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Fresno’s first motorcycle cop has ties to reader and Ask Me columnist

Fresno’s first traffic officer Wellington L. “Bill” Aubery stands with an early 1900’s motorcycle in this undated family snapshot. Aubery was killed in the line of duty in 1921 chasing a speeding motorist on Kearney Boulevard.
Fresno’s first traffic officer Wellington L. “Bill” Aubery stands with an early 1900’s motorcycle in this undated family snapshot. Aubery was killed in the line of duty in 1921 chasing a speeding motorist on Kearney Boulevard. Special to The Bee

Q: I wonder if you can clarify a family story about my great-grandfather Wellington Aubery. My family story is that he was the first motorcycle traffic cop in Fresno. He was killed in the line of duty chasing a speeder and his name is on the Fresno County Peace Officer’s Memorial in Courthouse Park.

Mike Keppler, Fresno

A: (Note: This question startled me when I received it because Wellington L. Aubery is also my husband Dean’s great-grandfather. Aubery’s son, Alva, was Dean’s grandfather, while Mike Keppler’s grandmother was Ruth, one of Aubery’s daughters.)

Wellington L. “Bill” Aubery was appointed Fresno County’s first traffic officer in July 1916, according to a Fresno Morning Republican story.

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“For many years Fresno County has placed autoists on their honor not to violate the rules of the road,” the story said. The Board of Supervisors instructed District Attorney M.F. McCormick to appoint a traffic officer “because of numerous complaints made against speeders.”

The board also approved monthly pay of $125 and 3 cents per mile “for the use of privately owned motorcycles when used in the discharge of their duties,” according to the California Peace Officers Memorial Foundation. Aubery rode his own motorcycle on duty but sometimes drove a car.

According to an Aug. 20, 1916 Fresno Morning Republican story, Aubery’s new job quickly put a dent in traffic violations. He reported to McCormick that in the first month, “52 autoists have been arrested for violating the traffic laws.” McCormick told Aubery to also “enforce the law regarding lights after sundown on all vehicles.”

Being a motorcycle officer was dangerous work as evidenced by an undated Fresno Morning Republican story headlined “Cop Tries Flying When Speeder Forces Him to Take Spill.”

“W.L. Aubery, Fresno County’s official speed minion, today nurses bruises on nearly every part of his anatomy and his famed road weapon lies in a repair shop,” the story said.

Aubery was chasing a speeding driver “darting between motor cars and pedestrians like a mad hornet,” when “just as he was on the point of passing, the speeder suddenly turned to the left, forcing Aubery to leave the highway or risk a collision.”

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Fresno’s first traffic officer Wellington L. “Bill” Aubery stands with an early 1900’s motorcycle in this undated family snapshot. Aubery was killed in the line of duty in 1921 chasing a speeding motorist on Kearney Boulevard. Courtesy Lloyd Family Collection Special to The Bee

“Bill soared,” the story said. “After what seemed a full minute he took a short cut back to earth.” Aubery’s flight was apparently so spectacular that the speeder stopped to watch. Aubery “hobbled” over to the speeder, arrested him and “took the prisoner on the tandem of his own machine to court.” With his motorcycle wrecked, Aubery apparently had to use the speeder’s own motorcycle.

Fresno County later hired two more traffic officers, J.T. Kennedy and A.J. Laird, according to an undated Fresno Morning Republican story.

Aubery began his law enforcement career with the Fresno Police Department and served from 1905 to 1907 before becoming deputy constable for the Fresno Judicial District. He owned City Stables but quit the business when he was appointed the county’s first traffic cop.

He served 16 years in law enforcement and was only 45 when he was killed in the line of duty on Jan. 14, 1921.

Aubery was chasing a speeder on Kearney Boulevard about 10 a.m. when he crashed his car near Kearney Park, “he told relatives before he died,” according to a Fresno Morning Republican story published the next day.

