Eureka! Story of runaway Cuesta Grade truck is found

Posted by David Middlecamp on February 14, 2014 

This Aug. 7, 1953, photo shows a crane lifting a semi-trailer out of San Luis Creek at Nipomo Street.


The search for the runaway Cuesta Grade truck scrolls further backward through the Telegram-Tribune microfilm.

Feb. 2, 1954

The Lasar Building/Mission Garage was declared unsafe for occupancy, dilapidated and a dangerous fire hazard.

City building inspector Seth Kinney, city engineer Homer Hamlin, fire chief James Waldmeir and contractor Theo C. Maino all shared that opinion. Mayor Fred Lucksinger and the council voted to condemn the Lasar and another building at 662 Higuera St.

It appeared that the city was trying to upgrade the town.

As reported in earlier postings, no mention of a runaway truck causing the damage.

The 1950s were also a time of new construction, and in another story on the front page, San Luis Obispo County endorsed a plan by Monterey County to build Nacimento Dam.

Even though most of the water would be captured in San Luis Obispo County, the county to the north would pay for the dam and get the water. San Luis Obispo County leaders were careful to stipulate that the cost of the dam would be financed by Monterey.

Short-sighted in light of the state’s record-setting drought 50 years later in 2013. The county would later realize the mistake and assist in the development of San Antonio Lake to get some water rights back.

Aug. 29, 1953

New proposals were floated for safety on Cuesta Grade. California Highway Patrol Inspector K.C. Murphy suggested a turnout parking area at the top of the grade.

Road commissioner Kenneth Beck said that a committee was investigating potential locations for a runaway truck turnoff at the foot of the grade.

Given that 14 transportation and political leaders were involved there must have been something big that raised the issue, though the article makes no reference to an incident.

We must be getting close.

Aug. 7, 1953


A front-page photo shows a crane lifting a semi-trailer out of San Luis Creek at Nipomo street. This is two blocks beyond the Lasar building.

Surprisingly the trailer had been sitting in the creek for four months, as explained below.

A request to readers: If you have a photo of the accident you are willing to share, please contact me at

Coverage of the accident will republished in a future post; here is the Telegram-Tribune article from Aug. 7, 1953:

Undecorative Truck Trailer Removed from Creek at Last

A hot dog concession was all that was missing yesterday afternoon when workers spent two hours removing the 10-ton truck trailer from San Luis Creek on Nipomo Street.

City officials, policemen, photographers, radio interviewers and a large crowd of curious spectators milled around the scene while Santa Maria contractor R. McGray's men planned their strategy.

With the arrival of McGray and a second crane, the work of hoisting the large trailer from the creek and away from Nipomo Street bridge began.

Kids Toss Stones

Prior to its removal at 3 o'clock, children taunted policemen by tossing stones at the long-refrigerated hauler, which had rested in the creek since April 2, while city officials were being interviewed by a sidewalk reporter from one of the local radio stations. Moving picture cameras recorded the activities for possible future presentation on television and many armchair engineers could be heard voicing their suggested methods.

The crowd seemed almost disappointed when two cranes, working from opposite ends of the bridge, lifted the trailer out without mishap or further damage.

City attorney George Andre said he hopes to get the legal entanglement of who is to pay damages to the city bridge straightened out soon.

Until the liability is settled, the trailer will be stored.

Liability Headache

A fine-print clause in the Colorado trailer owner's liability insurance policy reportedly states that the insurance firm waives liability in case of transfer. The owner leased his equipment to trucker Harry Williams of Fort Dodge, Iowa.

Damages to the city have been estimated to be more than $2,000 to which will be added McGray's contract price of $240 for removing the trailer.

Robert Leitcher, local tax collector for the U.S. Department of Internal Revenue and owner of the warehouse parallel to San Luis Creek that was damaged by the accident, has not estimated his loss. A corner of his warehouse was destroyed when the truck and trailer hurtled over the bridge and into the creek.

The Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service