James Dean Memorial Junction

Ordinarily, I dislike it when people are memorialized on highways. You probably know what I mean: “The Officer James Smoot Memorial Highway”. The way I see it, it is a who cares proposition and just adds to highway clutter. The overwhelming majority of the time, it just doesn’t matter, so there’s no reason to place expensive signs along the road. The money expended in this frivolous manner could be better used to do something important like filling a pothole or two in the asphalt. And any resident of California knows that the roads of this state are in horrible shape. At this time it would be very realistic to change the state motto to “The Pothole State”. During the long motorcycle ride mentioned below I had nearly a dozen incidents wherein I hit a bone-jarring pothole that I couldn’t see until it was too late.

But there are exceptions. On Wednesday, Mike Harmon and I visited one of the exceptional locations; The James Dean Memorial Junction. We were on a 550 mile (885 km), round trip motorcycle ride to Parkfield, California, and stopped at the Junction of Routes 46 and 41 where James Dean was killed in a head-on collision on September 30, 1955.

At that time 58 years ago, the intersection of the two roads was a T. It has since been upgraded with safety improvements. The junction is now a crossed Y and a dip in the road on Route 46 which may have hidden Dean’s low-sitting Porsche from the other driver’s sight has been leveled out.

Dean was behind the wheel of his Porsche 550 Spyder and headed for a car race in Salinas, California along with his mechanic, Rolf Wuetherich, when his car and another collided. Wuetherich was thrown free of the car (no seat belts were used in that time period). The other driver sustained minor injuries. Dean was taken to Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 5:59 pm. No charges were filed against the other driver. I am purposely not repeating the other driver’s name, since he may still be alive and I’m sure this incident has hounded him ever since.

The black and white photographs shown here were made with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1.

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