I)

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past” is a flippant line tossed off in a novel by William Faulkner (don’t bother reading it; I did one college summer, when I thought Faulkner novels were something I just had to learn to appreciate, more the fool I) and that quote reflects the theme of the book, which is about the terrible prices we often pay for long-ago mistakes. In recent years it’s been misappropriated to mean history in general, particularly as an upbeat catchphrase for historic places. That meaning fits the town of Sonoma, with its adobes haunted by Vallejo’s ghosts, or Petaluma, with much of its downtown undisturbed since Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn. But Santa Rosa – not so much. Here the phrase has to be used in its original intent, to express the unhappy ways we are dogged by our past.

This is the 700th article to appear in this journal, which now clocks in at over 1.5 million words (I have statistically typed the letter “e” about 190,530 times but the letter “z” merely 1,110). Normally such a milestone is an occasion for a “best of” recap but I did that not so long ago back at #650 with “650 KISSES DEEP,” so instead I’d like to step back and reflect on some of the reasons Santa Rosa came to be the way it is today.

This is also timely because right now (summer 2019) the city is working on the Downtown Station Area Specific Plan which “seeks to guide new development with a view to creating a vibrant urban center with a distinct identity and character.” The plan calls for wedging up to 7,000 more housing units into the downtown area, which will be quite a trick.

There are limits to what developers can build, in part because this is a high-risk earthquake zone (a 1 in 3 chance we will have a catastrophe within the next 26 years), but a greater obstacle is that Santa Rosa is uniquely burdened by layers of bad decisions made over several decades.

THE ORIGINAL DOWNTOWN PLAN   Santa Rosa’s prime underlying problem is (literally) underlying. Scrape off the present downtown buildings and we have the same frontier village that was platted way back in 1853, when there was only one house (Julio Carrillo’s), a store, a tavern and stray pigs. It was small enough for anyone to walk across any direction in a couple of minutes or three – 70 total acres from the creek to Fifth street, from E to A street.

Now eight score and five years since, our downtown core is virtually unchanged from that original street grid – minus the 40 acres lopped off for the highway and mall – so there ain’t much room on the dance floor for developers to make any sort of dramatic moves.

Not that people haven’t envisioned a better downtown. In 1945 architect “Cal” Caulkins created a plan which eliminated Courthouse Square and turned almost all of the space between First and Third streets into a Civic Center. No question: This was the best of all possible Santa Rosas, as I wrote in “THE SANTA ROSA THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN.” The plan had universal and enthusiastic support and only needed voter approval of a $100k bond to get started. It lost by 96 votes on a ballot crowded with other bond measures. Attempts by the Chamber of Commerce to revive a modified version of the design in 1953 went nowhere.

Another big attempt to fix Santa Rosa’s design problems came in 1960-1961, when the city’s new Redevelopment Agency hired urban design experts from New Jersey. Some of their ideas were pretty good; they envisioned a pedestrian-friendly city with mini-parks, tree-lined boulevards and a greenway along both banks of a fully restored Santa Rosa Creek. Their objective was for the public to drive to a parking garage/lot as easily as possible and walk.

Over the following years came a succession of consultants and developers with both detailed schemes and spitballing proposals, mainly focused on revitalizing Fourth street by making it more walkable. (Most innovative was an idea to rip out the roadway and replace it with an artificial creek criss-crossed by little footbridges.) In 1981 it was rechristened the “Fourth Street Mall” and closed to autos on Friday and Saturday nights to squash the local street cruising fad.

Tinkering does not a city remake, and downtown is still as it always was, an Old West village square. As I’ve joked before, the town motto should be changed from “The City Designed For Living” to “The City Designed For Living…During the Gold Rush.”

THE PRICE OF PARKING   Or maybe the motto should be, “The City Designed For Buggies.”

For a city with such a small downtown, Santa Rosa devotes a big hunk of that footprint to automobile parking, with nine lots and five garages. Yet should even half of the new residents in those 7,000 proposed apartments/condos have a car, every single parking spot will be taken – and then some.

Santa Rosa has always had a fraught relationship with autos, and it’s again because so much of the core area is unchanged from its buggywhip days. Once beyond the eight square blocks around Courthouse Square many of the old residential streets are so narrow that parking is not allowed on both sides and it’s still a squeeze when trucks or SUVs pass. Again, high-density development would be tough. (The exception is College ave. which is quite wide because they drove cattle down the street from the Southern Pacific depot on North street to the slaughterhouse near Cleveland ave.)

Complaints about downtown parking go back to 1910, when farmers coming to town in their wagons for Saturday shopping found fewer hitching posts available. In 1912 the city finally gave in and set up the vacant lot at Third and B streets as a kind of horse parking lot.

Fourth street between A and B streets c. 1922-1925. Postcard courtesy Larry Lapeere Collection
Fourth street between A and B streets c. 1922-1925. Postcard courtesy Larry Lapeere Collection

From the 1920s onward, photos of downtown show seemingly every parking spot taken. There was no shortage of articles in the Press Democrat detailing the latest plans to solve the parking problem – including 1937’s increased fines for every additional violation, which reveals a major drawback of living in a small town where the Meter Lady knows everybody.

The crisis came 1945-1946, when the city introduced parking meters along with Santa Rosa’s first sales tax, both to predictable taxpayer howls. The Press Democrat’s letter section saw writers interchangeably angry between the tax and the parking meters and although the tax was only one percent, there were calls for a complete boycott of the downtown as a kind of Boston Tea Party protest. On top of that, street parking was dreaded because the city insisted upon parallel parking only, even though merchants had been protesting it for many years. (Those pre-1950 land-yachts did not have power steering, so turning the wheels when the car was not in motion was a helluva workout.) For more on all this feuding see: “CITY OF ROSES AND PARKING METERS.”

2 tons of American steel
2 tons of American steel

Whilst the normally peaceable citizens of Santa Rosa were stabbing their City Councilman dolls with voodoo pins, a guy named Hugh Codding was building a new shopping center he called Montgomery Village. It opened in 1950 with an advertising blitz promoting no sales tax (because it was outside of city limits) and easy, meter-free parking. Shoppers flocked there. Thus closed the first chapter of a big book we might call, “A Series of City Hall’s Unfortunate Events.”

OUR WAY OR NO FREEWAY   City Hall alone was not to blame for all that era’s dreadful decisions; together with the Downtown Association and Chamber of Commerce they “sawed the town in half,” as a Press Democrat editor put it in the paper’s 1948 end of year wrapup.

As well known from old photos, the Redwood Highway – AKA Highway 101 – used to pass smack through downtown Santa Rosa, around Courthouse Square and up Mendocino ave. This traffic included not only your aunt Ginny running errands across town but big trucks passing through with redwood logs, cattle, farm equipment and such. It may have looked like the City of Roses, but it probably smelled like the City of Diesel.

prop2In 1938 there was a municipal bond measure to fund an alt truck route around downtown. It failed to pass but would have pushed all that heavy traffic over to Wilson street, which was the heart of our “Little Italy” community – although the ads for the bond pleaded it was urgently needed for the safety of our school children, that concern apparently didn’t extend to the Italian kids. Backers also warned this truck route was necessary because the State Highway Commission might otherwise build a bypass and turn Santa Rosa into a “ghost town.”

A couple of years passed. The city’s Grand Poobahs were still stuck on the idea of a truck route but now wanted it a block closer to downtown, on Davis st. (or rather, between Davis and Morgan streets). The state offered no firm counterproposal; maybe they would construct a bypass somewhere west of Santa Rosa or perhaps use the Davis st. route with a short five block overpass, similar to what they were currently building in San Rafael. Anyway, there was no urgency: The state estimated there were only 4,500 daily trips along this stretch of highway 101 (today there are about 100,000).

Come 1941, however, the Press Democrat front page screamed with 72-point headlines – not just about the war against Hitler, but the war against the Highway Commission.

“An insult to Santa Rosa!” raged a PD op/ed after the state announced it was going to build a 13 block overpass through the town, from Sebastopol road to Ninth st. The paper called this a “highway on stilts” and the Downtown Association lawyer said it would “create the impression that the city is nothing more or less than a ‘slough town.'”

