This is a fine how-do-you-do? Dad took off with Mr. Blakely and Mr. Corica to work at the Reno Rodeo, which is always on the Fourth of July. And I’m home with my baby sister and my mother on Ralston Street. But not for long! I’m takin’ off down the hill with my buddies Hank Philcox and Don Hartman to see what’s going on downtown this holiday weekend with all the people in town for the rodeo! HA!
So Dad, while you’re opening beer cans for the Jaycees at the rodeo grounds in the heat and the dust, I’m off. Walking down Ralston Street I can really see a lot of cars, more than usual, on West Fourth Street. Most of the better motels built after the war are either east or west of town. I got to stay In one a couple weeks ago when my Aunt Isabel came to Reno from Petaluma, down by the San Francisco Bay where Mom grew up. She stayed at a motel with a swimming pool and that was the first pool I ever swam in. I’ve swum in the Russian River by Guerneville but the pool is pretty neat too.
I walk toward downtown and get to Virginia Street, where the rodeo parade is starting to march. There’s a big truck down by the railroad tracks with a loudspeaker on the roof. Some of the gasoline companies, and the Auto Club, or Three A or whatever dad calls it, have these trucks and send them around the country to rodeos and parades and stuff where somebody wants to talk to a bunch of people. I cross the highway at Virginia Street, the busiest intersection in Nevada. I better go home before I catch hell for sneaking off.
Many have accused me of dogging it this Fourth of July weekend because I haven’t written anything new. C’mon, I’m only a little guy and it’s a holiday and it’s hotter than a bride’s breath so I’ll post soon, soon, soon….beside, I’m trying to listen to a New York Giants baseball game on the radio – everybody says that some day it will be on a “television” set right in our living room but today it’s on KOH, live from Detroit. Hard to write and watch at the same time.
I was asked what’s around the bend on these little walks we’re taking. Well, I can tell you – I want to get Dad to take me down to Harold’s Club – note that as I write this in the 1940s it’s still using an apostrophe in the name. In a few years it will go away. If we can walk down on a Saturday morning between 10 o’clock and noon, Mr. Smith closes the second floor of the casino so that kids can go in. I want to see the “Roaring Camp” stuff that Mr. Smith bought from Mr. Stagg and all the old guns and saddles the blue Buick station wagon with the steer horns and stuff. There’s supposed to be a bar with silver dollars in the bar. I’ll tell you all about that soon.
Another story is going to be about learning to swim in Reno. I’ve received a lot of letters from readers at our home on Ralston Street, asking me to write about old swimming places like Reno Hot Springs and Lawton’s west of Reno (pictured), Idlewild Pool in Reno (the new one, not the big pond on the west side of the park that was the first community pool). And Baker’s Stables a long way south of Reno and Deer Park in Sparks, that only opened right after the war. And I also have some notes about the people who gave us swimming lessons, like Marcie Herz, Rick Burgess at that new pool at the Riverside Hotel and some of our friends like Billy Berrum who show us about swimming at Moana Springs. Billy’s a good guy, only a little bit older than me, maybe ten years old. (And in a few years Mrs. Conrad would slap me for writing “older than me” when it should be “older than I” but I’m too young to get hung up on grammar.)
Dad still goes down to Sparks a lot in his business, and one day got me in to the railroad’s locomotive shop. I got to climb up onto a cab-forward steam engine. They were working the shaking tank in the shop and I got to see (and feel!) that. And they’re starting to tear down the roundhouse at the south end of 8th Street in Sparks, (later they’d call it Pyramid Way). Writing is funny, in Reno it’s written “Eighth Street” which is up by the University but in Sparks it’s written “8th Street”. I’ll never make a very good writer.
Dad’s friend says that we should take a good look at the old steam locomotives because pretty soon they’ll all be those boring streamliners. I didn’t know it then but the last steam engine that would roll through Reno and Sparks on a revenue basis would be pretty soon – late October of 1949. After that we only saw them in the winter pushing plows or pulling heavy trains over Donner Summit. I’ll try to find a picture of one for you.
We got out to the new airport a while ago and Dad drove right out onto the runway so we could watch the Nevada Air Guard land a couple of P-51 “Mustangs” – little fighter planes. And we watched a United Air Lines DC-3 take off for San Francisco. And we went up into the “control tower” on the second floor of the United terminal and hangar. That was pretty cool and I’ll try to write it down.
