The Sunday in 1948 that downtown Reno burned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Jus’ kiddin’ on the keys…

 

BillEffieI’m catching hell for not posting for three weeks. Here’s a 2006 column to chew on:

Stuff without a category, maybe a Faded Menu or three

Until the lst local attic and basement is cleaned out and dad and mom’s last priceless antiques are taken to the Nevada Historical Society to put with everybody else’s priceless antiques, this column will always have unlimited new, vital and earthshaking input.

            A case in point this morning comes from an old throwaway tourism brochure from the early 1950s that depicts a window into our valley. This Week, dated Oct. 1, 1949 was printed by Cleve Crudgington at Silver State Press (Cleve and his drop-dead gorgeous wife Phyllis were a popular couple in Reno through the 1950s.) In that pamphlet we learn that the University of Nevada football team would be playing St. Mary’s Gaels in Kezar Stadium – that note only a minor squib in 1949, but prescient of a game that would be talked about for 50 years to follow and put Dick Trachok and Tommy Kalminer in the Nevada Athletic Hall of Fame.

We read a name forgotten since our childhood, Laurance, often Larry, Layman. Layman was a Nevada-style Justice of the Peace, probably one of the few in the nation who listed not only his office in the courthouse but his home phone number 2-3116 and his residence at 420 W. Sixth Street. This was for the convenience of a Bay Area couple fresh off the Lincoln Highway desirous of tying the matrimonial knot at 2 ayem – not an unusual event in Reno. Several jewelers listed night numbers, as did Reno Florist at 40 E. First Street, also in order to capture this nocturnal wedding trade. Forty East First Street deserves to be written of herein on some future Sunday morning; kind of a crummy little office building sandwiched among the Majestic Theater, the Mapes, and the YMCA (which would blow up a couple years later.) Crummy, maybe, but half the state’s prominent businessmen and politicians, read Norman Biltz for one, quietly emanated from there (or from Eugene Gastanaga’s Eagle Drug lunch counter, two blocks to the south.)

Here’s an ad for the Mesa (across the Mt. Rose highway from the present Galena High, later to be the Lancer and to burn in 1971 while Glenn Rolfson tickled the ivories.) Just re-read that: Glen Rolfson had nothing to do with the fire. Did I write that? Moving on:  On the way to the Mesa/Lancer (rare picture below), party at the Zanzibar across South Virginia from the present Peppermill. Owner Tilli Botti, a retired Air National Guard pilot, told me before he died just a few years ago that when the Guard was activated in 1968 he leased out the Zanzibar and never once set foot in it again. [Nor did he the rest of his life.] Or, on the way Lancerhome from the Mesa, perhaps we should stop for a nightcap at the West Indies (Reno’s West Indies preceded Carson City’s West Indies, just as the Crackerbox on Ryland predated Carson’s Crackerbox.) Or try Tommy’s Big Hat on the corner of Moana and Virginia, [later called Two Guys from Italy, still later called La Vecchia and now called the right turn lane of Moana Lane onto South Virginia Street] with the big white Stetson on the roof, rotated by a war surplus Navy radar antenna motor. Next door was the Moana Coffee Shop, “only five minutes south of downtown Reno.” Try driving that today in your Hudson in five.

Branding Iron or Stirrup Cup?

For some reason I’ve heard from column readers trying to recall a joint on Airport Road, (OK, Gentry Way.) The name Moody’s Lounge must be hard to remember, but it sure did a big late-night business. Confusion also reigns to this day over the Bonanza (no taxes, no cover), then at 207 North Center Street, now north on 395 in what used to be the Branding Iron, [2011: a name that remains alive today in its signature restaurant, the Branding Iron. Good place, by the way…]

            International dining: We had it, at the Santa Fe Hotel on Lake Street, “fine French cuisine” (yup, now great Basque family style with a picon or two); here’s an ad for the Chinese Pagoda at 7th and B in Sparks (Sparks’ numbered streets use ordinal numbers, Reno spells them out; go figure.) And that answers the age old question “where was the Pagoda?” (Everybody wants to put the original Pagoda on Sparks’ 4th Street, not 7th.) It later moved to Reno’s West Fourth Street, into the former Circle RB steakhouse – the only Chinese restaurant east of Peking with wagon wheels and stagecoaches on the Formica tabletops.  [I think that tidbit’s in a column somewhere else in this book] Better yet, the Chinese Mint Club downtown offers “Chinese food like mama used to make,” and I wouldn’t touch that motto with a nine-iron. West of town on the “Truckee Highway,” once we  we called it Washoe., note that period that’s not a typo but an integral part of their name. We used to call it the Glory Hole but in This Week in 1949 it was the Villa Roma, with a cute little hat-check chick named Gloria (now Garaventa!) Now it’s my buddy Curtis Worrall’s wine shop. Further out the Truckee Highway was the popular Stirrup Cup in a picturesque old once-ranch house, now restored to a private home housing one of my faithful readers. Downtown again by the Downtown Bowl at 130 N. Center Street (that Harrah’s later took over for offices) and across the street from the Frisco Club (don’t tell Herb Caen that, who, by the way, I stole this column’s hed from) was The Colombo on Lake Street; Ralph Festina, your genial chef. Ralph would later open Festina’s Pizza, and his wife was only one of two people ever to drown in Virginia Lake, a dubious distinction she shared with a 15-year-old boy who drowned at three in the afternoon on the east shore of the lake, on June 17, 1952.

