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It happens every year, but this was the first one

The tale of Bluffton's first teenage speeding ticket

By Fred Steiner

Take a wild guess. You’ll be way off.

In which year was the first Bluffton teenager pulled over by a Bluffton police officer and charged with speeding?

Would you believe 1919?
The holders of this distinction are Raymond Stratton and Tesla “Tubby” Stearns. These Bluffton speed demons may have raced at the unheard speed, topping perhaps 15 miles per hour,  and in so doing created an incredible racket.

The story as we understand it follows from an interview we had with “Tubby” in 1989, when he lived at Mennonite Memorial Home, 70 years after the incident. First, a little background on these two potential juvenile delinquents. Stearns was a 1918 Bluffton High School graduate and Stratton was a 1919 grad. 


Nicknames during this era were as common as birth names, and we often talked with Mr. Stearns about his growing up years in Bluffton. He was always addressed as “Tubby”; never Tesla. However, he was not pudgy or fat, in our opinion. So, we never knew how his nickname came to be.

We are unaware of a nickname for Raymond Stratton, however, we do know that he also went by Ray, and in his senior class photo he is listed as R.A. Stratton.

Back to our story. Tubby told us that he and Ray cranked up Stratton’s automobile, wanting to see how much noise the vehicle could make and how fast it would go. They  chose College Avenue between Lawn and Jackson for the test lap.

There was one problem with their street choice. The town marshal, Henson Good, lived on this block. Wouldn’t you know, he happened to be sitting on his front porch when the speed demons cruised by.

Everyone reading this knows that this 1919 experiment has been repeated every year in Bluffton by a new set of teenage drivers. Two major differences between the Stearns-Stratton test and today is that in 1919 vehicles were not equipped with speedometers, and, speed limits in the village were apparently were non-existent. 

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