November 16 – a walk downtown with Dad

karlatwhitakerI’m off with Dad this Saturday morning to run some errands downtown. It’s a nice fall day, and since every store in Reno is within walking distance we drove the Dodge down Ralston hill to the Lincoln Highway, hung a left to Sierra Street, and found a parking place in front of the fish market in the Travelers Hotel building just south of Commercial Row. We got stopped for a couple minutes when a train was heading up the hill to Truckee and its smoke is still swirling around the street when we park. Dad says that the steam locomotives are only going to be around for a couple more years, and we’re already starting to see some of the newfangled “Diesel electric” locomotives on the shorter trains.

It’s easy to park on most of the streets downtown, because they “diagonal park,” SP_locoDad calls it, and just drive right up to the curb. Across Sierra Street the cars are going north toward the tracks, but there’s the same parking deal. The Traveler is one of the six or eight hotels that cater to the Basque sheepherders that moved to Reno before WWII. The hotels let them stay part of the year when they’re not out with the sheep, and take care of their mail and money. A lot of them don’t speak English yet so the hotelkeepers do some business for them. Our next-door neighbor Mr. Sala, the cute little red-head’s dad, is Basque. He works across the street at Brown-Milbery, a company that makes big motors for the mines.

Dad and I walk south on Sierra toward Second Street. He says we’ve got to go into the Pizorno family’s Dainty Cake Shop on the way back to get a cake Mom wants for her “bridge” party. Dad called it a “Hen” party and she got real mad. But I don’t think Dad cared. The Pizorno’s son Larry is my buddy. He lives down on Winter Street by the river and is nuttier than hell. Whoops. I can’t write that word. We stop at the light on Second Street, by J. C. Penney’s. It’s got a neat system for handling money – if somebody buys a pair of shoes or a sport coat, the clerk puts their $20 bill into a little can and drops it into a chute where compressed air takes it to the only cash register in the building. A few minutes later the can pops out of the tube with the change in it. Saves having cash all over the store!

Some of the sidewalks we’re on have a nifty feature: There’s a pattern of little round circles, each about two inches around, that reach in rows for quite a ways, like little round checkerboards. The circles are actually heavy glass, and let light into the basements of the buildings. And we’ve seen a couple sidewalk freight elevators open up – two big plates in the sidewalk that rise to let an elevator come to street level from the basement to load merchandise onto and take back down to the basements. Dad said to take a good look at them, because they wouldn’t be around much longer – the sidewalk lights or the elevators. And Mrs. Conrad, my teacher, would make me rewrite that last sentence: “the sidewalk lights NOR the elevators.” Grownups can be really picky about the way kids talk…

We cross Second Street and look into the windows of Sears Roebuck. Dad doesn’t know I know it, but down in their basement is a toy store that carries Red Ryder BB guns. One of these days I’m going to get one of those. Across the street Is the Emporium of Music, about the only musical instrument store in town. A BB gun from one side of the street, a kid-size banjo on the other – can life get any better? (Unless I can swing a J. C. Higgins bicycle with a speedometer from Monkey Wards, but that’s a reach – they’re almost $25!)

BoolsButlerWe walk past Bools & Butler, where all the real cowboys – “buckaroos” in northern Nevada – buy their tack. Then past the Sierra Bar, where Dad pokes his head in to see if any of his buddies are there. It’s got a real neat big ‘ol shelf behind the bar, with all the bottles in it and mirrors and stuff. I don’t know yet, BelleBackbarit’s only 1948 but I think that “back bar,” Dad called it, would wind up ‘way out on South Virginia Street at a bar called the Liberty Belle, when the State of Nevada turned 100 years old. But I don’t know anything about that now….

Past Montgomery Ward we walk – it’s got a cool sporting goods store in the basement with “J. C. Higgins” bikes and baseball mitts and stuff. And the “Five and dime” – National Dollar Store, a loft in the rear, huge stairwell, and squeaky floors like all good sundry stores should have. Someday it will be filled with western wear by Parker’s, but this is still pre-1950. Then to the corner, and Dad’s friends the Ginsburg family’s Home Furniture.

We’re on the corner now, Sierra and First Street, the Federal Outfitters across First Street on the corner. Dad’s buddy Jim Slingerland is building his insurance office to the west. Neither Dad nor I knew it this fine November Saturday morning in 1948, but nine years later a gas explosion would take out most of what we’re looking at right now, and Mr. Slingerland would be, er, sitting on the commode in that building and be blown clear off of it! Pretty funny, huh?

Actually, that gas explosion would burn every building between us and the Truckee River, and months later it would be determined that the gas came from a joint in Sierra Street when gas was hooked up to be taken south of the Truckee, with that BIAjoint being bum and slowly leaking for almost ten years. Across the intersection kitty-corner is Gray Reid Wright, which Dad calls the best department store in Reno. The Elks Home is next to it to the south to the Truckee; when that building was built it had a half-block courtyard with walkways and shade trees, a little park that went all the way to First Street. The Elks sold that half-block to Gray Reids so they could build a new store and move off the northwest corner of First and Virginia Street. But that was before WWII.

We’re going to cross Sierra Street now. I just read that Sierra Street, beyond the Truckee River Bridge to the south, is called Granite Street, but would soon be changed to South Sierra Street. But still have traffic going in both directions, north and south. And the Riverside Hotel, across the river, was going to tear down a bunch of old crappy buildings along Island Avenue and build a new section with a swimming pool on the Truckee! Prett neat. And I’ll catch hell the dickens for writing “crappy” but can’t think of a better word. We walk past the Sierra Bar, where Dad pokes his head in to see if any of his buddies are there. It’s got a real neat big ‘ol shelf behind the bar, with all the bottles in it and mirrors and stuff. I don’t know yet, it’s only 1948 but I think that “back bar,” Dad called it, would wind up ‘way out on South Virginia Street at a bar called the Liberty Belle, when the State of Nevada turned 100 years old. But I don’t know anything about that now….

