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Unearthing Towing's Past

Davisnews 3b339By Randall C. Resch

I've been infected with a desire to investigate industry archives to see where we've been and look at where we're going. Having an insatiable curiosity to uncover industry history, I've uncovered a snippet that occurred during the Great Depression. This story's been hiding under a proverbial rock for more than 80 years.

Finding it was a fluke. If not for growing up in the industry, I wouldn't have recognized this story, which is based upon two words: "Garage Mechanic."

My dad retired from Navy service and purchased a tow company in 1962; hence my beginning in the industry. I dispatched and worked in dad's gas stations before I got my driver's license. The company towed commercially, for the police and the California Highway Patrol.

Tow truck drivers then were referred to as "garage mechanics," because they worked on cars, or pumped gas as their primary jobs; towing was a secondary obligation.

On Oct. 6, 1934, in Butte County, California, CHP officer William R. McDaniel, 36, or then known as "Road Patrol Officer," happened upon a wrecked vehicle belonging to a locally known jeweler and ex-con named Nick Turchinetz, 45. The wreck was abandoned and McDaniel subsequently called a local garage to have it impounded.

Enter "garage mechanic" Kenneth Ray Davis, 29, who arrived at McDaniel's location to tow the wreck away. From the nearby groves, vehicle owner Turchinetz, armed with a long rifle, opened fire on them. As Davis attempted to take cover under his wrecker, he was shot and killed. Turchinetz then fired on McDaniel. Although shot himself, McDaniel engaged Turchnietz and shot him in return. McDaniel died at the scene.

The killer fled, but was killed at his residence that same day by a "sheriff's posse."

The Wall

I think that Davis rightfully deserves to have his name placed on the Wall of the Fallen in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The process of applying to the Wall requires documentation to prove that towers are killed in the line of duty. For Davis, I reached out to the Butte County coroner, CHP Public Information Office and CHP Museum.

I received a letter of confirmation from CHP Deputy Commissioner Scott Silsbee. In a March 7, 2018, letter, Silsbee wrote:

"I received your correspondence dated February 20, 2018, requesting formal historical verification of the death of California Highway Patrol (CHP) Officer Williams R. McDaniel and Tow Truck Operator Kenneth Davis, in Butte, California on October 6, 1934. Thank you for taking the time to write the CHP in an effort to have Mr. Davis' name added to the International Towing & Recovery Museum Wall of the Fallen.

"Officer McDaniel and Mr. Davis were both shot and killed by an ex-convict while Officer McDaniel was investigating the scene of a traffic collision. Officer McDaniel intended to impound the vehicle that had been driven and abandoned by the ex-convict. Mr. Davis was the tow operator who was retrieving the abandoned vehicle when both Officer McDaniel and Mr. Davis were accosted by the ex-convict. Mr. Davis was shot and killed instantly. Officer McDaniel returned fire, wounding the assailant; but was also fatally shot. The killer fled the scene, but was subsequently located and shot by a sheriff's posse."

I have submitted Davis' name and story to Wall of the Fallen committee to be recognized posthumously on the Wall. I've also recommended he be listed on websites like the Tow Operator's Memorial as the first-known recorded tow operator killed in the line of duty.

(I've scoured online through various archives and towing history sites and haven't yet found convincing documentation of other incidents prior to Davis' story.)

If my request is accepted and Davis' name is to be added, I hope to travel to Chattanooga and be present at the annual Wall of the Fallen memorial this September to witness it.

Had it not been for my own history with the garage mechanic moniker for early towmen, I might have missed opening the article to learn about this incident.

This has been a very special project for me and certainly has taken a long time in bringing it to you. I really owe this article's attainment to several persons who helped cross the gap of information and provide confirmation. I respectfully send thanks to CHP's Officer Ramus Payton, Lt. Mike Alvarez, and Deputy Commissioner Scott Silsbee.

(Ed. Note--A longer, more in-depth version of this article will appear in the May, 2018 issue of American Towman Magazine.)

Randall Resch is American Towman's and Tow Industry Week's Operations Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contract. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500 industry-related articles for print and on-line, is a member of the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame, and, a recipient of the 2017 Dave Jones Leadership Award.
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