Oct. 20, 1941 ~ The birth of the six-year-old kid

740Ralston

Have you always lived in Reno? Where did you live before the Ralston Street house in the column? What brought you to Reno? What did your parents do in Reno?

Such are some of the questions put to me during the 30+ years of writing in the Gazoo, and chronicling the six-year-old kid for the past 2-1/2 years.

Fair questions all…

Let’s now turn the clock back to 1931, when a Reno boy named Karl D. Breckenridge was graduated from Reno High School on West Street. He kicked around the west coast for a few years, moved to San Francisco, took a job with Standard Oil Company, was transferred to Petaluma, a little farming town north of San Francisco. There, while residing at Mrs. Carpenter’s boarding house, met the daughter of another habitué who dined nightly at the boarding house. Her name was Florence Hall. He married her.

They moved with Standard Oil around California, finally settling in Santa Barbara to start their family. On October 19th, 1941, Karl took Floie in their brand-new 1941 Chevrolet at breakneck speed from their stucco home on Santa Barbara’s Yanonali Street across the little beach town to Cottage Hospital on Bath Street, hard in the shadow of the Mother Mission, whereupon Karl Finian/Frisbee/Fearless/Footloose – your choice – Breckenridge arrived into the world precisely at oh-eight-hundred on the morn of October 20, 1941. Reports in the Santa Barbara News-Press that Quasimodo, sequestered in the Mission Santa Barbara, sounded the mission bells are dubious, but certainly possible and appropriate.

So, the world has now Dr. Karl Bland Breckenridge, D. D., late of Bath, Maine; the proud papa and Standard Oil  product truck driver/salesman Karl Dobbins Breckenridge and bundle-of-joy Karl Finian Breckenridge. When Karl Dobbins went to his reward in 1971, some dipwad from First National Bank of Nevada cancelled Karl Finian’s credit card and suspended his bank account, so there shall be no further Karls in this alphabetical series.

Life remained blissful on Yanonali Street, but the prospect of global conflict gripped the world. All West Coast eyes were on Europe, until that Day Which Will Remain in Infamy in December, when Karl F. was about seven weeks old.

America, if it wasn’t already, was now formally at war. Karl Dobbins gave Standard Oil his notice and enlisted in the Navy. The little family left Yanonali Street for an Irish aunt’s commodious home on Waller Street along San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park “Panhandle,” and awaited the Navy’s call to duty.

But, the Navy never  called, but rather inducted Karl Dobbins and immediately contributed him to Henry Kaiser, to help ‘ol Hank build Liberty Ships at the Kaiser Shipyard across the SF Bay in Richmond. This was due to Karl Dobbins’ extensive experience in electrical engineering, about which Karl D. later said that it was a God-damn miracle that all the Yankee Liberty ships didn’t go up in smoke, as he had no – zip – nada electrical expertise but being Kaiser’s superintendent of electrical installation beat carrying an M-1 rifle around and being shot at…

So, off we went to Richmond – actually to El Cerrito, adjoining Richmond. We bought a house – a tiny one, two bedroom, on Panhandle Boulevard, a street later renamed to the more politically-correct “Carlson Boulevard.” I still tacitly chuckle about that when driving past it on the freeway.

For the next four years, Dad wired Liberty Ships, and I’d join him on Saturday mornings when there was a “launch” and family members were welcomed – an awesome sight for a kid of my age to see the ships slide down the ways to the cheers of the families, the workmen and Rosie-the-Riveters  and often the family of the person for whom the ship was named.

And Dad would give me a little two-inch painted ship with the hull number of the ship just-launched on its sides. It was made of lead and had been placed into the “shipyard” when that hull was laid and then moved around a ping-pong table-sized replica of the shipyard as the hull was towed to many areas during its construction.  I had a lot of those little ships and gave them to a maritime Bay-area warship museum for display many years ago.

The down side of the shipyard years was the birth of my brother when I was two years old.  John never thrived, nor did the family ever speak of him after he passed away a year later. I think it was the hyaline membrane syndrome that the Kennedy baby died of in the early 1960s, but I don’t know that nor did my folks ever  talk about it. But my earliest memories as a two-year-old included him.

The war was coming to an end! Henry J. Kaiser was scaling back the Liberty ship construction, and turning his attention with brother Edgar to cars – the Henry J. minicar and the full-size Kaiser. He took, by train – on the Mighty S.P.’s City of San Francisco yet – about 30 shipyard workers who he wanted as “key people” for his new venture, to Ypsilanti, Michigan, where the cars would be designed and built. I recall my Mom with my newborn sister Marilynn still in a bassinet, at the SP station in nearby Emeryville to see Dad off on the train to Detroit.