Looking up Sierra Street on the east side I can see the Moulin Rouge dinner house, which Mr. Vasserot owned and just joined Mr. Patrucco, who was the bartender in the Riverside Corner Bar, and the two of them bought a restaurant a ways south of town called “Eugene’s.” Gilbert and Joe, their names were. Dad was going to the Riverside quite a bit, and to the Mapes Hotel after it opened a year ago, to start a new club for businessmen in Reno called the “Prospectors” – he took a lot of time on that project.

Y’know what? I’ve spent more time than I thought I would writing all this down, and I don’t even have any pictures back (I dropped the film from my Brownie Hawkeye off at Nevada Photo Service when we got back to the car) so I’m going to leave this project for another day to finish, as Mom’s calling us for dinner and then I want to listen to The Shadow on KOH radio before bed, so please come back in a few days. I’ve still got a lot of notes so we’ll finish our walk on Sierra Street!

photo credit: who knows??

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SOME NIFTY BUILDINGS…

linotype

Thomas Edison called the linotype the “eighth wonder of the world.”

The days grow shorter, the crisp of late autumn hangs over our early mornings; HAN, RTO, Artown and the rodeo are in the past, and the kids are back in school – (do modern schools have the permeating, almost pleasant odor of fresh wax and polish on the hardwood floors we returned to after summer vacations?)  I’ve learned that no one reads this column anyway on Labor Day or the Fourth of July weekends, so right now I’m having a little fun with my solitude, kidding on the keys, just the RG-J’s linotype operator and I. At the left is a linotype, for the younger readers. That’s how we set type and  printed stuff ‘til the 1960s…

            Many notes collected over the summer went into an “unsung treasures” file, most subtitled “bricks and stones” – buildings we’d pay an arm and leg to replicate today for our new office or home.  Reading this column any further creates the implied promise that you’ll go out and visit them on your own.   Study the workmanship on,

            …The Belmont Apartments at California and Arlington (once “Belmont BelmontApartmentsStreet”).  The old industrial buildings and hotels on East Fourth Street.  Incredibly complex masonry on so many homes in the Academy Heights area by the University – hobbit doors, columns, variegated colors of brick – Imperial Way, Codel, The Strand, Citadel, Seminary, College – park on any of those old streets and just take a fall walk.  And if you’re that far north, go a block or two west to “little Italy,” generally Washington, Ralston and Bell Streets north of Whitaker Park and check out the rococo interlocking of multicolored bricks and wood, the arches and fenestration (OK, OK: windows, sills, and lintels.) 

            Downtown now, and remember you made a promise to go: The Triune Building at Pine and Center, named by attorney Clel Georgetta for the Triune Ranch he grew up on in eastern Nevada – great brickwork – across from the Pioneer DimondDodgeTheater (can you implode a round building…?)  Check out the former Skaggs-Safeway market at Fifth and North Virginia, SE corner, and the old National Dollar Store/Parker’s downtown.  Under a half-century of bad paint jobs lies a wonderfully designed classic auto dealership at 500 South Virginia Street (left), reminiscent of many on San Francisco’s Van Ness Avenue auto row.  It was for many years the Dick Dimond Dodge and the Cyrillic or Hebrew letters on some of the blocks continue to elude me, and others I’ve asked.  Were it to be sandblasted back to its postwar red brick it could be one of the prettiest buildings in downtown Reno, and here you never even noticed it.

            In the Saturday morning treasures, rock division, are the old guardrails along the University Terrace curve by the Lambda Chi house, and the big stone mansion at the southwest corner of Keystone Avenue and Kings Row, built a hundred years ago by Chinese laborers – note the vents to free evil spirits on the roof crown – great rockwork, no spirits.  Right house, wrong lot: The Steinheimer, Hill, later Redfield house on Mt. Rose Street.  Picture that baby removed to the long-vacant bluff in the 800 block of Marsh Avenue overlooking Reno High and the Village Center, with extensive landscaping and a big matching rock-and-wrought iron fence along the Stremmel Homestreet.  [2017: it didn’t happen – a spaceship landed there…] Now that would be a showplace.  But – the granddaddy of rock, the sovereign of stone, is on Hillcrest, a block south of West Plumb Lane and a half-block west of South Virginia.  A drum roll please: the Alamo Lodge.  And remember, you’re on your honor to go there, and tell me if you’ve ever seen finer stone masonry in the world, including the lighthouse with its stained-glass lens and the little wishing well in the front yard.  And it’s unbelievable how few residents ever see it, and, sadly, that it can’t be relocated.  In the same architectural vein, check out the El Borracho lounge a few blocks to the north on South Virginia Street.  [And since much of that block has been cleaned up, one can actually see the Alamo looking past the Mark Twain Motel from South Virginia Street]

            While they’re not ornate masonry, we must be happy as connoisseurs of old structures that the ornate original entrances of sprawling Washoe Med and ditto St. Mary’s hospitals have both been mercifully preserved in spite of a dozen expansions of each facility.  Well done, trustees.  And we just have to include the former Mary Ann Nichols School on Pyramid Way’s 400-block, and the Robert Mitchell School on Prater, for their cool brickwork.

            Now – while you’re committed to a mandatory, self-guided tour of neat stuff to see, we’ll depart brick and stone for Lincoln logs – piles of them, we call it the Silver State Motel on West Fourth Street, built when the Lincoln Highway (40) ran in front of it [2017 – new gonzo].  Fifty years from now some drive-by-columnist will play the game I played five [17!] years ago with the El Reno Apartments (left) – how many were there? – When were they built? – Where are they now?  So, my counsel to some seven-year old who likes to write would be, go out and count them so you’ll be prepared when I retire [past perfect tense. At least for now..].  Soon they’ll likely be dismantled and rebuilt, maybe all over town like the El Reno apartments have been.  There was lots of history in that little “auto court,” as it was called.  And I can’t omit that my classmate, Pat Reynolds Ferraro Klos, the grand diva of the Historical Reno Preservation Association, grew up with her family in the Silver State Motel; her late parents, Rod and Peg owned them for many years.  [Sorry, young writers – they were demolished – no salvage – in 2004]

            A few more treasures, seldom visited: Oxbow Park and the Dickerson mansion, on Dickerson Road, where else; another is the University Farm, one of the last places around to take the little ones to see herds of sheep and cattle.  They’ve a great butcher shop there, known only to a few, and your child could take a little lamb to school (between two slices of bread)  [Several readers complained about “herds” of sheep. When writing a column, one economizes on words.  How ‘bout a “flock”, or a “band”?  Better?]

