Sunday February 19 • The Graham Mansion on Ralston Street

Go to the earliest story in this series


simanuhouse2I walked from the little brick market on Ralston Street at Tenth, northward. On the west side of Ralston, the other side of the street from the market, was a beautiful home – huge, much larger than any other homes on Ralston Street. In fact as I walked, the land that the home sat on appeared to be about three normal home lots. I learned later that it was!

Sticking my head through the brick gate and peeking around, I saw walkways everywhere, going in all directions, brick laid in a “parquet” pattern – criss-crossed, with a brick curb along the sidewalks that I guessed were about four feet wide. And it had a few lights mounted on the tops of posts. The yard was HUGE!

At the end of the main sidewalk was a porch, and a big fancy front door. It was wide, and had a lot of little glass panes in it. Over the door a round half-circle as wide as the door, set also in beveled glass. It was called an “applause” door trim. The home was two-story, brick painted white and to the left, which is to say the south, was another entry door. I could see in, and it looked like a big dining room inside. I could also see in the living room a grand, curved staircase and three large, intricate cut-glass chandeliers and a massive fireplace trimmed in marble.

I wondered who lived here. It looked like a place where a huge family could live, or could be an office. I roamed around like I had good sense, peeking in the windows of this newfound treasure in my new neighborhood. A lady’s voice – not a strong voice, but a pleasant one – said “Hi, little boy! Are you lost?”

Turning around I saw a lady who appeared to be older, like my grandmother. Nicely dressed and spry, she walked up to me and said, “My name is Luddy. Would you like to see my house?” Wow. Would I ever.

I was a’scared because my parents had told me as I wandered around my new neighborhood, never to go into anybody’s house, nor get into a car. But I thought, “What could go wrong here…?” I told Luddy my name was Karl and that my family had just moved in down the street, across from Whitaker Park. I got a tour of the house, and a couple cookies. And I met Luddy’s friend, named Hilda, a lady with a slight accent that I hadn’t heard before.

I didn’t know any of it in 1946, but in later life I’d learn much about Luddy, Hilda and the home at 1075 Ralston Street.

Luddy was born in 1865, which fascinated me in later life when my State of Nevada turned 150 years old: I had met a person who was born in Baltimore a year after we became a state, and was alive during the Civil War! Wow….! Her name was Ludovica Dimon. Her family had sailing ships, lots of them, the Dimon Navigation Company, sailing them with cargo and building them. In fact they owned the fastest clipper ship on the sea, the Sea Witch, which held the record hauling tea; and probably dope from Hong Kong to New York City harbor. A record that stands until today. Luddy was a real gay blade and believed that money was made round to roll, and married early, a jeweler and wasn’t married long. Then in the 20th century she married a doctor named John Graham. They didn’t live together very long but they had a lot of fun, living in Boston on the Social Register and sailing their yacht. They parted, but remained married until Dr. Graham passed away in 1919. Luddy moved west, and traveled a lot. She befriended Ragnhild Tonneson, a Swedish lady whom she met on a cruise from Europe on the steamship S. S. Majestic in 1924. They would remain friends for life.

Luddy and Hilda built a house in Palm Springs, a grand place that she later sold to Liberace as a young man. She liked Reno and had her lawyers find these three lots, tore down the houses on them and built a magnificent new home in 1927, the one that I was in. Did I mention that she married her chauffer who was a hell of a lot younger than she was, but that didn’t last long.

I found this all out in later years, but in the years shortly following the war I was always welcomed onto the grounds of the magnificent home. And I made myself welcome, because she always had some treats for me and the neighborhood boys and girls that I’d bring along. She was quite close to the University of Nevada, just a few blocks away down 11th Street, and made her home, and the park-like front yard available to the U for group parties and meetings. She did the same for some Reno clubs; the 20th Century Club for one. The home was always alive with people coming and going.

But, Luddy and Hilda wanted a smaller home, and had their lawyers buy three more lots on Bell Street, straight west across the alley behind the “Graham Mansion.” It’s also brick, now painted a darker brown, but it too is a neat house. The original home that she built on Ralston Street was sold when the Bell Street house was completed, to the Werner family, who had originally owned some of the lots it was built upon. They intended to turn it into an apartment house, but never got it together, and wound up renting it out as the “Jack & Jill Nursery” for a few years, until they sold it to Sigma Nu fraternity in 1951. It remained a fraternity house from then until a few months ago, when the Sigma Nu national fraternity terminated the Reno chapter.