Santa Rosa’s response came in another banner headline: “CITY TO BUILD ALTERNATE TRUCK HIGHWAY!” They quickly bought right-of-way from seven homeowners between South A and South Davis streets (moving one of the houses), paved the stub of a road, and because the Commission didn’t grunt in disapproval, the town declared victory. The next thing anyone knew was when a state engineer was found surveying for the overpass and told someone it was “absolutely necessary at this time.”

I will mercifully spare Gentle Reader the full drama of what happened between 1942 and 1948, except to say that the Press Democrat wore out its supply of lead type exclamation marks (“CITY TO FIGHT OVERHEAD HIGHWAY!”) as it breathlessly reported all the good news about how the damned “Stilt Road” was not just merely dead but really most sincerely dead. And then another surveyor showed up from Sacramento. Nope.

There were in toto six different routes under consideration by the Highway Commission; unfortunately, not all of them were detailed in any Sonoma county newspapers (as far as I can tell). There was always the threat of a complete western bypass, but it was never mentioned whether that route would have been Stony Point or Wright/Fulton, or both. Serious consideration was given an eastern route from Petaluma Hill road to North street, curving back to Redwood Highway/Mendocino ave. between Memorial Park and Lewis road – which would have brought the highway rumblings within earshot of the tony McDonald ave. neighborhood, of course.

The state finally relented and gave Santa Rosa what the Poobahs wanted – a ground-level freeway that mostly wiped out Davis street (it’s the same route of highway 101 today). There were eleven crossings on it between Sebastopol road and Steele lane so there were plenty of chances to turn off and do some shopping.

Building highway 101 in 1948. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library
Building highway 101 in 1948. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

Our ancestors fought so fiercely for this layout because they believed the downtown business district would wither if there was a bypass – that Santa Rosa couldn’t survive unless shoppers were only seconds away from their favorite stores. But I suspect another reason was because they didn’t actually grasp the concept of freeways. It was the mid-1940s, remember, and the very first one in America (Pasadena to downtown Los Angeles) had been constructed just a few years before. From some of the remarks in the PD it appears they thought of an elevated freeway like a bridge, where there was no getting on or off in midspan; when road options were presented at hearings in Petaluma, state officials had to explain that a freeway included a certain number of on and off ramps.

By contrast, when Petaluma’s highway improvements came years later that town had the opposite attitude – the state could not build their downtown bypass fast enough. “Loss of the tourist trade will be more than offset by an increase in local trade,” their City Manager said before work began. Petaluma’s greatest concern was the route be chosen with care to avoid the “poultry belt” because of “the harmful effects of irregular noises, headlights and police sirens on white leghorns,” as a freeway skeptic remarked.

The grand opening of the “Santa Rosa Freeway” was May 20, 1949. Less than two months passed before the first fatality: George Dow was killed in July when a car turning onto West College crossed his southbound lane. After that someone died every ten weeks on the average until the PD wrote a 1950 editorial which began, “A state highway ‘deathway’ runs through Santa Rosa. It is mistakenly called a ‘freeway.'”

Remember the joke that a camel was a horse designed by a committee? This was a freeway designed by shopkeepers. Of the eleven crossings only seven had stoplights. The only turn lanes were on the southbound side for turning east onto Third, Fourth and Fifth streets – to make it easier to get downtown, of course – otherwise drivers shot across oncoming traffic. Crossings at Steele Lane, Fifth St. and Barham Ave. proved the most deadly and the city asked for more traffic lights; the state replied they would study the safety issues concerning the road they told us they did not want to build. Meanwhile, the speed limit was cranked down from 55 to 45 to 35 as the death toll mounted and the city discovered there was more cross-traffic than there were cars using the highway.

Then there was the community impact. The PD sent out a reporter in 1950 to talk to people living on the west side. He was told the freeway made them feel stigmatized – they were on the “wrong side of tracks.” And so they were; there were no parks around there at the time except for a single weedy lot. Their 400+ kids had to walk across the freeway to go to school (mainly Burbank Elementary), so the city built a pedestrian underpass at Ellis Street. It flooded during heavy rains.

There was no whitewashing the fact that the freeway was a disaster in every way, and no doubt about who was to blame for it being like that. But curiously, the Press Democrat no longer mentioned the names of the guys it had long praised for standing up to those smarty-pants state engineers just a few years earlier.

Santa Rosa’s City Manager Sam Hood spoke to the San Francisco Commonwealth Club in 1951 and said the “selfish interests” who were to blame for forcing through the ground-level roadway had come to find the freeway had no impact on their business at all. He added that if a vote were to be held that day – less than two years after the freeway opened – not one merchant would oppose a bypass.

The PD managed to both strongly condemn the freeway (“every intersection is a death-trap”) while making its original boosters – including the paper itself – even more anonymous in a 1956 editorial: “…well-intentioned Santa Rosans, laymen who thought they knew more than highly experienced and qualified engineers, who kicked, screamed and protested until they had their way – and saddled Santa Rosa with a classic example of what happens when local pressure-groups have their way.” So forgiving.

Santa Rosa finally yielded to the state and planning began for what we have today – an elevated highway 101 directly above the old ground level version. When work began the PD printed an Aug. 24, 1966 feature on the detour plans and expressed relief that the end was nigh for our “17-year-old mistake.” The new freeway opened October 1968 and cost $3.8M.

The old Santa Rosa Freeway may be no more but its terrible legacy remains, forever splitting the city between east and west. Whatever happens to this city – a population boom, catastrophic earthquake or fire, sweeping redevelopment or no development at all – that highway will endure and shape what we can do with our future. In Santa Rosa it will always be 1949.

NEXT: HOW WE LOST SANTA ROSA CREEK…
 

 

(Photo at top courtesy Larry Lapeere Collection)

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dooleyFB

THE SHORT CRAZY SUMMER OF DAREDEVIL DOOLEY

Ah, Spring in Santa Rosa. The colorful roses, the whiff of barbecue, the deafening roar of overpowered engines at the fairgrounds that ruin the evenings for everyone living near downtown. Now that the city is trying to lure developers into building high-rise apartment buildings, perhaps someone should mention that those units will be uninhabitable on weekends when there are motorcycle/hotrod races, destruction derbies or monster truck rallies. Hey, while we’re discussing a makeover of the downtown area anyway, could we please consider swapping the locations of the county fairgrounds and county admin center? Just a thought.

Santa Rosa’s always been a race-lovin’ town, however, starting with our hosting the first California Grand Prize Race in 1909. Even when there were fuel shortages during WWI and WWII we packed the grandstand to watch drivers spin around the dirt track and not-so-rarely crash. There have been deaths (two motorcycle racers were killed in 2016) and some of the pileups became the stuff of legend, such as the flaming tangle of nineteen Model T Fords in 1939 (“a smash-up spectacle Cecil B. De Mille couldn’t have staged,” gasped the Press Democrat).

Of all the events at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds I’ve read about in the old newspapers, there’s one I’d have truly loved to have attended: On July 4, 1918, Ed Dooley and another driver slammed their massive cars together head-on at an impact speed of 100 MPH, the men jumping out at the last second. At age 39, Dooley had never done anything like this before; he was a portly ex-salesman who apparently woke up one morning and decided he was fearless.

Dooley was never a race car driver; he only drove big, heavy touring cars which would seat 6-8 people and at the time cost as much as a small house. He had a gimmick, being that he only drove with his knees and feet, his hands cuffed behind his back. That’s not quite as astonishing as it might seem, as in all photos he is seen with the handcuffs behind his neck, so he could have swung them over his head if he needed to take control in an emergency or needed to scratch his nose. And although the automatic transmission didn’t yet exist, the cars he used were easy to shift gears because they had a linear gearbox, not the “H” pattern on today’s manual transmissions. A video of one of his favorite model cars, the Winton 6, shows the layout which made it possible to shift by throwing his leg over the stick (the entire short video is worth watching if you’re at all curious about what’s needed to restore such an old vehicle).

