Born in London, England on June 17, 1904, Fred C Beyer came to the United States with his parents during World War II and settled in North Dakota. Mr. Beyer attended Valley City State Teachers College where he received a BA degree in 1930 and assumed his first position in North Oaks as head of the English department. In 1934 Fred married Francis Godfrey and accepted a position at Modesto Jr. College.
Fred expanded his influence in the community and became director of the of the Oratorical Society of Modesto, Messiah in the Methodist church and the Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools. On November 20, 1968, his life ended tragically in a plane crash near Pacheco Pass west of Los Banos. Modesto's newest high school, at the time, was named in his honor.
Stanislaus County Superindendent of Schools Fred C. Beyer
(Aerial view of Fred C. Beyer high school, 1717 Sylvan Ave. Modesto, CA courtesy of Google Maps)
Fred C. Beyer High School, August 2010
(Photos courtesy of Charles Canterbury)
Editor Note: In 1968 I was a rookie Deputy Sheriff with the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department and working on my law enforcement degree at Modesto Junior College when I wrote this paper for my English 1A class. Coincidently, the instructor was Ron Underwood, an instructor at Beyer High school who was instrumental in getting KBHI- FM on the air. I was among the Deputies who investigated this tragic mishap.
By Stanislaus County Deputy Sheriff, Bob Pinheiro
The fog had settled thickly over the Wolfsen ranch, a mere eighty feet above sea Level at the base of the California Coast Range mountains. Bob Todd had been punching cattle most of his forty three years, the last six on this 23,000 acre ranch twelve miles west of Gustine, CA. Bob knew it was time to check the stock in the high country above the ranch, what he didn't know was that this trip was to have great emotional impact not only for him but for many other people living in the sprawling San Joaquin valley below.
The winter tule fog had shrouded the bunk house that cold November morning as his thoughts lazily returned to memories of years past when he had rode the high country during the winter above the valley fog and in the warmth of a brilliant sun. He remembered the solitude and tranquility of the ridges and canyons above the fog layer around the 3,000 foot elevation.
The chill of the misty morning fog caused a quick shiver as he loaded his four-wheel drive pickup with provisions to last a week. He loaded several salt blocks for the cattle grazing the higher reaches of the ranch. His hands ached from the cold as he hooked up his horse trailer. He was looking forward to the trip up the winding cattle trail that would lead him to the top of Romero Ridge near the confluence of Merced, Stanislaus and Santa Clara counties.
He reached for the microphone on his two-way radio as he pulled away from the bunk house. As the wipers rolled the mist from the windshield he radioed his boss to let him know he was on his way to the high country. “Enjoy the sun replied the boss. I'm headed to 'Banos to pick up supplies but I don't know if I'm going to make it. The fog is so thick can only see two or three white lines on the road ahead". “See you in about a week" Bob replied, as he hung up the mike.
The trip up the mountain was slow and bumpy as usual as he finally reached the crest of Romero Ridge around noon that day. He stopped to enjoy the clear view, the sparkling blue sky and enjoy the warmth of the sun he expected.
A glance to the east, out over the San Joaquin valley, revealed the grayish blanket of low clouds and fog covering the valley below. The higher snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains were clearly visible across the valley filled with fog. He knew that the days would be short and the nights long and cold at this time of the year. He knew the low clouds and fog would make its way up the mountain as night fell. He began setting up camp at the base of a mountain oak tree and began searching for firewood. The shadows were giving way to darkness as he made his way back to camp with the firewood. The foggy mist crept over his camp, his crackling fire warming him as he bedded down for the night.
The sun had just cleared the Sierra mountains to the East as Bob awoke the following morning. The rays of the sun filtered through the billows of fog hanging in pockets along the ridge line and canyons below. After breakfast, Bob set out on horseback dropping the salt blocks along the way.
It was nearly mid-afternoon when he noticed a shining object reflecting in the bright afternoon sun. It was about a half mile down the side of a canyon, about three miles from his camp. He had never noticed anything in that area before and wondered if it could be a practice bomb or an expended gas tank from a Navy Jet en route to the Crows Landing bombing range fifteen miles to the north. His familiarity with the area and his growing certainty that this was something entirely foreign prompted him to take a closer look.
The canyon wall was so steep he was forced to leave his horse tied to a scrub oak near the top of the ridge and start down on foot. He strained to see far enough to identify the object glaring at him in the sun as he made his way cautiously down the face of the canyon. As he drew nearer he realized that the object was much larger than a bomb shell or gas tank. Suddenly, he realized that what lay before him was the crumpled wreckage of a single engine private plane. He hesitated for a minute to catch his breath. He knew he was the only human for miles and the totality of the crash scene was immediate. He hastened his pace and was nearly out of breath when he reached the gruesome site.
The plane had ploughed into the side of the canyon with such force all that remained intact was the tail section which precariously teetered from the cabin section threatening to breakaway at any moment and fall to the bottom of the canyon below. He knew that the occupants could not have survived such an impact.
A lump appeared in his throat and it became hard to swallow as he counted the bodies. Three in all, the pilot and two passengers, all men. Bob peered at the scene a few moments feeling a total sense of futility and then retreated, climbing the canyon wall back to his horse .
The ride back to camp seemed an eternity. The sun was disappearing behind the mountains to the West as he arrived at camp as the fog crept up the mountain again. He went too his pickup toi call his boss on the radio. His hurried and excited radio call was answered immediate by his boss who calmed him sufficiently to understand what he was trying to tell him. His boss said he would notify the Sheriff's office and would lead them to his location when they arrived.
As the sun faded away the fog returned with it's grayish cold grasp . Bob built another fire to ward off the chill and waited as the fog licked at the peaks and snuffed out the sky above. He thought about the three men who had met death on the side of the mountain. Who they were? Where they were going? The flames from his fire slowly disappeared as the fog settled in as he waited for his boss and the deputies to arrive.
The recovery party from the Merced and Stanislaus County Sheriff's offices arrived about two hours later and identified the victims. Bob had found the missing plane piloted by Roger Wurtz of Kentfield, CA. The plane had left the Visalia, CA airport shortly after 5 PM on the afternoon of November 20 ,1968. His passengers, Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools Fred C. Beyer and his assistant Joseph Howard. Their bodies were recovered the next day and removed by a Navy helicopter from Lemoore, CA.
Fred Beyer, and his assistant Joseph Howard, were interested in purchasing some portable classrooms for the Modesto City Schools and were working with a company from the Bay Area that built such units.The company had a manufacturing plant in Visalia, CA. and arrangements were made to have company pilot Roger Wurtz fly Beyer and Howard to Visalia to inspect the some of the units. The fog that normally blankets the valley in the winter had cleared by mid morning on that November 20,1968. The thought was that they could quickly make the trip to Visalia and back before the fog settled back over the valley later that day. They arrived safely at the Visalia airport by mid morning and took off at 5 PM, which was later than they planned. The speculation is that the pilot, who did not have a instrument rating, was using highway 99 as a reference in the return flight and mistakenly followed highway 152 from where in joined highway 99 just south of Chowchilla, CA. Following highway 152 led him into the mountains west of Gustine, CA where it is believed the pilot became disoriented in the fog which led to the tragedy. The plane had been missing for nearly two weeks before it was found near Romero Ridge.