“Aunt Luddy,” as her nephew in Philadelphia, whom I’ve spoken with a few times, called her, passed away in Reno at St. Mary’s Hospital in June of 1952. The University of Nevada, and many Reno residents, lost a great friend, who had over time become a Nevadan. And I knew her. That still fascinates me…

Her ashes were taken to Brooklyn for inurnment. Ragnhild Tonneson was well taken care of for the remainder of her life, and passed away in 1969 in Reno, at 85 years of age.

And that’s the story of my walk up to the corner of 11th and Ralston Streets in 1946. Now, I’m late to get home to 740 Ralston, but I’ve heard about this neighborhood called “Little Italy,” that the Graham Mansion abuts. I think I’ll just wander a block to the west and get home down Bell and Washington Streets, and see just why it’s called Little Italy.

C’mon back later in the week and we can walk it together!

Contact Breck at KFBreckenridge@live.com

 

February 12 Sunday • Upper Ralston Street

pubnsubI had grown tired of hanging around in my own front yard on that sunny summer morning in 1946, and wanted to cross University Terrace to see the mysteries that lie beyond. But the instructions were clear: Don’t go beyond the corner ‘til we say it’s OK. Parents, even for a six-year old, were a pain in the ass.

Down the street, a neat old truck had stopped, its burly driver throwing a chunk of wood behind one of the back tires. He was wearing an apron made of leather, and it was well-worn. In his hand was a gadget that I soon learned was an ice-tong, to span the width of the blocks of ice in the truck, behind a piece of leather hanging in the doorway to keep the truck cool. While I didn’t know it at the time, the truck had no refrigeration unit of its own, but was cooled by its load of ice, coming from Union Ice Company down along the Lincoln Highway west of the brick plant.

go to the earliest segment of these vignettes…

“Who are you?” he asked me in a gruff voice. “I live here, since yesterday,” I responded, pointing at my house. My sister’s bassinet was visible through the front window. “Oh, Mrs. Shermerhorn’s house,” he said. “She was my customer ‘til she bought a new refrigerator last month.” I saw that thing in our kitchen, a big round condenser on top of it. “This is for the Sala family,” he nodded toward the ice block now over his shoulder. “About half the homes up in this neighborhood have bought refrigerators.” He told me that his employer, Union Ice, went into the business of selling them to their customers. He walked away toward the Salas’ house, just below the alley east of Ralston Street.

“OK, you can go up the street and poke around, if you want,” my dad said. I learned later that my mother had got mad at him for letting me loose, but also learned that that would go on all my life. I crossed the street. And started looking for the kids that owned the bikes on the porch of the boarding house. I had asked my folks for a bike but following the end of the war steel was in short supply, and most bicycles had been built before WWII with no new ones yet available. I’ll tell the reader about my new bike later. No kids were in sight so I walked over and looked at the bikes. They were pretty cool.

There were a lot of old houses up that hill, small, but with big strong-looking trees and well-kept gardens – “manicured” is a term I’d learn in later years. The houses were all ornate with a lot of bric-a-brac on their walls and rooflines. I saw some adults talking, in a language I didn’t understand. It would not take long to learn that the language was “Italian,” from a country called “Italy” which was a long way somewhere across an ocean. This was my first introduction to my new neighborhood – the neighborhood north of University Terrace was nick-named “Little Italy,” because of all the immigrants who lived there – on Ralston Street where I was walking, and the two streets to the west – Bell Street and Washington Street. And I encountered some kids my age – friendly sorts – who walked with me, and we talked. One of their parents – their mother – walked out of her house, speaking in that strange language to someone unseen inside the home. Then she turned to her daughter, alongside me, who I’d know for life. And the mother spoke to the daughter in a language I understood well. It was English. I learned then a lesson that would stay with me the whole time we lived on Ralston Street: The parents, many who had emigrated from Italy, spoke Italian to each other, but English to their kids my age. Always. I’ll speak much of Little Italy in time to come.