            Final unsung treasure for the weekend: train whistles (never horns.)  In a LawtonsToweryear or two we’ll miss them.  Does anyone else wish that they’d just left Lawton’s Resort alone?  A great swimmin’ hole, far better than what’s there west of town on the river now.  And while speaking of the river, one squawk: Kayakers must have better lobbyists that the Virginia Lake joggers and walkers – the Truckee is being turned to a rehearsal stage for World War III to accommodate kayaks, yet we can’t get more than one working drinking fountain at Virginia Lake

Go forth in safety and good cheer for the next three days; watch out for self-expressionists rejoining society from Burning Man, have your hat blocked at Peerless Cleaners, sign up for the Historic Preservation fall tours, floss, know where your children are, buy a home through a Realtor, and God bless America!

text © RGJ Labor Day, 2002

photo credit Dick Dimond Dodge, Jerry Fenwick; linotype machine, web; Lawton’s diving tower UNR Special Collections, others by author

 

 

You’re doing WHAT to the Liberty Belle?

Liberty BelleI’ve a fond recollection of a ’52 Chevy full of Reno High hotshots returning from an afternoon of skiing at Sky Tavern.  Far south of where U.S. 395 became South Virginia Street on the east side of the two-lane road was, well, a little red barn.  We needed nourishment…

            “Let’s stop here,” said one.  “Wasn’t this the Li’l Red Barn?” another asked.  “Yup,” said yet another.  (That watering hole had become the “Liberty Belle” a month or so earlier, on Nov. 20, 1958.)  We entered, ordered, and met Frank and Marshall Fey, whose grandfather had invented the Liberty Bell slot machine, that Bell with no “e”, and they had just moved from San Mateo, Cal. to open their new saloon.  We formed a friendship that has lasted for 48 years [2017 note: Let’s make that 59 years; sadly, Frank passed away a couple years ago].

BelleBackbar            I scribe this on a Tuesday [2006]for you to read on a Saturday, not knowing for sure whether or when we will satiate ourselves at the Belle again.  I do know that there will follow scores of other patrons’ pleasant recollections and a ton of ink about it in the next few months, and thus I’m moved to offer a few thoughts to the assembled Gazoo readers.

            By some measure I write of many old Reno establishments that have all converged over time under one roof – that roof itself supporting some of the eight horse-drawn wagons that the Feys acquired from Roy Stagg’s Roaring Camp, a downtown 1940s tourist draw in the now-vacant triangle bounded by Lake, East First and Second Streets.  Two heavy ore wagons near the building later arrived, one from Death Valley and the other from Mina.

          One hundred years minus 30 days ago, the city of San Francisco was ravaged by an earthquake and fire – from that maelstrom to Reno came the heavy bronze doors from Market Street’s Palace Hotel.  Marshall once quipped that it cost them $250 for the doors and two grand to adapt the Belle’s front entrance to utilize them.  We’ve all opened them a few times.  Underfoot, wooden planks form the decking of the entrance, not just any planks but wood taken from the entrance to the Federated Church on Virginia Street at Fifth when the church was razed to make room for parking at the new Sewell’s market in 1948.

            Inside the Belle and over the bar hang two chandeliers and three round glassSMFey globes – those hung for 80 years downtown at the Wine House until that venerable saloon was razed to make room for Harolds Club’s addition in 1960.  Dust them carefully; they’re pushing 125 years old.  From the Golden Hotel, following the 1962 fire came the life-size cocktail waitress-slot machines in the south dining room. 

            The back bar’s been around for a while also.  The rosewood and birch classic started life in the Owl Club downtown at the turn of the last century – some speculate that it came ‘round the horn from Europe but I can’t prove that – and following the repeal of prohibition was relocated to the Pastime Club on Sierra Street at Douglas Alley.  The Feys got it in 1964 and my recollection is that it was unveiled during Nevada’s Centennial celebration, after the ceiling was raised two feet to accommodate it.  Somewhat noteworthy was Walt Tripp’s early frustration in locating a letter font in mirror image to make engraved signs with, enabling a patron at the bar to read in the mirror “Winchester Model 94” or whatever above the rifles displayed over the bar.  Walt’s son Warren, now the honcho of Tripp Plastics, reports that the Liberty Belle’s signs were the only use that mirror image font ever saw.

            The list goes on – ephemera from Becker’s Bar on North Virginia, later the site of Southworth’s Cigar Store, antique street lamps from downtown Reno in the parking lot, and a gas lamp brought down from Virginia City.  Here’s a note to fit somewhere in this yarn: Behind the original bar in the years before that back bar was installed, were hooks to hang beer mugs from.  Frequent customers had their own time card on a rack by the front door, and after they “clocked in” on an antique time clock 16 times they were accorded their own personalized steins to display behind the bar.

            In 1967 the south dining room of the building was added and served for a couple of years – at least during the summers – as the Bella Union Theater.  Some of my own greatest memories of Liberty Belle visits were to the Bella Union.  There was little in Reno in the late 1960s to compare with a warm summer night at that theater – a production of “The Drunkard” with local talent, using that term judiciously.  “He tied her to the railroad tracks” the narrator would announce as the villain twirled his moustache, the audience gasped and Barney Barnard of Hatton’s Mens Wear rumbled an ominous chord on the piano (Hal Goodwin of Kentile Floors played the banjo).  The show ended in an “olio” – a grainy black and white movie with song lyrics, follow the bouncing ball as Barney and Hal played and all sang.  Two nights a week at the Liberty Belle, repeated on another two later in the week at the Bucket of Blood in Virginia City, all summer long, and life was good.

            I’ve got more notes but no space, so I’m probably not done as yet.  I thank Geno Oliver, who spent three decades behind the Liberty Belle’s plank, for passing on this morning’s column hed which was uttered by an anonymous customer last week. [And made its way onto the covers of thousands of my books!]

