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1853 - Sarah Gifford, community leader and wife of Newhall's first railroad station agent, born in England [story]


Now and Then in the SCV | Commentary by Darryl Manzer
| Wednesday, Jan 7, 2015

darrylmanzer_blacktieOK. The great California High Speed Rail Boondoggle has started. Groundbreaking yesterday. Yes folks, our premier, world-class, first-in-the-USA high-speed train system has started construction.

They said at the ceremony that construction would be complete in 2029. You read that right. Fifteen years to go, about 11 percent of the distance of the first transcontinental railroad, and taking nearly four times longer to do it. Hurray for progress.

The governor, Jerry Brown, is 76 years old. That means he will be 91 when it is complete. I hope he can remember what he started, if he is still around.

The whole schedule to build the railway is based on an expectation that everything is going to happen that needs be done. Here are a bunch of problems to overcome first:

They started the line in Fresno. Yes, you read that right – Fresno. Yes, a lovely place. A great place for such an imaginative and audacious program to begin. I can see the history books now. I can see the signs posted at the Fresno city limits saying, “High Speed Train started here – Because we wanted to leave here quickly.”

I think it was in 1973 when I was stationed on the USS Thomas A. Edison (SSBN610), a Polaris missile submarine. The boat was in overhaul at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, not far from Fresno. Not only was I in charge of the torpedo room, but I also had been assigned a collateral duty called “public affairs officer,” or PAO.

As PAO, I got to apply the ship’s cachet, or mail stamp, to letters that folks would send to the boat and we would send back. It is a wonderful item to collect, I guess. I also got to write press releases for things like change of port and the captain’s bio.

One day we got a call from a Navy recruiter in Fresno. He thought it would be a great idea if crew members from the USS Thomas A. Edison could visit Thomas Edison High School in Fresno. I found out the school had “adopted” the ship in 1962 when the boat was placed in commission.

Well, how could we pass up this great opportunity to visit beautiful Fresno and maybe help some high school students join the Navy and maybe volunteer for submarine service?

I’m sad to say that in 1973, the submarine service was still very much segregated. I can remember we had two shipmates, both cooks, who were black. We just didn’t have many on board.

So you’ve got to get the picture. An officer and five petty officers were assigned for the visit to the high school. It is summertime. Warm. We are going to be in our dress white uniforms, driving a white van, and all of us are white.

We pile into the van along with some ice chests full of cool drinks. I cannot confirm or deny the existence of intoxicating liquids in those ice chests. Off we head to Fresno and Thomas Edison High.

It was a two-hour drive. We arrived at the high school and had our bunch of little pamphlets of the ship. We were ready to help this recruiter make his yearly quota in one day.

Whisked into the school’s auditorium and seated on chairs arranged on the stage behind the curtain, we were now the highlight of the day for every student there.

The curtain was drawn open, and since it wasn’t a stage production, the house lights were on, and we could see our audience. We were a little surprised. Well, a lot so. Dressed in white and all of us white, we looked out upon 350 or more black faces. We had to sit there and try to encourage a group of black kids to join submarines. Maybe they could be a cook or steward.

Now, I don’t want to say my Navy got this trip wrong. Heck, I was the PAO and should have asked about the demographics of the school. But it never came to mind for me. Until that curtain opened.

We actually had a great time once we got over the shock, as did the students. We traded jokes back and forth and finally convinced them they could help the Navy change. It was time to join 20th Century.

In the end, more than 20 kids enlisted, and a few years later I ran across a young torpedoman who was black and from Fresno. He had been at the talk. Years later, I went to his retirement, too.

He didn’t enlist so much for the thrill of submarines but to get out of Fresno. We happened to help him decide.

So what does this have to do with the train that is starting there in Fresno? I am reminded that had we accomplished just a little more research, we would have known about the demographics of the school. Instead of dress whites we could have worn the black pants and white shirt of our uniform selection. (Salt and pepper is what we call that uniform.)

Just like us old Edison sailors, the High Speed Rail Authority doesn’t seem to have done much in the way of prospective ridership, or prospective financial problems, either. I hope the train will go someplace. Some of the places I can recommend are only said in private.

All aboard.

 

Darryl Manzer grew up in the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s and attended Hart High School. After a career in the U.S. Navy he returned to live in the Santa Clarita Valley, where he serves as executive director of the SCV Historical Society. He can be reached at dmanzer@scvhistory.com. His older commentaries are archived at DManzer.com; his newer commentaries can be accessed [here]. Watch his walking tour of Mentryville [here].

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1 Comment

  1. jim soliz says:

    I can appreciate being concerned over the length of time it will take to complete the project (like you I was put off by that), but I found nothing else related to the train itself. Personally, I like the idea of the train since I’m hoping it will cut down on air pollution, reduce the cost and time to travel to the Bay area, and reduce reliance on air travel, an increasingly dangerous affair. Of course , here in SCV most conservatives are against it, but them again, they’re against everything, unless they personally can make a $$$ from it. By the way, really liked your piece on the Chiquita Land fill.

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