Foggy weather made the streets wet the day of the accident. “The fast machine Aubery was driving skidded and in an attempt to save himself from tipping over he drove it off the road, then lost control,” the story said. “In attempting to regain control and pilot it between a clump of oleanders and a palm tree he struck the tree, causing the car to turn over and finally pinning him beneath it.” His chest was crushed and he had internal injuries.

A passing motorist freed Aubery from the wreckage. An ambulance took him to the Burnett Sanitarium hospital. Doctors tried to save his life, but Aubery died about 4 p.m.

Aubery was born in Mountain View in 1875. His family came to Fresno County when he was 14 years old. He was survived by his wife, Mary Oden Aubery, son Alva and three daughters, Ruth, Lois and Aerie.

Aubery’s name is also listed on peace officer memorials in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. (A memorial honoring fallen Fresno police officers stands near department headquarters.)

Q: As the current president of the Roeding Park Tennis Club, I am interested in finding information on early-day members of the original Fresno Tennis Club, which was formed in 1891.

Jesse S. Duran, Clovis

A: Nine early-day members of the original Fresno Tennis Club were listed in an entry about the club written by Charles W. Clough in “Fresno County in the 20th Century.” They were William M. Hughes, the club’s first president, and “other active members” C.C. Freeman, Frank M. Helm, J.L. Manpier, L.W. Moultrie, E.A. Walrond, Ted F. Winchell, E.C. White, and W. More Young.

Unfortunately, in researching Fresno Bee clip files, Catherine Rehart’s six-volume “Legends and Legacies,” Paul Vandor’s 1919 two-volume local history and “Fresno County in the Pioneer Years” (a companion to the “20th Century” book), little was found on most of those early-day members.

However, some background was found on Helm, Hughes and White.

Frank Helm was the original owner of Jersey Farm Dairy. He lived in the distinctive “Alamo House” at 1749 L St., so called because of its Mission-style architecture.

His father, William Helm, built the house for Frank in 1901 and also built homes for his other six children. After undergoing a recent renovation, it now houses the Youth Leadership Institute. The house is listed on Fresno’s Local Register of Historic Resources.

Rehart tells a charming story about Hughes: One day in 1893 Hughes picked up a man on a drive through Fresno and gave him a place to stay in his home.

“The man turned out to be an Italian sculptor with great talent,” Rehart wrote. While living with Hughes the man carved a statue of the Roman god Mercury from a large Sequoia Gigantea log from the Wawona Grove in Yosemite National Park.

The statue was displayed in the California exhibit for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Visitors were astounded that the statue was carved from a single piece of wood, Rehart wrote.

White was one of the owners of the Hotel Fresno and was secretary-treasurer of the Fresno Hotel Co. Inc. He died of a heart attack in 1947 at the age of 79.

He was born in Columbia in Tuolumne County in 1868 and attended a business school in Stockton. He came to Fresno about 1887. At one time he was secretary-treasurer for the Fresno City Gas Co.

White eventually left Fresno and worked for gas companies in New Jersey, Indiana, New York and Texas, where he met and married his wife, Ina. They had three daughters.

While in New York, White studied music and sang with an opera company there. Around the early 1900s White returned to Fresno and managed several local hotels, including the Fulton, Grand Central and Sequoia. He was a popular local actor and bass soloist.

More about: After an answer about Ming’s Restaurant was published on Jan. 29, Stanford S. Lee of Fresno wrote to share his memories of the business.

“It’s interesting to me about your (column) on Ming’s Restaurant. You see, H.P. Wong’s wife was Sue Leong, who was my cousin,” Lee wrote.

“Being born and raised in Hanford, when my dad and mom came to Fresno, I remember that H.P. had a small hot dog place in Chinatown. Sue’s older brother, Henry S. Leong, was raised by my parents. Occasionally we do go to Ming’s to eat.”

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to askpaulalloyd@yahoo.com 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.

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