Home they came a few days later, with some pretty long faces. Kaiser had foolishly taken them to familiarize themselves with Ypsilanti in the coldest month of the year where daytime temps of zero-to-10° below are commonplace. The 30-or-so guys save for a few passed on Ypsilanti. Dad opined that one could “freeze their ass off” there. Saving me from being moved to southern Michigan where I could grow up, minus my oh, you know.  Others built the cars for a couple years – good cars but against tough, established marques like Chevrolet and Ford, with a short production run. Too bad….

And Dad, soon to be furlouged by Kaiser as production had already stopped and the shipyard was being readied for a civilian occupancy, was effectively out of work. On the upside, he was also discharged from the Navy. So – over Donner hill in the ’41 Chevy we rolled

Dad bought a little house built in 1908 on Ralston Street from a Mrs. Shermerhorne, who had conducted a ladies hairdressing parlor during the war. My baby sister was ensconced in the sunny west parlor, and Dad and his high school buddy Ben Maffi got the converted coal-furnace working. Dad got a job selling houses with C. H. Skipper and we befriended our next-door neighbors John and Chetty Sala. Dad built a sandbox for their cute little red-headed daughter Michelle and I and my sister; a month or so later their son Mike – now a local dentist – would be born.

And 73 years ago in September 1945, Tom Cook’s mother Ellen stopped on the Ralston Street hill by Whitaker Park and picked me up in their family sedan; Tom, Cecelia Molini, Bobby Ginocchio and his cousin Sharon Cassidy, and Jimmy Doll were already in the car. Next stop, Mary S. Doten School’s kindergarten.  What a ride it’s been!

In months to come we’ll read of the shift from the private Babcock Memorial Kindergarten to that first Reno public school kindergarten that Mrs. Cook took us to. And of the shift from the 18 school districts in Washoe County to the single train-wreck district that we currently have. And of some other neat stuff.

C’mon back when you can…!

  

 

Advertisements

A 1904 meeting in Reno (On Wednesday evening Oct. 16 we’ll answer some questions about the six-year-old kid – right here!!)

artistmeeting

Here we see the publisher, editor and newsroom staff of the Nevada State Journal, all paying rapt attention to renowned photographer Lo Phat, save for the Sunday columnist viewing the society and fashion writer (back row, third from right)

Photo © OldRenoGuy

 

 

This hero of an old RGJ column – Don Young – is being inducted into the Sparks High School Hall of Fame this weekend!!!!

YoungLittleWalThe phone in the old Sparks fire station on C Street at 12th rang. A young fireman named Don Young picked it up: “Come quick, it’s horrible, there’s a big fire in our garage and the whole house is going to go up!”
“Yes, ma’am, stay calm, we’re on the way. How do we get there?” said Don. From the harried woman, “Don’t you still have the big red trucks …?”
We’ll, it could have happened that way. Or not. Don’s a good friend, a retired Sparks Fire Department chief, who’s been reading this column for many years and has been a go-to guy for information about Sparks, fire stuff and otherwise. He’s a Sparks High Railroader, capital “R”, the son of a railroader (little “r”) and a railroader himself in his earlier days. His family moved in to tiny Sparks from Carlin during World War II. After graduating from Sparks High in 1952 he went up the hill to the University and studied music, and fondly remembers music professor Dr. Felton Hickman, a legend on the Hill for many years after the war. Don was a hornblower extraordinaire who later would join the Reno Municipal Band when it was under the hand of another legend, “Tink” Tinkham. We’ve read in this column of the Muni band performing in the summer each July at Virginia Lake and the following August on the Quad at the University. Don
was there.

At least, he was there unless he was rolling a locomotive for the Mighty S.P. to Carlin and back. Or traveling and camping with his bride Maddy, an activity they still enjoy. Or playing horn in the Nevada National Guard band, which — yes, there was one in the early years of the 1950s. He also competed with the Guard’s pistol marksmanship team, all over the West Coast.
But the fire service beckoned. As a dyed-in-the-wool son of Sparks, he connected with the Sparks Fire Department, small by today’s standards in 1957 when he went aboard. (He became fire chief in 1976.) We’ve read of the Sparks department’s stories in this page in years past; of SFD’s chief Frank Hobson, who died fighting a fire in downtown Reno in 1948, the Lake Street fire, probably Reno’s worst in the 20th century. Or Sparks’ chief Fred Steiner, who died in the line of duty responding to a fire in 1953. We’ve read of Sparks’ assistance in the Sierra Street fire in Don  Young’s rookie year 1957, and of Sparks Fire Department’s apparatus sitting in several Reno firehouses’ bays onthe chilly evening of Jan. 21, 1985 when the Galaxy airliner crashed on South Virginia Street