A bowling tournament was in town at the aforementioned Downtown Bowl and the Reno Bowl on South Virginia by the Tower Theater, still using human pinsetters. Nevada State Bowling Association president Len Crocker, our lifelong friend and Nevada State Journal’s ace sports reporter of long tenure, reported that one bowler rolled a perfect 301 (that’s not a misprint; the pinsetter had a wooden leg.) “This Week” reported that the tournament, in three days, would bring about a thousand dollars in bookings to the area’s 19 motels. The Nugget had Five Great Restaurant : the Round House, the Golden Rooster Room, the Pancake Parlor, the coffee shop, and the Prime Rib Room, (Saturday and Sunday nights only.)           

            And every business plugged above was represented in that little eight-page flyer. Columns are where you find them; have a good week, y’all, and God bless America!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A friend asked about Stead AFB – here you are…

Here’s how quickly seven ill-chosen words can germinate into a whole column: Walking Virginia Street in a recent column set in 1950, I alluded to “…the recently-renamed Stead Air Force Base”.  This elicited several inquiries, all reducible to either “Recinchombrenamed from what?” or “We’re new here; tell us about Stead.”

            Let’s start at the beginning: The facility was commissioned in 1942 as the Reno Army Airport, renamed as Reno Air Force Base in 1948 (when most former Army airbases were ceded to the U.S. Air Force), and finally to Stead Air Force Base in 1951.  The Defense Department, in 1949, adopted a policy to name military facilities more after notable people, less after geographic references.

             Accordingly, Reno Air Force Base was renamed, not for Spanish Springs rancher/air race co-founder Bill Stead, as many of you thought; rather, for his brother Croston Stead, who crashed on takeoff into the desert on December 16th, 1948 in an Air Guard P-51 Mustang, not too long after the Nevada Air National Guard was commissioned at Reno Air Force Base in April of 1948, flying P-51s.  (Croston’s older brother Bill Stead, a hot-stick, high-time World War II fighter ace, died in an air race in Florida in 1965, flying a midget racer.  Go figure…).  The third Stead brother is Sparks developer L. David Kiley. 

The base’s mission over the years was basic aviation training, later rotary-wing training (OK: helicopters), and airport fire suppression – recall the Kaman-built fire-choppers (“Huskies”) with the weird twin “eggbeater” rotors that frequently flew over downtown.  There were a few uncontrolled auxiliary airports – patch a better word – around our valley, which were associated with Reno AFB in the early years.  I lived in the most northwest corner of Reno in the late 1940s and often hiked to a now-long-gone unnamed satellite Reno AFB strip that was between the present Keystone Avenue and McQueen High School.  Two youngish cadets in a Beech D-18 trainer with Army tail markings gave three of us kids a spin around Peavine Peak in a 20-minute ride neither our parents nor the flight-line officer at Reno AFB ever needed to hear about.  Some things are better left that way for fifty years or so.  Another Reno AFB satellite strip parallels Highway 70 at Beckwourth, in use to this day as the Nervino Airstrip.  (The bygone Sparks Airport strip northeast of Pyramid Way and Green Brae – the 1950s spelling – in Sparks was not a Reno AFB satellite.)

            Stead AFB conducted desert and mountain survival training, for pilots of all branches of the military, other nations, and even for the early astronauts.  Later there was a “SAGE” facility, an acronym for Semi-Automatic-Ground-Environment, or whatever paranoids do all day in a great big ugly four-story building with no windows, something to do with global air defense.                      

            One interesting occurrence that some old-timers may remember was when the Pentagon, in a convincing effort to demonstrate the massive economic impact the airbase had on our community, paid Stead troops one payday in crisp two-dollar bills.  Those bills circulated around for years, many emanating from the Grotto Bar at Fourth and Virginia Streets, the Stead airmen’s branch offic.  And apropos of probably nothing, I can report that yours truly drove a big bright-yellow, flat-front 66-passenger Cornbinder school bus to the enlisted men’s housing area at Stead, and that Ty Cobb Jr., son of the late RG-J columnist, drove a like bus to the Stead officers’ housing unit.  Between the two of us we delivered every single high school student who lived from the Reno city limits north past Stead and all the way to Bordertown, to Reno High School – the town’s only high school until Wooster was built 1961.  [And I caught Nancy Howell Spina and Tony Clark’s ire with that: “What was Manogue High, sliced bread?!”  Sorry…].  Believe it or don’t, only 132 kids, excluding truants, lived north of town in the early 1960s, and we drove them 36 miles a day for three school years, and never harmed a hair on their heads nor creased a fender.  Damn, we were good.       