We had a little excitement in Reno and western Nevada last winter – it got really snowy and the cows and sheep couldn’t get to their pastures to the Army Air Corps brought in a bunch of huge freighter airplanes that had doors in the back, and all the men of Reno and Sparks met out at the airport to load hay into the planes to drop to the livestock. We’ll read about that. Dad got to go on a couple of their flights.
Yeah, Idlewild Park, for sure. I’ll write about the zoo at the park, and our class going to the Old Home Dairy across the street from the park, where we get a lot the milk around Reno. And the fishing derby. Virginia Lake has a new park too. We’ve gone to some Reno band concerts out there in July, in August they’ll all move to the “Quad” at the University where we can walk from our house. Dad and Mom know some people who play for that band. And we get watermelon during the show and get to march to a Sousa march around the Quad with Mr. Tinkham the bandleader. And the grownups – can’t sing worth a darn but they end with “Home Means Nevada.”
Got to go to the neighbors’ for some hot dogs. Fireworks tonight at Mackay Stadium, Joe Battaglia and the Men of Renown will do the National Anthem as usual. Sorry to bail on you early but the game’s tied at 3-3 and the barbecue’s starting.
Be safe out there, come back once in a while….
If you came here looking for the story about Ronald Reagan and the Fourth of July at Edwards Air Force base click right about here
We now turn the clock back to 1982, in the early days of July. We planned to travel to Palmdale, California. The high point of a normal Palmdale weekend would usually be the bookmobile arriving from Los Angeles, or tickets to the matinee performance at Western Auto, but on that weekend the space shuttle Columbia, on its fourth mission STS-4, was arriving on Sunday, July 4th, astronauts Ken Mattingly and Henry Hartsfield at the con.
With that in mind, I went to Senator Howard Cannon’s office then on Booth Street and wrangled a VIP invitation to Edwards Air Force Base, where the shuttle was landing. No problem, I was a good Nevadan. We journeyed to Palmdale on July the second, and on the third, a Saturday, we went to the large NASA hospitality building in Lancaster – adjoining Palmdale as Sparks adjoins Reno. To give credit where due, the name “Cannon” rocked the staff due to his advocacy of the Senate aerospace and defense committees, and the kids were treated like kings – tours of past Gemini capsules, “rides” on moon landers, and other courtesies – and we left with four human passes, one for my Suburban’s windshield and some cool NASA baseball caps like the big guys wear. We were advised the landing had been delayed until 9:02 AM that Sunday (tomorrow) morning, from 8:53 AM, so we changed our plans accordingly.
The view of the Mojave Valley foothills that Saturday night was breathtaking – the firelight of Coleman lanterns and campfires ringing the valley – Caltrans estimated that a million people had camped in the surrounding hills to watch what was planned to be the last west coast space shuttle landing, ever. At oh-dark-thirty on Sunday the Fourth of July we left for Edwards AFB, and upon entering the base, the Suburban was checked from cellar to attic, and beneath with mirrors – for at 9 o’clock the night before it was announced that President Ronald Reagan was coming to witness the shuttle landing. We walked interminably across a parking lot, and I have a photo to this day of a large – make that huge – Rosey Grier look-alike Secret Service agent, who met all at the gate with “Take my picture!” then smiled a display of Ipana-ad white teeth – the purpose to make sure all cameras were indeed cameras and not guns or bombs or whatever. Nice guy.
At thirty minutes before 9 AM three tall young pilots, ramrod-stiff, flat-bellied in their powder blue NASA flight suits, arrived at their parked blue-and-white T-38 jet chase planes; the assembled ladies en mass all went ga-ga, the pilots kicked the tires and lit the fires, taxied out, rolled, and climbed out like a trio of homesick angels to points unknown. A moment later, the baseball-stadium-sized Diamondvision TV screens came to life, and the PA system carried the voice from NASA Houston, who was controlling the shuttle’s landing. The shuttle was then over the Santa Barbara Channel Islands, the chase planes transmitting images of it. “You are angels one-oh-two, four miles downcourse” – basically 102,000 feet straight up from Edwards. “Valve off your hydrazine,” and the shuttle complied with a vapor trail; the chase planes laid orange day smoke – all four aircraft now in full view from Southern California.
