Ask Me

July 26, 2014

Ask Me: High school runners took Olympic torch to Squaw Valley

Question: Our late brother, Larry Robert Garner, carried the Olympic torch from Fowler to Selma in February 1960 when the Winter Olympics were held in Squaw Valley. He was on the Selma High track team at the time. Who were the other boys who carried the torch between Kingsburg and Fresno?

--Margie McNulty, Reedley

Answer: Several high school runners carried the Olympic torch through the Valley in three legs: the southern portion from Kingsburg to Fresno, north to Madera and from there to Merced.

According to a Feb. 2, 1960, story in The Bee, in addition to Garner, other runners and their high schools in the first leg were Joe Imbernon, Vernon Mull, David Gray, Jack Cox and Bob Alves, all of Selma, Frank Rodriguez of Parlier, Don Montague of Kerman, Ronald Birdsell of Caruthers, Byron Huntington of Central, Eugene Marzette, William Riley, Ray Gamino, Allen Marchese, Tom Aragon, Escoe Isom, Clarence Tillman and Edward Burke of Edison, Ted Cox, Dewayne Peterson, Jim Batchelor, Bill Marchant, Rich Dahlgren, Jerry Hancock, Al Davis and Bob Stevenson of Fresno, Lee Harris of Fowler, Stephen Sharkey, Jim Simpson, Neil McDougald and Gary Banks of Sierra, Ralph Espinosa of Tranquility and Charles Parker of Washington Union.

The torch began its trip to the Winter Olympics in Morgedal in Telemark County, Norway, called the "cradle of skiing." From there it traveled by airplane to Los Angeles. About 700 torchbearers, most of them high school runners, carried the 5-pound, kerosene-burning torch from Los Angeles to Bakersfield, Fresno, Stockton, San Francisco, Sacramento and Squaw Valley, traveling through many small communities in-between.

The entire trip took 19 days. The Valley portion was run over about six days in early February. The Winter Olympics opened on Feb. 18 and closed on Feb. 28.

More about the story: Garner died in a traffic accident in 1962, McNulty said. He was 18 and a student at Reedley College. "He was an all-around good guy with a great sense of humor and many friends," she said. "We all considered it a great honor for him to be able to carry the torch."

Q: When I was a youngster in the 1940s and early 1950s there was a one-car passenger train that left the Santa Fe depot early in the morning. The car was furnished with wood paneling, chrome finishes and leather seats. My uncle was one of the conductors and my parents would put me on the train to visit my grandparents in Cutler. Was it also a mail train?

--Frank T. Ward, Fresno

A: Commonly called doodlebugs, these single railcars were self-propelled by gasoline engines. They were developed back East in the early 1900s to serve branch lines and gained popularity across the country. General Electric is credited with developing self-propelled rail cars in 1904.

According to "Fresno County in the 20th Century" doodlebug trains served rural areas of the Valley, carrying passengers, mail and light freight. Branch line service on the doodlebugs began to wane as better roads and heavier trucks were developed.

It's not clear how the cars got their name. Some sources say they were named because they meandered, or "doodled," along the branch lines. Another story says a switchman in Kearney, Neb., once noted that a maroon-colored railcar with a pointed nose looked like a potato bug, which are also called doodlebugs. The trains also were called "skunks" because of the foul smell of the gasoline exhaust.

Q: What are the origins of the street names Herndon, Shaw and Blackstone?

--Andrew Fennacy, Fresno

A: Shaw Avenue was named for a Fresno pioneer, Herndon was named after a rural railroad station, but the naming of Blackstone was a joke that stuck.

Shaw Avenue is named for William T. Shaw, who came to Fresno in 1878 with his cousin M.R. Madary. According to "Legends and Legacies, Vol. II" by the late local historian Catherine Rehart, the cousins bought land and constructed buildings in the young town. Madary ran a lumber mill and Shaw became a building contractor.

In 1882, Shaw married Threna Hedges, whose father H.P. Hedges was on the fire commission. As a side note, Hedges Avenue is named for him.

Shaw was elected constable of Fresno in 1892 and 1894. He was appointed police chief in 1906 and served until 1911. He later served on the police and fire commissions.

According to a 1986 Fresno Bee story, Herndon Avenue was named for the rural railroad station just south of the San Joaquin River, which in turn took its name from an "obscure Southern Pacific (Railroad) employee."

The naming of Blackstone Avenue originated with a joke. Fresno attorney A.M. Drew recounted the story in a 1928 letter reprinted years later in "Fresno Past and Present," the newsletter of the Fresno Historical Society.

In 1888, Drew and a partner mapped out several lots in the Altamont Addition north of Divisadero Street. Several Fresno attorneys built homes along an unnamed county road that stretched north through the area.

"We were getting the map ready for filing when the question of naming the streets came up," Drew wrote. Project surveyor George Manuel asked "what name shall we give this street," pointing to the county road, Drew recalled.

Since area residents already jokingly called it Blackstone, in honor of English jurist Sir William Blackstone, Drew wrote, "I said 'Why not call it Blackstone Avenue,' and turning around he wrote the name thereon."

Drew also owned land east of Blackstone Avenue with an unnamed street that he named after his wife, Abby Drew.

An attempt to change the name of Blackstone to Yosemite Valley Boulevard failed in 1948.

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About Paula Lloyd

Paula Lloyd

Got historical questions? Paula Lloyd has the answers. Lloyd was a Bee reporter and Ask Me columnist -- her "favorite job ever" -- until she retired in 2012. But Ask Me's siren call could not be denied, and she resumed the column in 2013. Contact her at askpaulalloyd@yahoo.com.

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