Don’s recollection of the maturation of Sparks and Reno, in the 1960s and ‘70s is xsfdfascinating. Lunching in the Little Wal (which entailed actually getting a
Sparks guy out of Sparks for lunch, which I can’t do with Joe Mayer or Geno Martini), Don spoke of the early ambulance service, or lack thereof, in our valley. In the years prior to REMSA, local ambulance service was provided by the men of the Sparks Fire Department, working not for the City of Sparks but on an off-duty basis, providing service to residents with apparatus domiciled in Sparks firehouses. Ambulance service would be the grist of a column some Sunday, when, prior to the Sparks involvement and the eventual formation of REMSA, one could call an ambulance and have one, or two,
sometimes three — or quite often, none — show up. Sparks brought some organization to that dilemma.

Sparks’ men and apparatus were frequent visitors into areas of Reno outside of the downtown corridor, and particularly the far northern and southern areas of Reno — say, south of early Moana Lane and north of what we now call McCarran Boulevard. While Reno Fire ably covered the inner core of the town, a reciprocal agreement would bring Sparks Fire into the outlying areas. Notable in these logs is the story of Sparks extinguishing a nasty fire in the Big Hat Restaurant in 1953. This Moana-at-South Virginia building would last another 50 years as the Big Hat, Two Guys from Italy and La Vecchia, and finally becoming the right-turn lane of Moana just a few years ago. Logs of Sparks, Reno and later the Washoe County short-lived department, prior to Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, contain almost daily occurrences of this reciprocity.

A point of pride evident in yakking with Don last week, and echoed in a book that he gave me – autographed! – is the attention to community service to Sparks and its residents that has been a byword of the department’s existence since 1905 – fundraising for the needy, the best-in-the-West annual pancake feed in October for Fire Prevention Month. The department takes care of its own in a strong sense. It had a “babies ride free” program for mothers in labor when the department operated their municipal ambulance, and I reminded Don that in his rookie years, Sparks Fire would flood Kleppe’s Pond so the Railroaders could go ice-skating during the winter (Reno Fire did this for us, on Idlewild’s and Lake Park’s ponds.) And the bronze
firefighter on the bench behind the Sparks Heritage Museum on Pyramid Way is
one of the few in the nation. Another point of pride for Don is the truth that Sparks has historically promoted from within when choosing a new chief.

“Did anything funny or weird ever happen on your 14-year reign over the department?” Our lunch went off in a dozen directions then; one of the beststories was of the new firehouse on Victorian Way, which we both still called B Street. The snorkel truck operator stopped midway out the door for something, forgot that the new door closed automatically after 60 seconds, resumed the trip out the door and took the door with him when it closed on the snorkel’s boom. Not, he added, while enroute to a fire…
Don retired in 1990 following a career of watching great change in Sparks, the firefighting profession and our valley. He’s remained active in the community, and to wrap this up while still including a personalized license plate squib in the text, I’ll simply say if you see a couple of young folks — Don and Maddy — in a late-model Jeep Cherokee with plate “XSFD” (that is, ex-Sparks Fire Department) on both bumpers, give ‘em a toot; tell them you read about them hereThanks for reading, and God bless America!
(Formal photo: Jeff Spicer … Little Waldorf photo: Breck)

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a race!

rontruck2“We can’t see the home pylon flags!” was the universal gripe of race pilots at the afternoon FAA safety meetings, notwithstanding the reality that the flags at home pylon, like the ceremonial checkered flag at Indy, really figure little in the conduct of the races. But – all that changed one sweltering afternoon three decades ago when a home pylon timer with an extremely aerodynamic fuselage stripped down to a signal-red halter-top.

            The crackle on the pilots’ VHF radios was universal: “Check out the timers’ table,” one would tell another following him. And they did. Better yet, we ground-pounders could hear them. Through a negotiation best left unchronicled I secured the by-then-famous garment and took my place at the mandatory pilots’ meeting, a red flag half the size of a ping-pong table in one hand and a bare seven-foot flagpole in the other, the empty halter-top stapled to it. “Which of these two fabrics is easier for you gentlemen to see at 250 knots?” I queried the assembled group, and knowing their gooses were cooked the beefs about my “near-invisible” flags fell from the fare of matters to beef about.

