Category: People

I Dreamed: The Rod Lauren Story

Here is a million-dollar baby. Maybe.

This is the picture: Male, five-eleven, the muscular physique of “Mr. America” and brooding, dark good looks reminiscent of the late James Dean.

Talents: Acting and singing.

Personality: Partly cloudy, with occasional thunder.

Name: Rod Lauren.

And maybe he will be the biggest star of the coming decade.

– “Birth of a Star” by Martin Cohen
TV-Radio Mirror, October 1960


On the day he was born – on March 26, 1940, in Fresno – his parents named him Roger Lawrence Strunk.1Confusingly, Roger’s “official” entry in the Fresno County birth records for 1939 clearly shows his name on arrival as Rogers Laurence Strunk, and his father as Laurence Jess Strunk, both of which appear to be errors. To add to the confusion, Roger’s name in the 1940 federal census appears to have been reported as Rodgers T. Strunk. By the time he turned twenty, he would be heard on radio stations across the United States (as well as in Canada, Great Britain and several other countries), written about in newspapers and magazines – from his hometown Tracy Press to Life, Time, and Parade – and seen on national television with Ed Sullivan, Bob Hope, Perry Como, Steve Allen and on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand,” known now as “moody, sullen-faced” Rod Lauren.

This is the story of Rod Lauren, and of Roger Strunk.

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The Ballad of Skipper Hudson

From the front page of the September 10, 1944, edition of the Tracy Press:

Skipper Hudson
Laid to Rest

Passes Away Saturday
In Stockton After
Short Illness

Skipper Hudson is dead. The end came early last Saturday morning in a Stockton hospital.

Born in San Francisco in 1859, he lived as an individualist and died the same way, refusing aid from anyone, working for his living until the very end of his life and maintaining the fiery independent spirit after his weary flesh and blood became too weak to carry out the dictates of his mind.

On the evening of March 2 he became ill while sitting in a restaurant. Assisted to his room in the Roberts building by his son, Charles Hudson, and E. C. Wyman, Skipper told his helpers to leave him alone — he would be well and working by morning.

But 85 years had taken their toll. Skipper did not rally. He was taken to a Stockton hospital where he remained only because he did not have the physical strength to get up and leave.

For the past 15 years he had been caretaker of the Roberts building, corner Central and Eighth. He not only looked after the heating plant and the maintenance of the building that houses stores, offices and lodge rooms, but he also kept an eagle eye on the occupants, using fatherly and sometimes stern disciplinary measures whenever the conduct of his charges displeased him.

His parents came from New York. After rounding the Horn, they landed at San Francisco in 1850. As a small boy, Skipper recalled that he took the steamer from San Francisco to Antioch, thence to Banta by overland stage. One uncle, Rufus Saddlemire, had preempted land near the spot of the present highway overpass. Two other uncles had also settled in the vicinity at what is now Tracy.

During these visits Skipper told amazing tales of the hundreds of deer that roamed the high grass on the present site of Tracy. The grass, he said, was as high as a man’s head. He often told how millions of wild ducks and geese blackened out the sun when they rose from the swamps that have since been drained.

He distinctly remembered the building of the old Central Pacific line from Sacramento through Niles in 1868-69. He recalled the hordes of Chinese Coolies who looked like swarms of ants as they pushed the rails down from the Altamont into the valley. The first transcontinental train passed through the site of Tracy in 1869.

C.P. Huntington Steam Locomotive (Photo)

This photo of the venerable C.P. Huntington steam locomotive, now on display at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, accompanied Skipper Hudson’s front-page obituary in the Tracy Press. Mr. Hudson is at left in the undated photo.

After graduating from Heald’s Business College, San Francisco, Skipper took up railroading in preference to prospecting for gold or raising livestock. He helped build the Port Costa line which joined the Niles line in 1878. This event was the reason Tracy was founded in that year. The buildings from Ellis were moved here and the roundhouse was moved here from Lathrop.

For a number of years he was brakeman and conductor between Sacramento and Oakland. At one time, George Gaylord, retired Southern Pacific superintendent, worked as a brakeman under Skipper. In later years, when these two met, old days were recalled with the appropriate language of the times.

After taking Mary Yoos as his bride in 1885, he came to Tracy for his permanent residence. He quit railroading to manage the Ludwig ranch on the present site of the Quartermaster Depot. Later he worked on the Sierra Railroad, on the dredging operations when the islands were reclaimed, and then at the creamery that is now the Dairymaid plant. He became caretaker of the Roberts building in 1929.

His name was Charles Hudson. His father, Charles Hudson, died in 1919, and his mother lived until 1923. A brother, Alfred Hudson, died in 1914.

