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The 1963 Chualar Bus Crash Site (US Route 101 and Broome Road)


South of the community of Chualar along the southbound lanes of US Route 101 where traffic once could intersect westbound Broom Road lies the modest Bracero's Memorial.  The Bracero Memorial commemorates the site of the infamous Chualar Bus Crash of September 17, 1963, which killed 32 migrant workers and injured another 25. The bus involved with the crash had been illegally converted into a flatbed truck which carried dual benches. The Chualar Bus Crash is considered one of the worst traffic collisions in United States history. Pictured as the blog cover is the Bracero Memorial facing west down Broome Road.

The site of the former at-grade rail crossing connecting Broome Road to US Route 101 can be seen below as it was displayed on the 1947 United States Geological Survey map of Chualar.




Part 1; the history of US Route 101 in Chualar and events of the 1963 Chualar Bus Crash

Chualar was settled in 1871 in Salinas Valley along what was to become the coastal line of the Southern Pacific Railroad.  Post Office Service briefly disbanded in Chualar during 1873 but would resume in 1874.  During the 1880s when the Southern Pacific Railroad began to expand south towards Cuesta Pass the community of Chualar began to grow.  Unlike many of the nearby communities in Salinas Valley the community of Chualar would never incorporate as a city.  Chualar can be seen plotted along the Southern Pacific Railroad on the 1882 Bancroft's Map of California and Nevada.  Unlike the Spanish El Camino Real the Southern Pacific Railroad corridor in Salinas Valley largely followed the best grade through the valley center.  


Salinas Valley was ultimately part of the American El Camino Real which began being signed as an Auto Trail starting in 1906.  The era of State Highway Maintenance through Salinas Valley would ultimately begin with the 1909 First State Highway Bond Act which was approved by voters in 1910.  One of the highways approved through the 1909 First State Highway Bond Act was a 481.8-mile highway originating at the City Limits of San Francisco which terminated in San Diego.  This highway would ultimately come to be known in time as Legislative Route Number 2 ("LRN 2").  Within Salinas Valley much of LRN 2 would follow the existing corridor along the frontage roads of the Southern Pacific Railroad which included the community of Chualar.  

The July 1914 California Highway Bulletin notes surveys to construct LRN 2 through Chualar were recently completed.  


Chualar can be seen on the 1917 California State Automobile Association Map along LRN 2.  LRN 2 can be seen taking a jog into Chualar via what was likely part of Chualar River Road onto Grant Street to avoid the Southern Pacific Railroad switching yard and reservation.  


The 1920 Rand McNally Highway Map of California shows El Camino Real and the Pacific Highway following LRN 2 through Chualar.  



The 1924 Rand McNally Map of California shows the California Banff Bee-Line Highway co-signed with the Pacific Highway through Chualar. 



The initial draft of the US Route System was approved by the Secretary of Agriculture during November of 1925.  The US Route System within California was approved by California Highway Commission with no changes recommended by January 1926.  The initial alignment of US Route 101 ("US 101") was planned to follow LRN 2 from San Francisco to San Diego via Salinas Valley.  US 101 is shown on a map published in the 1926 California Highways & Public Works following LRN 2 south from San Francisco towards San Diego.
 


During November of 1926 the US Route System was approved by the ASSHO.  US Route 101 can be seen aligned through Chualar on the 1926 Rand McNally Junior Map of California.  


The January/February 1929 California Highways & Public Works notes US Route 101/LRN 2 was between Salinas-Chualar was slated to be reconstructed during the 1929-31 Fiscal year.  The volume notes the reconstruction of Salinas-Chualar corridor of US Route 101/LRN 2 included a railroad overhead.  



The July/August 1929 California Highways & Public Works details the reconstruction of the Salinas-Chualar corridor US Route 101/LRN 2.  The Salinas-Chualar corridor is project is stated to be planned to widen US Route 101/LRN 2 to a 36-foot roadbed and would eliminate a railroad crossing at Spence siding via an underpass structure.  



The October 1929 California Highways & Public Works noted the reconstruction of the Salinas-Chualar corridor of US Route 101/LRN 2 was underway. 


The February 1930 California Highways & Public Works notes the reconstruction of the Salinas-Chualar corridor of US Route 101/LRN 2 had recently been completed.  



The March 1933 California Highways & Public Works announced reconstruction of US Route 101/LRN 2 from Chualar to Camphora was underway.  The existing highway is stated to be too narrow and breaking apart too quickly.  