            The early days of racing were austere – our communications were a major beneficiary of the electronic age starting in the mid-1960s. Believe it if you will, but for several years we had no walkie-talkies – a hand-held portable radio? Imagine that. Radio giant Motorola, from their Sacramento office, later provided four of them, assigned like gold to the key players in conducting the race. Four walkie-talkies – four – heavy and bulky, barely able to go a full race day without a recharge. I’d guess the number in use today exceeds a hundred, all the size of a pack of smokes. Off-duty Nevada Bell linemen in the early years did yeoman service laying miles of cable between the pylons and race HQ – days of prep-then-removal, the task now supplanted by portable radio sets. The first VHF radio – plane-to-ground – had an interesting story behind it. ‘Twas a small green metal box with an antenna and a microphone on a coiled cord; my job each year was to borrow it from the fledgling DRI on the university campus for the races, and it’s all we had. The transceiver was actually owned by Harrah’s boat and plane division, who acquired it to use in the Harrah Ford Tri-Motor airplane. That plane was restored to its 1930s condition, and William Fisk Harrah would not allow a post-war radio to be installed in the dash panel – (not authentic!) Thus, Harrah’s crew acquired the little green box for use when the plane was barnstorming around the nation, and loaned it to DRI in the interim periods, who then loaned it to us. The FAA finally said enough is enough; get a modern radio set in that Tri-Motor that we can hear in our towers. (And while you’re at it, put some nav lights on the Tri-Motor!)

            The unseen group of heroes at the air races are the pylon crews, who leaveair-race-home-pylon-crew civilization at 6 ayem each morning for seven days and exist on what they can make do with several miles out in the desert, entreated to 10 hours of boredom interrupted occasionally by 12 minutes of mayhem while their pylon’s race is in progress, assuring that each plane goes on the outside of the pylon.

            There’s a core group of these folks, and the majority of them out in the boondocks today have it down to a science, for some are original-race volunteers and have learned what to pack and how to live off the desert all day. They’re famous for their barbecues, and they host mini-parties. The kindly group at Outer-4 (Unlimiteds) who come down from Alaska en-masse each year will invite the group from Middle-5 (T-6s) for a sitting of (Grumman) Bearcat Stew, or Inner-5s (biplanes and midgets) visit Outer 7 for their famous (Bob) Hoover Tennessee Waltz chicken. Tables are set, usually with tablecloths and decent silverware; one for a while actually had silver and crystal. Alcoholic beverages stay behind the “fence” – the spectator area – for later. Most pylons have Honda generators feeding TV sets for football games, with a little friendly wagering going on among the pylon crews.

            Unnerving to many race pilots as they passed low overhead was a roughly-oval 40-foot piece of Astroturf, placed on a surface lovingly leveled by one pylon crew, with a regulation golf cup and a flag pin placed in the cup, to host the first Inner-3 Invitational, attended by Outer-3 and 4, and Middle 2 and 4. And you think we were just wasting our time out there?  Naahh.

            The volunteers – who come for all over the nation, and now some the children of the original race volunteers – are the backbone of the Air Races. (Dale Tucker, the flagman since I retired in 1994, first came to the home pylon about 1972 wrapped inside a checkered flag, to conceal him through the FAA gate security. Now he’s six-foot-five.) Try following Bob Williamson’s pit crew – most of who have been together for 35 years – towing the Unlimited racers in and out of the pits. These guys go home bone tired every night, then come back and do it all over again for seven days straight. Or – follow the footsteps of any ground-pounder in the flight line or pylon crews – the dust, desert sun, noise and smoke from the demonstration planes, (usually just lightweight oil sprayed into the plane engine’s exhaust stack) – goes home with them, most in their ears, after every race day.

            The Volunteer Corps’ efforts make our Reno Air Races enduring – they have a lot of fun, but the easy jobs are all taken. They were out there this morning when this paper hit your driveway, and will still be there while you’re barbecuing tonight. Give ‘em a big hand – they earn it. Have a good week, and here now, our column* finale added eighteen years ago to the the day: God bless America!

© RGJ

 

An air racing story not yet told…

FearlessNoTextThe poor little guy was bawling his eyes out. What the heck………..?

I wheeled my Jeep toward him, a lone little figure about my son’s age, standing with a well-worn paper sack in his hands, ill-clothed and needing a haircut from a real barber, a lad truly matching one’s perception of an urchin. I stopped next to him and killed the engine.MissAmericaP51

“What’s up, Pardner?”

Through sobs and sniffles, I was able to put together the cause of the lad’s grief. It would seem that he received for Christmas, a model airplane kit for the P-51 Mustang that had raced in Reno every year since the races began ten years ago (I’m pegging this event as being in 1976). In the paper sack was the cover of the model’s cardboard box and the assembly instruction sheet.

He had started last Christmas, now nine months ago, to save his pennies and go toInstruction sheet the Air Races the following September, and have Howie Keefe, the owner and pilot of Miss America, autograph the kit’s lid and the instruction sheet. But, upon trudging from his family’s home to Stead and presenting his meager funds at the ticket table for the air race pits – where the airplanes are tied down – he was informed that he was too young to go into the pit area – an FAA regulation and a RevellP51good, valid one.

