For decades, the name of John Chester struck fear in the hearts of Pittsburg speeders, careless drivers and wrongdoers.

For decades, the name of John Chester struck fear in the hearts of Pittsburg speeders, careless drivers and wrongdoers.
The legendary Pittsburg Police Department motorcycle cop is now retired and living in Missouri. Over the years he has put his thoughts in written form many times as letters to the editor, letters to Dear Abby, personal essays, and so on. He recently shared some memories of his years in law enforcement — all edited, of course, to protect the innocent and quite a few of the guilty as well.
After his World War II service, Chester started back to school under the GI Bill.
“I took a job with the Pittsburg Police Department as a crutch through school,” he said. “I soon learned to like what I was doing very much and determined that this was no longer a ‘crutch’; this is my career.”
At that time, he said, it was optional whether police officers wore a suit or uniform.
“Most of the day shift wore suits,” Chester said. “The other shifts nearly all wore uniforms. There was no rank; just the chief and an assistant chief who was called the night chief. The rolling stock consisted of two 1947 Pontiacs and one 1947 Harley-Davidson motorcycle.”
The police chief kept one car, which left the other to answer all police calls.
“Each man had a walking beat, even the driver,” Chester said. “A beat man would relieve the driver while he covered his beat. Every door and window was checked several times each night in the downtown streets and alleys. One beat ran from Washington Street to Second, one from Second to Fourth, one from Fourth to Seventh and one from Seventh to 11th Street.”
Police lights were placed at strategic locations in the downtown area, he said, and when the lights came on, all officers were to call in.
“The first one to call in would likely be picked up by the car to go with the driver to make a call,” Chester said.
However, he was not a beat man. Chief Tom Stowers gave him brief instructions when he joined the police force: “You are the traffic department. Look for and apprehend traffic violators. Common sense is the name of the game.”
He choice to serve on the 4 p.m. to midnight shift.
“This was when the taverns were the busiest, the drunks were the drunkest, the traffic was the heaviest, and lots of school kids were on the loose,” Chester said.
He was very busy on nights when there was a home ball game.
“Pittsburg was home for the field team for the St. Louis Browns Baseball Club, and every home game drew an overflow crowd,” he said. “Pittsburg had no bypass at that time, and there was a large parking lot where the bypass now runs past Jaycee Ball Park, and another where Four Oaks Golf Course is now.”
Traffic from both lots flowed into the intersection of Memorial Drive and Georgia at the same time, and most of the pedestrian traffic also came through that intersection. This could have become a major mess, but Chester came up with a solution.
“All traffic from the west lot was turned south, and traffic from the north lot was to go east,” he explained. “Traffic from both lots was thus able to flow smoothly through the same intersection at the same time. When a crowd of pedestrians accumulated, all cars were stopped and those on foot went their merry way.”
He noted that he also chose now and then to work a different time shift, just to keep drivers from becoming too complacent.
“I just didn’t want anyone to get the feeling that the motorcycle cop was restricted to any one part of the day or night,” Chester said.
He also covered for the beat men now and then.
“Over the years, I had occasion to find every door in downtown Pittsburg open at one time or another except for the banks,” he said. “I even became quite familiar with all the rooftops that had easy access fire escapes.”
After leaving the Pittsburg Police Department, Chester served several years as Crawford County sheriff. Throughout his career he was guided by his desire to protect public safety, in as humane a manner as possible.
“I have never apologized to anyone for doing my job, but it always seemed rather basic to treat the prisoner as nearly like a gentleman or a lady as they will allow,” he said. “It has always paid off.”
Chester noted that his college aptitude tests had indicated his best choice of vocation would be in the social welfare area.
“Several years passed before I finally realized that police work was social welfare all the way,” he said. “To look at it a bit differently, every action an officer ever takes in the line of duty has to do with the welfare of society or it just isn’t police work. Social welfare all the way.”