The tale of Bluffton's first teenage speeding ticket
Take a wild guess. You’ll be way off. In which year was the first Bluffton teenager pulled over by a Bluffton police officer and charged with speeding? Would you believe 1919?
Take a wild guess.
You’ll be way off. In which year was the first Bluffton teenager pulled over by a Bluffton police officer and charged with speeding?
Raymond Stratton with the automobile
Would you believe 1919?
The holders of this distinction are Raymond Stratton and Tesla “Tubby” Stearns.
These Bluffton speed demons may have raced at the unheard speed, topping perhaps 15 miles per hour, and in so doing created an incredible racket.
The story as we understand it follows from an interview we had with “Tubby” in 1989, when he lived at Mennonite Memorial Home, 70 years after the incident.
First, a little background on these two potential juvenile delinquents. Stearns was a 1918 Bluffton High School graduate and Stratton was a 1919 grad.
Nicknames during this era were as common as birth names, and we often talked with Mr. Stearns about his growing up years in Bluffton. He was always addressed as “Tubby”; never Tesla. However, he was not pudgy or fat, in our opinion. So, we never knew how his nickname came to be.
We are unaware of a nickname for Raymond Stratton, however, we do know that he also went by Ray, and in his senior class photo he is listed as R.A. Stratton.
A sideline note: The class of 1919 certainly made a name for themselves. Read the story here about 1919 BHS graduate Bill Hahn, inventor of the ashless cigar.
Back to our story. Tubby told us that he and Ray cranked up Stratton’s automobile, wanting to see how much noise the vehicle could make and how fast it would go. They chose College Avenue between Lawn and Jackson for the test lap.
There was one problem with their street choice. The town marshal, Henson Good, lived on this block. Wouldn’t you know, he happened to be sitting on his front porch when the speed demons cruised by.
Everyone reading this knows that this 1919 experiment has been repeated every year in Bluffton by a new set of teenage drivers. Two major differences between the Stearns-Stratton test and today is that in 1919 vehicles were not equipped with speedometers, and, speed limits in the village were apparently were non-existent.
Apparently satisfied with their noise and speed test, the two went home. End of story? No. The next day, Marshal Good caught up with them and arrested them both, claimed Tubby.
The charge? Speeding? Disorderly conduct? Both? Your guess is as good as ours. Tubby couldn’t remember. However, he did recall the fine.
And, here’s how that turned out. The two pleaded not guilty but Tubby was the driver. He was hit with a $10 fine. Factor inflation into this and today’s fine would cost about $175.
Naturally, Tubby didn’t carry that amount of cash with him, and his Toledo Blade paper route he had as a younger boy certainly didn’t earn him that much, so his mother paid the fine for him. At least that’s what he told us 70 years after the fact.
One thing Tubby never told us was the number of times he and Raymond drove up and down College Avenue to see just how much noise they could create. He also never said how deafening was the noise.
We do know that it was loud enough to result in a $10 fine.
It must have been pretty loud.
Raymond Stratton with the automobile resulting in
Bluffton's first speeding ticket given to teenagers - the vehicle is a Saxon
Enlargement from a 1917 Bluffton High School football team photo - Raymond Stratton on the left and Tesla "Tubby" Stearns on the right.
Tesla Stearns kept the police paper work
1910-era Saxon vehicle