He was crushed – nine months of hopes and a dream were instantaneously brought to an end. He walked, alone, back along the fence line separating him from the pits, and broke into tears. His life was pretty bleak to begin with; this visit was his beacon since Christmas, and it was just unceremoniously extinguished. I’ve never seen a kid – or a human – that upset.

Let’s take a few paragraphs and fill in a cast of characters. Howie Keefe owned and flew the P-51 named Miss America, race number One-One. It was totally stock – no clipped wingtips, prop changes nor tail mods – and therefore not terribly competitive at Reno. But it had an easily identifiable and unique color scheme, which rivaled be best of Raymond Leowy, the dean of industrial designers who designed Air Force One. The plane got the attention of Revell Plastics, who paid owner Keefe not a small amount of coin to offer the plane as a plastic model about a foot long. The plane was a beauty, and well known by all.

OK, that said, the owner/pilot was a man named Howie Keefe. I Howie Keefetipped my hat to him as a former WWII Navy pilot with a zillion hours PIC and the respect of all with whom he flew or raced in air races around the country. He was immensely respected, in fact got a call from the NTSB to join the team of investigators of the crash at Stead that killed 11 souls and pilot Jimmy Leeward, who I knew and liked very much.

Yours truly was aboard due to my friendship, away from and prior to air racing, with the likes of Fred Davis, George Vucanovich, Stan Brown, Roy Powers, Jerry Duty and a few others who would form the crux of Reno air racing in its infancy. And my name and often photograph appeared for the next 31 years in 31 air race programs, as “Home Pylon Flagman” and later with “Finish Judge” following. I was in.

I looked at my watch. I had an hour-and-a-half until I needed to be at my post at Home Pylon. Plenty of time until the earliest race. I made a command decision. “Hop in,” I said to the urchin, nodding toward the Jeep’s right, co-pilot seat. He did.

Then I broke a couple, if not more rules – the FAA’s about underage people being beyond the “line” – the fence separating competition from spectators, and the Air Race’s, against bringing unticketed people into the pit. I cruised up to the gate and the look on my visage probably adequately conveyed that the Jeep and all it carried were coming in – leave it alone.

JeepersWe drove through the pits. I noticed Jeremy (which by the way was the kid’s name) entranced with the whole vista. I found an extra Air Race Operations hat and offered it to him.

Soon, Pay Dirt! In a little shade-shelter very near Miss America, was a tall, elegant figure wearing a crisp red, white and blue flight suit. I stopped and said to Jeremy, come with me.

I was cheery to Keefe and his friends: “Hi Howie; I brought a little friend of mine to say hello; he’s got some stuff for you to sign!” Keefe looked at me askance, at Jeremy, at the race official’s insignia on my hat, then said hi. Jeremy pulled the kit’s cover and the instruction sheet out, together with a heavy marking pen he just happened to have in the bag. And believe it or don’t, but Keefe asked Jeremy how to spell his name and signed both articles.

Jeremy’s nine-month quest had come true! But wait, it gets better:

“Howie,” I said, “May I show Jeremy your office in the Mustang?”

Keefe, as I expected he might, said, well why don’t I take him myself?  Jeremy, as one might expect didn’t need a second invitation. They both clambered up the wing – I, by now the ex officio photographer, followed,

Not tall enough to sit on his butt in the cockpit, he scrunched on his knees while Keefe pointed out the “stuff” inside – the throttle, flaps, rudders, joystick, gear, radio, trim knobs. I dutifully clicked shots of Jeremy, Howie, the cockpit, the crowd. My favorite was one with Jeremy and Howie, both with a smile you could see a mile, looking at each other and playing with some control on the panel. A bonding moment, indeed.

Time was fleeting. I corralled Jeremy and thanked Keefe profusely. And he actually thanked me for bringing them together. Jeremy and I returned to the Jeep.

I had already broken a couple no-no’s that as an official I should have been busted for, but on the way out to the ramp, I decided that once your heels are off the ground, it doesn’t matter how high they hang you. I steered toward my duty at Home Pylon. Tower cleared me on my handy-talkie to cross the main runway, and Jeremy was put to work at Home.  I sensed that the FAA overseer looked the other way.

Jeremy helped us raise Old Glory on cue, as eight Nevada Air Guard RF-4Cs passed over loud and proud just as the flag reached the top of the pole at the end of the Anthem.. He saw the Blue Angels, (the Thunderbirds?), from the best seat in the house. He saw air races. Some of my firemen buddies took him down to a crash truck. He learned how to cook hamburgers on a grill, the only skill really a requisite for working at Home Pylon. He helped us lower the flag and make a crisp tricorner fold, to fly another day.

