He has been described as a cops’ cop, one who went straight by the book, and the person who will be forever known as ‘Big John’. He was the last of eleven cycle cops on the Pittsburg Police force, ending forty-five years of cycle traffic cop law enforcement.
After serving he country during WWII as an Airborne Paratrooper, John Chester joined the police force in 1948. A period in the force when there was no rank, just the Chief and Assistant Chief. The uniform code was the made up mainly of suits, this is what the majority of the day shift wore, while all the other shifts wore uniforms. The police vehicle inventory consisted of two 1947 Pontiacs and a 47’ Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The police chief kept one car, which left the other to answer all police calls. Every man had a walking beat, including the driver of the police car. Every door and window located downtown and in the alleys, was checked throughout the night. An example of a beat would have been the following; one beat ran from Washington Street to Second, one from Second to Fourth, and one from Seventh to 11th Street. The beat man would relieve the driver while his covered his beat.
The department had purchased a total of nine two-wheel Harley Solo motorcycles from 1947 to 1965. There was also a three-wheel 1948 Harley, later traded for the 55’ (on exhibit at the museum). Visitors who walk by the 55’ three-wheel Harley Davidson with the images of the Cycle Cops on it at the museum automatically start recalling their own stories of John Chester. The Pittsburg High School Class of 1952 was full of memories of their time cruising up and down Broadway with Chester on patrol.
Captain Chester once recalled one of the many excuses of the people who were caught speeding in an interview with Ms. Evelyn Thomas. A woman he pulled over said she was going fast because she had a dog and a cat in the back seat of her car. The dog didn’t mind the ride so much, but the cat was beginning to get nervous and she had to get home in a hurry before something drastic happened! Another one was one woman who said she going fast because she had to get up enough speed to get up the hill. The hill was the incline at the Highland Park Cemetery.
It wasn’t all business for Chester. After the city stopped having police escorts in funeral processions in 1968, he worked the evening shift so he could escort any morning funerals during his time off. Chester had purchased the 1962 Harley Davidson from the department when it was traded for a 65’ so he could get some ‘off-duty officer’ time such as being able to escort the funeral escorts.
In 1970, Captain John Chester was given the honor of being named ‘National Police Officer of the Month. Chief Ralph Beard said of Chester, “He bears a splendid reputation in the community, a reputation of being strict, but fair in the discharge of the duty.”
Captain Chester stated throughout his career his college aptitude test showed he should major in Social Work. While working in the police department as a ‘crutch’ to get through school, it finally dawned on Chester that police work was social welfare all the way. Chester had written in one of his many articles, “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.” Chester would later go on to earn a B.S. from Kansas State College.
John A. Chester retired from the Pittsburg Police Department in April 1970. The next decade, he ran and was elected Crawford County Sheriff from 1980-84. After his retirement, Chester penned his memoirs as a cycle cop in essays, letters to the editor, special editions to the newspaper and much more.
Captain John A. Chester will forever be remembered in our town's history as the legendary cycle cop who could put the fear of God in all the speed racers and wrongdoers.
Special thanks to Major Brent Narges for all the great sources and images! Thank you, Chief Mendy Huvley for your 17 years of service with the Pittsburg Police Department and congratulations on your retirement!
— Amanda Minton is the director of Crawford County Historical Museum, as well as a lecturer of history at Pittsburg State University.