We walked north up Ralston Street, my newfound friends and I. At Ninth Street, kitty-9andralstoncorner on the northwest corner was a brick home, a little one at that, that was one of the few homes ever paid for and built by the federal government in Washington D. C., wherever that was. It seems that on August 24, 1921, a little over 20 years ago that morning, a plane owned by the U.S. Air Mail service, which flew out of an airport near the present golf course in Reno, crashed into the house that was on that corner and burned it to the ground. The pilot died. A few neighbor kids damn near got killed in the downed power lines. Somebody pulled the handle on the fire alarm box on the corner near my house, but it did little good (there was no fire station up the street in 1946.) And the government built the house that’s now on that corner.

We’ll walk a little further – another block north – in this episode of my memoirs. A block beyond the rebuilt house on Ninth Street, on the corner on my side of Ralston Street, was a grocery market – “Maynard’s.” It was a little brick building built just prior to WWII. In 1946  I had no way of knowing that it would become a branch office of the Sigma Nu house across the street (of course, I had no knowledge that Sigma Nu would locate across Ralston Street in 1951).

In a day or two we’ll meet, as I did c. 1947, Ludovica Graham, the lady who built that lovely mansion at Eleventh Street. I would soon learn that in the years leading up to WWII and for quite a few years thereafter, that there was just a whole lot of grocery stores in Reno and Sparks. Few neighbors had refrigerators with any capacity and people had to shop every couple of days. Just within our home on the Ralston Street hill there were a half-dozen stores. This one at Tenth Street, another, the “Hilltop Market” at Ralston and Eleventh, the Ralston Market at the bottom of the hill. Quilici’s Market was at Seventh and Washington, diagonally across Whitaker Park, and the Cottage Grocery, a bigger store with a butcher shop that the other groceries didn’t have, was on Fifth Street. Lotsa groceries, lotsa Fleer’s and Bazooka bubble gum that we’d buy with the money we made taking bottles back and redeeming the deposit!

Space is limited now; when next we meet we’ll walk one more block north to a big white brick home, and meet the heiress who built it. (As I did; she told us little boys and girls that we could always play in the front yard. And we did!)

Until midweek…

NOTE ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BLACK BAR BELOW, A CLICK TO

TAKE YOU TO THE NEXT POST IN THIS SERIES…

 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

A reader inquired about a “stone house” across from Whitaker Park. I drove up to the park on Ralston Street, and the closest I could find to a stone house is the once-Hilltop Market on the northeast corner of Eleventh and Ralston – here’s a photo…:

hilltop1

February 9 Thursday • Whitaker Park

go to the earliest post in these vignettes

karlatwhitakerI continued my exploration of our family’s new digs on Ralston Street. The parental rules of the exploration were that I was not to cross University Terrace, one house away from ours, and not below the Mighty Orr ditch, which at that time was open throughout its length, passing under Ralston Street after wending its way from the west, forming the southern boundary of Whitaker Park (in later years, corresponding to the construction of a freeway south of it, it would be covered).

So, up the hill I walked to the corner, kitty-corner across the intersection was the Eichbush home, and within the home a pretty girl with jet-black hair, named Mary, two years older than I. In the other direction, to the east on University Terrace, was a house with a couple kids I’d soon meet and know throughout our lives – their names were Margaret and Bill Eddleman – Margaret, a friend of Mary’s, was also two years older than I, and brother Bill three years’ Margaret’s senior. We’ll learn more about them in the pages to follow. And I probably better snap a picture of the Eichbush home for this journal. [I went up to the house with my Brownie Hawkeye today 2/11 but it’s so overgrown it wasn’t worth taking a picture…sorry]

The Eichbush home was a beauty, and would remain so for at least the next sixty years, one of Reno’s unsung treasures. On the northeast corner of that intersection was a boarding house, with a rudimentary kitchen and restaurant. It was in some respects similar to other boarding houses in the Ralston/Washington/Bell street corridor surrounding Whitaker Park. I would learn in later years that these houses – each with a half-dozen private rooms, more or less, and a common area for dining and guests, sprung up as Reno grew, sharing a commonality of being close to St. Mary’s hospital, down the street four blocks. The homes were generally known as “birthing hospitals,” where by prearrangement ladies could go to have a baby delivered – (grammatically, to be delivered of their baby, but that rule fell into disuse) – where there was a midwife present, nurses and a doctor on call, with many more only a few blocks away at St Mary’s. A remarkable number of people born between 1900 and WWII were born in such hospitals. And we learned more about St. Mary’s creation, which I’ll get around to writing of in a day or two, if not today.

