As a self-proclaimed local historian, I am often given minor historical items that people have collected or that have been found in trashcans. A few months ago I got a call from a friend who told me that someone in an old house near him had recently died, and that a dumpster out in front was getting filled with interesting old stuff from the house. I met him there, and with the landlord’s permission, we entered the huge walk-in dumpster and pulled a few items out. A lot of personal stuff (passports, high school yearbooks, wedding photos) were mixed with a scattering of electric trolley collectables (old roll signs, photos, maps and schedules), plus a lot of reel-to-reel tapes. My buddy in Montrose, Mike Morgan, is a trolley fanatic and is connected with the Trolley Museum out in Perris, Calif. He would know what to do with this.
Grabbing a few choice items I thought might be valuable to a museum, I gave him a call before dropping the stuff at his house. I told him the story, that I had some trolley stuff, and maybe he could decide where it should go. He assured me he’d figure it out. I had picked up the deceased guy’s name from his personal papers, and I told Mike on the phone as an afterthought, “His last name was Ward, I think.”
Suddenly Mike’s voice shot up an octave, and he stammered, “P-P-P-PAUL Ward?!!”
“Yeah, I think that was it, why?”
“Oh My God. I’ll tell you when you get here.”
When I got there Mike’s hands almost trembled as he reverently touched the items I had brought, and he told me the story of Paul Ward.
Ward had been a talented young radio DJ from San Francisco back in the ‘60s. His smooth voice had brought him fame in the radio industry, and he traveled the world, doing radio shows and voice-overs. Here in L.A. he did some memorable work for local radio, including a long-time stint as producer of the Wolfman Jack show.
Ward’s interests turned to electric trolley history and he amassed one of the best collections of trolley memorabilia around. He worked with the Electric Railway Historical Society on histories of local lines, including our own Glendale and Montrose Railway.
Personally, Ward was reclusive, and he had suffered a failed childless marriage. When he was diagnosed with cancer he pulled away further and trolley collector friends lost track of him. He had no close friends and no family.
Finally the rumor came that he had died. No one even knew where he lived and his amazing collection was assumed lost forever.
Meanwhile, here in La Crescenta, the lady who owned the small rental where Paul was staying was sympathetic to the plight of the relatively young man wracked with cancer. She allowed him to stay rent-free through his final months. When he died no one stepped up to claim his seemingly worthless possessions so she called a cleaning company to empty the house.
With this new connection, Mike Morgan contacted her, and the next day trolley enthusiasts from all over L.A. descended on the now full dumpster. They worked several 24-hour shifts with lights set up, and gleaned as much as they could. Truckloads of trolley history went to the Trolley Museum and stacks of recordings of Wolfman Jack went to the Radio Historical Society. These historians know how to research so they tracked down Paul’s ex in South Africa and sent her all his personal effects.
Thanks to a fluke of fate, Paul Ward’s name will live on as the donor of a massive collection of transportation and media history. The lesson from all this? You won’t live forever. If you have possessions you know will be valuable to friends or family when you’re gone, make arrangements now. Make sure your collections are spoken for, and that your treasured photos will end up in caring hands. Don’t let them end up in a dumpster like Paul Ward’s did.