Harley-Davidson and the CZ
by Louis Barbier
Greetings. Those of us who have been fortunate to
have been around awhile remember the Harley-Davidson Motorcycles and the Canal Zone
Police. Yea, they were really something to have the quiet night shattered by a hog as it
varroomed on a straight away from Los Rios to the Miraflores Bridge. The sound meant all
was well with our world and those assigned to preserve and protect us were on duty.
But this is not what this little story is about -- which I gleamed out of the archives of past Police Blotters. No, it is about Officer Jack Mulligan and his report of an incident that happened in Cocoli about midnight so many moons ago.
But first let's talk a little about the Harley-Davidson Motoring Company as it was first called. Almost immediately after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Harley-Davidson's entire motorcycle output was produced for military use. By the end of World War II, 90,000 Army-version motorcycles had been built and shipped. The war ended. And there was a surplus of bikes. Well, the Canal Zone Police got as many as they could and immediately had them on patrol around the Canal Zone. They were fabulous in ceremonies. There was also Trick Motorcycle Team who dazzled us with their acrobats on these standard Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Yea, that was a memorable time in the Canal Zone.
Now back to our story. Most of the younger fellows joining the force would volunteer for motorcycle patrol. These officers handled most of the traffic problems in the Canal Zone. So, when Jack Mulligan joined the force he opted for being part of this distinguished group. They were something in their blue Jodhpurs, shinny black boots, black buster brown belts, helmet, and a Smith & Wesson 38 Police Special on their hip.
Officer Jack Mulligan learned the ropes fast. On the night shift his territory covered Diablo Clubhouse and Cocoli across the Miraflores Bridge. Unless there was a call, he would make one or two stops at Cocoli and then check in at the Balboa Station at the end of his shift.
Most nights were really routine. A few DUI's but nothing really serious. That's because most townsites in the Canal Zone would roll-up the sidewalks by 10:30 at night. Sure you had your shift workers dropping in at Diablo Clubhouse. And Cocoli Clubhouse was locked up tight by 11 PM during the week -- on weekends by 12:30 PM.
This was a late Wednesday night about almost midnight when his big hog purred into Cocoli and took a swing through the neighborhood. All was quiet. Then he noticed a beat-up green Chevy pickup with a John-Boat hanging out of the payload bed parked out in front of the Clubhouse. At first he didn't see anybody in the cab. But as he approached he saw an old gentleman in Khakis slumped over the steering wheel. Jack shinned his flashlight into the face of the elderly gentleman. He didn't smell any booze, but the fellow's lips were blue. He thought he might have a homicide. So, he called it in to the Balboa Dispatcher with, "Officer needs assistance, a possible homicide." The Dispatcher at Balboa sent an ambulance from Gorgas and alerted the Cocoli Fire Department. All arrived on the scene within the next 20 minutes. Of course Cocoli Fire and Rescue Personnel were first on the scene.
The Chief of the Cocoli Unit recognized the old fellow as Bill Pearson. Yea, nobody really knew how old Bill was, except he joined the Navy as a kid about 15. He had served mostly on Battleships. Just before his scheduled retirement, the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Bill had been lucky and had survived the sneak attack by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, He then went to work for the Panama Canal Company in 1945. He was approaching mandatory retirement age when Officer Jack Mulligan had discovered Bill slumped over the steering wheel of his pickup. Bill was coming off the 3 to 11 shift at the Miraflores pump station. Bill was almost home. A widower for many years he had an apartment in Cocoli. Jack had not touched Bill.
So, Jack had presumed Bill to now be fish'n in the promise land. But oh no, Bill was so completely relaxed -- his pulse was very strong, but hardly noticeable. But Bill came alive upon hearing the Ambulance arrive with the siren screaming. In fact all of Cocoli was now awake. A crowd of onlookers had gathered. Bill still a bit dazed by all the attention asked, "What is all the Fuzz? Who died?"
After some discussion it was realized that Bill's heart medication had been changed by his doctor a couple of days ago and it was a bit too strong. This of course would be corrected. And no he did not want to go to Gorgas for observation. In fact since he had the day-off tomorrow he was looking on going fish'n with Shorty Miguel's Dad. They would try their luck on Cocoli Pond.
So, all is well that ends well, but it took Officer Jack Mulligan three years to live that one down. And he learned a valued lesson from this incident -- always to check for a pulse before declaring somebody dead, regardless if they look dead.
Yes, my friends, Bill Pearson lived for many years after that. In fact, after taking retirement from Panama Canal Company, he lived in the Tivoli Guest House for many years until it was torn down. Then I understand he was provided free housing for being caretaker, grounds keeper, and handyman at one of the Canal Zone Golf Courses. When Bill finally died at the young age of 99, he had a crowd of people at his wake and was buried at Corozal Military Cemetery. For his final procession to the grave site the old Harley-Davidson's were brought out of retirement.
Did this really happen? I don't know. But many of us can remember the old-timers on the verandah of the Tivoli Guest House. Wow, the stories they could tell.......one may just have been Bill Pearson.
April 22, 1999