“We’re coming down,” announced Hartsfield laconically, and did they ever – straight down, 40,000 people on the Edwards tarmac puckered, expecting the craft to bury itself in the desert. At the last moment, it leveled, its gear fell, the tail split into a brake, and the three T-38s strained to stay above it, using their dive boards, landing gear and full flaps to slow down. The shuttle rolled to a stop. 9:02 AM. How did they know that a whole day earlier? (And I know, most T-38s don’t have dive brakes. These were NASA birds, not your grandfather’s T-38s…)
Ronald Reagan, in the same western-cut informal duds he’d wear on his
ranch on a Sunday morning, and his Nancy approached the podium and made a few remarks. He then cleared the NASA transporter for takeoff, a modified 747 with the shuttle Challenger. recently completed at Palmdale’s Plant 41, mounted atop it, to fly the new shuttle to Florida. The 747 rolled, rotated, then lifted gently off the desert floor. I watched it – but it never climbed out – just flew across the desert. Curious…
A few minutes later, joined by the crew of the Columbia that had just landed, Reagan made a few more remarks. Then, turning to the audience, he concluded his speech with that great Reagan smile and “Nancy and I want to thank you all for coming out in this hot sun, and we want you to go home now and have yourselves one hell of a Fourth of Jul….”
The 40,000 people, and millions at home watching TV, never heard the “y” in “July”, only the deafening whine of the 747 transporter’s four massive engines and the roar of the three T-38s, all four planes in a tight fingertip formation, coming up from behind the audience treetop-high at over 250 knots and pulling with MEDO power. They all dropped their right wings in unison to the American flag behind the podium, just as the Marine band from NAS Miramar cued the Stars and Stripes Forever – John Phillip Sousa never heard it played any better. The planes leveled their wings then climbed rapidly over Reagan’s shoulder as we viewed him, holding their formation in a left departure into the haze.
Our Fourth of July weekend had begun; the Challenger was away on its first trip to Cape Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, in his western White House Levis and a goat-roper shirt on that hot Sunday morning, had shown us the nexus of presidency and showmanship in its highest form. Dry eyes among 40,000 people: zero. Photos of the flyover by the surprised crowd: zero. Offers to re-enlist into the services: 14,307. Pride in the US of A: Priceless.
Thanks for that morning, Dutch, and God bless America on her 244th birthday. And a happy and safe holiday to all on this 2020 July 4th!
© Karl Breckenridge … photo credit aircraft NASA, at Rancho de Cielo Bettman Archives
The following was written by Penelope…:
A day too late for Fathers’ Day, but I think of my dad every day; so here is a slightly amended version of what has become an annual tribute:
My dad, Brendan Jennings, at right, left Ireland with his brother Jack
when he was just 17 (1927). He and Jack made their way to San Francisco, where their older brother, Owen, a pharmacist, had established his business. Dad studied to be a pharmacist as well but opted to take a job with McKesson & Robbins, Inc. where he met my mother Dorothea.
He joined the Army shortly after Pearl Harbor and was sent to China (via Newfoundland, the Azores, across North Africa and India and finally over the Himalayas) in 1945 as part of a Special Forces/OSS mission to liberate the Japanese civilian internment camps there. Because he had an eidetic memory and could easily pick up just about any language, he stayed in China for a period of weeks to support repatriation efforts. In 1946, he was awarded the Special Breast Order of Yun Hui (Order of the Cloud and Banner).
pictured at left, brothers Brendan (l), Jack, and Fr. Michael (r)
below right, Brendan and Dorothea
My parents were divorced when I was just two, so I didn’t really get to know and appreciate my dad until I was in my thirties. He never lost his Irish brogue, quick wit, and sense of humor and remained true to his Irish Catholic faith. A lifelong Democrat, avid reader, historian, poet and writer whose editorials were frequently published in the SF Examiner and Chronicle, he often wrote to President Kennedy and Robert Kennedy to offer his advice and enjoyed a long-term correspondence with SF Mayor George Moscone. He had a beautiful tenor voice as well. I was hoping to restore or at least be able to listen to some of those old recordings of his (Bakelite 78’s) that I found a couple of years ago, but sadly, they are beyond repair.
When I first visited Ireland with my son in 1998, only one of Dad’s seven siblings, younger brother Gerard, was still living. Uncle Gerry (an artist, accomplished landscape and scenery painter, and co-founder of the Kilbeggan Players, among other things) had some wonderful memories to share including a story about how my dad could write backwards without a second thought and would trick Gerry into believing that it was a form of ancient Greek code.
I learned much more about my dad [color photo above left in 1988], his family home in Mullingar, and my Irish family on our trip to Ireland last October, and have included a few additional photos.
