southern pacific railway boxcar

Explore Palm Springs: Della Lindley

An abandoned Southern Pacific Railway boxcar became a temporary school for 17 students, who excelled thanks to the efforts of one special teacher.

Tracy Conrad Current Digital, History

southern pacific railway boxcar

This Southern Pacific Railway boxcar in the area of what is now Thousand Palms became a school for 17 students in 1928 led by teacher Della Lindley.

In 1928, Della Lindley moved to the desert and wanted “desperately to resume teaching.” There were 17 children in the area of Thousand Palms, then known as Edom. The parents of these children “were weary of transporting them to Indio” for school. There was no school bus and the daily trek was tiresome.

The parents and Lindley appealed to the Riverside County School Superintendent E.E. Smith and he authorized an “emergency” school, which opened on Jan. 2, 1929. “The school had no funds, no building and no properties—just 17 kids and an eager teacher.”

Parents received permission from the Southern Pacific Railway to renovate an abandoned box car which stood among the section houses west of the tracks where Della Lindley Elementary School sits today.

“In spite of its humble housing,” and perhaps also because of it, “Edom’s box car school soon made a name for itself. Under Mrs. Lindley’s inspiring supervision, the pupils — from first through eighth grade — produced achievements which received recognition in state and national education journals, as well as in local newspapers and magazines.”

Kay Willis, who would also teach at the school, explained in her article, it had been Lindley, “more than anyone else, who spark-plugged the opening of the school and brought it (to) nation-wide prominence within a year after it was established.”

A new school building was ready by 1941 but the children were reticent to move. They had become sentimentally attached to their unusual school. Lindley finally retired in 1945, having been absent from her classroom just two and a half days in almost two decades. “I could have taken advantage of the sick leave I had coming, but I just couldn’t stand the idea of having some substitute teachers messing with my children.”

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There is a multitude of ways to learn more about Palm Springs, which turned 82 in 2020. One of the more intriguing methods is by exploring the city’s history.

The Palm Springs Historical Society will share a story whose time and place corresponds with today.


READ NEXT: Discover More Interesting Historical Facts About Greater Palm Springs.