He leaves a son, Charles (Roxy) Hudson, superintendent of utilities for the City of Tracy; three grandchildren, Mrs. Wadenia Burke, Tracy; Floyd E. Hudson, warrant officer at sea with the US Navy, and Herbert Hudson, ensign in the US Navy, Dallas, Texas. The two grandsons were not able to attend the final rites. He was the great grandfather of Doris Marie Hudson, Dallas, and Nancy Carleen Burke, Tracy.

Friends paid final tribute at funeral services held Tuesday afternoon from DeMark Memorial chapel with Rev. James Otter of the Presbyterian church officiating.

Interment was in Tracy cemetery. Pallbearer were E.C. Wyman, Ray Vogt, M. B. Warren, Warren Shaw, Pat Bone and William Krohn.

Charles "Skipper" Hudson Gravestone (Photo)

Skipper Hudson’s gravestone at Tracy Public Cemetery.

“Days Of First Railroad”

When visiting the Tracy Historical Museum, if you only see what is directly in front of you, you may miss something magnificent farther above eye level.

Among those “somethings” is a rare and wonderful mural by the Oakland-born artist Edith Hamlin (1902–1992), whose other works included murals at Coit Tower and Mission High School in San Francisco, and at the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C.

Muralist Edith Hamlin (Photo)

Edith Hamlin at work on the Mission High School mural, circa 1936.

Shortly after the United States Post Office opened at the corner of 12th and Adam streets here in 1937, Miss Hamlin painted a series of three murals depicting Tracy’s early history.

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Jack Godwin, Carbona Station Agent

Edgar M. “Jack” Godwin, Jr., served as station agent at the Western Pacific Railroad’s Carbona depot from 1954 until his death in 1974. Ten years after he arrived, wife and children in tow, the WP renamed the stop “Tracy” on their timetables, as well as on the station’s roof-top nameboard.

The Ted Benson photo featured above shows Jack in a classic railroader’s pose, fingers on the telegrapher’s key, carrying on a conversation with his colleagues down the line in well-timed dots and dashes.

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Jimmie Dameron (1933-2015)

The Tracy Press and the Tracy Historical Museum have reported the passing of Jimmie L. Dameron, a retired Southern Pacific Railroad engineer and resident of the city for the past 55 years.

Jimmie Dameron (1933-2015)Mr. Dameron, who was 81 years old, died on October 29, 2015, at Sutter Tracy Community Hospital following a brief illness. He had been scheduled to present a discussion at the museum on October 21 covering his lengthy and colorful career with the SP when he fell ill. (The program has been re-scheduled for November 18, with Stephen Ridolfi replacing Mr. Dameron. Please click here for more information.)

Born in Turlock and raised in Delhi (Merced County), Mr. Dameron and his wife moved to Tracy in 1960 when he began his career as a brakeman with the SP. He later advanced to engineer with the railroad, and served as local chairman for the United Transportation Union.

Upon his retirement from the SP, he became a part-time engineer of the Redwood Valley Railway scale model live-steam train in Tilden Park in the Berkeley hills. Over the years, according to his obituary, he was an ardent devotee of steam locomotives and was a passenger  — and sometimes volunteer assistant engineer — on numerous steam-powered trains while traveling throughout the world. He also visited countless railroad museums over the years.

Read Mr. Dameron’s full obituary on the Tracy Press website.


Museum Program: The Life and Times of a Tracy Trainman

Mark your calendars for the next History Seminar on Wednesday, November 18th at the Tracy Historical Museum!

The Life and Times of a Tracy Trainman

Learn about Tracy’s railroad history from someone who lived it.

Robert Firth Railroad PhotographsJoin Stephen Ridolfi for a discussion about his life and times as a Tracy Trainman. Mr. Ridolfi, a lifelong Tracy resident, worked as a Southern Pacific conductor and brakeman out of the Tracy area for 40 years. Mr. Ridolfi will describe the adventures and myth-busting life of a trainman in the San Joaquin Valley.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015
7:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Tracy Historical Museum
1141 Adams Street, Tracy

Speaker: Stephen Ridolfi

There is no charge to attend this event at the museum.

For more information, please email the Tracy Historical Museum, visit their website or phone 209-832-7278.

Thank you very much for your support of the West Side Pioneer Association and Tracy Historical Museum.

Event information via Larry Gamino, President of the West Side Pioneer Association/Tracy Historical Museum.

INSET PHOTO: Southern Pacific’s Tracy railyard, circa 1954, by Robert D. Firth. (Courtesy of David Firth.)


Stephen Ridolfi - Tracy Museum

Steve Ridolfi gave a lively talk on his life riding the rails with the Southern Pacific, covering everything from getting his start with the railroad — interrupted early on by a stint in Vietnam with the Air Force — to the dangerous conditions encountered (snakes, stray box cars, random derailments and trespassers), to the grind of working 16-hour shifts in conditions that ranged from ice-cold winters to sweltering summertime. Mr. Ridolfi is also a noted portrait and event photographer. His work can be viewed on his website at


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