The 1935 Division of Highways Map of Monterey County displays US Route 101/LRN 2 aligned through Chualar via Grant Street.  The intersection of US Route 101 and Broome Road can be seen south of Chualar next to Gabilan siding.  


The site of the former at-grade rail crossing connecting Broome Road to US Route 101 can be seen below as it was displayed on the 1947 United States Geological Survey map of Chualar.

The May/June 1951 California Highways & Public Works notes US Route 101/LRN 2 between Spence Underpass-Chualar was to be graded and paved with a Portland Cement surface.  


The January/February 1952 California Highways & Public Works details the expansion of US Route 101/LRN 2 from Spence Underpass to Chualar to a four-lane expressway.  The Spence Underpass-Chualar Expressway segment of US Route 101/LRN 2 is cited as opening on November 30th, 1951.  The new northbound lanes of US Route 101/LRN 2 between Spence Underpass-Chualar were stated to be pressed into service early to provide relief to traffic while the southbound lanes were being modernized.  The article notes the corridor of LRN 2 through Chualar had been first constructed to State standards during 1916.  




The November/December 1953 California Highways & Public Works announced a contract to grade and pave US Route 101/LRN 2 from Chualar south to Gonzales.  


The July/August 1954 California Highways & Public Works announced US Route 101/LRN 2 had been expanded to expressway standards from Chualar south to Gonzales.  


The November/December 1956 California Highways & Public Works announced a freeway alignment of US Route 101/LRN 2 through Chualar was to be constructed during the 1957-58 Fiscal Year.  


The May/June 1957 California Highways & Public Works announced construction of the US Route 101/LRN 2 freeway in Chualar was underway.  


The July/August 1958 California Highways & Public Works announced the completion of the US Route 101/LRN 2 freeway through Chualar.  The Chualar Freeway corridor is stated to have broken ground during April 1957 and took approximately a year to complete.  The former corridor of US Route 101 on Grant Street is stated to have been converted to a frontage road of the new Chualar Freeway.  










Since the completion of the freeway grade during 1958 there has been no major alterations to US Route 101 in Chualar.  The Legislative Route Numbers were dropped as part of the 1964 State Highway Renumbering which left US Route 101 as the legislative designation through Chualar. 

As noted in the intro the Chualar Bus Crash occurred on September 17, 1963.  The bus involved with the crash on September 17, 1963, had been illegally converted into a flatbed truck which carried dual benches. The bus was carrying 58 workers of the Earl Myers Company back to the labor camp near Salinas. 53 of the 58 workers were Mexican braceros contracted by the Growers Farm Labor Association of out Salinas.

The driver of the bus Franciso "Pancho" Espinosa failed to observe the northbound train while attempting to cross the tracks onto US Route 101. The freight train collided with the bus while traveling over 60 miles per hour between 4:20-4:25 PM. Of the 58 passengers on the bus 32 of them were killed while another 25 were injured. The National Safety Council has frequently cited the Chualar Bus Crash the deadliest traffic collision in United States history.

Following the Chualar Bus Crash in 1964 the bracero program was cancelled by Congress. The bracero program had been in place since 1942 and was initially spurred by a need for additional farm labor during World War II.

Francisco Espinosa was charged with 32 counts of manslaughter. During his trial in December 1963, Espinosa claimed he did not see the northbound train. Espinosa was ultimately acquitted on all charges and left California. It is unclear what became of Espinosa after he left California.

The Interstate Commerce Commission initially blamed Espinosa for the Chualar Bus Crash due to the unobstructed view at Broome Road and the Southern Pacific Railroad. The later Galarza inquiry found that Espinosa had compromised vision due to being diabetic. The Galarza inquiry also noted the foreman sitting to the right of Espinosa likely also obstructed his vision and possibly prevented him from seeing the northbound train.



Part 2; a visit to the site of the Bracero's Memorial

The modest Bracero's Memorial can be found where Broome Road once crossed the Southern Pacific Railroad and intersected US Route 101. The Bracero's Memorial is easily accessible by taking modern Foletta Road south from Chualar. The weathered memorial sits at the site of the 1963 Chualar Bus Crash and reads "32 Braceros." This view is facing westward down Broome Road.


The below view is facing east where Broome Road once crossed the Southern Pacific Railroad (now Union Pacific) to US Route 101.  The at-grade rail crossing was removed at an unknown point following 1963.  


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