1912: Road Rage over the hill in San Mateo (3)

I wrote this in 2001.

Prominent oil executive’s son collides with irate chauffeur

Captain John Barneson, borin in Wick, Scotland, in 1862, descended from men who had followed the sea. At age 21, Barneson was put in command of one of the family’s ships sailing on the American-Asian run.

Thirty years later Barneson moved from the bridge of the ship to establishing his own shipping business in San Francisco. During the Spanish-American War he returned to the sea as captain of the transport, Arizona, carrying troops across the Pacific.

At about this time, it was said, Captain Barneson became fascinated with petroleum, believing that the day was near when all ships would be propelled by oil, rather than the coal used in early steam engines.

In a successful experiment, he persuaded Captain William Matson of the famous shippng family to use the new fuel on the Enterprise, a vessel plying between San Francisco and Honolulu.

It took about 20 years for Captain Barneson’s prediction to come to pass. Oil-powered ships became well known and accepted throughout the world.

The dynamic Barneson then turned to a new challenge, the problems involved with getting oil to the consumer. He was credited with building an oil pipeline between Coalinga and Monterey, the first of its kind in California. Against the advice of many experts, he followed with construction of another line from the valley fields southward over the Tejon Pass.

He then began operations in the Los Angeles area, forming the Grand Pipe Line Company and becoming associated with the Esperanza Consolidted Oil Company.

By 1912, when son Harold collided with the vehicle driven by the chauffeur, Captain Barneson had become the dominating force in the founding of the General Petroleum Company.

The General Petroleum Company was doing just fine, but it fell under the shadow of giants like Union and Standard Oil. Standard was on the move, controlling much of the marketing, distribution and oil production in the West.

While California had been viewed as a major oil province in the 1900s, the Rocky Mountain range presented a geographical barrier, cutting the state off from the rest of the nation where the bulk of oil customers resided.

To some experts it appeared that California’s future oil production would be marketed to Asians rather than those domestic markets east of the Rockies.

Captain Barneson remained an executive with General Petroleum until 1928 when he resigned due to ill health. Interestingly, he was also a vice president of the Standard Oil Company of New York.

(next, Part 4)

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)