Allen Allensworth and Allensworth California

Allen Allensworth was looking for a place to establish a town outside the Jim Crow South, a town where African Americans could own property and pursue their economic potential.

Allensworth was born into slavery in 1842. While still a youth he was punished for learning to read and write, illegal for those in his situation. During the Civil War he escaped and made his way behind Union lines. He signed on as a civilian nurse with the Army Hospital Corps. He then served in the U.S. Navy from 1863-1865. After the war, Allensworth was ordained a Baptist Minister. He later became an Army chaplain. He retired from the service as a lieutenant colonel, the highest rank of an African American in the U.S. Armed Forces to that time.

The Allensworth family settled in Pasadena California. Allen joined with four others to establish what was then called a race colony. They founded their town in 1908 on the western edge of the San Joaquin Valley, aka Central Valley, a region that still today is sometimes less than welcoming to minorities. They called their new town Solito, later changed to the eponymous “Allensworth” in honor of its most prominent citizen.

A school district was formed in 1912. Two years later the state sanctioned a judicial district and a post office opened. Unfortunately, Allen Allensworth was run over and killed by a motorcycle while on a visit to Los Angeles in 1914.

The town continued to thrive, serving the growing agricultural activity surrounding it. It reached its peak in 1925. That’s when water shortages began. Pacific Farming Company, the land development company that handled the original purchase, failed to deliver the promised irrigation water in sufficient amounts. Legal battles with Pacific Farming drained the municipal coffers and lack of water resulted in farmers moving away. By 1930, the population had dropped below 300.

Today, Allensworth is mostly remembered by a state park on Highway 43, between Bakersfield and Fresno. Huge corporate farms now dominate and the Westland Water District exercises its political muscle – this is the region that gave us House Reps Devin Nunes and Kevin McCarthy – to get water from other parts of the state delivered to them at taxpayer expense.

Waylon Jennings and the Day the Music Died

February 1959: Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Ritchie Valens and pilot Roger Peterson died when their chartered plane crashed into an Iowa cornfield. Richardson, suffering from the flu, had talked bassist Waylon Jennings into letting him have his place on the plane. Guitarist Tommy Allsup had given up his seat to Valens on a coin flip.

Waylon Jennings talks about his friend and mentor Buddy Holly and the Day the Music Died.

Who Is Tommy John and Why Are So Many Having His Surgery?

Dr. Frank Jobe never played an inning of professional baseball. Nevertheless, his effect on the game is enormous. The Baseball Hall of Fame honored him in 2013 at its annual induction ceremonies. Dr. Jobe performed ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction surgery on Major-League pitcher Tommy John’s elbow in 1974. The procedure re-attaches the two arm bones at the elbow that have come apart from overuse. As the baseball season winds down and you get ready for playoff and World Series excitement, there is a one-in-three chance the pitcher you’re rooting for or against has undergone Tommy John surgery.

Tommy John had played eleven seasons with the White Sox and the Dodgers. After surgery, he was named Comeback Player of the Year in 1976. He played fifteen more years with the Dodgers and Yankees, was named to the All-Star team three more times and won 288 games. The surgery that has resurrected many a pitcher’s career became known by his name.

Major-League pitchers throw fewer innings than in John’s day, have longer rests between starts and rarely pitch a complete nine-inning game. It’s not likely we’ll ever again see a pitcher reach benchmark numbers of 300 strikeouts or 300 innings pitched in a season or record 300 – or 288 – wins in a career. Yet Tommy John’s eponymous surgery is common. Big leaguers and amateurs alike proudly show their scars on their pitching arms. The human arm is not designed for throwing baseballs overhand, especially breaking balls.

Tommy John as a Dodger

These days, more than half of the surgeries are performed on athletes younger than nineteen years. Youth sports are big business and kids are pressured to commit to one sport and play it year-round to the exclusion of others. The number of UCL surgeries on young elbows has increased every year for the past two decades. The reason: too many curve balls thrown too young with little, if any, rest between seasons.

And what does Tommy John say about this?

“What does bother me is that my name is now attached to something that affects more children than pro athletes. I was in my 30s and playing major league ball for nearly a dozen years before needing the operation. It’s hard seeing so many kids being pushed the way they are today, and getting hurt as a result.”

Colorado’s Mile(high) 419.99

You may have wondered how “420” came to be code for marijuana consumption. It originated in 1971 with a group of high-school slackers in Marin County, California. (Side note: there’s a really good place to eat in San Rafael.) The term has become so pervasive that since Colorado legalized pot-for-fun in 2012, milepost 420 markers have been disappearing at an alarming rate from Interstate 70. As a remedy, the Department of Transportation has replaced the marker with milepost 419.99.

Although Idaho has not legalized marijuana, they’ve had the same problem on U.S. Highway 95, just south of Coeur d’Alene. Who knows why that’s happening in neo-Nazi country? Idaho can handle only one decimal place, though, so they marked the highway as milepost 419.9.

(Originally published 2016)