Yr. Editor requested from Penelope her permission to publish the above story, which originally appeared Monday on a social network; her response follows, and I’m taking the liberty of including it with the above:
[At left, Penelope at work, SF Symphony, mid-1980s] Demetrius arrived in San Francisco with his many boxes of books and the clothes on his back three days before the Great Earthquake in 1906. He lost everything in the quake but went on to open the Athens Cafe (on Third Street, I think) and later, Malamis and Company. The family home was on Clement Street. My great aunt Margo (my grandmother’s sister) was married to Dimitrios Kappatos. They owned and operated the Almond Blossom Cafe on the corner of Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue (a central meeting place for the Hellenic Society, local, mostly Democratic, politicians, and opera attendees, after the War Memorial Opera House was built a few blocks away), which they sold to Tommy Harris in 1947. It’s been Tommy’s Joynt ever since. Their beautiful home [above right] where my mother and father are pictured – also where I fell in love with San Francisco at the age of 3), was on Singingwood in St. Francis Wood. Theirs is another story I have been planning to post for a while. Here are a few pics: the Almond Blossom in 1925; Tommy’s Joynt today; Aunt Margo with her second husband, Stavros, on the steps of their home in St. Francis Wood [pictured below].
Thanks, Penelope – a lotta your work and love went into that post! KB
He showed us some drawings in his valise including his pen-and-ink drawing of the building, which through a circuitous path came into my possession 50 years later. I still have it, along with a dozen 11×17″ photographs of the site prior to and during its construction, with some trees that were donated to the U.S. Post Office downtown.
These photos I offered to the Theater Coalition c. 2002, but they were refused: “Mrs. Lear is the only person who gets her name on the building.” Oh.
The First Church of Christ, Scientist occupied the building quietly for over 60 years. Twenty years following its sale, an amount of donated money, some say $10 million, others peg it closer to $17 million, but in any case it’s a large amount of money to account for, for a decaying building that still can’t be occupied by the public.
I read some years ago that the building was turned over to the only operator in town who could possibly abuse an asset more than the Theater Coalition had, and just shook my head. At this juncture I’ll voice disagreement with my ol’ buddy Randi Thompson, who asserts that the community deserves better that what they’re receiving. Twenty years ago the community probably did deserve better. But time has passed; funds have been poorly accounted for, and there is no bright spot on the horizon for the property.
The building’s sparkle is gone, and with that its Paul Revere Williams cachet. As is a maritime custom, it seems preferable for the sea to reclaim a vessel when it’s otherwise strong and viable, laying it on the ocean floor through the will of mariners recognizing that its journey is done and scuttling it on purpose with its ensign flying. As opposed to going down in defeat. as the church/theater will surely do.
I’ve written often of the Truckee’s Treasure, an appellation I gave the building in a 2002 column. I remain like a family member of the surviving grandchildren of the lady who located and hired Williams, and who endowed the construction of the church. None of these grandchildren reside in Reno. Now, through disuse, decay and an element of distrust by the public, and I’m probably the last person who should advocate this, but, my vote would be for an intentional razing of the asset, with an element of honor.
I’ve used a few words today that He wouldn’t want to hear on the Sabbath, but I think the site is dialed in OK now – what remains is now to reload it. Nothing has been removed; the “search box” at the bottom of this page will help,
Stick with me – my laptop’s old and i’m older, but pretty quick we’ll have a blog again about ol’ Reno!
Knowing as I have learned that on St. Patrick’s Day, the entire readership wears green and expects to see the tales of the Wreaths & Shamrocks and of the Smilin’ Irishman, Harry O’Brien. I aim to please; the links to both are herewith, click away! (The posts open in a new window; use your back-browser to get back here…)
At the crack of four ayem in Fort McDermitt near the Oregon border all the kids are roused from the arms of Morpheus to dress, dine and dash to the waiting school buses. But the bleary-eyed parents meet little resistance – these kids are off to the circus! A similar scene is being played out on this August Saturday morning in four Nevada counties, and tykes from ages six to 14 are hitting the decks – in Humboldt House, Tungsten, Paradise Valley, Battle Mountain, Valmy, Unionville, Getchell Mine and Imlay. By car and school bus they’ll make their drowsy way to Winnemucca, and board the Western Pacific passenger train, destination Mackay Stadium, because the Shrine Circus is in town – all aboard!
