ROADWAY ROOSTERS: Chickens can be seen on the freeway shoulder in 1981.… (Los Angeles Times )
It all started with the 1969 crash of a poultry truck on the Hollywood Freeway -- an Egg-Alert, you could call it.
"I tried to avoid a lady who cut in front of me, and I turned over," driver Joe Silbert told The Times in 2000. "I was taking anywhere from 500 to 1,000 chickens back from the Valley to a slaughterhouse in L.A."
As eggs exploded, many of the birds spilled out and escaped into the brush near the Vineland Avenue onramp in Studio City.
Silbert gave chase but estimated that at least 200 chickens made their way to freedom. The fugitives took up residence along the 101 and became known as the Freeway Chickens.
"Commuters caught in traffic jams passed the time observing the free-living fowl," The Times' T.W. McGarry wrote. "Chickens have a slim repertoire of amusing antics, but it doesn't take much to distract someone inching up Cahuenga Pass at 2.2 mph."
The birds' new existence was eased by an elderly resident who sprinkled seed through the chain-link fence, left water for them and inevitably became known as the Chicken Lady.
Her name was Minnie Blumfield and, no, she didn't think of the chickens as her children.
"They're just chickens, but I do love them," said the elderly widow, who spent $30 of her monthly Social Security check on their upkeep.
At one point, city animal services officers appealed to her to stop the feeding so they could lure the critters into baited traps. Blumfield complied, but only for two days. She quickly resumed the feedings, she said, because the creatures were coming to the fence thirsty, "with their tongues out."
Meanwhile, the fame of the free-range chickens was spreading.
A video game, "Freeway," appeared, challenging players to test their "cunning and courage by helping your daredevil chicken across the freeway."
Actress Beverly Garland, owner of a nearby hotel that was sometimes visited by the bolder of the Freeway Chickens, put a drawing of a clucker on the stationery.
"I remember chasing the chickens and being fascinated by them," recalled James Crank, Garland's son and co-owner of the hotel, now called Beverly Garland's Holiday Inn.
Actress Jodie Mann, an animal activist, wrote a screenplay about the Freeway Chickens. "I'd like to have Jessica Tandy play Minnie," she said.
By 1976, caretaker Blumfield was 90 and worried about who would care for the flock after she was gone. She gave her blessing to the Great Chicken Roundup. Animal services officers captured the fowl and shipped them to a farm in Sylmar.
Blumfield died a year later, Mann's screenplay didn't find any takers and it seemed the Freeway Chickens had left the stage.
Not so fast.
In 1984, eight years after the roundup, The Times reported new sightings of the freeway fryers in the very same area.
"They never got 'em all," declared one California Highway Patrol officer. He himself had seen half a dozen of the creatures "pecking at some stale Twinkies."
A California Department of Transportation spokeswoman said that "we didn't get them all back in '76. I guess they're like rabbits -- get all but two and you're still in trouble."
The Times' McGarry theorized that survival of the fittest had weeded out all the "dumb clucks," leaving a younger generation of "crafty creatures of the wild."
But an Animal Regulation official insisted that all the escapees had been captured. What had happened, he said, was that "some people with a misguided or warped sense of humor . . . are turning chickens loose down there."
More years passed and the feathery celebrities finally seemed gone from the freeway system.
Not so fast.
In 1990, there were reports of chickens roaming the 170 stretch of the Hollywood Freeway near the Burbank Boulevard onramp -- about two miles north of the site of the poultry truck crash.
They were dubbed the New Freeway Chickens in honor of Hollywood's love for sequels.
Were they impostors? Or descendants of the original settlers? Chickens have a life span of about 10 years, so the arrivals would have been grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
A nearby North Hollywood resident claimed she could solve the mystery. She told The Times that the new chickens had actually belonged to a neighbor who adopted a pit bull.
The terrified critters "escaped . . . to the freeway buffer."
Then they too faded from the scene, leaving the local freeways a chicken-free zone.
Not so fast.
The other day, KNX-AM (1070) traffic reporter Jeff Baugh relayed a bulletin about chickens being observed along the 5 Freeway in Newhall Pass, near its junction with the 14.
"Could they have moved north?" Baugh asked.
They wouldn't be the first L.A. residents to seek a more rural home, but no one knows for sure.
Another, older question also remains unanswered.
Around the time of the 1976 roundup, a scientist commented that he couldn't understand how the Freeway Chickens "could be so healthy after all those years of living in the exhaust fumes."
Maybe it's from eating Twinkies.