Jeremy went to the air races. I took him home to a shabby trailer in Black Springs, to where 35 years before I drove a school bus. My first trip back. Yikes.

He was dead-ass tired – noise, excitement, smoke, seeing Howie – he’d had a day. I told him I’d see him in a couple weeks (I was shooting Kodachrome II back then with a Canon A-1; a bit different than pointing and shooting a digital today!). Roy Powers helped me get 8-by-10 copies of a dozen of the best pictures.

I went back to the trailer with the pictures in a fortnight. He was still on Cloud Nine. A Saturday, I took him to lunch. I wasn’t sure he was getting square meals.

I never saw him again. I sent some cards and letters, with return postage envelopes with my address. Nada. I went to his family’s home – they left, no forwarding address.

I’d like to end this with some Mitch Albom-feel good conclusion, but can’t. Howie Keefe, at 92, banged life’s throttle for the final time in the midsummer of 2013, pulled the stick back and climbed up, up, the long delirious burning blue over Florida where never lark nor ever eagle flew, and touched the face of God. His passing was an immense loss to the air racing and aviation community.

Jeremy? Dunno. He said during the brief tenure of our association that he’d like to join the Navy when he was old enough and work around airplanes. I’d like to think he won his Wings of Gold and is now the wing-king of an F/A-18 Hornet  squadron flying off the Ronald Reagan.

But I doubt it….

I’m just happy to have brought him that day at Stead. I’ve written about Air Racing ad nauseam, or did a few years ago. But Jeremy’s story stayed within me. They’ll be back tearing up the skies over Stead this week. And for reasons unknown, I thought I’d put one last air race tale out.

I’d give anything to get that kid in the Jeep once more….

© Breckenridge 2019

Excerpt of Airman’s Prayer credit to John Gillespie Magee, Jr. “High Flight” 1940

Air Race Home Pylon Crew

Home Pylon Crew, 1984: from left, my younger son Brent; Dale Tucker, now the home pylon flagman with Mickey on his t-shirt; next a fugitive from Reno 911 in his shorts; Dale’s parents Polly and Ed Tucker, (chief timers); chief judge Fred Hallett, the father of Reno Air Race timing and statistics. The latter three have passed away, Dale’s now the head flagman

 

 

Up Ship!

BalloonRace“Up Ship” – the launch command of the ground crew of a lighter-than-air balloon, time-honored from the days of Jules Verne as the aeronauts drop a pennant with a braided rope to sample the wind.  The modern Goodyear blimps continue that tradition, dropping a line with the American flag from their tails.  We’ll hear it a lot at this coming weekend as the colorful envelopes fill and open, then rise over Rancho San Rafael.

            The early balloon races in Reno started with less-auspicious beginnings as an event to fill the early hours of the Reno Air Races, offering spectators a little diversion while the racers were prepping for the main event.  They drew a lot of attention – the propane burners slowly filling the gasbags, that gradually blossomed open and disappeared with their wicker baskets and champagne-swilling aeronauts into the distance in a sort of hare-and-hound race, mostly for fun.  The envelopes were less colorful yet more traditional in shape – the logo gasbag shapes, starting with Mr. Peanut and a champagne bottle setting the pace for those.  On that first windless morning they didn’t go far, and posed a hazard to the later air racers by blocking course safety escape routes and cluttering up the course with ground support trucks.  I’ve tried to pinpoint the year from old air race programs with little luck, but I’d guess this all started about 1973, reader help appreciated.

            The next year they were back, in greater numbers and a little more organization, with a few VIP passengers and some sponsored balloons.  And problems similar to the year before with the congestion.  But the event was catching on and few enjoyed them more than the volunteer workers at the air races – the balloons a pleasant diversion from the noisy race planes.  And their pilots.

            I’m shaky on the year now, but believe it was the third year at Stead that the air race trustees, and I detect the fine hand of Roy Powers in this stunt – “We’ll have a Reno Air Race Zip Code, with a commemorative postmark on one-ounce-max letters, put a shoebox full in each balloon, and put these races on the map!”  The U.S. Postal Service went along with that, and official airmail lifted off with each aeronaut.

            Unlike the past years, the wind was freaky at launch time, coming from the east, west, north, and south and maybe straight down.  Hot air balloons with U.S. Mail aboard drifted from hell to breakfast and the post office minions went postal, their mail, their charge, their duty through rain, sleet, dark of night and Washoe Zephyrs, spread from O’Brien Middle School’s parking lot to the Black Rock Desert.  Red, white and blue right-hand-drive mail trucks drove all over the racecourse.  Well, not really, but from the squawk on our walkie-talkies that wouldn’t have surprised us.