(RIGHT: Ad for the 1917 Oldsmobile Eight)olds8

On his 1918 WWI draft card Dooley listed his job as “performer in exhibitions” which was quite a new claim – in every earlier document he’s simply a salesman. He worked mostly for J. W. Leavitt & Company, which was the Oldsmobile dealership in San Francisco and distributor for the brand in California and Nevada. Ed was always described as well-known and well-liked, which is to say he had the traits of a good car salesman.

Almost nothing about Kieran Edward Dooley can be found prior to his adventures with handcuffs. He was born in Minnesota in 1879, the youngest of nine Irish farm children. His future wife, Nellie, was born four years later on a nearby farm.

Nor do we know why he started doing shackled driving stunts in 1917 as the “Cowboy Chauffeur.” A mid-life crisis? He was associated from the beginning with western themes and had a custom saddle to fit the hood of his car. At rodeos, local cowpunchers would try to hold on while Dooley made the car “buck” and sometimes he chased down a steer as the cowboy on the hood tried to rope it.

We know he made appearances that year at a rodeo in Salinas, the Stanislaus Livestock Fair and the Arizona state fair, but if he was paid much or anything for these appearances is anyone’s guess. It’s possible he was underwritten by the carmaker; in a 1917 newsletter for dealers, “The Oldsmobile Pacemaker,” it was boasted, “this feat of Dooley’s of driving without his hands and of guiding the car with his knees, proves how absolutely true the alignment of the wheels and steering mechanism is and how easily an Oldsmobile may be handled.” Another blurb appeared in the Los Angeles Times where Dooley praised the Oldsmobile Eight as a “super-quality” car.

It may be discovered he performed at other 1917 rodeos and fairs in the hinterlands – many newspapers from smaller counties are not yet online, and he didn’t get much coverage anyway. There was one brief item in a Modesto paper when he appeared there, and they misnamed him as “Dan” Dooley.

But truthfully, the hands-free driving schtick had limited appeal. It was more like a party trick, and one of the mentions that year had him driving up and down one of San Francisco’s steepest streets on a bet with other salesmen at the Olds dealership.

Come 1918, however, the “Cowboy Chauffeur” was reborn as “Daredevil Dooley” and “‘Suicide’ Ed Dooley.” Ed still did everything handcuffed but it became part of a complete show: “Dooley’s Automobile Rodeo,” which was to make its world debut at the Santa Rosa fairgrounds.

Dooley now had a press agent, a performance team and a small fleet of luxe cars to wreck. Who bankrolled the show is unknown, but it seems clear the objective was to get a Hollywood deal. An item in a Sacramento paper was clearly lifted from a PR handout: “Dooley has worked with Doug Fairbanks, Bill Hart and many of the big leaguers in the picture and racing world, and a year ago beat Barney Oldfield and others in the Phoenix race.” He was never in a race of any kind with Oldfield and no mention whatsoever can be found of him associating with moviemakers, although a newsreel crew supposedly filmed the whole doings in Santa Rosa.

The novelty act in the show was the “world’s youngest driver,” Ed’s son Ronald, who they claimed was five years-old but was actually six (Ed also shaved a couple of years off his own age when he registered for the draft later that year). More PR, this time appearing in the Press Democrat: “…this little chap, who cannot reach around the steering wheel, who has to slide ‘way forward in his seat to reach the brakes or change gears, is a thoroughly accomplished driver. Dooley tested his son repeatedly in the heavy traffic of San Francisco, and is satisfied that the boy has won his spurs.”

There were eleven parts in the Santa Rosa program, as transcribed below. Ed did his usual handcuff tricks and the cowboy bucking stunt along with a tug of war between two autos, a relay race and a few other competitions with both cars and motorbikes. There was also “the man from the Philippines, climbing a greased pole 40-foot high,” about which the less said.

The big attraction, of course, was the head-on collision. “‘First exhibition of its kind in history,’ the press agent says.”

 

dooleysantarosa

 

From the Sebastopol Times: “…And then will come the tremendous finale, the daring, death-defying head-on collision of two big touring cars, hurtling across the field toward each other at a rate of fifty miles an hour. Few people have ever seen a serious automobile accident, and those who have bear witness to the thrill of the impact of two great bodies. It is a breath-catching sensation, the one instant before the big cars crash with a roar that can be heard for blocks…”

I’ll offer only a few comments about this stunt: Presumably the driver’s doors were removed; presumably Ed and the other driver had practiced diving out of their cars at high speeds. Still, Edward Dooley was a 39 year-old man and from his photos appeared to be more chunky than lithe. He recently also had been in a highway auto accident near Fresno, when a tire blew out and hurled him 30 feet from the car.

There are no reviews to be found of the show, but we know no one was seriously injured – after all, they did the same head-on show a month later at Idora Park in Oakland. The only additional detail is that in Oakland both cars started from inclines, so it’s possible the engines were not running at the time of the collision.

Another month passed and it was time for the California state fair. The Sacramento papers were calling him “Suicide” Ed Dooley because his new stunt was to jump over a 20-foot high house constructed on the infield of the race track. His 3,000 lb. Oldsmobile Eight would shoot up a 50° ramp, fly over the roof and crash land on the other side.

This time he would not jump free at the last moment. “What will happen however, when the car hits the ground after its terrifying drop, even Dooley himself does not know, although he hopes to escape with nothing worse than a badly smashed car and a severe shaking-up,” said the San Francisco Chronicle.

And here’s the Believe-it-or-Not! twist: As crazy as that was, Ed Dooley had an even more risky stunt planned. Less than a week later, he was scheduled to be back at Idora Park, where he would perform another head-on collision – except it would be in midair this time. Both cars would race up an incline and the drivers would jump out just before the cars hit head-on, twenty feet in the air.

We don’t know if he did that show, and nor do we know if he did the house jump – again, it wasn’t customary to publish reviews of such entertainment events. But there certainly would have been news items if someone was killed or seriously injured, just as it was reported that several attendees were taken to the hospital when an Idora Park carnival ride malfunctioned that same afternoon.

It’s certain, though, that Daredevil Dooley’s career was over, having lasted only three (two?) months. Maybe his backers became cost-conscious after seeing how many $4,000+ autos he was busting up (the equivalent to about $70k per car today). Maybe it was because there was light attendance at his shows, as the Spanish Flu was near its peak and people were advised to avoid public places. Or maybe he could no longer ignore the toll on his middle-aged body caused by all those jumps from speeding cars.

Ed Dooley died in San Francisco about a year later, in December 1919. The cause was said to be “an attack of rheumatism” but it was probably a heart attack – at the time they didn’t understand rheumatoid arthritis is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease.

Had he reflected upon his daredevil days, I’m sure he would have remembered the Santa Rosa appearance as the high mark; not only did he receive the most publicity here but it was the only time his son was part of the show. Our ancestors, however, might not have remembered the day so fondly, as people all over town found themselves being pestered by all that noise in the middle of a very pleasant Summer afternoon. Say, did you just hear a terrible car crash? It sounded awfully close.

 

Item from The Los Angeles Times, November 18 1917
Item from The Los Angeles Times, November 18 1917

 

 

Undated portrait of Kieran Edward Dooley (Photo: Ancestry)
Undated portrait of Kieran Edward Dooley (Photo: Ancestry)

 

 

Illustration from "The Oldsmobile Pacemaker," December 1917
Illustration from “The Oldsmobile Pacemaker,” December 1917

 

 

 

 

sources
Edward Dooley, one of the best known salesmen in the local automobile trade, has been appointed general manager for the Master Spark Company and will make his headquarters in Los Angeles. Dooley has been a member of the J. W. Leavitt Company and is well known to motorists throughout this part of the state.

– San Francisco Examiner, June 8, 1915

 

DOOLEY READY FOR BIG STUNT
HANDCUFFED HE WILL DRIVE OLDSMOBILE FROM METROPOLIS TO SALINAS

Tomorrow a spectacular stunt advertising the California Rodeo will take place. Ed Dooley will leave San Francisco at 12:30 p. m. from Third and Market street with his hands securely hand-cuffed behind him and under these difficulties will drive an Oldsmobile to Salinas. Miss Kitty Doner, leading star at the Cort theater, will lock the handcuffs and speed Dooley on his way…

– Salinas The Californian, July 16, 1917

 

COWBOY TO RIDE AUTO AT RODEO
Bucking Motor Car to Be Feature of California Round-Up Next Saturday.

