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We love our visitors — from Ohio!

By Henry Timman • Aug 17, 2018 at 12:00 PM

The city of Norwalk’s traffic laws haven’t always been popular with people passing through the Maple City, as we find out from a 1937 story. A man named Leary Oberlin of Pontiac, Mich., frequently passed through our town to obtain equipment needed for his Michigan business.

On Nov. 12, 1937, he drove to Akron to purchase a 3,000-gallon tank weighing that many pounds. As he returned through Norwalk, he notice a police car following him. Soon the “robust” officer flagged him over and asked why he did not have the required Ohio truck capacity data on the truck as required by law.

Oberlin replied that he was only a visitor in Ohio and didn’t use the truck regularly to haul goods here. The officer insisted that they needed the information on the truck anyway and then informed Oberlin and his companion that they had been speeding, though they claimed to have closely monitored their speed in Norwalk.

A ticket was issued, but the mayor wasn’t available to hear the case at the moment, so Oberlin posted a bond of $8.20 and was allowed to leave. He asked the officer about the three or four cars which had sped past them when they were first pulled over and the policeman replied, “Oh, they belong in this state.”

Oberlin’s driver was to appear on Nov. 30 in Norwalk’s mayor’s court, but did not show. Mayor Fred Link issued a statement to the Reflector claiming that Oberlin could still be charged for not having the required Ohio truck information on his vehicle and he averred that Oberlin’s driver was speeding and driving recklessly in the city. The mayor concluded by saying that Oberlin oblige — but I could find no record tha  Oberlin or his driver ever were charged by the grand jury. The city had the $8.20 bond that was posted originally and that may have been all that really mattered to the city administration.

Oberlin told his story of this incident in a letter to the Cleveland Plain Dealer under the headline “Legal Highway Robbery,” and it was copied from there by the Reflector. In his opening paragraph he said that he had passed through Norwalk several times and especially at Christmas when every home had a lighted tree and he had thought then that the town was one to be proud of, but the incidents of November 1935 convinced him otherwise. He further claimed that he stopped for fuel at the edge of town and the service station owner told him that his arrest was typical of the way out-of-state drivers are treated.

The accused concluded his statement by saying that he agreed with having police and traffic control, but he felt that in-state drivers should be watched more closely. I don’t know whether any policies or laws ever changed because of this incident, but I feel that it took some courage for him to tell his story publicly.

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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at New Directions Design, 20 W. Main St., in downtown Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed and in permanent book form.

Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.

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