When Joseph Wambaugh met an honest hobo under L.A.'s 7th Street bridge

When Joseph Wambaugh met an honest hobo under L.A.'s 7th Street bridge
Preston Tingle comes down from his pad under the 7th Street bridge to accept a reward in December 1969. (Bruce Cox / Los Angeles Times)

Sometimes, heartwarming Christmas stories come from unusual corners of the city.

The location of this one was the 7th Street bridge over the Los Angeles River.


It involved a theft, an honest hobo, a cop who would become famous and the challenge of giving our hero his due reward.

Dial Torgerson of The Times filed this Christmas Eve report in 1969:

Preston Tingle, 50, a hobo, climbed down the rope ladder from his winter home in the underpinnings of the 7th St. bridge Tuesday and the police were waiting for him.

They were waiting to congratulate him. So was Jim Hammett, manager of a freight terminal nearby, who had a reward for him.

When thieves stole $600 in women's lingerie from a shipment being loaded by Hammett's firm, Tingle was watching from his spacious quarters overlooking the Los Angeles River. He saw where they hid the boxes.

And, being an honest man, he told police about it. They recovered the goods and returned them to the Veltman Terminal Co., and Hollenbeck Division detectives and Raymond Veltman decided to reward Tingle.

Hammett gave Tingle $25 and Sgt. Joe Wambaugh invited him to a Christmas Eve dinner at the drugstore across the street from the police station.

Tingle, a short, wiry man in boots and an Army-surplus jacket, accepted both with modest enthusiasm, like the Man Who Has Everything acknowledging another gift he really does not need.

"Money?" he said. "A man don't need much money. Why, there's plenty of food around. Those catering companies can't keep sandwiches after a few days, you know. And the terminals throw away cans of food that get all dented up. More food around than a man can use.

"I guess I don't have $5 go through my pockets in a month's time."

His transportation is free. The Santa Fe, one of his favorite lines, goes right past his door. The Los Angeles Board of Public Works provides his quarters, rent-free.

"Want to take a look at the place?" he asked. "Go on up, look around."

Sgt. Wambaugh eyed the rope ladder with a professional's eye. It dangled from a hinged gate 15 feet above a bridge abutment at the east bank of the Los Angeles River.

"When we were here earlier the ladder wasn't down," the detective said. "When you've been out, and it's up, how do you get it down?"


Tingle smiled a gap-toothed grin. He reached beneath a pile of railroad rails by the right-of-way and pulled out a long stick with a hook roped to the end.

"That's how I get the ladder down," he said.

Wambaugh and a newsman climbed the ladder. Under 7th St. is a bridge-under-a-bridge for carrying pipelines and telephone cables across the river. In a niche was Tingle's mattress, covered with quilts.

A buddy had a mattress nearby. He wasn't there. The only other occupant was Tingle's nameless, half-grown cat, a black-and-white feline hobo that wandered among the concrete pilings, waiting for delicacies from a caterer's surplus.

"When you move in here?" Wambaugh asked.

"Back in the early '50s, I guess," Tingle said, with the air of a man who is not a slave of time. "But I travel a lot. Come back here in the winters. I like the mild weather."

Chalked on the concrete walls were Tingle's proudest accomplishments:

"Hobo Tingle. From Jersy (sic) City to LA 9 days Summer 62."

"Summer 65. 11 days NY to LA."

And lists of cities he has seen: "My Trip this Year — Oakland, Portland, Spokane, Montana, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Montgomery, New Orleans."

Tingle, a lean-featured, clean-shaven, pleasant-faced man, works passing out handbills or doing odd jobs when he needs tobacco money. "I've got asthma," he said, "and never have been able to work much."

He does not have far to go to catch the train. "But these are boxcars around here," he said, indicating cars unloading at Veltman's Terminal. "Too slow. I like to move fast. Now, those Southern Pacific piggy backs, they really move. Fast freight. That's what I like."

What will he do with the $25?

"Buy some tobacco, I guess," Tingle said. "Maybe some new jeans."

Christmas shopping?

"All I got's the cat," he said, "and he likes stuff the caterers throw away, same as me."

This was the only time Tingle appeared in the pages of The Times.

Wambaugh, who went on to become a bestselling author, recounted the case in an article for the Daily Beast in 2010. Wambaugh said Tingle was overwhelmed with kudos for his action.

"By Christmas Day, Preston Tingle felt obliged to escape all the do-gooders, well wishers and looky-loos who kept lavishing gifts and food and job offers on him," Wambaugh wrote.