            The event matured, from its early beginnings as a schedule-filler for the air races to a stand-alone weekend, and what a hand the early organizers are due for turning it into one of our valley’s major annual shows.  And, for proving that the near-silent rustle of a balloon cleaving the air with the occasional whoosh of the burner, can hold its own with the popularity of Hot August Night’s big-block Chevys, the air race’s V-12 Packard Merlins and Street Vibrations’ Twin-V Harleys.  Up ship, aeronauts; we’re glad to see you back again.

            And, for the trivia that one can only find in this paper on Saturday mornings, the U.S.-based Goodyear blimps have been traditionally named for racing yachts that have successfully defended the America’s Cup, so decreed the late Frank Seiberling, Goodyear’s 19th century founder, a yachtsman himself, now retired.  (Get it?)  And, we all know that just as Bill Harrah went to the four corners of the Nevada to get low auto license plate numbers for his fleet, the Goodyear big wheels garnered the lowest tail numbers in American aviation, from N1A through November Eleven Alpha.

           

© Karl Breckenridge  2006

Horsley on the Fun Train…!

FunTrainGordon Horsley, pictured at the right below, is a Reno guy, pure and simple, all over the place all the time, Reno High Alum Association, Harrah Auto Museum trustee, great taste in columnists. And drives a classic Dodge with an old Harrah license plate. He took the time to send this:
Boy you really hit home on the Sunday column.  I could write a book report on my ties with this one but I promise not to.
Some highlights….
Don “BoomBoom” Burke I first met when he ran the Reno Chamber office in S.F. and got the fun train started.
Jud Allen, (who hired Don),  his widow Glenda and my wife are the best of friends.
When the RSCVA was formed Roy Powers brought Don to Reno to be a sales manager for him
.
As time went by Don later came to work for me at the Kings Castle as a sales manager and was my best man when I Horsleymarried my wife in Virginia City.  His wife Carol and my wife were business partners in Convention Activities, a convention services company that my wife and I took over and ran for 30 years.  Don’s widow Carol is still living in Reno and another of my wife’s best pals.
The fun train is still in operation run by Key Tours out of Walnut Creek but not anything like what you wrote about.  TheyNouk charter buses from us now and then to get the people from the train station to the various properties.
Boy what a event when you got Don Burke and Don Manoukian [at left] in the same room or on a golf course.  One a 49er and the other a Raider.  It was a cherished  part of my life I will never forget.
As always Karl….many thanks for the memories..
Gordon
This column is a re-run by request of a friend; Gordon passed away a few months ago…

So long, Dennis…

imagesDennis had the unique ability to look at the most convoluted of news events, separate the wheat from the chaff, then craft a highly readable, professional and ethical piece about it. His knowledge of our valley was immense. Dennis Myers was a journalist’s journalist and my friend.

 

photo © KTVN

The Lancer Restaurant and its grapes

Lancer

I no sooner post a photo of the Lancer Restaurant on the Mt. Rose highway, than my buddy ol’ Chuk Thomas gives me the authentic recipe for the famous Lancer grapes, the highlight (or at least one highlight) of their menu.

 

The storied restaurant was on the hill across Hwy. 27 from the present Galena High School. (Whoops – Highway 431 – the Mt. Rose Highway)

The image above, one of the few of the Lancer, was shot from an NDF helicopter by Don Stockwell. Both images are c. 1965; the Lancer, which prior to that name was called the Mesa, burned on July 30, 1971. Yeah, I know, it’s “Chuck,” but Chuk is an old Marine nickname. Here’s the recipe, somebody lemme know how it came out!

Bruce Waltz sent in a bit more about the Lancer, thus earning a cold brew at Brickie’s after Labor Day:  “Marvin Goins was the Host/Manager/Head Dude WAIC and eventually ended his career at Joe Conforte’s Cabin In The Sky. Brother Arvin and his wife Winnie were in the kitchen and in charge of the steaks, lobster tail, those grapes and spinach salad.

“Leo and Chris walked the plank and Glenn Rolfson on keys, piano and organ. And Merle Crickhard was in charge of everybody else.”

Thanks, Bruce. And if you’re too young to comprehend “Walking the plank,” you’re on the wrong website!

