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This Week in Sapulpa History – Comical Parking Fines In Sapulpa
Rachel Whitney, Curator, Sapulpa Historical Museum
In Sapulpa Herald history, the newspaper would often print humorous articles or tidbits about the ongoings of Sapulpa. Most stories involved Sapulpa’s rivalry with Tulsa. These stories were comical, stating that Tulsa wasn’t big, bad, and tough as they let themselves think they are. Other stories were just everyday happenings in Sapulpa that had a comical twist.
This week in Sapulpa history, a little tale about a city policeman whose position on the task force was to monitor parking meters, parking violations, and traffic conditions may have had a taste of his own medicine.
In bold ink, the headline read: “Meter Reader Gets ‘Big Parking Fine.’”
City Policeman Van Nelson was shopping at Warehouse Market at 24 S Park, Saturday evening on April 7th, 1959. “Fate turned the tables on Patrolman Van Nelson. Nelson, whose daily duty consists of handing out parking violations tickets to the general public, received a ticket himself.”
Nelson stated that after shopping, he loaded his car with his bags. He had realized he needed more items, and proceeded to go back inside the store.
“Nelson left the cart for just a minute. Returning,he found a ticket. The overtime parking ticket read, ‘50 cents fine, $1,000 court costs.*’”
*Note: in 1959, 50 cents is about $5 today; whereas, $1,000 then is about $8,700 today.
Over the next week, word traveled fast and far about the officer’s unfortunate circumstance. On April 12th, the Herald ran the “Incidentally” column. This column was often used for gossip, town events, and notices.
“Van Nelson, City Policeman, believes in the power of the press. He received a copy of the Springfield, MO. paper with a story about his ticket for overtime parking in a grocery story. He also got a phone call from his son in Odessa, TX, who heard the story over the radio.” The Springfield Leader and Press had placed this story under “Today’s Best Story.”
As an experienced officer, Nelson kept working hard. Unfortunately, 1959 was not his year. He received another ticket the following month.
Another humorous article was printed with bold letters in mid-May. It read: “Cop Gives Self Ticket.”
Van Nelson made the news again. “Meter man for the City Police Department saw a car overparked at a meter. In a routine manner, he checked the tag, wrote down the time, and put a ticket on the delinquent vehicle.
“The car was his own! His son, Van Jr., was in town visiting from Texas, and driving his father’s car. Van Sr. thought his son and car were in Tulsa until he returned to the Police Station.”
When Officer Nelson discovered what happened, he paid the 50 cent fine. “‘I’ve been tricked,’ Nelson said. Still wondering if the car he tagged was really his own, Nelson said, ‘I would have put the ticket on there even if I had known it was my own!”
Patrolman Nelson had been on the police force almost 20 years before his retirement in around 1964. He had served as Deputy Sheriff under Abner Bruce. Nelson had previously owned and operated garages in town, the Norwood Garage, and the Nelson Garage. These were in operation from at least 1922 to the late 1940s. Nelson saw the town grow and come alive; he came of age in the new city of Sapulpa for he arrived in Sapulpa with his parents the year Sapulpa became a city – 1898. He was born in 1883. His obituary appeared in the Sapulpa Herald in December 1970.
The information found on this page has been researched through Sapulpa (and area) newspapers, Sapulpa Historical Society archives, books, and photographs, Sapulpa yearbooks, city directories, and other local authors. Any other sources will be labeled and named as the research continues. Any mistakes will be noted and adjusted as needed.