The boarding house across University Terrace had been such a hospital, and as most of the other boarding hospitals did, it fell into disuse during WWII, when there were fewer babies being born in Reno, and, as the hospital started to grow, and opened a maternity ward of its own. There were therefore many empty birthing hospitals in the neighborhood.

I listened intently while my new friend, Dr. David from next door, spun a tale of the neighborhood. Almost beyond my ken to comprehend, he spoke of a law governing divorces that had gone into law in the years before the war. A requirement of the law was that a person seeking a divorce had to live in Nevada for a while before going to court. The increasing vacancy in birthing hospitals and the increasing need for lodging were a marriage made in heaven, no pun intended for the divorce element of this, but simply stated, there opened up a whole lot of private rooms around Whitaker Park and St. Mary’s hospital.

In the weeks to come, I’d start school at the bottom of the Ralston hill, but we’ll get to that later. For now, I’ll flesh in the birthing hospital-conversion-to-boarding houses aspect of this rambling:

Bear in mind, that what popped the whole issue up was that boarding house across University Terrace – the Mount Rose Arms guest house, I think it was called, “Mount” spelled out, which it generally isn’t save for Mount Rose School. There were a couple of kid-sized bikes around the little two-story wood building. I didn’t have a bike. I probably ought to get to know those kids. Not that I’d learned to ride a bike yet…

The thought that will emanate from all this babbling about divorcée-boarding houses is that there lived in the vicinity, quite a few children; those children the kids whose mothers were in Reno for a divorce. I hadn’t started school yet, but came to know that we’d meet those children in school and they would become our friends. Sometimes they’d stay in Reno, but more often than not when the court action was complete, these classmates would disappear as quickly as they joined us. Too bad – we’d made some good friends. This went on throughout our four grades plus kindergarten at Mary S. Doten School. And, yakking with friends in later years, seemed to be more prevalent around St. Mary’s hospital, as that was the magnet for the birthing hospitals that enabled the boarding houses.

This is quite a new neighborhood for me – there’s a big home up the street, whose owner I’ll meet in the next few days. It would later become a fraternity house; of course I don’t know anything about that this morning. And a couple of little grocery stores, lots of professors walking to the University living around here. And that little red-haired girl from next door is out in the yard again. At the next time we write down a few recollections, we’ll walk northward from Whitaker Park, by house where the plane had crashed 24 years before, by the two barracks that hadn’t been moved to that corner yet, and about the Pub ‘n Sub restaurant that was still the Ralston Market as this is written. Come back in a few days; I’ll meet you right here.. 

NOTE ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BLACK BAR BELOW, A CLICK TO

TAKE YOU TO THE NEXT POST IN THIS SERIES…

 

 

 

 

 

Super Bowl Sunday – we’re underway

740ralstonFeb. 5 2017

It begins in the summer of 1946, on the hill bounding Whitaker Park on its east side, Ralston Street, they called it, named for the banker for the Comstock “Billy” Ralston. I was five years old, but have a dim memory of walking out the door of our home that morning after we arrived from Richmond, California on the east SF Bay, where my dad spent the war building Liberty ships for Henry J. Kaiser.

This was a return to Reno for my dad, and an inauguration for my mother. I was the oldest child; a brother younger than I by two years had passed away a year ago, and my sister Merilynn was still in a bassinet.

740 Ralston was a little home built in what we thought was 1909, with a carriage house behind it, vestiges of horses and tack still hanging from its walls. It was a tiny house, two bedrooms and a bath, and the living room converted to a beauty shop by its former owner, a Mrs. Shermerhorn who was a stylist for the ladies whose husbands were off to war. We bought that house for $4,600 and that room was rapidly returned to a living room.