Despite the fact that one of his arms was broken when a high-powered racing car crashed into his “broncho” automobile recently, Edward Dooley, cowboy motorist, who recently drove from this city to Salinas with his hands manacled behind his back, will appear at the California Cowboys’ Roundup, to be held under the auspices of the Newspaper Men’s Club of San Francisco at Ewing Field, September 8, 9, and 10.

Dooley, who is under a surgeon’s care, declared yesterday that he would put his car through its paces at the roundup with his good arm strapped behind him and the injured member in a sling…

– San Francisco Examiner, September 2, 1917

 

NOVELTY STUNT OFFERED FAIR

Most people have enough trouble driving an auto with their hands but Ed Dooley, called the “Cowboy Chauffeur,” found that too tame and so he has developed the habit of driving the festive motor car with his hands handcuffed behind him. Dooley is in Phoenix planning to hook up with the State Fair for an exhibition if such a thing is possible and with him he brings a big scrapbook of notices of his stunts on the coast.

Dooley has driven hundreds of miles using his feet to shift gears with and his knees to steer by. He climbs in his car up an artificial flight of steps set at an angle of nearly 40 degrees and he does a number of other hair-raising stunts besides, according to press notices.

– Phoenix Arizona Republic, October 10, 1917

 

 

See Ed Dooley at the Fair today ride around the track at 40 miles per hour in an Oldsmobile “8” hand-cuffed and steering with his feet!

– Oldsmobile ad in Phoenix Arizona Republic, November 14, 1917

 

 

Drives Auto Without Use of Hands or Feet

Ed Dooley, who recently drove an Oldsmobile from Los Angeles with his hands handcuffed behind him, has arrived in San Francisco.

Dooley has found that the Olds is the easiest car on the market to-day to handle this way, and has decided to prove this fact by driving around this city manacled with his hands behind his back.

He has a wager with some of the salesmen of J. W. Leavitt & Co. that he can drive an Oldsmobile up Jones-street hill, stop half way, back down, and then proceed up the hill.

Dooley will drive his auto along the Ocean boulevard in this method this afternoon.

– San Francisco Examiner, December 9, 1917

 

 

A spectacular automobile rodeo, with touring cars, runabouts and motorcycles replacing the bucking broncos, wild steers and outlaws of the old rodeo, will be the attraction offered July 4th at the Santa Rosa Fair grounds. The feature of the day will be a head-on collision between two huge touring cars. Ed Dooley, known from coast to coast where daredevil automobile driving creates a thrill, has assembled a group of daring spiries into an aggregation known as Dooley’s Rodeo Company, and the intrepid crew will present their sensational feats of skill and danger on the afternoon of the Fourth.

Dooley’s Los Angeles-Yuma race across the sands of the Mohave won him national recognition as a driver of utter fearlessness. His feats, throughout the southwest country are spoken of with bated breath. His run last year from San Francisco to Salinas, with his hands manacled behind his back, was at once the joy of those who love a new thrill, and the bane of the speed cops.

This year “Daredevil Dooley” as his associates in the auto game call him, has perfected his handcuff driving to such an extent that throughout the entire rodeo July 4th, he will do all his driving, no matter how difficult the feat or how desperate the chance, with his wrists handcuffed behind his neck.

Dooley drives with his knees and the muscles of his legs. Just a few paces ahead may loom sudden danger. Despite the fact that he has not the use of his hands, an almost indistinguistable [sic] motion of the muscles sends intrepid driver and his car safely by. Automobile and motorcycle racing, an auto race backward, a hundred yard dash between a sprinter and an autoist, and several other racing novelties — in all of which Dooley drives handcuffed, will comprise the early part of the program.

Another feature of universal appeal will be the driving of Dooley’s little five year old son, Ronald. This handsome, curly-headed lad, who, his dad claims is the youngest professional driver in the world, handles his big car with a sureness that many an older driver would envy.

The tug of war between two big autos will provide thrills of a different nature. The sight of the huge cars tugging and straining in an effort to conquer their rivals; the battle of the gasoline giants is well worth watching.

But the great feature of the day, the soul-stirring, hair-raising tremendous finale of a program full of thrills, will be offered by the head-on collision. A huge Winton Six will be sent by Dooley (handcuffed) hurtling across the field to crash head-on into a Cadillac, started from the opposite side of the race course. The crash of these two big cars provides a sensation well worth experiencing.

Prior to the opening of the Rodeo. Dooley and his fellow motorists will take part in the big Moose parade. The Fair grounds gates will be opened at noon on July 4, and the rodeo will advance sale of seats will be announced shortly. The price of admission will be $1.

– Press Democrat, June 23 1918

 

BIG AUTO RODEO AT SANTA ROSA ON JULY FOURTH

…Dooley, who has won a name for himself throughout the country as one of the most daring men who ever handled the wheel of a car, will present many novelties in the way of thrilling driving on the occasion of the big rodeo.

“Daredevil Dooley,” they called him when he flashed into national prominence in the Los Angeles-Yuma Desert Classic several years ago; and in the southwest, men who saw his reckless performance in the wild dash across the sands still speak of his feats with awe…

– Petaluma Argus, June 24 1918

 

THE AUTO RODEO HERE ON FOURTH
Whole Lot of Merriment and Sport Is Promised by Stunts of “Dare Devil Dooley” and His Aggregation When They Show Here on the Holiday.

Hundreds of small boys from Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties, who are counting impatiently the days until “The Fourth,” which will bring Dooley’s Automobile Rodeo to the Santa Rosa Fair Grounds, are no more impatient for the big day than a certain little fellow, just past his fifth birthday, down in San Francisco.

War demands for powder this year promise to do away with fire-crackers altogether, but the head-on collision of two great touring cars, a giant Winton six and a Locomobile, which are already in Santa Rosa awaiting the word that will send them crashing head-on into each other, this collision of the gasoline giants, the kiddles know, will cause a bang! bigger than any cannon cracker they ever fired in the days before the “Safe and Sane” rule went into effect.

Down in San Francisco, is the little five-year-old son , of “Daredevil Dooley,” the auto handcuff king who will put on the big show. Little Ronald Dooley is counting the days before the Rodeo just as impatiently as any lad who has been figuring on how he would he able to “raise” the price of admission.

For Ronald, on the afternoon of July 4, will make his first bow to the public in the game his father has learned so well, that of professional automobile driver. From the time he has been able to walk, the little fellow has had a love for the big fast cars his daddy uses, and nightly takes his ride behind a daring driver. Little by little, he mastered the controls himself; and now this little chap, who cannot reach around the steering wheel, who has to slide ‘way forward in his seat to reach the brakes or change gears, is a thoroughly accomplished driver.

Dooley tested his son repeatedly in the heavy traffic of San Francisco, and is satisfied that the boy has won his spurs; so Ronald will give his first public exhibition of his skill July 4.

And here’s the good news for all the other kiddies who have been looking forward to the big show and wondering whether there would be a tent for them to sneak under (which there won’t).

In order that there may be a goodly bunch of little fellows and their sisters out to make little Ronald feel at home, Dooley will admit free all children under ten years of age who are accompanied by their parents. Up to 16 half price will he charged.

Remember, the head-on collision of the big autos, racing together at a 50-mlle-an-hour rate, will not be the whole show: not by a whole lot. There will be automobile races, three fast motorcycle contests for purses of goodly size; an auto tug-of-war, automobile bucking contests, an auto hurdle race, racing backward, and many other big events. It will be a big day for both the kiddies and their parents.

In the morning. Donley and his drivers will take part in the Moose parade, with their cars and motorcycles. The gates will open at noon, and the big show will commence promptly at 2:30.

