Times Past

Dan Krieger: Let’s get something straight about these roundhouses

‘A roundhouse isn’t always round, but it’s still a roundhouse.”

Lloyd Mathews arrived in San Luis Obispo on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918, at the age of 2. He has many memories from the 1920s on. He quickly caught a case of mistaken identity on my part in last week’s column.

In that column, I quoted William Tardif of Paso Robles, who was writing me nearly 22 ago at the age of 90. Mr. Tardif said that in the 1920s and 30s, when you wanted cheap gas, you drove to “Stowe’s service station across from the Southern Pacific roundhouse.”

Mr. Mathews responded, writing:

“The point of this letter is that Stowe’s Service Station was at the corner of Higuera and Madonna Road on what is now Caltrans property, which was French Road at that time, a dirt road that went pretty much nowhere, but you could get to Los Osos. You describe it as across from the SP Roundhouse, which actually is up beyond Broad Street. Over on South Street, near Wrona’s Auto Repair now, was the old PC Railway narrow gauge roundhouse.

“Stowe’s Service Station had cheap gas, and I am thinking maybe 29 cents. It was low octane and made your car ping, but you could get the timing adjusted for that. Mr. Stowe owned two magnificent cars always parked at the station, a blue and white Cadillac V-16 with two front-fender spare tires, and a big yellow Marmon convertible. The story was that he ran away from the Highway Patrol down near Oxnard at 120 miles an hour.”

The Pacific Coast Roundhouse off South Street wasn’t actually round, but it was still a roundhouse for serving locomotives on the narrow gauge line that connected San Luis with Port San Luis and the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys.

Mr. Mathews continues,“Several interesting items in [last Sunday’s] article. First, Mayor Louis Sinsheimer was there many years, and we all knew it was Sin-symer. Nowadays most everybody says sin-shymer, and a school, park and pool are named after him. You could do a service by pointing this out sometime.

“I remember the fire station downtown on Higuera Street, and if you happened to be there at noon when Ferdinand [the large fire alarm horn signal on the top of the building] went off, you would jump out of your socks. There were two doors for the fire engines, with a broad stairway between, going up to City Hall.

“As a kid selling the Tribune on the streets each afternoon, we would climb those stairs and slide down the big brass pole, where a fireman could get to the fire engines fast. I recall one night, around maybe 1935, when I drove through town after coming back from Pismo Beach, and the fire engines were out in the street, which was all wet because the fire department was on fire.

“Before J. C. Penney’s [now Ross, Dress for Less], was the White House Grocery, and a few doors up [Higuera] street was my uncle’s restaurant, the Dennis Dairy Lunch, where Victoria’s Secret is now. My first job was as a dishwasher there, earning 25 cents an hour, eight hours a day, six days a week. No deductions. I took my $12 and put it into a savings account each week. I also helped making ice cream, 5 gallons at a time in the basement, and I do believe it was the finest ever made, comparable now to Häagen-Dazs.

“Finally, the old Last Chance Saloon, located just past today’s Cuesta Park, when that was Highway 101. I was too young to go to bars then, but recognize the photo that shows two Cord automobiles, probably about 1937. The Cord was the ultimate classy car of the day. The Cord supposedly would go 102 mph in second gear. Surely couldn’t have been local owners, and actually you can see this photo today in SLO Town Barber Shop, 1261 Laurel Lane, and it shows three Cords, not two.”