Mr. 5X5

Mr. 55
by Dick Mauer

Wenton Tennant was a SPI in Indio when I transferred there in 1967. 
Tennant was recovering from a terrible accident in which he almost lost 
the sight in one eye. Tennant was a pistolero, I'm told, up until the 
time he opened a case of ammunition at a Quarterly Qualification he was 
running, and one of the big staples flew up and hit his shooting eye 
right in the middle. He was lucky to save the sight in the eye but his 
pistolero days were over.

Tennant mostly worked city patrol and bus check in Indio but one night 
he found himself, due to a scheduling request, working freight train 
check on midnights with the Indio Daredevil, Ralph Shaw. (Ralph Shaw is 
a subject for recuerdos all by himself. Ralph went on to transfer to DEA 
and he was killed in a DEA plane crash in Mexico) Tennant never went 
near the trains as he could barely see in a boxcar much less actually 
get in a boxcar. Here's a hint. When Tennant would be asked for a radio 
check and he would answer 5X5, he was also describing his own stature as 

Anyway, this event happened during sugarbeet harvest time and long 
trains of beet cars were coming west through Indio destined for LA. The 
wets that hopped the freights in El Paso and Yuma would burrow down into 
the beets and get comfortable for the long ride west. The way we found 
them was to have one partner climb the signal tower at the Blythe 
Crossing to look down into the cars. When he saw a group he would signal 
his partner on the ground who would then clamber up on the beet car to 
make the arrest. (Blythe Crossing, just south of Indio is where the 
trains would be slowing down prior to entering the yards and switches in 
Indio. Because Southern Pacific also changed crews in a 5 minute stop in 
Indio, you had time to get the wets off the train too)

On this night Ralph was up on the tower and Tennant on the ground below 
him. The train passes without a signal from Ralph, and Tennant looks up 
waiting for Ralph to climb down, and .......No Ralph. Tennant gets 
frantic, and in the dark, starts looking around for pieces of Ralph 
thinking he fell off the tower between cars and got ground up. It was 
several minutes before Ralph called him on the air to come pick him and 
some wets up in the yard. While on the tower Ralph had seen a group 
burrowed into the beets, knew that Tennant couldn't climb into the car, 
and just jumped from the tower into the car to get them..Within those 
few minutes Tennant said he went from praising and eulogizing Ralph's 
few good points to threatening to kill him if he ever did that to him 
again. Just another day for Ralph.