1912: “Road Rage” over the hill in San Mateo (1)

I wrote this in 2001

Prominent oil executive’s son collides with irate chauffeur

By June Morrall

Scraped and bruised, Harold Barneson, stunned automobile crash victim, stood in the middle of quiet Hayward Avenue near San Mateo’s Central Park in 1912. The 17-year-old was the son of socially prominent Peninsula yachtsman Captain John Barneson, a California oil industry pioneer, and the young man would soon rely on his father’s influence.

A few feet away from young Barneson, chauffeur James Irving fumed. The chauffeur’s passenger and employer, John Gallois, also shocked by the accident, looked on. Gallois was the son of the owner of the White House, the famous Union Square store that catered to San Francisco’s affluent.

Moments earlier on this warm sunny Sunday, Harold, without a care in the world, motored along Hayward Avenue near the luxurious Peninsula Hotel. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a car operated by chauffeur James Irving turned the corner and collided head-on with Harold Barneson’s vehicle.

There was the sickening, unmistakable sound of metal crunching, followed by an eerie silence, and the shaken, disheveled occupants of both vehicles emerged from the wreck to survey the damage to man and machine The cars were smashed beyond repair.

The finger pointing began in earnest. The livid chauffeur, certain that he, a professional driver, was not at fault, shouted that Harold had been speeding. Gallois concurred, and bolstered by his employer’s support, the red-faced chauffeur placed total blame for the accident on young Harold.

Harold was equally certain that he was not at fault and had not been speeding, and the chauffeur’s attitude irked him. He felt self-righteous and indignant but realized he was no match for these angry adults.

The Barneson’s residence ws nearby, and Harold rushed home to his famous father, Captain Barneson, a director of the highly anticipated Panama-Pacific Exposition. He would know what to do. Harold poured out his story, blaming the chauffeur for the collision. The senior Barneson was easy to persuade.

The vision of seeing his bruised and bloodied son caused the 50-year-old oil company executive to almost lose control. Captain Barneson wasted no time and headed for Hayward Avenue. The chauffeur and Gallois were still at the scene of the accident as a boiling mad Captain Barneson approached them.

The captain walked up to the chauffeur and without a word avenged his son’s wounds by landing a stiff upper cut to James Irving’s nose. Terrorized, the bloodied chauffeur fled but son returned with a constable in tow. With the policeman at his side, the chauffeur charged Captain Barneson with battery.

Barneson rtaliated by filing a charge against Irving for exceeding the speed limit on Hayward Avenue. Gallois continued to defend his chauffeur.

Captain Barneson was released on his own recognizanc as he pled guilty to a charge of battery and was fined $10. Then followed two trials.

(to be continued)