 

 

            We’ll end this visit to the Belle as we always do, with a chocolate sundae in aAlice shiny bowl served up by a pretty lady named Alice in a black skirt, a crisp black blouse and a perpetual smile [and in 2017, we still see Alice at Simon’s on Lakeside Drive! She’s pictured to the right…>>>>]  Thanks Marshall, Frank and Jeff Fey, Jeff Courson, Alice, Geno and all hands for what seems like a lifetime of pleasant memories, ale and prime rib – collectively you’re still a municipal treasure.

            Have a good week, and God bless America.

Text © RGJ March 2006

[Note: The Belle closed forever the Friday before this column ran, on St. Patrick’s Day, 2006. We were there for lunch…]

Liberty Belle artwork by Roy Powers, used here courtesy of Jackie Powers – Ad featuring Fey brothers ©  from Sierra Magazine          1961- photo of Alice, from KB file

 

 

November 5 – Selling houses after WWII

KitCarsonHotelWell, we got through Nevada Day and Hallowe’en so I’ll write a little more. I should mention here that some grownups got on my case because they couldn’t find some of the stuff I’ve written in the past, so I’ll make it easy. Below these writings on the last sheet of paper I print ‘a writer’s vignette’ and if you ‘click’ on that, whatever that means in 1947, all my older stuff will come up together and you can just scroll around, find something you want to read if there’s anything like that here, and enjoy. There’s also a ‘search box’ on the bottom of my binder paper and if you write something you want to read about in the search box and ‘click’ on it, all the similar stuff may open in the binder.

Grownups have asked me why last Super Bowl Sunday when I started writing, or for that matter a decade ago when I ‘posted’ all these stories, why I didn’t do a better job of cataloguing and indexing my ramblings. The simple answer is that I’m only six years old and didn’t know any better, plus I didn’t expect it to last very long anyway. If you’re looking for something I’ve written about in the Gazoo or here or any other site email me and I’ll see if I can find anything to help you. Email, whatever that is, is kfbreckenridge@live.com  .

Anyhow, this morning I’m writing about the job that Dad got when he got back to Reno after WWII, working for Charles Skipper as a real estate man. (He worked in a shipyard in Richmond, where I spent the first five years of my life.) Now I’m six, going to Mary S. Doten School and live on Ralston Street across from Whitaker Park.

Dad takes me on Saturday mornings to what his friends call the ‘multiple listing QneQservice.’ They meet at a little diner on South Virginia and Stewart Street, and trade descriptions of the new houses that they’ve ‘listed’ this past week. The number of bedrooms, whether it has a sewer or a septic tank, two bathrooms on some of the bigger ones but not too many houses in Reno or Sparks have more than one bathroom . They put whether the houses have coal or oil heat, and a few of the newer ones in Sparks with gas heat from the gas retort at East Sixth and Alameda Street (in a few years they’d change that to ‘North Wells Avenue.’) The men told each other how to show the house, where the key was hidden, and what furniture or automobiles went with the home. A lot of houses were sold ‘furnished’ and cars frequently were part of the sale. They’d write down what ‘escrow company’ the owners wanted to use. And who owned the house – in 1946 most homes were owned by ‘John Doe et ux’, for the wives’ names were seldom on the homes’ titles (nor the loans!)

PolaroidDad bought a brand-new camera for his real estate work, called a ‘Polaroid’ that would make a picture of a house for his friends. One of their problem was making enough copies of the information, because there were probably 25 real estate men in town and a good typewriter would only make about six or seven carbon copies, so they had to type these ‘listings’ two or three times. Dad’s new Polaroid camera was stolen in 1948, but the guy who stole it wasn’t too smart and hocked it in San Francisco. His problem was that there were so few Polaroid cameras in existence this one stood out to the cops in San Francisco so they caught the thief and Dad got his camera back.

I made a lot of friends at these ‘multiple listing’ meetings, the children of the real estate men – John and Jimmy Gibbons’ mom was a real estate lady, one of the few inJimGibbons Reno or Sparks, and had to change her name from Matilda to Mat Gibbons so people wouldn’t know that they were calling a woman broker. I got Jimmy’s picture in here somewhere.  In the same token Marilyn Harvout, who drove here big sedan by Braille, used ‘Merlyn’ on her signs. My dad’s number was 9195. In NewUnderwoodabout 60 more years I’d give that old phone to my friend Emerson Marcus. Emerson sent me a picture of that phone taken in 2017 with an old typewriter I got in a hock shop in Oakland. (Emerson, of course, wouldn’t even be born for about 50 more years!)

Another little friend was Dee Garrett, whose dad Bill Garrett was a real estate man. \And one of Dad’s best buddies Gene LaTourette had a son John. We all used to play together while our fathers met at the Q-ne-Q, on the front lawn of the Kit Carson Hotel across Virginia Street, which I understand later became the parking lot for a hotel called the Ponderosa, and even later a strip shopping center. (The Kit Carson Hotel is pictured above)

This might be more than anyone wants to read about the real estate business, but unless somebody objects too much I’ll write on another day about all the lady real estate agents in Reno and Sparks getting together in the ‘Trocadero Room’ of a new hotel downtown called the El Cortez, the tallest hotel in Nevada right now. They ElCortezgathered to learn how to survive in the real estate business and get along with men like George Probasco, Wes Weichman, the Novelly brothers and the Ramsay brothers who were building the new houses, and the banks and savings and loans where people got their money to buy the houses. Right now it’s hard for a woman to stay in the real estate business so a trainload of ladies came up to Reno to meet and show them how to get along. I’ll ignore what Dad said about that, or what Mom said about Dad. In a few years they’d name their group the ‘Womens Coucil of Realtors.’ But not now yet.

Speaking of Dad, he says I’m going to get my tiny ass in a sling, whatever that means, for not telling people where I’m stealing these pictures for this journal. Most of the photos you see are from the Nevada Historical Society, the one of the Kit Carson Hotel is supposedly from the University of Nevada Special Collections, although it’s been on calendars and documents for many  years. The painting of the Q-ne-Q is by Hilda (Hildegard) Herz, of the Herz Jewelers family, who was quite an accomplished artist in her day. I’ve written about her before, and am proud to include her art in this column.