There was a strange warmth to the air that first morning, my first time not feeling the Bay Area dampness. And – great clarity to the air, with all of Reno lying down the hill, verdant with trees, two silver domes where the street started to rise to the park across the street. I’d soon learn that those domes were a part of the school that I’d start in a month – Mary S. Doten. I seldom drive past its twin “sister” – Mount Rose School on Arlington – without thinking of “Mary S.” as it came to be known. And I learned of the “sister” connection later, as will the reader. The rest of the landscape above the trees was unbroken. A new hotel would become visible in a couple of years, to be known as the Mapes Hotel. But on this morning, the only structure I remember above the trees was another hotel, the “El Cortez,” I’d learn later, and far in the distance a white building – the Veterans Hospital.

I early-on befriended a neighbor, our neighbor to the north on the corner of University Terrace, Dr. David, a retired University of Nevada professor who told me much about my new clime, in the weeks to come. He smoked a pipe, which I thought was pretty neat. I walked to him, seated on a bench in his backyard, and introduced myself. We talked. And talked. The earliest conversation I remember was of the park across the street – a large grassy area with a playground at the top of its grade, at University Terrace, and tennis courts beyond. “There used to be a school there,” he told me. “The Whitaker School.” Its full name was the Bishop Ozi Whitaker School for Girls, but who cared, on such a nice morning for such an unwieldy name. “Whitaker” it would be.

We’ll not dwell long on Whitaker Park much longer here, other than to write a couple things about it while I’m thinking about them (the reader will probably be maddened by these side-trips of mine, ‘til they become accustomed to them!) One thought is that after the school closed, the land beneath it – the park – reverted to the S.P. Railroad, who had originally owned it (I’m not sure that they ever went out of title, or donated the land to the Episcopal Church for Whitaker’s school.) That railroad, in the early 1920s, gave serious thought to putting a major hospital for railroad employees on the site, and came pretty close to doing it. But, they didn’t. Then, the Veterans Administration, in the thought triggered by my mention of seeing the VA Hospital in my early view, considered putting the newly-funded Vet’s hospital on the former Whitaker School site. They later opted to open the hospital in its present location. End of side trip…

Other vistas opened up on that first morning in Reno, and while I was taking them all in, a cute little red-haired girl appeared, my next-door-neighbor to the south, whom I revere to this day 70 years later as my oldest friend in Reno, and first girlfriend! We’ll meet her in these pages one of these days; many readers will know her…

 

NOTE ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BLACK BAR BELOW, A CLICK TO

TAKE YOU TO THE NEXT POST IN THIS SERIES…

 

 

 

 

A new journey begins…

kf_headshotThis website is taking a new turn; instead of running old columns, which I still have a ton of and you’ll see them occasionally, but as time permits we’re all going to walk around Reno and Sparks, and stop and make a few observations along the way – the recollections of 70+ years as best as I can recall them, and I’ll try to paint a picture with words.  It’s not going as easily as I thought it might – the Title line above in bold will begin with a date, then the area or the topic we’re going to visit. There will be photographs, some old, some new, some mine, others yours. If you send a note or a photo, make sure and tell me if it’s OK to use it on the webpage. You will see from time to time some photos that have little bearing on anything, just something I want to get out to the community. If you use your browser’s “copy photo” feature please perpetuate the attribution I’ve given to a photographer, if such there be. But do copy and share them; that’s what they’re for..

You will occasionally encounter a “link” which will take you to another website. I’ll try to open it in a new window so that you may return back to the Ol’ Reno Guy page more easily.

I hope to update it once a week. Sometimes it will be a walk, other posts might be anBus 109 event taking place in the valley, and your comments are welcome. Let’s skip the “comments” feature below as it’s cumbersome for thee and me. Just send a email to me at kfbreckenridge@live.com 

This will be a learning experience for me. But, we’re off and running. Little content exists in this initial post, but visit when you can, and stay in touch. 

