Plane Wreck at Los Gatos

All They Will Call You: The Book & Research

Documentary/ Non-Fiction/ Fiction

This book project centers around the famous 1948 plane crash in Los Gatos Canyon, Fresno County, which took the lives of 32 passengers, 28 who were “Mexican Nationals.” This is the same crash made famous by Woody Guthrie and Martin Hoffman, in the song “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (The Deportee Song),” which has been recorded by musicians such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Dolly Parton, Joan Baez, and Pete Seeger.

Me standing in the exact location of where the plane crashed.

Here I am standing next to the tree that the plane hit when it crashed.

While researching old Fresno County newspapers for my novel, “Mañana Means Heaven (Due out Aug. 2013),” I came across an article in January of 1948. The headlines read, “100 See Ship Plunge.” As I read into it I realized it was the same crash that Woody Guthrie had written his lyrics about. I made a copy of the article and filed it away. Like all good projects worth their while, it nagged. I woke up nights thinking about it. I bought a dozen versions of the song, and hummed it everywhere I went. Even as I finished writing “Mañana Means Heaven,” which happens to take place in the same era, I was humming that song. Obsession? Maybe. I found this article back in late 2010, so this book has been on my mind since then, although I actively began researching it in early Spring 2011.

When completed, the book will be a carefully woven narrative of the incident, the song, and the lives of all 32 passengers who died, told via transcribed interviews, documents, letters and photographs. Interviewees include: the Gaston family, who owned the property that the plane fell upon and who witnessed the crash, the close friends and family of Martin Hoffman, the “school teacher” who wrote the melody, and the family members of the “deportees” themselves. The book will also include never before seen photos of the crash and funeral services where hundreds of valley farmworkers attended to pay their respects, and a complete official list of names for all 28 deportees. The research is still ongoing, but I anticipate wrapping up the writing by Spring 2015, at which point I will be seeking a publisher through my literary representation (Full Circle Literary).

Our audio guy, Tony Delfino, inside the Fresno Road Camp, where prisoners witnessed the plane falling.

Our audio guy, Tony, inside the Fresno Road Camp, where prisoners witnessed the plane falling from the sky.

In May 2012, I collaborated on a performance of some of this material with blues musician Lance Canales, at the National Steinbeck Center. During his gripping rendition of the song I read the names aloud. Director of the Grammy Museum, Bob Santelli, and Nora Guthrie were both in the audience, and afterward expressed their enjoyment about the performance. Nora also expressed interest in housing the research in her father’s archives, which would be wonderful. Freelance Journalist Robin Wheeler captured this moment in her blog and you can read that here. Throughout the research I’ve brought along a videographer, and we are now underway to raise money to complete the documentary film. Finally, upon bringing this story to the attention of the Fresno Diocese and Holy Cross Cemetery in 2011, and the idea for a memorial headstone, with the help of people around the country we have raised $14,000 to make this a reality.  The new headstone listing all the names of the passengers as installed at a public event on September 2, 2013, at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno, CA.

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5 responses to “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos

  1. This is magnificent! I’m looking for an e-mail address for you, Tim. If you can e-mail me at donray@donray.com, I can tell you more about what we’re doing that’s similar. You’re my new hero!

  2. Hi Mr Tim. It was very informative reading about the plane crash and the fact that you have all the names of the victims. Great job. Thank you so much

  3. Hi, Tim! I will be teaching this book for a college writing class in Trinidad, CO. You’ve given me a unique teaching opportunity with this book. I especially appreciate that you are very clear about what and how you researched and that creating this book was a lengthy process. Thanks! Lisa

  4. Tim – I was up all night finishing “All They Will Call You.” It was fascinating, insightful and moving. As you say, sometimes perception is more accurate than the “facts”.

    Your book connected with me on many levels, bringing back thoughts of my father (now 95) teaching me about Woody; hearing the song, from Joan Baez’s and Arlo’s recordings in my college days right through hearing Joan Baez sing it poignantly here in New Mexico recently as part of her 75th birthday tour (wearing her “Nasty Woman” tee shirt); and thinking of my own four grandparents, who all came here from Eastern Europe pursuing their own dreams.

    It’s particularly powerful — and sad — to finish your book and write this note today, when the current Regime (I can’t bring myself to call this an Administration) is stomping on the hopes of a new generation of Dreamers.

    I look forward to reading more of your writing, and hope to hear when you’ll be in New Mexico speaking again.

    Thanks again for writing a beautiful and important book.

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