– Press Democrat, June 27 1918

 

DOOLEY’S AUTO RODEO SANTA ROSA JULY 4

…And then will come the tremendous finale, the daring, death-defying head-on collision of two big touring cars, hurtling across the field toward each other at a rate of fifty miles an hour. Few people have ever seen a serious automobile accident, and those who have bear witness to the thrill of the impact of two great bodies. It is a breath-catching sensation, the one instant before the big cars crash with a roar that can be heard for blocks…

– Sebastopol Times, June 28 1918

 

ED DOOLEY AND HIS SON ARE HERE

Ed Dooley, famous for his daredevil automobile driving, and his five year-old son are here preparatory to their exhibition at the race track on July 4th. Mr. Dooley has many interesting tales to tell about his experiences and narrow escapes while performing his feats in his big Oldsmobile “8.” Many times he had escaped death by only a hair’s breadth, and has lain in hospitals several times from accidents received while performing his stunts. Following is an article that appeared recently in a Fresno paper after a harrowing handcuff drive between that city and Modesto:

Edward Dooley, handcuffed auto pilot, narrowly escaped death early this morning when the automobile he was driving to the county fair here was ditched as a result of a blowout while the machine was rounding ‘death curve” on the road between this city and Modesto.

The machine, which was traveling at the rate of fifty miles an hour, was completely demolished and Dooley was hurled a distance of thirty feet, escaping, however, with a few minor scratches and bruises.

Dooley, who was a feature at the recent California cowboys’ round-up held by the Newspapermen’s Club of San Francisco, had been showing at the Modesto round-up and was making the handcuffed drive to Fresno on a wager.

At the time of the accident he had covered the greater part of the distance between Modesto and this city in the record time of two hours and 10 minutes.

– Press Democrat, June 29 1918

 

“DARE DEVIL’S” BIG FROLIC DN THE MORROW

When “Daredevil” Ed Dooley, hands manacled behind his back, hurls his powerful automobile out onto the Santa Rosa Fair Grounds track tomorrow afternoon, his appearance will signal the opening of one of the most spectacularly thrilling programs ever presented on a California race course.

For Dooley’s Automobile Rodeo will be truly a twentieth century roundup. with motor-driven cars, automobiles and motorcycles, replacing the fractious steeds and wild steers of the conventional rodeo; their daring drivers performing feats of skill and danger in a manner bound to bring the throngs to their feet with cheers for the intrepid performers.

Dooley himself is the premier of the daredevil crew who will race their gasoline steeds in novel contests of all kinds. The veteran of a hundred tracks, who has no superior in his line, will perform all his feats without the use of his hands, which will be firmly handcuffed behind his back. With this handicap, he will race the most reckless drivers of his crew; he will drive backward, will take part in the auto relay race, and in the stake or hurdle driving.

The motorcycle races will add their quota of thrills and excitement to the program. Dooley has secured ten of the fastest drivers in the bay district, and will present them in three death-defying contests. Substantial prizes have been offered the winners in the various races, and each man will be out to make the fastest time of which his machine is capable.

The auto bucking contest will be another event far out of the ordinary, and should prove productive of considerable excitement. Dooley during the past week has been busy rounding up range riders famous for their conquests of outlaw horses, and has offered a large bonus to the rider who can stay on a saddle attached to the radiator of his automobile.

– Press Democrat, July 3 1918

 

PICTURE MEN AT RODEO

With the completion of the track for the head-on collision of two big touring cars at the Santa Rosa Fair grounds on the afternoon of the Fourth, Edward Dooley manager of Dooley’s Automobile Rodeo, announced today that all is in readiness for the spectacular entertainment. Dooley has built a runway for the two cars, that will send them unerringly together to destruction at a fifty-mile an hour rate. The head-on collision will be the spectacular finale of the day’s program of thrills.

Attracted by the possibilities of the many novel events, moving picture producers have been besieging Dooley for the exclusive rights to film the various features; and today Dooley announce that he had finally closed with a San Francisco movie man.

The latter will “shoot” not only the automobile and motorcycle races, but the auto tug-of-war, Dooley himself in his sensational and daring exhibition of handcuffed driving; little Ronald Dooley, five-year old driver; the auto hurdle and relay racing; the auto bucking contest, in which a cowboy attempts to keep to the saddle strapped securely to the radiator of a bucking automobile; the racing backward, and all the other unique events.

Dooley announced today that he would himself pay the war tax on admissions; so there will be no charge outside the admission price…

– Petaluma Courier, July 3 1918

 

PROGRAM AT THE AUTO RODEO HERE THIS AFTERNOON
Card of Events That Will Be Pulled Off by “Daredevil Dooley” and His Performers at the Race Track This Afternoon, Beginning at Two o’Clock.

The program for “Daredevil Dooley’s Auto Rodeo” at the race track, beginning at half past two o’clock this afternoon, will be replete with many startling and unique features, and “Daredevil Dooley” and his five-year-old son, manly Master Ronald Dooley, will be the principal stars, assisted by a galaxy of other lesser stars. The auto tug-of-war, the great motorcycles and many other features will be on tap for the thousands this afternoon.

“Daredevil Dooley” can do most anything he wants with an automobile hurdle, drive it blindfolded and with his hands manacled and goodness knows what else. His work has attracted thousands at many rodeos.

THE BIG PROGRAM

First event – Motorcycle race; amateur: 10 miles: $5O cash prizes.
Second – Relay race with nine automobiles. First time ever attempted.
Third – Tug-of-war; automobiles.
Fourth – Stake race; with automobiles. First time on record.
Fifth – Ronald Dooley: five years of age; world’s youngest driver; demonstrating his complete control of seven-passenger, 60-horsepower touring car.
Sixth – “Ed” Dooley (“Daredevil” Dooley) in exhibition handcuff stunts
Seventh – “Daredevil” Dooley vs. B. C. Madden in five-mile auto race; Dooley driving handcuffed.
Eighth – Automobile bucking contest.
Ninth – The man from the Philippines, climbing a greased pole 40-foot high.
Tenth – Motorcycle race; five-mile; professional entrants; $50 cash prize.
Eleventh – Head-on collision between a Winton “Six” and a Locomobile “Six”. “First exhibition of its kind in history.” the press agent says.

– Press Democrat, July 4 1918

 

AUTOS TO CRASH AT IDORA SUNDAY

All is in readiness for the sensational head-on automobile collision which is to be staged in the stadium at Idora Park tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 o’clock sharp.

The spectacle will be a thriller from start to finish.

From the heights of two inclines at opposite ends of the stadium. “Daredevil” Dooley and Jack Rigo will drive the autos at breakneck speed to collide head-on in the center of the stadium.

To see these powerful cars driven to destruction at top speed, with the drivers clinging desperately to the wheel up to a fraction of a second of the terrific compact, is to experience death-threatening suspense, relieved only by the final crash in which the machines crumple up like a deck of cards.

Thrill is piled on thrill during the brief period the autos are racing toward each other, speeding at more than 50 miles an hour.

Dooley and Rigo must keep their nerve. They must use iron control and their eyes must work in unison with their minds. Otherwise they, too, face destruction.

But the spectators need have no fear. “Daredevil” Dooley and Jack Rigo have ridden in this spectacle before. They will leap from the machines a moment before the smash. They will jump to safety.

At any rate Idora visitors are promised the most sensational spectacle, free in the stadium, that has ever been staged in Oakland.

– Oakland Tribune, August 3, 1918

 

Dooley Will Jump Over 20-Foot House in an Oldsmobile
Other Stunts Will Be Performed at State Fair by Hair-Raising Dare-Devil.

Ed Dooley, famous the country over for his spectacular stunts with automobiles, is here this week and will stage a series of events at the state fair destined to thrill the thousands as they have never been thrilled before.

Dooley will use an Oldsmobile in a sensational leap over a house Monday at 3:3O and several other hair-raising feats will be pulled off during the week. Dooley has worked with Doug Fairbanks, Bill Hart and many of the big leaguers in the picture and racing world, and a year ago beat Barney Oldfield and others in the Phoenix race. He is using the same Olds he used in this race.

Dooley has just finished a 188-mile drive in 4 hours and 45 minutes handcuffed and he will demonstrate his handcuff driving some time during the week at the fair grounds. In the handcuff driving Dooley works with his hands behind his back and his performance has been the wonder of automobile men since he first staged this remarkable event.

