Tracing Tracy Territory: Long-ago train tragedies still fresh memories
by Sam Matthews/ TP publisher emeritus
Dec 26, 2009 | 6862 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Tracy Press front page featured an article about the Oct. 15, 1943, crash between a train and a bus that killed seven people. Press archives
The Tracy Press front page featured an article about the Oct. 15, 1943, crash between a train and a bus that killed seven people. Press archives
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I was an 11-year-old kid on the night of Oct. 15, 1943, sitting in the wooden stands of Peter B. Kyne Field watching the Tracy High Bulldogs play the Sonora Wildcats on the field below.

As the Bulldogs cruised to a 20-0 win, the public-address announcer suddenly broadcast an emergency message. All personnel connected with the Civil Defense medical unit should go to the Western Pacific crossing of Highway 33 some 3 miles southeast of town, he said. A bus had been struck by a train.

As a number of people, including my dad, scurried out of the stadium in response to the plea by Dr. J. Frank Doughty, head of the wartime community medical team, the attention quickly shifted from the game to the crash.

The collision of the Western Pacific Flyer passenger train and a stalled Greyhound bus filled with passengers turned out to be the most deadly crash in Tracy’s history. Seven people were killed and 30 others injured.

My memory of that night came back to mind in a hurry earlier this week, when I received an e-mail from a retired U.S. Army colonel, Dave Baltes, in Tomahawk, Wisc.

He was helping the family of Harry Waubiness, a Native American soldier from Tomahawk who was reported to have been killed in a train-bus crash in California in October 1943. The crash near Tracy on Oct. 15 was the only one Baltes could find through his research.

In order to give family members information on Waubiness’ death, he wondered if we had any reports on the crash.

I checked the Press files, and the issue after the crash told the story of the accident. The driver of the Greyhound bus traveling from Modesto to Tracy on Highway 33 had stopped at the WP crossing at Rhodes station and then started across.

But the bus stalled, and the fast-moving eastbound WP passenger train plowed into the side of the bus.

The Press article said five people were declared dead at the scene and two others died in a Stockton hospital. (Tracy had no hospital in those days.) Names of six victims were mentioned in the article, but Waubiness was not among them. The only unidentified victim was “a sailor whose name was not released by the U.S. Navy.”

I e-mailed Baltes with a copy of the article and surmised that the Wisconsin serviceman might have been a sailor, not a soldier, as Baltes had reported.

Soon, I received a reply. No, Baltes said, Waubiness was in the Army; he had secured military records to confirm that. After further digging, it is believed that the crash that killed him occurred in San Bernardino County on Oct. 16 — not Oct. 15 near here.

That seemed to make sense, since Waubiness had been stationed in the desert of eastern San Bernardino County.

While the Wisconsin connection didn’t prove out, the inquiry did cause me to take a new look at the deadliest accident in Tracy’s history.

The local impact of such a deadly crash was muted a bit by the fact that none of those killed or injured was from Tracy. In the aftermath, the bus driver, who had jumped out of the bus to safety before the train hit, was charged with manslaughter.

The train-vehicle crash that did rock this town took place a bit more than 26 years later — on Feb. 13, 1970. It didn’t occur in the Tracy area, but 4 miles west of Manteca at the Highway 120 crossing of the Western Pacific main line. Eight teenagers — seven from Tracy and one from Santa Clara — were killed when a WP freight train struck a stalled van packed with 14 young people.

It was a tragedy that, although fading from memory with time, still lingers in the minds of many Tracy residents, especially family members and friends of the young victims.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by e-mail at shm@tracypress.com.
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