 

 

LancerGrapes

Lancer exterior photo © Don Stockwell; menu in the public domain

The Sunday in 1948 that downtown Reno burned

JohnnyFeverOn August 15th of 1948 – Dad was mowing the front lawn with the push mower on this Sunday morning. Just before noon we could ear a lot of sirens downtown and a big plume of black smoke came from downtown, just east of Ralston Street. I knew it was a big fire, so I hopped on my bike and started toward downtown. Don Hartman and Hank Philcox and Willy Molini were on their bikes too. We pedaled toward the smoke while every fire truck at the firehouse on Commercial Row came out toward the smoke. Boy, would I get in trouble for riding off when I got home. Maybe I won’t even go home…

It was Sunday morning, and people were getting out of church, all the churches were downtown then – St. Thomas Aquinas, and along Church Street west of Chestnut [Arlington]. Years later I’d count seven churches within two blocks of St. Thomas. And all had people in them, and all were getting out about the time the smoke started. By the time we got to the fire there were probably already 400 people there, according to the fire chief. And all were in the firemen’s way.

Santa_Fe_HotelThe fire was in a building on Lake Street across from the Toscano Hotel behind the Greyhound terminal, where my grandmother would arrive a couple times a year from her home in Petaluma to visit my mother. She actually liked my father better than she liked my mother and they used to sit on the porch of Ralston Street and drink wine and laugh ‘til it was pretty late (she was from Ireland, which explained that). But they’re another story for another day.

The fire was growing incredibly fast and soon enveloped the buildings across the alley south of the Santa Fe Hotel [artwork credit Roy Powers]. The buildings had been bought by the guy who was going to move the bus station across the alley from Center Street to Lake Street. The buildings were going to be torn down but the fire was doing a pretty good job of wrecking them right now. Then somebody hollered, “There’s dynamite in one of the buildings!” and the firemen and all the churchgoing folks started to run away. There was no dynamite, they’d learn later, but something did blow that building higher than a kite and scattered burning building and roofing material and metal and glass a block in every direction from the fire. It blew the windows out of the Mizpah Hotel across Lake Street, and some more buildings nearby. There were a lot of civilians injured by that, and I heard that St. Mary’s and Washoe General Hospitals called all their employees and doctors to work on Sunday, helping over two hundred people until well after midnight, with burns, broken bones from the walls falling, and cuts from the flying glass. The paper the next day gave their names and many were Chinese – probably from the Mandarin – or Basque, from the Santa Fe. Most of the herders were away on this summer day.

We were all skeered, ‘cause we knew we were in trouble for coming down here. There were a lot of rumors – one was that the fire chief had died. He was a nice guy, Mr. Evans, who let us kids climb all over the apparatus and slide down the pole on 1947 Fire ladderCommercial Row (I’m adding a picture of a brand-new fire truck Reno bought, an American LaFrance 1948 hook-and-ladder). But Mr. Evans was OK; the chief who died was Sparks Fire Department’s chief, Frank Hobson. And two other Reno firemen died when the explosion hit – Glen Davis and Earl Platt, who both still would have family around Reno 70 years later. Sparks had sent its two engines and a pumper to the fire to help, Sierra Pacific Power, the Red Cross, the Army Reserve, Nevada Bell and the airbase north of town all sent help also. And Isbell Construction and Southern Pacific Railroad sent some big cranes and Caterpillars to knock the brick walls of the buildings down.

The power company turned up all the pumps nearby to raise the water pressure which by then was falling all over town north of the Truckee. But the buildings kept burning, and the firemen worked mostly to save the Santa Fe Hotel across the alley and the Mandarin Café to the south. And succeeded. It took over five hours before the flames quit and it was overnight before anyone could even get close to the buildings.

When all the dust settled the next day, Monday, five people had died in the fire and some 270 had been treated, with 39 people admitted to the hospitals. Most of the downtown and the schools were closed. It would become known as the Lake Street Fire, or by some the Greyhound Fire, and would stand as the biggest fire in modern times that’s ever occurred in Reno in terms of injuries and fatalities, (there would be one nine years later* on Sierra Street that would do more property damage.) But now it’s only 1948 and I don’t know about that one yet.

The fire was put out; the burned-out buildings would become the site of the new FireMagnoliaGreyhound station, that building still there and now owned by Harrah’s Club. Frank Hobson’s flag-draped casket would pass in front of my dad’s office on A Street in Sparks in the hose bay of a Sparks pumper, and Willy, Don, Hank and I would ride our Schwinns back up the Ralston hill, where our parents, not knowing whether or not we’d perished in the fire, soundly spanked us for taking off to the fire. (I might add, as we did when the old downtown YMCA burned down, but that’s another story for another day!)

[To add a clarification: The 1948 hook-and-ladder pictured above was enabled by this fire – the fire proved that Reno neeeded a new aerial truck. And the white fiberglass roof in the photo was added many years later; it was originally an open-cab apparatus.]

But it was pretty exciting. Come back once in a while, we’ll tell another story!

*Here’s the story of that fire that was nine years later

And, for Sharon Quinn, here’s the 1962 Golden Hotel fire link…