– Sacramento Union, September 1 1918

 

[State Fair schedule] …This afternoon promises to be one of the most interesting of the fair. The most sensational features will be the harness races and the dare-devil ride of “Suicide” Ed Dooley, the cowboy chauffeur.

Dooley will hurl his big Olds machine over the top of a twenty-foot high house while driving with his hands handcuffed behind him.

Dooley, guiding his car with his knees and manipulating the gears with his feet, will depend upon the momentum gained from a dash up a runway to the eaves of the house to carry him clear over the roof.

– Sacramento Union, September 2 1918

 

DOOLEY WILL DRIVE HIS CAR OFF HOUSETOP
Cowboy Chauffeur to Give Spectacular Exhibition at State Fair

The big spectacular thrill of the California State Fair programme will occur Monday afternoon at 4:30 o’clock, when “Suicide” Ed Dooley, the cowboy chauffeur will hurl his big Oldsmobile Eight touring car over the top of a twenty-foot high house while driving with his hands handcuffed behind him at a speed of thirty or forty miles an hour.

The house and wooden runway approaching it are being erected on the infield of the race track in front of the grandstand especially for the stunt. The runway, rising sharply on a 50 degree angle, will end abruptly a foot or two below the eaves of the house and several feet distant from the side wall.

Dooley, guiding the car with his knees and manipulating the gears with his feet, will depend upon the momentum gained from his dash up the runway to carry him clear over the roof. What will happen however, when the car hits the ground after its terrifying drop, even Dooley himself does not know, although he hopes to escape with nothing worse than a badly smashed car and a severe shaking-up.

– San Francisco Chronicle, September 3 1918

 

Cars, Head-On in Air, To Be Idora Card

Two automobiles, racing down inclines from opposite ends of the stadium, leaping across a space of fifty feet and crashing head-on in mid-air, this is the spectacle supreme which will thrill Admission Day crowds at Adora Park Monday afternoon.

This thriller has never before been attempted. Engineers have figured out the weight of the cars, the speed necessary for them to travel and the exact spot, twenty feet above the ground, where they will collide head-on.

“Suicide” Ed Dooley will drive one of the machines and Jack Riga the other. Both drivers will jump to safety a fraction of a second before the cars leap skyward.

– San Francisco Examiner, September 7 1918

 

Ed Dooley, Popular Auto Man, Is Dead

Local motordom is this week mourning the death of Ed Dooley, one of the best-known salesmen identified with the industry. Dooley died Friday following an attack of rheumatism.

Dooley was quite a character, as his many novel stunts with an automobile were so daring that they attracted the attention of the general public. One of his recent feats was to tour to the Salinas rodeo with his hands securely fastened with handcuffs, while on another occasion he drove with handcuffs on through the traffic in Market street escorted by motorcycle police.

For years Dooley had been identified with the distributers of Oldsmobile cars and trucks, having worked as salesman for J. W. Leavitt & Co., as well as the former handlers of this line.

Dooley was not only prominent in the automobile world, but he had a host of friends in all walks of life. Politicians and theatrical people also knew Dooley almost as well as motorists, and he is being mourned by thousands.

A widow and six-year-old son survive.

– San Francisco Chronicle, December 14, 1919

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WHEN WE BEGAN DRIVING LIKE MANIACS

Ah, 1913, the year Californians demonstrated how easy it was for untrained drivers to get behind the wheel, drive really fast and run people down.

On just one December day in San Francisco, a man named Caseilli was arrested for a hit and run of three children (“I didn’t think they were badly hurt and they were picked up, so I went on”). A man named Roy Burton was charged with hitting a pedestrian (at least he gave the victim a ride part of the way home, dropping him off within two blocks). Louis Kantor was arrested as the suspect of a joy ride that killed a bank teller and the driver of an “auto hearse” ran down a four year-old. The child was not seriously hurt but that fellow should be cheered for stopping at all, although it may have been to check whether he had a new customer to ride in the back.

Those numbers weren’t unusual; the Santa Rosa Republican offered an editorial that June, noting five were killed on a single day in Oakland. On the same day the Santa Rosa paper spotted a car racing down King street (“where police officers seldom come”) at unsafe speeds. “Wherever it is believed the police officers are not plentiful or are too busy to see everything, some auto drivers will take advantage of the situation,” the editor complained. “There seems no way to check the habit. The daily auto death toll grows larger.”

It was a serious issue not being treated very seriously by the state, which still regarded a car as horse-and-buggy version 2.0. At the time the entire section of California law related to automobiles was only 19 short paragraphs and could easily fit on a pocket-sized card. All auto accidents were classified misdemeanors and as for hitting someone, the law stated: “In case of accident or injury to person or property car must stop and if requested, give name of owner” (emphasis mine). There was no requirement to help the victim or mention of what was required if the person was unconscious – or dead.

At least the law did say the driver and/or owner of the car could be sued for injuries or property damage, but a couple of earlier high-profile local accidents demonstrated how well that worked out – or didn’t.

In late 1910 a Sebastopol farmer named Walter Elphick was driving a car at night on the road from Santa Rosa to Penngrove. (Before you ask, Elphick Road in Sebastopol is apparently named after his father Henry.) He hit the buggy of David Batchelor, who had a real estate and insurance office in Penngrove. Batchelor was thrown 25 feet from the buggy. His horse broke free as the car shoved the buggy 50 feet back. Elphick lied about his identity (he said his name was Jones and he was headed to Cloverdale) but Batchelor noted the license number on the car. Bachelor sued for $3,000 damages.

At the jury trial Bachelor testified that the car was on the wrong side of the road and going over 40 MPH (this was 1910 and country roads were not paved). Elphick said he tried to stop but his tires skidded. As for the fake name, he claimed he didn’t really remember that clearly, but he lied to “avoid publicity.” The jury awarded Bachelor $700, which was about what the average family earned for a year.

But the matter still wasn’t settled because: Lawyers.

Five months later, Elphick asked for a new trial. His lawyer was this journal’s anti-hero James Wyatt Oates who built (what would become known as) Comstock House. A young apple farmer wouldn’t normally be able to hire the top lawyer around, but Oates was a fanatical car nut who had just ended two terms as president of the Sonoma County Automobile Association, and likely took on the case gratis. Elphick now claimed “the accident was unavoidable and that Batchelor was not thrown from his buggy at the time of the impact, but was thrown later when his horse became unmanageable,” according to the Press Democrat. After seven hours of deliberation, the jury knocked the award down to $125.

The other notable accident happened in 1911 when Sloan Boyd, a young man who lived in Rincon Valley, was hit while riding his bicycle home from work at night. This time the victim’s injuries were quite serious; he was hospitalized for six weeks and “for several days he was delirious and it was not thought he would live,” reported the Republican. The PD showed great interest in the case and offered regular updates on Boyd’s improving condition but curiously, never mentioned who was responsible except for the initial story declaring it was “a San Francisco man.” But even that was wrong; he was Samuel Stitt, the manager of a significant Los Angeles bank and the car belonged to his fiancée Hazel Farmer, a member of Santa Rosa’s elite society.

The daughter of Dorothy Farmer (think Farmers Lane), Hazel and her mother were as crazy about cars as Wyatt Oates and both were part of the Oates’ small circle of friends. In 1909 Dorothy had purchased a Packard in Los Angeles and she and Hazel drove all the way back to Santa Rosa – no easy feat since those primitive automobiles broke down regularly and most roads between towns were horse trails. Both were often featured in the Press Democrat for their motoring adventures around the state.

The badly injured bicyclist sued for $21,720 – an amount so specific that it had to be itemized – and the suit was quickly settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. Hazel married Stitt shortly thereafter and her name again regularly adorned the PD social pages. (As a little Believe-it-or-Not! aside, mother Dorothy lived to 100 and died in 1964, enjoying good health all of her life except for 1947, when she fell and broke her hip on the corner of Fifth and Humboldt streets – struck by a bicycle.)