And that pretty much wears me out for now. Soon I’ll write of the ladies with the furSuffragettes coats, feather boas and hatchets gathering at the Troc to show the men who’s boss! Come back and read that, or whatever comes to my mind next….

 

 

Of Hobos, Tigers and Leprechauns

leprachaunladyThe local gentry were all atwitter when, on the southwest corner of South Virginia and Gentry Way arose a rough-hewn timber building with a rusty corrugated iron penstock ten feet in diameter beneath a wooden water tower, framing the entrance to a building that appeared to be a hundred years old and belonging better in Norden on Donner Summit or along the Carson & Colorado line below Mt. Whitney. Entering through that giant iron duct was a dining room, and another and another – timber walls and ceiling, industrial lanterns over the tables, strap iron hinges, brake levers, glowing red and green switch lights and brass-faced gauges. Servers in what approximated railroad garb, engineers’ hats and men in conductor livery. Sort of dark, a neat place for a burger and beer.

            “What the heck are they building?” asked the townsfolk. “It looks like a crash pad for hobos. Like a Hobo Junction!” And that’s exactly what it was – Hobo Junction – a new watering hole on South Virginia, joining Marie Callender’s a block to the south and Posey Butterfield’s – to later become the Rapscallion in 1977  – on Wells Avenue. On September 8th of 1974 the Junction’s doors were opened and it immediately joined the ranks of places to dine or hang out after work. A nice meeting room to the north received a lot of use from many groups seeking a new place with some personality, and the Hobo had it. (The sobriquet “hobo,” by the way, might be derived from Hoboken, New Jersey, said by some to be traditional home for these gentlemen of the ribbons of steel.)

            But one night the train departed Virginia and  Gentry and went chugging off into the night, a six-wheel driver pulling a hundred coaches from end to end, and the Hobo’s heavy timber door was padlocked. My recollection is that it was sort of abrupt and a few Toastmasters’ and Rotary Clubs were left scrambling for a place to meet. But fear not, for more men descended on the Hobo’s shell, stripped the water tank, yanked off the pipe that framed the doorway and generally took the rugged building into the 20th Century. Repainted, re-signed and looking pretty good.

            Some newer doors swung open in 1979, and we congregated in a brighter main room, with the trappings of early railroading gonzo and replaced by what one might find in a post-war aircraft hangar – old wooden propellers on the walls, maps, runway beacons, oil cans with products plainly for aircraft engines, ashtrays (remember them?) crafted from aircraft engine pistons, and pictures, pictures, pictures – of cool old airplanes.

            We went from a train station to a hangar. And why a hangar, you ask? Well, it’s really simple – a bunch of retired Flying Tiger pilots – the combat pilots, not the cargo guys that came later – were sitting around LAX as the story goes and said, “Why, shucks, we could open a restaurant, how tough could that be?” And they did open, starting in about 1962, a number of joints that grew to 40 in their heyday, serving seafood as their specialty. What did these retired Tiger pilots name them? Well, “Hungry Tiger,” of course. And I’m not sure that they said “shucks” but this is a family column.

            And the fine diners of Reno welcomed the Hungry Tiger, as they did the Hobo Junction. The place thrived, as I recall more for lunch and dinner than breakfast. But it was a good restaurant, flying high on our list.

            But – as so many restaurants and airmen do, the men of the Flying Tigers came in high, hot, and overshot. The chain started running rough and they feathered a few non-producing engines, Reno’s being one of them, and in 1985 declared a MayDay = Emergency in Progress! – and the Hungry Tiger on South Virginia was parked, chocked and dark. Too bad; like so many others – Houlihan’s and Victoria Station come to mind, great food but doomed to my Faded Menus list by bum management.

            So – the Hobo and the Tiger sat wanting a new operation, and in what I think was 1986 – accounts vary – Tim, Mike and Shaun Wiltshire sprinkled stardust from the Emerald Isle onto the darkened building, and through magic a leprechaun in a green suit appeared in the entry lobby playing the Old Songs on a grand piano, and Famous Murphy’s Oyster Bar & Grill was born. I can’t say enough good about the Murph – great food and salad bar, nice people helping us out, and a downstairs lounge that raised the bar on happy hours in this burg as no other public house has ever done. And it thrived for 20 years, coming as close as any restaurant has ever come in our town to a singular local favorite.

            But as all Irish songs must, it ended on a low key. I don’t know what happened – and wouldn’t ask Mike if I saw him – but the leprechaun at the baby grand joined the loco engineer in the Hobo and the hot stick in the Tiger, and all disappeared down Virginia Street. That great old building with so many memories for all of us, was again dark. Were I a betting man and permitted to scribe an opinion on these pages, I’d say that it was partially doomed by an architectural element that the Wiltshires inherited and had to make the best of – it suffered from an entry door at the top of a long uphill ramp, far removed from the parking lot, and a reception lobby with a half-flight of stairs down to the main dining room to the north or the classy lounge to the south. (It also had an entry, a half-flight up to the parking area.) That arrangement puzzled me from the day the Hobo opened.

            But all that speculation now written, the best I can say, and I think the Gazoo readers join me, is, thanks to the Wiltshires for a score of years of good food, spirits and friendship. And the column now ends with these simple words: Thanks for reading!

Text © RGJ April 2015

Two msgs arrived shortly after this was posted:

From Phyllis Wetsel:   “This was fun to read (again) because there has never been anything (in Reno) to replace what it was like to go there, especially the lounge downstairs.” Thanks, Phyllis!
From another reader:    “Where’s the ‘God bless America’?”  The RGJ was on a rampage when this was published, and didn’t want God, Christmas nor Easter to sully their pages. Ergo, no “God bless America” ’til editor Brett McGinness fixed them.

 

 

 

 

October 15 – our trip to Napa in 1949

Napa

How all this began….

Well, I haven’t written for a while, been pretty busy at Mary S. Doten School, but we have a weekend free so we’re hopping in the car to go see Grandma in Petaluma. Petaluma’s a little farm town right next to Napa and we’ll go through Napa to get there. Mom was born in Petaluma; her mother – my Grandma – came with a whole bunch of sisters and brothers from Ireland to be school teachers in the Valley of the Moon, but a few moved from Asti to Petaluma and Napa so I have relatives all over Sonoma County!

