Caltrans is shoring up the right southbound lane on the Cuesta Grade. It’s causing a slight slowdown for motorists.
The first automobilists had their own complaints about conditions. On May 10, 1909, the San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram reported:
“ a serious accident to an automobile party on the Cuesta grade road the other evening has brought numerous complaints to the Telegram office against the county compelling all machine travel to be over the road. It is claimed that the climbing of the grade racks the machinery destructively, while descending is attended by danger a driver seldom wishes to encounter more than once.”
The editor of the Daily Telegram then referred to the frequent collisions between “machine” and domestic livestock. Between 1903 and 1909, several dozen residents of our region were maimed or killed in automobile-cattle crashes.
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Not every encounter between the bovine source of our region’s wealth and the infernal machine resulted in such tragedies. Some skirmishes had distinctly comic aspects. But in either case, there was an apparent need to work out some basic rules of the road.
A truly wild, wild west incident along what is now Highway 1 illustrates the prevailing issue during the early years of motoring: Who shall be king of the road?
Al Frankl, the manager of Phoebe Apperson Hearst’s San Simeon Wharf, complained to Judge McDowell R. Venable of the San Luis Obispo City Court:
“I give you the facts in the case of the trouble between automobilist (Mr.) Wallace and Mr. J.C. Taylor, foreman of the Hearst Ranch.
“On Monday, July 16, 1906 at 8 a.m. a band of 200 range beef cattle were being driven on the country road from Morro to San Luis Obispo by Mr. Taylor and his vaqueros.
“The band was traveling between the place of the former creamery and the Hollister place where an automobile guided by Wallace was approaching from San Luis Obispo.
“About 200 yards ahead of the cattle, S. Villa, one of the vaqueros, requested the driver to stop until the cattle had passed.
“About 100 yards further on B.F. Soto, another vaquero, made again the same request. To both of these requests, Wallace paid no attention, but ran into the band, with the result that the cattle turned back and stampeded, thereby endangering the lives of all the herders.
“Mr. J.C. Taylor finally succeeded in stopping him. But while the cattle, after having been again turned in the right direction were passing the auto, Wallace started up his engine. Whereon Mr. Taylor again requested him to stop and threatened to rope him should he insist on running [his car].
“Wallace, however, paid no more attention to this demand, again dashed into the band, striking one of the steers with the front wheel of the auto. The steer after being struck kicked at the auto, hitting one of the lantern [headlights] and breaking the glass.
“Mr. Taylor threw his rope which caught the passenger who was with Mr. Wallace. [This] did not injure him nor was injury intended as Mr. Taylor immediately loosed the coils of his rope which the passenger threw off.
“The same afternoon the cattle being then again alongside the county road near Goldtree [now near the California Men’s Colony], [Wallace’s] auto approached this time going toward San Luis Obispo.
“B.F. Soto signaled and requested Wallace to stop just long enough to allow him to drive the stock out of the road. Wallace paid no attention, stampeding them again, this time into the creek near the road.”
No wonder that a majority of the population in 1906 thought that you had to be a fool to ride the roads on motorized wheels. Dan Krieger is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.