Ask Me

Freedom Train marking America’s bicentennial stopped in Fresno

One of the Freedom Train’s 20 pair of artifact windows that dramatically portray different decades in America’s history is seen in the early morning twilight. The windows are lighted for night viewing while en route or on a site.
One of the Freedom Train’s 20 pair of artifact windows that dramatically portray different decades in America’s history is seen in the early morning twilight. The windows are lighted for night viewing while en route or on a site. Fresno Bee file

Q: What can you tell me about the Bicentennial Freedom Train that came through Fresno?

Micheline Golden, Clovis

A: The 22-car American Freedom Train, with a display of historic memorabilia celebrating the nation’s bicentennial, attracted more than 40,000 visitors when it stopped in Fresno in 1975 from Dec. 18 to Dec. 22.

The train began its two-year trip crisscrossing America in April 1975. Starting in Wilmington, Delaware, it made its first stop in Boston in time for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington, according to one of many Fresno Bee stories about the historic train. The Bee also published a special section on the Freedom Train’s local visit.

Fresno was the only Valley stop between San Francisco and Los Angeles, although the train slowed its speed through towns to “give residents at least a glimpse” of the 22 cars, freshly painted red, white and blue.

On Dec. 18, 1975, the Freedom Train left San Jose early in the morning, rolling through the Valley to Merced “where a junket of newsmen” boarded the train for the last leg into Fresno. Fresno County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Ventura, who rode along in the news media car, said, “It was a good feeling to see the people along the tracks waving at the train.”

Arriving in Fresno, the train parked on the Southern Pacific tracks near G Street and was greeted by Mayor Ted Wills, other local dignitaries, a large crowd and the Hoover High School marching band.

“The train rolled into Fresno Thursday afternoon pulled by a triumphant whistling steam engine,” a Bee story the following day said. The train was pulled by Southern Pacific’s Engine No. 4449, built in 1941 by the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio, and one of the last steam engines built for passenger train service.

The Freedom Train included 10 converted baggage cars displaying documents and artifacts, including a replica of the lantern hung in the belfry of the Old North Church to warn Paul Revere that the British were coming. Also on display was President Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe hat, 1850 gold miners’ tools, a Navajo blanket, Lou Gehrig’s glove and bats, a portrait of President John F. Kennedy painted by famed artist Jamie Wyeth. and hundreds of other historic items. The train also carried the Freedom Bell, a replica of the Liberty Bell twice the size of the original.

The Freedom Train was open to the public from 6 to 10 p.m. the day it arrived, and about 1,500 people took the 20-minute tour, carried through the display cars on a moving walkway. The exhibit was open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Dec. 19-21. Tour tickets were $1 and $2.

After its Fresno stop, the train made “the long haul over the Tehachapi Mountains into Burbank and then to the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds at Pomona,” a Bee story said.

Q: My home at 366 N. Van Ness Ave. is an eclectic house with many additions. It was used as a pathology lab and housed Inside/Out, a prisoner rights organization, before we bought it. I’m looking for more information.

Chanah Cossman, Fresno

A: Your house played an interesting role in the Valley’s medical history. In addition to the pathology lab, it also housed a blood bank. The business was operated by two local doctors.

Dr. Clarence D. Newel, who graduated from the University of Iowa Medical School in 1929, came to Fresno in 1933 to work for the then-Fresno County General Hospital, according to “Recollections,” a history published by the Fresno-Madera Medical Society.

Newel was the Valley’s only specially trained pathologist, a distinction he held for the next 15 years. He also worked part-time for the Burnett Sanitarium and Saint Agnes Hospital, performed autopsies for the Fresno County Coroner and other counties and provided pathology services for Valley doctors. Newel was the “only pathologist between Bakersfield and Stockton” in the early 1940s, the book said.

At some point Newel opened the Pathology and Clinical Laboratory in the home on Van Ness Avenue south of Belmont Avenue. In 1949 he opened the Valley Blood Bank at the lab. A private blood bank was needed because small blood banks at area hospitals couldn’t always supply enough blood to meet the needs of patients.

Newel’s blood bank “proved satisfactory for a number of years,” the book said, “as the quality of the blood from his laboratory was always satisfactory and the service was beyond reproach. Also, Dr. Newel was well-liked and respected by his colleagues.”

The Central California Blood Bank opened at 2155 Amador St. in 1955.

Dr. Thomas C. Nelson joined Newel’s practice in 1963 and also performed all the autopsies for Madera County. Nelson bought the pathology lab when Newel retired in 1971.

In 1974 Nelson formed a partnership with Sierra Hospital’s laboratory and moved his lab to Dakota Avenue, according to “Recollections.” Nelson’s lab is last listed at your address in 1975.

Q: As a former Fresno resident, I enjoy reading your column online. I’m wondering if you can tell me anything about a beauty salon near Gettysburg Avenue and Fresno Street in the 1960s that had a harem theme. My mom went there and I did too, once or twice.

Kathy Moulthrop Minges, Mission, Kan.

A: The Happy Hairem beauty shop was located at 2410 E. Gettysburg Ave. between 1969 and 1974, according to Fresno city directories.

An advertisement from that time lists the owner as Barbara McCoy and described the shop as “One of Fresno’s finest in high styling.”

The shop specialized in “fitting, cutting, coloring (and) restyling” of wigs, the advertisement said, and used “all the latest equipment” in hair coloring, including the Helene Curtis brand color master, “which speeds hair coloring.”

The shop was open from 9 a.m. to midnight during the week and closed at 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.