NOTE: ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BLACK BAR BELOW, A CLICK TO

TAKE YOU TO THE NEXT POST IN THIS SERIES…

A 1904 meeting in Reno…

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

 

 

Take the bus; leave the driving to us…

 


school-busTravel with me now to a time, and this a time not in the dark ages but one still vivid in the minds of many readers, when every high school kid, including members of Stead Air Base families, between the city limits and Bordertown to the north state line, could ride in two 66-passenger school buses. Similarly, every high schooler from Franktown to the south city line would fit in a similar size bus. And here I note that Reno High was then the only public high school in Reno.

            The county district didn’t operate their own buses back then, “back then” being 1960 as a year to base this tale upon.  That task fell primarily upon a couple of local private bus companies – V&T Transportation, a successor to the railroad, and Nevada Transit, managed by Orville Schultz. Operating those 20-or-so buses for the most part were University of Nevada frat rats taking advantage of a job that was a perfect “fit” for college – drive from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m., park the things on campus and go to class, and return to work near the three o’clock hour. It worked well for all.

            Leading the effort was one of the greatest guys ever to ply the streets of our town – James E. Wood was his name, Jim to us, who bought the transportation rights soon after the demise of the V&T Railroad in 1950, together with some buses that couldn’t be given away for free in 1953 but would bring a pretty penny now for Hot August Nights cruisin’. Jim was a member of most of Reno’s service clubs and a State of Nevada Assemblyman from the early 1950s through the 1970s and in that capacity was instrumental in getting the University’s medical school underway. Vic Charles, another popular Reno guy was the company’s manager, Vic’s sister Dollie the office manager and her husband Al McVey the dispatcher. They all remain good friends of many of the old drivers of five decades past.

            Jim built a fleet of buses, starting with some pre-war and ex-military recycled units, to newer, yet used, vehicles, eventually to all-new and first-class rolling stock. And he expanded the non-school bus transportation side of his business into tour buses serving Virginia City and Lake Tahoe, some charters with over-the-road equipment, transportation of school athletic teams for every school in northern Nevada, and the Reno Ski Program, leaving weekly on ten Saturdays a year from Southside School downtown on Liberty Street and from Huffaker School ‘way out South Virginia. In later years Carson City added a program. We didn’t know what “snow days” were; short of a full-blown Sierra blizzard, off to Sky Tavern we’d go, chaining up as necessary (and Jim was there helping put on the chains). It was a great deal for drivers to ski all day until one among us busted his leg, stranding his bus and its passengers. And that was the end of ski days for us.

            Jim had a little “showman” edge to him; the photograph is of Jim and Tina, Tinawoodtina pictured sporting a bus driver’s hat as a promo for John Ascuaga’s Nugget in the early 1970s. I know not who dreamed this stunt up, the names James E. Wood and John Ascuaga come to mind and I detect the fine hand of a young Sigma Nu named Fred Davis, by then the Nugget’s PR director, as a co-conspirator to it. The back-story is that one must understand that elephants don’t as a rule back up, nor do much else, with any grace or predictability when in tight quarters, and secondly that elephants aren’t accustomed to being passengers in tour buses. That said, we learn that Tina, after the frivolity with the cameras and flashes and dancing girls was over and being an elephant known to be somewhat recalcitrant anyway, basically said to hell with all of this and plopped down, as best she could, leaving others to deal with getting her considerable mass off the bus. Several stories exist, maybe more, one option being driving the bus to Flint, Michigan where it was built, to be there disassembled by GMC who had built it a few years before. The operative story is that Bertha was brought alongside, who inveigled her smaller partner to vacate the bus that it might be used by others.

            And at this point for the benefit and enlightenment of younger readers or those not from around here in the early 1990s I should mention that Bertha and Tina were performing elephants, hence the long-standing name “Circus Room” at the Sparks Nugget.

            Virginia & Truckee Transportation Company had strong Nevadans and visionariesltr-bus-vintage at the helm and was manned by good men and true – and few ladies, you out there Misha Miller? – who all had a lot of fun, and were aboard when many of Nevada’s earlier memories were taking shape. The Olympic visitors in 1960. San Francisco’s airport would be socked in by fog and the airlines would bring their passengers to Reno, and we then bused them to SFO. The filming of “The Misfits?” Yup – we hauled Monroe, Gable, Clift, screenwriter Miller, director Huston. One of our frat brothers didn’t know the Chollar Mine from the Sutro Tunnel yet became one of the most requested drivers on the Virginia City tour.

