Irving Symons, founder of the Sonora Area Foundation, was born and raised in Sonora. He loved to tell the story of his favorite horse, Vida, and their race up Washington Street. His father, Tom Symons, had bought the little mare for his three children, but Irving believed that he and Vida had a special bond.
To quote Irving: “Vida loved to run. I would sometimes take her to the edge of town, where there were open fields, and where she needed no urging to break into a gallop. I was very proud of Vida, and at that impressionable age, I thought no one could own a finer horse.” Irving was 10 at the time.
Another boy at the Sonora Grammar School had a horse he was equally proud of, and challenged Irving to a race up Washington Street. They had seen horse races run up the street at special events such as 4 th of July celebrations, and decided it was just the place for them. The street was still dirt, and with somewhat of a grade going to the Red Church, it was perfect.
The boys agreed to meet after school at Washington and Church Streets, with the understanding that they would race from there to the Red Church. They agreed to start the race with a cadanced one-two-three, “GO.”
Vida was nervous and got off to a poor start. The other horse was ahead until they reached the Sonora Inn corner, when little Vida began hitting her stride, by Coffill Park they were even. At the turn Vida lost a little ground, and was slightly behind until they reached Bradford Avenue where she began to gain on her adversary.
At Courthouse Square they were head to head.
Irving remembered: “From there on Vida seemed to draw upon some extra strength and resolve. She was straining mightily and doing her utmost. At the Eureka fire engine house (City Hall today), she had drawn slightly ahead. With a final great effort, she held that lead and won the race by half a length!”
Irving was so proud of his little mare.
That night at dinner his father turned to Irving and said, “I had a telephone call from downtown this afternoon. I was told that one of my sons was running his horse wildly and dangerously up the main street.”
Stalling for time, Irving asked, “Which son?”
His father responded that it was the one with the freckles. Irving then excitedly told his father about the race. His father lectured Irving and told him not to do it again, but after a quiet pause asked, “Who won the race?”
Irving Symons wrote this story for the 80 th anniversary of Hales and Symons in 1978.
Patricia Perry is the historian for the city of Sonora.