Wednesday Oct 20 2010
War arrives in city
By: Mike Maynard, Special to the Colfax Record
So you think you're a local
By Mike Maynard Special to the Colfax Record During a routine inspection in February 1941, Southern Pacific employee Antonio Nencini, an Alta trackwalker, discovered 44 spikes and an angle bar missing from a railroad track. Footprints leading to the highway below were clearly visible. Nencini quickly placed a flag and torpedoes on the track to warn train crews and hurried to Towle Station to notify the road master at Colfax. Southern Pacific was soon offering a $5,000 reward for information about the crime. Less than a week after Nencini’s discovery the FBI, SP agents and local police arrested three Sacramento youths on charges of sabotage. There was no evidence the youth had Communist or Fifth Column connections, but they had sent an extortion note to the SP. They were convicted and received a 14-year sentence to Federal prison. Nencini received a gold watch for his vigilance. People in eastern Placer County were increasingly aware of the war in Europe. By January of that year, 13 Colfax youths had enlisted in the service. Dallas Michaelsen of Colfax and Alfred Gerard of Weimar were among the 19 men certified by the Placer County Draft Board for service in the U.S. Army. A Placer County Defense Council was formed in June of 1941 with Major Peers (Doctor Robert Peers, who established tuberculosis hospitals in Colfax) serving as the Colfax chairman. In July increased movement of trains made it necessary to place five helper engines at Colfax. The crew at the roundhouse was doubled by August. Seven helper crews were stationed there. Prior to the war in Europe Colfax Fruit Growers had shipped fruit to England, Finland and Egypt, but during the war it was limited to the east coast, Canada and South America. Placer County organized 31 listening posts for enemy aircraft, including one in Colfax. Then came Dec. 7, 1941 — the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Within a few hours Colfax was swarming with uniformed men and the guards on SP bridges, tunnels and snow sheds were beefed up. Citizens were warned that if a soldier told them to halt he meant business. An air raid blackout warning system was organized at Colfax with Francis E. West as chief air raid warden. U.S. troops took over the raising and lowering of the flag on Main Street. By mid-December, it became obvious that the quartering of troops in the Memorial Hall and in tents on Church Street was unsatisfactory. The Army took over Camp Placer, a former State Relief Administration facility on the present Arp Ranch off Placer Hills Road. Some of the troops remained billeted at the Memorial Hall. C Company of the 53rd Infantry preceded Company C of the 745th Military Police Battalion, which arrived in April of 1942. The MPs remained in the area for approximately 18 months. MP Headquarters was at Camp Flint, another SRA camp near the present Auburn Dam Overlook site as well as at the Auburn Fairgrounds. The Jan. 9 edition of the Colfax Record listed 39 Colfax men who were serving in the military. The Feb. 4, 1944 Colfax Record reported that Lt. Henry Lazzarini had been killed in a bomber crash in the Asiatic area, the sixth Colfax youth reported to lose his life in World War II. There were also two men missing in action and one a prisoner of war. Currently, the Colfax Area Historical Society has a display honoring those who served during World War II. Stop by the museum, located in the historic Railroad Depot, to check it out.