Past Times

State Highway Patrol looking for just the right men

The North Carolina State Highway Patrol formed in 1929 with 27 motorcycle officers.
The North Carolina State Highway Patrol formed in 1929 with 27 motorcycle officers. STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA ALBERT BARDEN COLLECTION

In 1929, the General Assembly authorized the creation of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. Captain Charles D. Farmer and his nine lieutenants were tasked with selecting the 27 officers for the patrol. Ben Dixon MacNeill gave N&O readers a look at the selection and training process.

Out of bed at 6 o’clock in the morning, 30 minutes brisk physical exercise, breakfast, an hour of the most menial sort of labor, 30 minutes military drill, four hours’ study of a dozen subjects that range from arithmetic and geography to mechanics, first aid and the most pleasant way of herding a drunken driver into the nearest jail, dinner, four hours more study, supper, and three hours more study and then to bed – being a member of the North Carolina Highway Patrol, or at any rate being a beginning patrolman, is – well, the beginners, if they had time to wonder about anything, would wonder why a thousand men ever wanted such a job.

…There must be something in the legend that all normally born males at some time or other are consumed with the ambition to be a policeman. A lot of them never get over it, even when their heads are gray, and four lineal feet of leather is not enough to make them a comfortable belt.…

It is a big job. Not counting backseat drivers, a million people are operating a half million automobiles in North Carolina. A thousand men might be usefully employed in the educative process, but only 37 were provided for. Obviously they will have to be pretty good men and not just adult males who would like to have a job that pays $150 a month, clothes them with handsome uniforms, and some authority, and mounts them upon a motorcycle. There is something seductive about being on the State payroll, a deeply embedded notion that “State” jobs are soft jobs.…

Numbers of applicants were turned down…. More than a dozen young men were found to be rum-runners, and several fairly continuous jail experiences were found. The applicants state specifically that none has ever been convicted of wrong-doing. Preliminary physical examinations further reduce the number.

Seventy men were chosen to be sent to the patrol school at Camp Glenn, and from this number Captain Farmer expected to draw the number who will have jobs in his outfit.… Twenty-one of the number were disqualified in an exceedingly rigid physical examination, that ran the gamut of inquiry from tests for color blindness to Wasserman tests of the blood. Most of them fell because of circulatory imperfections. One man was sent home because of the itch.

Kitchen police for two days convinced seven other chosen applicants to decide that patrol duty was not what they thought it was, over which Captain Farmer smiled grimly. He wanted, of course, to discover any quitters in his organization before he had spent any money educating them, and cleaning up the kitchens and barracks at Camp Glenn after two years of disuse was not a wholly pleasant job.…

The atmosphere of the training is military. More than half the present enlisted personnel has had military experience. More than half of them are too young to have been in the war, but the National Guard and State College have done their bit toward providing aspiring patrolmen with military backgrounds. The N&O May 26, 1929

Each patrolman selected was issued a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and assigned to a district. Each district was run by a lieutenant, with “Farmer at the head of them all and likely to come upon them in his mighty Buick anywhere.”

Read more about the daily routine of the first State Highway Patrol officers on the blog Past Times,

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A typical day for the 1929 patrol

To get at, a little more concretely, what Captain Farmer expects his men to do, it might simplify the picture a little to follow a man on a hypothetical patrol, which the man will repeat every day, seven days in a week.

About 1 o’clock in the afternoon he will take off from his base of operations, moving along the highway designated for patrol that day.… Leaving the town the patrolman may observe ahead of him a car travelling at 50 miles an hour. He will pass him, fall in ahead of him and pace him for a short distance. If he fails to slow down he will be warned.

Further along the patrolman observes a car that does not respond readily to its brakes. The car will be stopped. Its brakes will be examined. The operator will be told how to make the adjustment himself, or if he prefers, continue until he has reached a designated brake adjustment station. The man will not be arrested for faulty brakes. He will be given a return postal card to be mailed to the headquarters of the department, with a notation by an authorized mechanic that the brakes have been remedied.

Next it may be a man whose last tire has collapsed, or who is in need of some minor road side assistance. The patrolman will give it to him or summon help for him. Another may be out of gasoline. The patrolman will go to the nearest filling station and get some more for him. Another may be passing somebody on a blind crest of a hill, or at a curve in the road. The offender will be stopped and the idiocy of his ways courteously explained to him. Usually such people are reasonable about such matters and no arrest will be necessary.

Night may be coming on. The patrolman, if he is far from his base, will stop by the post office and get the postmaster to stamp a card for him and mail it to headquarters. All along he has entered in his log an outline of his movements. The postmaster will verify his whereabouts for him to his chief. After supper he will again take the road. This time he will be concerned about lights as well as brakes. Cars that have no tail lights will be stopped. There will be no arrest or citation made. The operator whose lights are wrong will be given one of the return cards. He can take it to a garage, have his lights fixed, and the mechanic will return it to the department.…

One thing there will be no warning or argument about. If it is apparent from the operation of a car that the driver is drunk, he will be stopped immediately and with such force as is necessary. The driver will be taken to the nearest place of custody and a physician summoned to pass upon his condition. The word of the patrolman will not be the final word. The patrol will undertake to drive the drunken driver off the road permanently in North Carolina.

The patrol will concern itself exclusively with violations of the motor vehicle laws of the State. It will not concern itself about the enforcement of prohibition. No patrolman will ever search a vehicle for liquor, or for anything else except defective equipment.…

Every minute of his time away from base has been fully occupied. Every car that has passed him has been observed by the patrolman and when it has been obviously necessary, the operator has been cautioned about his speed or hogging the road or what not. By now it may be bed time and the patrolman can go home if it is not too far away, or he may to to the nearest hotel and go to bed. In 12 hours he may have covered a hundred, or a hundred and fifty miles.