            But mostly, we hauled the school kids. Safely. We’d moderate study groups on the long runs to Franktown and Bordertown. We’d patch them up with our first aid kits. We’d get them singing Broadway instead of “Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer…” On my bus on Friday mornings when all were settled aboard northbound on Highway 395, we’d sing “Home Means Nevada,” with great gusto. I’d like to think that somewhere this morning there’s a 60-year-old kid reading this column who can still nail that State Song!

            And with that, we bid you a good week; no April Fooling, now, and God bless America!

kfbreckenridge@live.com

© RGJ a long time ago…April 2011????

Photo credit Jim Wood: JA Nugget

 

 

A turkey lays an egg…and a link to the 1950 Thanksgiving flood…

cometThe non-sensical piece that follows has run innumerable times, usually proximate to Thanksgiving, in the Gazoo when I wrote those columns, on my website when I had it years ago, and a couple times in the SF Chronicle when I sent it in (I didn’t really write it; I merely stole it from someone who told it in a joke and turned it into a news story.) It may be true, or not. The photo is a vintage British airliner, a Comet made by the forerunners of the Airbus consortium. A friend asked me over the weekend, are we going to read that stupid turkey story again? Yes you are; here it is. Maybe the next post will be of some substance. Or not. Happy Thanksgiving to All!

~ ~ ~

Early in the maturation of jet airliners, British aircraft engineers, addressing the dilemma of strengthening pilots’ windscreens against bird-strikes at low altitude, think a Canadian honker vs. a FedEx Airbus getting together over Peckham Lane after takeoff. They knew the United States had much experience with this matter and contacted some Southern California aeronautical engineers, who supplied plans for a rudimentary catapult that hurled a standard, store-bought turkey at a test windshield at a calculated velocity for analysis.

            The British guys fashioned a catapult, and soon after sent the Yanks photos of a test cockpit with the windshield shattered, the pilot’s headrest in smithereens, a gaping hole in the bulkhead behind the pilot’s head and the flight engineer’s console behind that bulkhead totally demolished. Other photos depicted another huge hole aft of the console in the next bulkhead separating it from the crew lavatory, which was also trashed.

            A few weeks later, the Brits received a telegram from the Americans: “Next time, thaw the turkey.”

Here’s the story of a flood in Reno, Thanksgiving 1950

Operation Haylift

hayliftiiAs promised, I’m fulfilling a part of what I promised, by posting the web address of the U of Nevada Special Collections website, which leads to some stories and photographs of the 1948-49 haylift operation to save the state’s, and many other states’, cattle and sheep. I’ll try to get the letters that I received from readers posted tonight or tomorrow, am having a bit of a challenge posting them.

Heres’s the website:

http://knowledgecenter.unr.edu/sheepherders/haylift.html

 

Six letters stamped on a blue steel plate

 

harrahboarddirectors1959

A local man of our acquaintance once came into possession of six vintage automobiles in various stages of disrepair, through a process that’s ‘way too circuitous to spend valuable column space on this morning. He kept them in the Liberty Garage, a splendid bygone brick building in the shadow of the Toscano Hotel on Lake Street just north of East Second. A friend of ours named Larry Heward, yes the local dentist, was employed part-time when we were in college as the caretaker, duster and tire-pumper for this nascent collection of largely forgettable rolling stock.

          The little collection grew, from six cars to a dozen, then more. Some full-time people came aboard to sand and paint and tune up the growing fleet. They ran out of room at the Liberty Garage. “Bring me more cars!” the collector cried out, and men were sent hither and yon from the great Atlantic Ocean to the broad Pacific’s shore, with an aggregation of strange trucks, lowboys and cash in their jeans to bring some better cars from the tonier villages and some clunkers long-stored in the barns of the plains states. Contemporaneously, the Mighty SP Railroad and Pacific Fruit Express closed a large concrete building in Sparks where once ice was frozen for trains carrying California produce to the waiting nation (this, by the way, was 1958).