I should tell you that Dad just came home with a new car, a 1948 Dodge sedan, gray. He keeps leaving the back-up light turned on and killed the battery a couple times. Our neighbor John Sala gave it a “jump.” We’re loading up the new Dodge to go to DodgeGrandma’s in Petaluma. My little sister Marilynn is old enough now to ride in a car seat hung over the front seat of the car. It will take about seven or eight hours to get to Petaluma; one of these mornings I’ll write about the Giant Orange and the stuff along Highway 40.

We’re off now – and I’ll fast forward the trip, took over seven hours this time, we stopped along the way a couple of times. When we StornettasDairygot to Stornetta’s Dairy on the Napa Highway we knew we were close! (I heard that the dairy would be lost to a fire [pictured left] many years later, and it was as popular with the residents as were the California Missions and the wineries…) I wish I could write you more about that big fire, but this is 1949 and it wouldn’t happen for many more years so I don’t know anything about it.

We pass through Napa after turning off the old picturesque Highway 12. Napa is a tiny little town, like so many along our way. It’s got one main street and everything on the street caters to agricultural stuff – a John Deere dealer with big green and yellow tractors sitting outside. Boot and clothing stores, hand tools. Many signs are in another language, Dad says Spanish but Mom, who grew up 12 miles away, said they leaned toward the Portuguese language, as the town of Napa was heavily-Portuguese occupied. She said her hometown, Petaluma, was mostly Italian and Irish. There were many other little towns along the way between a place on the main highway called the Nut Tree that opened in 1920, and Petaluma to the north toward the Redwood Highway – Highway 101.

JohnDeereWe got through Napa and saw many grapevines along the way – acres of wooden frames with the vines hanging from them. There were big propellers every once in a while, and a lot of little pots. Dad says the pots burned kerosene and the big fans blew the heat over the vines to keep them from freezing. We went into Petaluma by a beautiful old brick building that looked like the Southern Pacific engine house in Sparks next to the roundhouse that was being torn down. The big building was the bag mill, where the bags for the crops and grain that supported all these little towns, were woven. The building was a real beauty.

Petaluma is a nice little town, much like Napa, with almost no one except for the full-time residents living there. Petalumans raised chickens and was known as the egg-capital of the west coast. McNear’s Mill processed the grain from all over the valley, and shipped it every morning aboard the Steamer Gold, from the end of the Petaluma River. Napans raised grapes, mostly for dining but also finding their way into the wine industry. People had been drinking wine for years but I guess never put much interest into grapes and wine – wine was red, and blush. A smattering (like that word? I’m not supposed to use it according to my teachers…) of men from San Francisco and Europe were starting to take more interest in grapes and wine, and were slowly moving to Napa. There were already some beautiful old buildings there operated by the few “vintners,” a hoity-toity word for grape growers. But I don’t recall wine as being that big a deal. But they sure had some pretty buildings and ranches – it would be a shame if a fire ever came along and burned them – they’ve been there since before WWI, some of them.

And I should write you that one of the big industries was making kegs – wooden barrels – out of oak wood for the wine to age in. This industry was really taking off! One guy even had an orchard for cork trees, because corks were necessary for bottling wine and most of them in 1949 came from Portugal. Hence, the Portuguese influence in Napa.

And speaking of wine, when we arrived in Petaluma, Dad sat on the front porch of Grandma’s house on Harris Street, which was an old railroad house that was moved across town and my mother came home from the hospital to it in 1916. Grandma joined Dad on the porch with a bottle of red wine that Dad picked up down Western Street at Volpi’s, and they laughed and giggled as usual while Mom freshened up.

Later that night, we loaded up in the Dodge, and with my great-aunts Isabel and Marge and Iola and uncle Vic and Earl and a few other relatives, in a couple other cars, and we all took off for dinner at the Green Mill Inn, which was a pretty popular roadhouse in Cotati. We went through Sebastopol, Calistoga and a few other old towns, all with some beautiful homes and businesses dating back to the turn of the century, and even to California’s statehood. Sonoma, for sure; Rutherford – we passed through them all.

And we’d do it many times again in the years to follow – Dad and Grandma on themost happy fella porch with a jug of red, Mom freshening up, all the old ladies sitting around Aunt Kate’s Bosendorfer upright piano that had come ‘Round the Horn from Galway, all singing the old songs they’d learned as children. Or, they’d have more red, all together, and commandeer the Green Mill Inn’s piano and sing of the Emerald Isle. Good times, in the Sonoma Valley. Possibly the prettiest part of California, I’d probably get an argument to that from Santa Barbarans, where I was born ten years before. In 1955 Frank Loesser would even write a Broadway musical about it, “The Most Happy Fella” (in the whole Napa Valley..)!

fireNapaBut beautiful country, old buildings, tree-canopied streets, some picturesque old rock wineries and quaint downtowns – Napa, Sonoma, Petaluma, Calistoga, Sebastopol, Stornetta’s Dairy, the bag mill, McNear’s grain elevator – I hoped that nothing would ever come along to alter it…..

C’mon back in a while, we’ll ride Highway 40 or walk the Truckee’s banks – I never know ‘til I start writing

POSTSCRIPT: I WAS REMINDED THAT MY “LITTLE SISTER MARILYNN” REFERRED TO AS “NOW OLD ENOUGH TO RIDE IN THE CAR SEAT,” RETURNED TO NAPA AFTER COLLEGE AND, WITH HUSBAND ERIC, TAUGHT IN THE NAPA COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT FOR OVER 30 YEARS!

Napa schoolhouse photo credit AP

Photo Stornetta’s Dairy courtesy Joe Fazio

A Grand day at Ralston Foods

Pilots enroute to Reno’s airport used to call tower, “Piper XXX abeam the checkerboard for landing.” And the tower knew exactly where to find Piper X-ray. This was written when the Ralston checkerboard still adorned the building’s silo on East Greg Street. Its name is different, the checkerboard’s gone, and George Smith, the Guru of Grain is nearing retirement. Here’s the story of that building and its function:

Inside what might be the only building in town where an employee could drown in a 200-gallon drum of clover honey, 150 souls have worked together for 1,000 straight days as of last Wednesday, often 24 hours each day, without incurring an injury grievous enough to necessitate any lost time, let alone killing one another.