They’ll find on the train a bunch of clowns, played out by Shrine members and Western Pacific employees and led by the head clown for the day, who in real life resembled the late District Judge Merwyn H. Brown of Winnemucca. Brown was a popular and celebrated Nevadan, and former Shrine Potentate. He was instrumental in putting this day together in 1949 and shepherding it along for the six years that it lasted. In an August 19, 1953 interview for the Nevada State Journal he cited the tremendous cooperation that the Shrine received from the Western Pacific Railroad. Who else would virtually donate a 24-car train and help the Shriners stock the center two baggage cars with box lunches, milk, ice cream, soda pop, peanuts, popcorn, Cracker Jack and other goodies? (Four thousand bottles of soft drinks, all donated by local businesses, were consumed on the 1953 run.)
And who would dress up one railroad and one Winnemucca doctor and a contingent of nurses like clowns to help out with the 1,200 kids who would eventually board, as the train chugs out of Winnemucca with stops along the way picking up even more kids in Sulphur, Jungo and Gerlach in Nevada, and (over the California border briefly) Herlong? Who? And here’s a fun one: who would buy special water-based paint so that Winnemucca children, and those along the way, could “decorate” the Pullman cars with graffiti telling the world about their adventure? And, on the side of safety, place men with “stop” signs along the train’s route to forestall a vehicle collision in rural Nevada… who?
The Western Pacific Railroad, that’s who – the Feather River Route guys. OK – we’re rolling into Reno, how will we get to the circus in the old Mackay Stadium, which was closer to Virginia Street than the present one? (Somewhere on campus there’s a plaque marking the center of that old classic’s football 50-yard line.) Well, let’s take the train, since all 1,200 of us are already on one. We’ll use the same tracks that the circus and the elephants and tigers and the Big Top arrived on – the tracks that run down Evans Avenue behind the campus. That way we won’t have too far to walk. And how do we stay together? Aha – Judge/Clown Brown and his band of merry men have a rope, a rope long enough for 1,200 kids to hang on to, walking side-by-side from the train to the stadium (where the clowns secured the gates just to prevent one of the older, bolder passengers from walking down to the Wigwam for some hot apple pie.)
The clowns had fun, but safety was paramount for the day. Those who let go of the rope would be fed to the tigers. It was that simple, a harsh word was never uttered, it was great fun for all, and best of all, they never lost a kid in six years. And all saw a real-deal first-line Ringling Brothers circus; the Shriners had brought it to Reno initially in 1947, appearing then on South Virginia Street on the former site of the El Reno Apartments (later to be Washoe Market and now an antique store.) It would move to Mackay the next year. And our excited kids from outlying Nevada joined us locals, to see Victor Julian and his 21 (count ’em) trained dogs with two rhesus monkeys; to see Brigit Hadnig, direct from Munich, who wisely changed her name to Lalage the Unicyclist; to see Amielo and Elvira Sciplini’s six world-renowned chimps, and the Flying Palacios – Lola, Raul, Jose and Lalo, and from a careful perusal of the program’s photo I would surmise that it would take all three of the brothers plus a couple chimps to catch the Flying Lola once she let go of the trapeze – a ballerina she wasn’t.
But heck, it was a great time and most of the kids got to pet an elephant and have a tiger shriek at them. Rumor has it that they slept like little logs on the long choo-choo ride home. They had indeed been to the circus – on a day that they’d never forget, thank you Winnemucca Shrine Club and Western Pacific Railway.
Times have changed; no tracks go near the Livestock Events Center where the Shrine Circus performs now. And few of the excited children of all ages under that Big Top came to Reno by train, having left Winnemucca at this morning’s sunrise, nor clung to a rope to stay with their buddies all the way to the show, but let’s hope that all will have as much fun as these 1,200 children did, some of whom are probably reading this column and taking their grandchildren to the circus. If their memories of this great time in local history reach me by e-mail, well, we might all just read them right here on some otherwise-slow day!
Credit where due on this one goes to Mike Maher at the Nevada Historical Society, now retired. I knew this story existed, but while I was poring over railroad, circus and Shrine files, Mike went right to a Nevada Highways & Parks magazine. He’s a pro… (The photos are courtesy of that magazine.)
If you rode the train, lemme know at kfbreckenridgelive.com ; release your text and name so I can post it here…..
And here’s one now from Mike Mentaberry (at right): “We came from the Mentaberry family’s Washburn Creek Ranch outside McDermitt the weekend prior to the trip to the depot in Winnemucca to paint the cars.
Broker Salesman/Property Manager