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Rocklin's jail becomes central hub for railway hoboes

Rails, Rocks and Ranches
By: Gary Day, Special to the Placer Herald
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Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series on the hoboes who rode the freight trains. The location of Rocklin’s roundhouse at the terminus of the westbound trans-Sierra run from 1867 until 1908 made Rocklin a magnet for freight train hoboes. Sensing they were at the valley floor after a torturous boxcar ride downhill from Norden, hoboes disembarked in Rocklin to rest and, sometimes, to wander the area seeking better lives. In the early 1880s Placer County built a jailhouse at the corner of today’s Pacific and Bush Streets. It was originally intended to house criminals, but it eventually became a respite point for Rocklin’s hoboes, a place to spend the night out of the cold. “The only requirement was they had to be locked up at night because they might steal the bedding,” said the late historian Ruben Ruhkala. “True, there were a lot of bars in town, but Rocklin never was a ‘Wild West’ town in need of a big jail.” As a schoolboy in the very early 20th century, Ernest Willard, who became Rocklin’s first police chief in 1946, would unlock the jailhouse door each morning on his way to school. Willard’s father, George, was Rocklin’s town marshal at that time and was apparently too busy with his oxcart drayage business to release the hoboes in the morning. Earnest still had the jailhouse key in his possession when he served as honorary marshal of the Rocklin Jubilee parade in 1983.