Tracing Tracy Territory: Setting the rails straight
Jun 28, 2013 | 5965 views | 0 0 comments | 384 384 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Central Pacific Railroad first set up shop in Tracy in April 1877, a year and a half before the town was founded in September 1878.

This little-known bit of local history is included in a just-published book, “Southern Pacific Lines Standard-Design Depots.”

The book’s author, Henry Bender, stopped by the Press office recently with a copy of the 320-page book in hand. He thanked me for providing a photo of the original 1877 depot that was included in the book, and I purchased a copy at a reduced price.

Although Henry, a San Jose resident, spent the greater part of the last decade meticulously researching the train depots that the SP (originally the Central Pacific) established throughout the western U.S. — and there are any number of depot photos in the book — the volume also contains a great deal of detailed history of the development of the railroad in the latter part of the 19th century.

I don’t believe I’ve been alone in assuming that construction of the line between Martinez and Tracy was started in Contra Costa County and moved south to Tracy.

It was the other way around, however, Henry reported from Southern Pacific records. Through his research, Henry found that construction of the Central Pacific’s (later Southern Pacific’s) San Pablo & Tulare Rail Road line between Tracy and Martinez was actually started in what became Tracy and built toward Martinez.

The sea-level line was graded in 1872, but a rancher named L.L. Robinson, who owned the New York Rancho in Contra Costa County, refused to let the contractor, Western Development Co., cross his property, “probably in retaliation for other disputes with the Big Four.”

When the 46.5 miles of track-laying was completed on Sept. 8, 1878, the Central Pacific coaling station at Ellis, 2 miles west of the junction, was closed and all buildings moved to Tracy on wagons.

Tracy was no longer just a railroad junction with tracks and a few railroad buildings. Overnight, it became a town.

A sad anniversary

Checking over the Tracy Press files and receiving a phone call combined this week to remind me of an unpleasant, but significant, anniversary.

It was 50 years ago Wednesday, on June 26, 1963, that the first correctional officer at Deuel Vocational Institution was murdered while on duty.

The victim was Connie W. “Conn” Prock, a 23-year-old Tracy resident who had worked at the prison east of town for just over a year.

About the same time I saw the story in a June 28, 1963, edition of the press, a former DVI correctional officer who served with Prock at the time of the murder called from his home out of state to inquire about Press coverage of the killing.

“I was in one of the towers that evening when word came over the phone that an officer, Conn Prock, had been stabbed and was seriously wounded,” the former correctional officer told me by phone. “It wasn’t long before I learned the officer didn’t make it.”

The former DVI officer remembered Prock was fatally stabbed after walking into a third-tier shower area of D Unit upon hearing there was a fight in progress. There was no real fight, but two inmates with prison-made knives were waiting for Prock. They stabbed him multiple times in the chest and back.

He was taken to the DVI hospital, where he died 15 minutes later.

From what the former officer had learned, the pair had a grudge against Prock for stopping a fight they had been involved with two days earlier in the unit’s television room.

Before Prock’s death, DVI had been free of violence against correctional officers since its opening 10 years earlier in 1953.

DVI Superintendent Allen Cook and Sheriff Mike Canlis headed up the investigation, which centered on statements from other inmates in the shower area.

Three days after Prock was killed, two inmates, Doroteo Betencourt from Imperial County and David “Fat Boy” Bazaure from Los Angeles County, both 19, were arrested and charged with murder.

Their arraignment in Tracy Judicial District Court on July 1 was video-taped and played on evening television newscasts of several stations. Judge Arthur Affonso approved a continuation of the arraignment to allow the suspects to secure legal counsel and set the next court appearance for July 9.

A trial in San Joaquin County Superior Court in Stockton resulted in convictions of both Betencourt and Bazaure. They were sentenced to life in prison.

Prock was a native of Oklahoma who had moved to Tracy with his family when he was a teenager. He played clarinet in the Tracy High band before graduating in 1957.

After serving in the Air Force for four years, Prock became a DVI correctional officer in March 1962.

He was survived by his wife, Barbara, and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Lester Prock, all of Tracy.

Prock was one of two DVI correctional officers killed on duty in the past 60 years. The other victim was Jerry Sanders of Manteca, who was killed Feb. 27, 1973.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at

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