OAKDALE — From the emails and voice mails:
WHAT A MESS When a propane trailer tank overturned late Sunday morning north of Oakdale, it couldn't have happened at a worse time.
Tourists returning from Yosemite National Park, Pinecrest, Lake Don Pedro, New Melones and other points east filed into the Cowboy Capital only to find the road home Highway 120 closed in both directions.
Oakdale police officers initially responded to the crash itself, relinquishing control once the California Highway Patrol arrived.
Then Oakdale officers began trying to reroute westbound traffic from Yosemite Avenue toward Modesto where it could connect with Highway 99 via River Avenue, using an evacuation plan developed as part of a study done years ago.
Just one problem: The police had only three officers on duty, including Sgt. Brian Shimmel. They tried to send traffic west on North or A streets to River. They expected drivers to follow River for about nine blocks until it becomes Oak Street. Oak leads to Highway 108, where they could turn west toward Riverbank and Modesto.
A major glitch: Perhaps one driver simply wanted to buy groceries and turned off River into the rear entrance to the Yosemite Plaza shopping center. The center houses CostLess, Grocery Outlet and other businesses. A seemingly endless stream of vehicles followed like sheep, turning right instead of staying left on River. They were loaded with camping gear, some were pulling boats or travel trailers, and some were full-size RVs. They overwhelmed the shopping center, waiting their turn to exit south onto Yosemite. The parade ended up back at the North or A street intersections, where they had to turn west all over again after creating one big, clogged circle.
Shimmel manned the shopping center's rear entrance in an attempt to stop the chaos once police realized what was happening.
"I almost got hit three times at the corner," he said.
Higher-priority calls prevented him from staying there the entire time, and the circus repeated.
Eventually, the officers he'd called into work reached their posts, and the traffic problems began to ease.
As I mentioned in my Sunday column about the city's projected growth, Oakdale has only 19 sworn officer positions, Chief Lester Jenkins among them. Two remain unfilled and one officer is out on medical/injury leave, meaning the city really has only 16 officers. Compare that to 28 in 2005, before the economic downturn forced budget cuts.
MADE IT Last month, I wrote about a trio of 12-year-olds from Denair that planned to climb Mount Whitney with five others on Aug. 5.
Trent Hulbert, Jonah Kosakiewicz and Jake Dirske trained for the ascent with experienced climbers Rodolphe and Stephanie Jourdan of Turlock, who helped them condition and also train for the technical climbing on a tougher route than the one Hulbert completed three years ago.
Their date with the mountain arrived, Stephanie Jourdan said, and everyone in the group "summited," which means they made it all the way to the stop of the 14,496-foot mountain.
"(It) took much longer than we anticipated," Jourdan reported. "We were on the mountain almost 21 hours. The boys bucked up and all made it to the top. The mountaineers route was a bit more challenging than we thought it would be for them, so we are especially proud they made it. We went up the mountaineers route, and due to the high danger factor going up, we decided to descend using the regular Whitney trail. So up seven miles, down 11 miles."
And a day they'll never forget.
LONGEVITY Modesto resident Ruby Fern Bennett died Aug. 4, just 37 days shy of turning 103. Living past the century mark runs in the family. Bennett's mom, Anna Lydia Berg, was Stanislaus County's oldest resident when she died at 103 in May 1971.
AUTHOR! AUTHOR! A big fan of "The Godfather" trilogy, Modesto resident Laura Wright writes under the pen name Laura Andolini. She recently released her new parenting book, "Secrets of a Toddler, Second Edition" through Tate Publishing and Enterprises. Andolini shares all the secrets about parenting that she has learned through her son, Vito. Remember "The Godfather, Part II"? Vito Corleone was born Vito Andolini in Sicily and took the name of his hometown when he migrated to the United States. The book is available through bookstores nationwide, from the publisher at www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore, or by going to BarnesandNoble.com or Amazon.com.
Modesto native Bob Branco, who now lives in Maine, will debut "Strike From the Deep," a novel about a Navy destroyer going after Somali pirates off the African coast. Maine Authors Publishing. Branco, who graduated from Downey High in Modesto, went on to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and retired after a 25-year naval career that included several tours of duty on destroyers.
And ex-Modestan Mike Monson has self-published a novel titled "Criminal Love and Other Stories/Tales of Love, Sex, Crime and Death From California's Central Valley and Elsewhere." It's available as a Kindle book on Amazon.com. The book includes 23 stories, most of which are crime tales set in Modesto. Monson lived in Modesto from 1994 until April, when he moved to Hawaii.