As a journalist, I’ve written enough words over the past 40 years to fill a lot of columns of newsprint. As a local historian, I’ve spent hundreds of hours taking in the words of other journalists before me.
I’ve read every front page of the Atascadero News since it was first published in January 1916. In addition to those front pages, I’ve rambled around the rest of many of those early editions, too, from editorials written by E.G. Lewis to the classified ads.
One thing that always intrigues me is how old news sounds like new news. Fellow columnist Phil Dirkx once told me that, if we (journalists) stay on the job long enough, we often write the same stories over and over, just with different names.
Bob Wilkins, Atascadero’s first mayor, often asked me to write stories aimed at getting people to slow down going through town. In the late ’60s, stepped-up efforts by law enforcement on speeders was met with an outcry from local citizens that the cops were too aggressive.
Most recently, the city has installed raised medians and even installed a speed bump to slow traffic downtown.
Some drivers still zip through downtown much too fast, so the problem hasn’t been solved.
Then just the other day, I read this in a January, 1916 issue of Atascadero News: “There is little too much fast driving of autos in the Colony. Several good dogs have been run down and several people nearly so. There is no speed limit as yet but fast driving will bring one.”
Lewis designed his unique colony with the automobile in mind. Of course, it was the era of the Model T. Lewis drove a little two-door Cadillac convertible, and it appears in a number of early pictures of the colony grounds. Lewis is never in the pictures because he was the photographer.
And when it comes to driving, Lewis was not good at it. I have seen a photo of Lewis’ car with one wheel off the road in a small ditch at the entrance of the “Headquarters House.”
Years later, a group of local folks appealed to authorities to get Lewis off the road by pointing out that as a driver, he was a hazard to himself and others.
When Lewis finally sold his last car, he was delivering it to the buyer somewhere west of downtown off Morro Road. He turned a corner too fast, and the car rolled over.
According to his nephew, the late Will Lewis, Lewis the elder walked back to his home and phoned the new owner, telling him his new car was lying on its side and gave him the location of where he would find it.
I love old (and new) news.
Lon Allan has lived in Atascadero for nearly four decades. His column appears on the Local page every Tuesday. He can be reached at 466-8529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.