            About 1,030 days ago [this is from a 2004 column copyrighted by the RGJ] I started watching the “Accident-Free Day” readerboard on Ralston Foods on East Greg Street grow, day-by-day, to about 270 days.  Then one January morn early in 2001 it fell to “001”.  Rats – someone got hurt and the tally had started over.  That September I called attention to their 260-plus days of safety in this column, fearful that it might carry the “Cover-of-Sports Illustrated” syndrome and trigger an accident.  Since then I’ve frequently noted their progress at the close of the column, often getting an occasional reader call checking on them when I went too long between updates.  Somewhere on a computer disc is the text from a column I can’t find, wherein I speculated that to keep the “Accident-free” count climbing, an employee’s carcass was converted into bran flakes and the evidence resides in 37 supermarkets all over the nation.  “Not so,” responded George Smith, Ralston’s Guru-of-Grain.  “That person was from the HR department, and was loaded on Dave Stix’ trailer, spread out in the pig pen at the Damonte ranch, but the pigs caught on and grazed all the way around him.”  Dave Stix is the south Reno rancher who buys unusable or spilled cereal for his feed lot.  And this tale, is obviously false.  I hope.

            How 150 people could escape injury in any facility, let alone in Ralston Foods for 1,000 days boggles the mind – I know of a 30-person office where the acrylic lens of a light fixture fell and put an employee into the hospital overnight.  When you visit the plant and watch a railcar load of oats get converted into stacked boxes of little doughnuts that look a lot like cheerios, the 1,000 days of safety take on real significance.  Note that I use no capitalized brand names in this column, as Ralston makes cereal for all the grocers, the mighty and small alike.

            A bulk-commodity railcar is rolled into the building – railcars roll silently and your visit could terminate right there as it goes over the top of you.  A stainless steel, food-grade hopper is slid under the car’s outlets – the product is in a sterilized environment from the time it leaves the railcar (and presumably when it was loaded into it.)  The car’s chutes open and compressed air takes it from the hopper to one of the score of silos in the tower on the east end of the building (the tower with the checkerboard until Ralston Purina – pet food – was sold to Ralston Foods in April of 1994 and the building completely revamped in a mega-million overhaul..)   Since the plant’s set up right now for a run of rice crispies or corn pops that might take several days, the oats will remain in the silo, then for a day longer while the plant is cleaned and reset to make cheerio-like cereal.  An independent nationwide inspection contractor familiar with industrial food plants regularly monitors sanitation.  I still have the bump-cap, safety glasses, elastic booties, hair net and earplugs that I wore during my visit, both for my own protection and the preservation of plant cleanliness Struck quite a figure in my booties and hairnet, if I do say so myself.  Wish now that I’d remembered to take the hairnet off before I went into Tom Young’s Great Basin Brewery after the tour – I the only man there with a hairnet.)

            The oat run may start at noon or some wee hour of the morning.  The production line, spread over an acre and several levels of the plant, takes life as the silo is vibrated to start the oats flowing onto a belt.  Computers guide the conveyor belts’ speed, the steam heating the huge cooking vats’ temperatures, and the little jets that extrude cooked oats in circles the size of cheerios onto a baking surface where they cook and harden and are then vibrated off into a conveyor – picture an endless stream of cheerios pouring onto the luggage carousel at the airport.  That much cereal.  If it’s nut-‘n-honey, lower-case, the computer may have released honey from one side and nuts from the other while a mechanical arm stirred it.  There’s been very little human intervention, save for keeping an eye on the many computer stations along the route.  But those humans have been constantly exposed to steam, scalding hot water, huge stainless kettles far beyond red-hot to the touch, conveyor belts grabbing at loose clothing, compressed air escaping, and an occasionally serious racket at some stops along the oats’ journey.

            The sea of cheerios moves above us, now being separated into chutes of ever-decreasing size until their opening matches the size of a cereal box.  Cardboard flats – supplied by the end-user grocers and preprinted somewhere beside this Sparks plant – are machine-folded into boxes.  Rolled waxed paper is mechanically sized, folded and glued into a sack as the cheerios pour into it, and the whole thing falls into the box which is then glued shut.  And this doesn’t take forever – the boxes fairly fly off the line and are mechanically stacked on pallets, then taken to the west end of the building for shipping.  A dry-bulk railcar of grain has been converted to a boxcar of cheerios, and the plant will retool for corn flakes.  If you’ve escaped the rolling railcar, the mile of conveyor system, the steam kettles, the compressed air transfer system, remember a forklift still might get you right here so don’t drop your guard quite yet.

            Ralston Foods and its predecessor have been outstanding community neighbors and employers in our valley, and in the brevity of this column it’s hard to overstate their diligence and commitment to industrial safety – or maybe writing that 1,000 safe days in a plant as complex and fraught with peril as any on the West Coast, says it all.  I thank Dan Kibbe, the facility’s manager, Steve Smith from Human Resources and the aforementioned George Smith, no relation, for their input and hospitality.  They’re shooting for two grand on the readerboard above the guard shack on East Greg Street, and we wish all 150 employees good luck.

            Now – go eat your morning bowl of cheerios, lower case, with an expanded appreciation of the veritable art forms floating before you.

  • • •

[It was the George, the guru-of-grain, who told me that the chicken crossed the road to see his brother Gregory peck.]

 

September 24 • Vine Street

karlatwhitaker…how this yarn began

Well, we went to the football game yesterday at the University of Nevada, and Nevada won the game, playing a team from the Chico State University. We’ve walked from our house on Ralston by Whitaker Park a couple times now – Nevada has won a couple of home games already this year. Dad says it’s because they’re in a good conference where all the teams are about even.

Today is Sunday and I’ve talked Mom out of going to church down where Ralston Street dead-ends into the Truckee River. Dad’s childhood buddy Bud Loomis’ mother was pretty much the founder of that church, and her family owned the land that it sits on. I’m getting on my new bike and riding down Vine Street because Grandma Gladys gave me a silver dollar. I’m going to get an ice cream cone at the Hale’s Drug store down on the Lincoln Highway.