          1908thomasThe growing collection of cars (and now trucks and boats and airplanes and streetcars) found a new home in this former PFE icehouse. And more men were coming aboard – the best and the brightest of body metal, upholstery, paint, internal combustion engine guys – assembled to do some serious work on our friend’s automobile collection, now taking its place among the best and largest collection of cars in America. Adjacent were three warehouse buildings owned by John Dermody, and into these single-story buildings went the cars, impeccably restored to better than their factory finish, all lined up in dozens of rows to be enjoyed by all.    

          Our collector friend welcomed people to his collection to view it. In the early 1960s a buck, a business card, or a bar receipt from one of the planks in his casino business, which after all enabled all this to be built, was all he sought for admission. It was a civic asset for all – darn few column readers of a certain age didn’t take their progeny there for a birthday party. The collection in time would grow by some counts to 3,000 cars and include some of the finest cars ever built – the Bugatti Royales, the pre-WWII Mercedes roadster and a couple of boat-tail Duesenbergs. Alongside were the rank-and-file of Detroit production that most of us remember as kids.

          The management of the now-bustling casino in downtown Reno tried to ensure hacoldcollectionthat folks leaving the casino to visit the collection in Sparks actually returned upon viewing it to the Reno casino’s tables, to further their support of the collection that they had viewed and as we said in the day, “Keep Nevada Green.” This effort took the form of buses operated by the casino, the most popular being the replica of a San Francisco cable car. This was an honest copy of such that would make cable car inventor Andrew Hallidie proud, albeit running on rubber tires and powered not by a cable but a big-block Chevy V-8. (And here I’ll predict that I will hear from all of the 14,387 people who drove that cable car, just as I heard from the 9,489 who drove the Zamboni in Blyth Arena at the 1960 Olympics!)

          So – the cable car plied the tracks of East Second Street to the Icehouse, back-and-forth, rain or shine. But a burr had been forming under our collector-friend’s saddle. “I have all these beautiful cars and dozens of fleet trucks and my own Ferrari Boxer (red) and our Phantom V Roll-Royce limos. I’d like to put some license plate beside W78324 on my Boxer and give Sammy a Duesenberg with something beside WRQ784 on his plate.” Or words to that effect.

          And so he dispatched to Carson City his bevy or attorneys, lobbyists, those high in gaming and other influential persons, to buttonhole the legislators, upon whom our collector’s name did not fall on deaf ears. “How can we enable our friend with casinos and hotels and payrolls in Reno and Stateline, and the license fees generated to our State on his 3,000 cars, trucks, speedboats, the Thunderbird yacht, a Ford Tri-motor and four or five airplanes with tail numbers all ending in -411Hotel, plus an honest-to-god cable car, to put whatever the hell he wants to on all his license plates?” A valid question indeed.

      olds    Thus it came to be in 1971 that the legislators took his request quite seriously and directed the Nevada DMV to buy some letter stamp dies for their license plate factory east of Carson City. Thereafter, any motorist with a car and what I recall to be $25 could order a plate that didn’t contain some thinly-veiled reference to something naughty and shortly receive two such plates for the bow and stern of the vehicle. And thus one of the greatest Gazoo column themes that’s ever hit print was born, that being the late Ty Cobb Sr.’s periodic Cobbwebs columns of cool vanity plates. I’ve been asked why I don’t pick up on this theme of Mr. Cobb’s, at one time the Sports Editor and later Managing Editor of the Nevada State Journal. Ty was my friend and I respect the plate stories as his province, and almost 20 years following his passing I still leave them alone.

          But, I’ll end this yarn the way it started, about rubber-tired cable cars inspiring our friend to champion the cause of personalized plates in Nevada. On that venerable vehicle, at either end of its brilliantly polished and maintained wood and brass chassis, Bill Harrah bolted a blue plate that encapsulated the character of a San Francisco cable car: the simple word, CLANG.

          Have a good week, and God bless America!

I should have included that the picture at the hed of this column of Bill Harrah and 16 of his “Board of Directors” was taken in 1959, at the southwest corner of the intersection of Geiger Grade and Highway 395. One man, Bob Martin, remains with us at this writing in November of 2016…he’s in the approximate middle of the photo, the only man with both his hands visible…