Sloan Boyd was well compensated for having been hit by an heiress, while David Batchelor probably didn’t have enough left over after paying his attorney to buy a new buggy wheel. But the bigger picture is that both were totally on their own after being run over; there was no requirement for car insurance (the first ads for it didn’t appear in the Press Democrat until 1916) and no expectation the police would investigate whether or not the driver was driving dangerously.

Meanwhile, every year the new cars were bigger, heavier and faster – and there were lots more of them; by the spring of 1913, California had over 100,000 registered cars. That worked out to about one per every 25 residents, and you can bet more people than just car owners were driving them. Few had any kind of insurance and none were expected to pass even the most minimal driving test, as there was no license required to drive. What would you expect the outcome to be?

Always a good reflection of popular culture, nearly every Sunday the funnies found in city papers would have at least one cartoon showing some hapless soul losing control of a car and crashing. There was also “Motorcycle Mike,” a popular comic strip where the whole gag was a reckless guy riding around accidentally causing random destruction and sending people flying.

By 1913 there was also a new disturbing trend: Hit and run accidents.

“Hit and run” was not yet a common term in 1913, but Google offers an “Ngram Viewer” that scans all 30 million items in Google Books (which includes many magazines and journals) for words or phrases, and for the first two decades of the 20th century it shows a spike nationally around that year for accident-related terms such as, “hit by an automobile,” run over by an automobile” and yes, “hit and run.” From then onward, phrases like these climb sharply in use.

Locally there were at least three serious hit and run incidents in 1913. In Santa Rosa a man on a motorcycle was run down on Mendocino avenue near Cherry street and a bicyclist was knocked unconscious on Santa Rosa avenue. Those drivers apparently were not caught, but a Napa man named Oscar Godwin was arrested for rear-ending at high speed a buggy on the road to St. Helena, where two young women were thrown to the ground. Godwin’s excuse for not stopping was that his passengers forced him to keep going.

Clearly, something had to be done. Lacking a workable set of rules of the road from the state, local jurisdictions were stepping in to set their own basic laws, such as Santa Rosa requiring tail lights and drivers to keep to the right side of the street (see “DRIVING LIKE A SANTA ROSAN“). Finally, the legislature revamped the entire section of code with the Vehicle Act of 1913.

The new state code was comprehensive – far too comprehensive to the likes of many. Drivers had chafed even under the old laws and griped they were being picked upon; the great cartoonist Rube Goldberg earlier had produced a cartoon for the San Francisco Call satirizing a tortuous visit to police court for a speeding ticket (the harassed driver looks suspiciously like Rube himself, BTW).

Rube Goldberg/San Francisco Call, May 7, 1911

 

 

Little, if anything, in the 1913 law seems controversial today. No street racing was allowed without a permit, no drunk driving, joyriding was illegal without the owner’s permission and no one under the age of 16 could drive, for ex. Addressing hit and run, §367c of the new law finally required the driver to not only stop but provide help, while making it a felony to flee the scene.

But there were loud complaints that even those changes were overreach and an affront to liberty itself. A superior court judge in San Bernardino had declared all these rules were “discrimination” against drivers because similar restrictions weren’t placed on people using horses. Even providing your name at the scene of an accident was unconstitutional, that judge said, because it could be self-incriminating – and again, not at all required if you were behind a horse. Because of this absurdly strict interpretation, hit and run was knocked down from a felony back to being a misdemeanor.

The rollicking statewide fight over the California Vehicle Act of 1913 would be a fun article to write (my god, the passion!) but not for here. I’ll close by adding there was even a squabble over the new requirement for an “automobile warning signal.” Every vehicle had to have a signaling device “capable of emitting an abrupt sound, adequate in quality and volume to give warning of the approach of such vehicle.” Further, it was illegal to use the signals “for any purpose except as warnings of danger.” In other words: A horn.

 

 

SUES FOR INJURIES IN AUTO COLLISION
D. W. Batchelor Brings Action for $3,000 from W. R. Elphick Whom He Says Was Careless

For alleged carelessness and negligence on the part of W. R. Elphick, in driving his automobile into the vehicle in which D. W. Batchelor was riding on the night of December 11, 1910, Mr. Batchelor, through his attorney, Judge Samuel K. Dougherty, commenced a suit to recover $3,000 damages from Elphick in the Superior Court on Saturday. Mr. Batchelor cites in his complaint that he sustained painful injuries and that his vehicle was damaged. He was required to have medical attention and medicines and his business as a real estate man was interfered with. The collision occurred on the road from Santa Rosa to Penngrove.

– Press Democrat, January 1 1911

 

Will Contest the Case

Attorney J. W. Oates has been retained by W. R. Elphick to defend the action filed against him by D. W. Batchelor, to recover damages for injuries received in a collision on the county road on the night of December 11, when it is alleged Elphick ran into the buggy occupied by the plaintiff. Mr. Elphick denies any responsibility for the accident.

– Press Democrat, January 5 1911

 

DAMAGES ASKED IN AUTO SUIT
D. W. Batchelor Sues W. R. Elphick For Injuries Sustained in Automobile Collision

Before Superior Judge A. J. Buckles of Solano county, sitting in Judge Denny’s court, the trial was commenced of the suit for $3,000 damages brought by W. W. Batchelor against W. R. Elphick for injuries sustained and damage done near Penngrove, when Elphlck’s automobile crashed Into the buggy In which he was riding.

It was a Jury trial…

Surveyor Newton V. V. Smyth was called to explain a chart he had made of the scene of the accident. He also computed the speed at which the auto was going.

Batchelor testified that at the time of the crash he was hurled twenty-five feet and that the buggy was carried or dragged for fifty feet on the front of the automobile, the horse having broke loose.

Batchelor testified that at the time of the colllson he was on the right side of the road and the automobile driven by the defendant was on the wrong side of the road. He testified that the machine was being driven at a rate of not less than forty miles an hour. He testified that Elphick gave his name as “Jones,” and said he was going to Cloverdale. Batchelor said he took the number of the machine and by this means learned the identity of the owner of the automobile. He testified that he was injured on the arm and shoulder and also suffered from shock.

Mrs. Batchelor testified as to her husband’s injury and Dr. Bogle was called to the stand and said he found Mr. Batchelor suffering from a contused arm and complaining of pain in the region of the kidneys.

J. D. Cook and son testified as to the manner in which the buggy had been dragged by the automobile and the indentations it had made on the side of the road.

Chief Deputy Assessor J. C. Smith testified as to the assessed value of Mr. Elphlck’s property in this county.

H. A. Atkinson testified as to Batchelor’s having come to his office two weeks after the accident, nursing his arm and in a nervous condition. Geo. Vogt was another witness.

At a few minutes to five o’clock an adjournment was taken until nine o’clock Friday morning. Judge S, K. Dougherty, counsel for Mr. Batchelor, stated that he had one more witness he expected to call before resting the case. Colonel James W. Oates represents Mr. Elphick, and he will call some witnesses. The case will probably go to the jury today.

– Press Democrat, July 7 1911

 

VERDICT GIVES PLAINTIFF $700
D. W. Batchelor Wins His Suit Against W. R. Elphick in the Superior Court

D. W. Batchelor was yesterday afternoon awarded a verdict of $700 by a jury in Judge Denny’s department of the Superior Court, against W. R. Elphick. Judge A. J. Buckles presided at the trial.

Batchelor asked for $1,400 for injuries and damages sustained on account of a collision between Elphlck’s automobile and his horse and buggy. The alleged details of the case have already been stated.

Elphick, Tony Veir and D. H. McReynolds were the witnesses called for the defense yesterday. Mr. Elphick testified that he only saw Batchelor’s rig when he was only a short distance away, and that he did his best to swerve to his side of the road. He said he did not remember fully that he did at first give his name as “Jones.” He did so as to avoid the publicity. He testified that his machine skidded at the time of the collision, and he could not avoid the impact.

Judge Samuel K. Dougherty, who represented the plaintiff, made the opening argument to the jury. Colonel James W. Oates, who represented Mr. Elphick, followed, and Judge Dougherty closed. The jury returned its verdict after a short deliberation. Judge Buckles granted a stay of execution.