Vine Street is about the last street west in Reno, with just a bunch of fields on the other side. Mr. Weichman and Mr. Probasco are starting to build some homes along Eighth Street, which most people now call University Terrace. And Mr. Novelly is also building on some new streets that he named after himself, Novelly Street and Raymond Drive. So I ride west along Whitaker Park and down the steep hill west of Washington Street. At the bottom of the hill is Vine Street, which goes south to the Truckee and north to a big ranch owned by Dr. Raphael Herman. He came up from Los Angeles and named Rafael it for himself.

I ride toward the Truckee River, where there are mostly just houses where some of my friends live like Bob Broili and the Burr kids and Dr. Reno’s kids. He’s not from here but came here after he graduated from the doctor school. His wife’s name was Rhoda – she was a good friend of my mom’s and was really mad at me when I said that her last name was Hogg before she married Dr. Reno. I paid for that until mom died in 2004. But it was worth it.

I should have mentioned that at the bottom of the Washington Street hill there wasglobe_gas_pump a service station and a little market called the Quality Market, but everybody called it “Quilici’s.” It had a gas pump outside that the men pumped by hand until they could see the level of gas on a big round glass dome. When they got it up to the number of gallons they wanted to buy, they would call Mr. Quilici and he’d come out and see for himself how much gas was in the dome, and they’d pay him. Then the men would put the hose into their cars, open the valve and let the gasoline drain into the cars. It was fun to watch. My mom didn’t shop there because she didn’t speak much Italian and that’s about all anybody spoke in that store (most of the patrons came down the hill from Little Italy).

The other market that I rode past on Vine Street was at the corner of Sixth Street. It was a hot little after-school place for the kids who went to Mary S. Doten elementary school like me or the older kids who went to Reno High a little further east on Fifth Street. It was called the Santa Claus Market because it was the only market that stayed open on Christmas Day! It was made of river rock and painted silver. I wish Dad or somebody had taken a picture of it but I never found one.

Pedaling now further south on Vine Street, I get to Hale’s Drug Store in a brick building on the northwest corner of West Fourth – the Lincoln Highway. Dad’s friend Mr. Locke opened that Hale’s Drug in a little two-story building that was owned by Chester and Lincoln Piazzo who had a sporting goods store downtown where they charged all the kids about double what Mr. York and Mr. Burke charged for a jock strap at Mt. Rose Sporting goods or Reno Sporting Goods on Plaza and Virginia, but that’s where the schools made us buy our stuff.

Hale’s had one of the most popular lunch counters in Reno. In a couple years Dad’s friend Mr. Ramos would move his drug store from downtown across from Dad’s office on California Avenue, but right now this was THE place to go. I ordered my ice-cream cone. And got a lot of change back for the silver dollar (Dad calls them “Cartwheels”) that Grandma Gladys gave me.

SP_locoI walked down the short block to the train tracks, and sat on the curb. Sure enough, an SP train came in with one of those new-fangled “diesel-electric” locomotives pulling it.  I read later in a guy’s weekly newspaper column that the last steam engine in scheduled service went through Reno in October of 1949, so I was lucky to remember seeing (and hearing!) them.

There’s one more street beyond Vine to the west, called Keystone, but it’s a short little street that only goes from the south side of the SP tracks down to the Truckee River, where it dead-ends into Riverside Drive by McKinley Park School. There’s been talk of extending it north of the tracks to connect with Peavine Row, but Dad says that’s about ten years away. Right now the only businesses west of Vine are Mr. Caton’s Reno Press Brick factory and Keystone Fuel, and the Union Ice plant. Bob & Ray’s Chevron station is across from Hale’s Drug. In a few years the Piazzo brothers will build Plaza Shopping Center on the northeast corner of Fourth Street and Vine, and Mr. Parker will build the Gold ‘n Silver restaurant on the southeast corner. To the east and west of Vine Street are mostly auto courts, which they’re starting to call “motels,” and some of the nicest apartment houses in Reno.

So, it’s a happenin’ little corner. But I’d better walk back to Hale’s Drug Store and start the ride up the hill to home – it’s Sunday, so we’re going to the Toscano Hotel downtown on Lake Street with the next-door-neighbors, the Salas! Their little red-haired daughter Michelle is a hot little number. They just had a newborn son, named him “Mike.”

C’mon back in a week or two and well ride from 740 Ralston to somewhere else!!!

 

A new hat for the Ol’ Reno Guy…

birdcage traffic signalEffective on the first, which is to say the first chance I get, I am going to start a new venture. I have been invited by a San Francisco friend to submit somewhat regular posts to a Facebook website of and by San Franciscans – about, San Francisco, and my memories and experiences in that enchanted city. He/they want a Herb Caen-type, three-dot column; I reminded him that I don’t live in the City, nor did I grow up there, nor do I have a great number of resources to rely upon as I do for Reno and Sparks. He said do it anyway.

And so I will. I have no idea where it will land, but I have a wealth of San Francisco stuff in my noggin, and a lot of photographs, and two sons and their families who live there, and friends I can call if I get stuck. And I will.

But, in the near term, such a column will evolve, and I’m going to put it onto this website. Unless I can figure out how to make a companion website through WordPress. But, as a forewarning, that’s where we’re going. I’ll still post the meanderings of the little six-year-old kid remembering Reno from his Ralston Avenue home. And I’ll post old websites, taken mostly from old newspaper columns – after 29 years in that paper which name escapes me, I’ve a trove of stuff and stories yet to be told.

I’m not quite there yet, so I won’t trouble y’all with that web page’s name, but as the site matures, I’ll clue readers in – if you’re in Facebook you may request membership in the group, which is not a difficult thing to accomplish. If you’re not on  Facebook, it’ll be posted here way you may read it

Bernstein'sGrotto

And that’s the way it is, September 18, 2017. Come back once in a while. God only knows what will appear on this site…! 

Karl

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 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 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.

            You won’t find stuff like that in the Life section of this paper!

text © Karl Breckenridge  2006