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August 17, 2010 > History: B. J. Bunting

History: B. J. Bunting

By Phil Holmes

B. J. Bunting was the youngest of five sons born to Lawrence and Genevieve Bunting. He grew up in the historic Sanborn Bunting house on the edge of Bunting Lake. He attended Niles Elementary School and enjoyed playing with the neighborhood boys and swimming in Alameda Creek. B. J. recalls that the people were great; they knew each other and watched out for everyone.

The young boys hunted and trapped game, which they sold to a man known as Sam Chinaman. Sam lived in San Francisco and came to Niles on the train in the morning. He kept an old Ford pickup behind the fire house and drove it around to make his purchases. He paid 20 cents for a skunk but preferred the galls which he kept on a board with nails. One time B. J.'s brother, Tom, grabbed a gall and ran in an attempt to negotiate a higher price. Sam chased Tom but was unable to catch him and was forced to negotiate.

The boys were always looking for ways to earn a few extra coins. B. J. worked at the nearby International Kitchen unloading pottery and washing dishes. The owners were very good to the boys and sometimes gave them pieces of broken pies as a special reward.

B. J. entered Washington Union High School in the midst of World War II. His older brothers, Peter, Tom, and Bob, joined the Navy, and he also wanted to when he turned 17. He went with seven other boys from Washington High School to the San Francisco Naval Induction Center. They all passed their physicals and went to the US Navy except that B. J. joined the Merchant Marines. His dad would not sign the permission papers until November of his junior year when he was allowed to join the Merchant Marine where he served on ships transporting bombs and other munitions. His ship carried about 10,000 tons of munitions to various destinations including 3,000 tons of dynamite to Guam and other supplies to Alaska. After serving 30 months he returned home to Niles in 1947.

When B. J. was 16, he began working weekends in the Track Department of the Southern Pacific Railroad at 53 cents an hour. He was paid in cash at the depot. In the summer of 1944, at age 16, he worked as a signal helper. Then the Western Pacific Railroad called him to work at the Niles Tower near his home where he hung orders for the trains and operated levers that directed train traffic. At age 16 he was operating these five-foot levers, some of which were very hard to move.

B. J. became an Assistant Signalman for the Southern Pacific Railroad and continued working for them for over 42 years. In 1952 he was promoted to Lead Signalman and then was promoted to Signal Foremen in 1962. He held this position until 1975 when he began working on signal maintenance.

B. J. met Dorothy Lee Williams at his brother's shivaree soon after he left the merchant marines. She had been working in the Naval Research Office at Moffett Field. They soon became good friends and were married in Niles in 1947. He began building a house for his future family next to his parent's home on the Sanborn place where the family lived until they were forced to sell their property. They raised their sons James, Lee, and David there.

Besides working for the railroad B. J. became an Alameda County Reserve Deputy Sheriff in 1952 and served 6 years. He was in the Fremont Police Reserve for 14 years. His police adventures included assisting people fleeing from their homes in the 1955 flood in Niles. He recalls seeing Christmas presents floating in flooded cars.

One time a patient from the Atascadero State Mental Hospital came to Niles upset with something about the Southern Pacific Railroad, vowing to shoot every railroad employee. He suddenly appeared on the roof of a building across the street from the railroad office with a rifle in his hands. He fired off a shot at the depot office where people were working. The bullet hit the window sash, exploded and hit the Roadmaster in the chest and the mechanic in the arm. B. J. called for help and gave first aid to the Roadmaster who was bleeding badly, saving his life.

As a police sergeant, he reacted quickly. He dashed across the street, up the stairs to the roof and arrested the gunman whose gun had jammed after the first shot.

Another time, B. J. received a call about 6 p.m. to report to the Peralta Sub-station to be dispatched to Alquire Road. As he neared the designated site he could see flashing lights and he realized that this was no drill. It was a real disaster. There in the farmer's field was a crashed and burning airplane. It was a charter military plane that had pancaked into the ground killing all 30 military personnel and the three-member civilian crew.

The Alameda County Water District decided in 1981 that they had to have the home and land owned by B. J. and his family, so they began condemnation procedures. The Buntings were threatened by the loss of their home a diminished appraisal and difficulties locating and moving to a new home; they were forced to relocate. The house stood empty for a while and was vandalized before caretakers were installed. Local citizens became enraged and demolition plans were stalled by historical organizations.

B. J. always enjoyed gardening and had a fine vegetable garden on the Sanborn place. After he established another home in Fremont, he continued to enjoy gardening with his wife Dorothy (now deceased) of 62 years. Dorothy raised the flowers and B. J. raised vegetables and fruit trees. He also raised Jubaea Palms for the City of Fremont and Union City.

B. J. Bunting is a very caring and considerate person, a man with very special talents and abilities. We join with all those who are proud to call him a friend.

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