– Press Democrat, July 8 1911

 

NEW TRIAL IS GRANTED IN DAMAGE SUIT

In an opinion received yesterday from Judge A. J. Buckles of Solano county, a new trial is granted in the case of D. W. Bachelor against W. R. Elphlck. This sets aside a judgment for $700 granted the plaintiff in the first trial, which was heard by Judge Buckles, sitting in this county. The action was for $3,000 damages for a collision between Batchelor’s buggy and Elphick’s automobile. It was alleged in the complaint that Elphick’s automobile ran up behind the buggy and collided with it, injuring both the vehicle and the plaintiff. The plaintiff is represented by Attorney S. K. Dougherty, and the defendant by Attorney James W. Oates.

– Press Democrat, December 20 1911

 

ALL THE EVIDENCE IN ARGUMENTS TODAY

…Elphick took the stand in his own behalf at the trial on Wednesday and he alleged that the accident was unavoidable and that Batchelor was not thrown from his buggy at the time of the impact, but was thrown later when his horse became unmanageable. He went pretty thoroughly into his contention before he left the stand on direct and cross-examination.

– Press Democrat, March 14, 1912
JURY GIVES HIM $125

After being out for almost seven hours and casting many ballots, the jury in the suit of D. W. Batchelor against W. R. Elphlck brought a verdict into Judge Seawell’s department of the Superior Court on Thursday night shortly before ten o’clock awarding the plaintiff a judgement in the sum of $125. covering all phases of the damages he sustained. Batchelor sued for over $3,000 damages for for alleged personal injuries received and damage done his horse and buggy when Elphlck’s automobile collided with him as he was driving along the country road some distance from this city…

– Press Democrat, March 15, 1912
SLOAN BOYD IS SERIOUSLY HURT
Run Down by an Automobile on Saturday Night Out on the Sonoma Road Near Town

Sloan Boyd, a well known resident of Rincon Valley, while riding home on his blcycle from his employment at the National Ice Company’s establishment in this city on Saturday night, met with a serious accident. He came into a collision head-on with a touring car coming to Santa Rosa in the opposite direction. He was thrown with terrific force from his wheel and suffered serious cuts about the face and head and a bad contusion of the shoulder. A San Francisco man was at the wheel in the automobile.

The machine stopped and Mr. Boyd was hurried to the Mary Jesse Hospital in this city where his injuries were attended to by Dr. Jesse. It Is feared that he may be internally hurt also. He was detained at the hospital. Mrs. Boyd was also brought to the hospital to see her husband as soon as possible after the accident in the automobile which ran him down. The accident happened on a dangerous turn out on the Sonoma road not far from the city limits.

– Press Democrat, October 15 1911
AUTOIST RAN INTO FRANK KURLANDER

Frank Kurlander, a son of Mrs. Maurice Kurlander, was run down by an automobile driver Saturday evening on Mendocino avenue, near Cherry street. The Kurlander boy was riding a motorcycle at the time. Fortunately he was injured but slightly, but his motorcycle was badly damaged. The automobile driver put himself in a serious position by running off without stopping to ascertain what damage he had done and for not rendering assistance. The law is very severe on the auto driver who runs off in hope of not being recognized after he has run into a person. The authorities have the number of the machine which struck young Kurlander, and it will be an easy matter for them to locate the machine.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 1, 1912
AUTO HITS MAN AND LEAVES HIM UNCONSCIOUS IN ROAD
Dashes Away Into the Darkness After the Collision

While riding a bicycle on Santa Rosa avenue Saturday night about half past seven o’clock, Fred Kruse, who lives at Fifth and Riley streets, was run down by an automobile and badly hurt.

The auto did not stop after striking Kruse, but the driver threw on more power and sped away into the darkness. The machine was running at a high rate of speed and had only the small lights burning and did not light up the roadway at all.

Kruse had been working on a ranch belonging to his sister, in Bennett Valley. He was returning to this city and his uncle, mother and brother were following in a buggy. When they turned from Bennett avenue to Santa Rosa avenue they came upon the unconscious form of their relative lying in the road. They picked him up and hurried him to the family home, where Dr. S. I. Wyland was hastily summoned.

The young man was found to have suffered a severe wrenching of the back and his right side and shoulder were badly bruised. There may be internal injuries, though this cannot be determined as yet.

When found Kruse was lying at one side of the road about ten feet ahead of his wheel, which was badly smashed. He was unconscious but was talking incoherently and kept asking why the auto did not stop. When he regained consciousness he could throw but little light on the accident. He said that he thought he had been struck by the fender of the machine. He heard the auto coming Just before it hit him and looked back over his shoulder. He says he instantly realized that he was about to be hit and swerved sharply to one side in an attempt to get out of the way The machine struck him and he called to the occupants of the car as he was hurled to the ground. He says there can be no doubt but that they knew they had hit him. He can give no description of the car. There is not the slightest clew to the Identity of the perpetrators of the outrage. It is about time such business as this was stopped.

– Press Democrat, March 2 1913
NEW AUTOMOBILE LAW SIGNED BY GOVERNOR
Owners and Drivers Will Be Affected by Its Terms
Stringent Regulations Provided for Auto and Motorcycles and New Rate of Licenses Is Provided While County Gets Half the Money Collected

Sacramento, June 14.—Among the bills signed by Governor Johnson today was Assembly bill No. 2095, the automobile registration bill, which transfers the department from the office of the Secretary of Stale and places it in the hands of the State Engineer and the State Treasurer, and provides a new schedule of automobile licenses.

This measure sets forth rules of the road; makes joy-riding, where the consent of the owner has not been obtained, a felony; provides that minors under 16 years shall not be licensed; fixes the speed limit at thirty-five miles an hour; prohibits intoxicated persons from driving an automobile or a motorcycle, and provides that “muffler cutouts” shall not be used within any incorporated city or city and county.

No races or contests for speed shall be permitted without first securing a permit from the proper authorities of the city or county. Motor vehicles must always be driven on the right-hand side of the highway and be under control of the driver, and in case of collision in which a person is hurt ths driver must stop and lend assistance and upon request of the person injured or whose property has been damaged the driver shall give his name and address and the number of his auto license.

Here is the schedule of licenses to bp charged: Motorcycle. $2 a year: automobile, less than 20 horsepower, $5; 20 and less than 30, $10; 30 and less than 40. $16; 40 and less than 50, $20; 50 and less than 60, $25; 60 and above, $30; dealers, for five or less autos. $50, $10, for every automobile In excess of five; dealers in motorcycles, $5 for five seals; every original chauffeur’s license, $2; renewal, $2, and additional seal of registration or license, 50 cents.

All fees or other moneys collected by the State Treasurer shall be placed in a fund known as “the “motor vehicle fund,” and one-half of the receipts shall be returned to the Counties from which they were received, and these funds shall be paid into the road funds of the counties receiving them. San Francisco shall, under the provisions of the act, be deemed a county.

Fines collected in the counties shall be paid into the county treasury, and placed in the “county good roads fund.” Applications for licenses shall be made to the State Engineer, and the licenses shall be issued by him, the money for the same to be paid to the State Treasurer, thus providing a double check on the business.

– Press Democrat, June 15, 1913
HURRY AWAY IN THE DARK
Auto Joyriders Leave Their Victims in the Road

Oscar Godwin, an auto proprietor and driver of Napa, is alleged to have collided with another vehicle near St. Helena last week–also with the new law which makes a crime of the neglect to stop and render assistance in the case of an automobile accident.

Godwin late Tuesday night at a high speed ran his automobile into the rear of a buggy driven by William Bradley. The buggy was wrecked and Misses Beth and Grace Nottage of Oakland were thrown out and severely injured. Godwin hurried on without stopping, though he heard the screams of the frightened and injured girls. In his car were E. Bailey of Napa and two women. The two men have been arrested. Godwin makes the lame excuse that his passengers forced him to drive on, and so to escape bodily injury he left his injured victims lying in the road. The offense is a serious one, as the maximum penalty is five years in the penitentiary, or a fine of $5000, or both. Both men have been released on bail of $1000.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 16, 1913

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