            The Defense Department began phasing out Stead AFB in 1963 – actually selling off some of the original 20,000 acres as early as 1958 – and it was finally fully decommissioned by 1966 and acquired by the City of Reno.  The renamed Reno-Stead Airport once hosted all airline passenger flights into and out of Reno while our downtown airport, at that time hung with the unpopular name of Reno-Cannon Airport, was closed for a major runway resurfacing.  For five weeks the PSA pilots in their DC-9s raced the AirCal Boeing 737 guys around the Reno National Air Race’s 8-mile unlimited-class course pylons at Stead on their way to final approach for runway two-four.

            Just kidding…

• •

Let The Games Begin!…the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics –

 

squawvalleytowerofnationsWritten February 7, 2002 (©RGJ) rewritten, combined and updated July 18, 2019 – (Three columns combined + a personal recollection from Hank Philcox, a [too damn] long read! )…

Some readers may have watched NBC’s Olympic Opening Ceremony coverage from Salt Lake City last night [2002].

            CBS carried an earlier opening a little differently 42 years ago [2019: 59 years] at Squaw Valley.  I quote from the official VIII Winter Games’ brochure, published – writer unattributed – prior to the opening ceremony:  “…A fanfare of trumpets, crisp against the mountain snow…2,000 doves of peace flutter skyward…and all eyes are on Little Papoose Peak as Andrea Mead Lawrence bears the Olympic torch down the hill on the final leg of its journey from Norway.

            “She passes the torch to a speed skater who circles the speed skating oval once, then holds the flame aloft and lights the Olympic torch…the Olympic prayer is preceded by chimes high in the mountains… the 2,645 voices and a band of 1,285 pieces render an impressive God of our Fathers.”

            A nice prediction, but the real drama preceded the event.  What the writer didn’t foresee was that there was no snow at all until a day before the Games’ opening on February 18th, 1960.   Fallback plans were being made to use Slide Mountain for the downhill events.  Then on the 17th it snowed – boy, did it ever.  It was cloudy and still snowing an hour before the Opening Ceremony.  And windy and bitter cold – the musicians’ trumpet valves and trombone slides froze.  The 2,000 doves, caged in two flatbed trucks brought by Walt Disney Productions (who staged the opening ceremony) chirped “no way” and stayed perched, waiting for the trucks to haul them back to balmy Anaheim.

Then – and I kid you not: As the chorus started to sing through the gloom, the clouds parted and a brilliant sun – which we hadn’t seen for three days – glowed above Little Papoose then eventually lit up the valley as Mead Lawrence (pictured right) Andreadescended the slope with the torch.  She did hand it off to the skater, who took it around the track.  (One glitch: As he lit the flame, it flared as high as the nearby pine trees, scared the hell out of him and he fell off the tower.  That’s show biz…)

            The program writer mentioned chimes and the chorus, maybe not knowing of the yodelers and the Alpenhorns – a half-dozen of these ungodly loud instruments, surely the Swiss’ revenge to the Scots’ bagpipes, waited high above the valley and began at once to play (you don’t hear an Alpenhorn – you feel it under your boots!)  The sky by then was fully bright and blue, the pine trees green, the new-fallen snow pure white.  The five Olympic rings hung above Blythe Arena, framing the Tower of Nations and the burning cauldron (a replica of this peristyle had been built in Newt Crumley’s Holiday Hotel – now the Siena – parking lot.)

            From a valley bereft of snow two days before, to a breath-taking winter scene, filled with that ethereal, incredible Alpine sound.  River and plain, and mighty peak – and who could stand unawed?  As the summits blazed, I stood unfazed at the foot of the throne of God…”

            I wish I had written that, but poet Robert Service beat me to it by about a hundred years in his Spell of the Yukon.  And this Disney fellow was good, breaking that sunshine through like he did.  But his doves never did leave their cages. 

A note to readers, added Feb. 2018: You will note there are few graphics in this text – I didn’t take many pictures, and the few I can find I sold and thus are copyright-protected, which I will respect even after 58 years! Sorry…..

• • •

The Games were underway in Squaw Valley and the eyes of the world were upon us.  Bill Harrah had opened up a brand new casino at Lake Tahoe’s south end, and Red Skelton inaugurated the South Shore Room just before midnight on New Years Eve of 1959 and continued into the newyear.  (Liberace and Marlene Dietrich would play the room during the Olympics.)  Lee Frankovich had renamed the Riverside Hotel’s showroom the Olympic Room; the Will Mastin Trio with a new fellow named Sammy Davis Jr. would head up the Mapes Sky Room.  A leggy local fashion model named Bobbie Bender wrote a segment in a ski magazine about appropriate dress for snow, and another fashion article told of the new ski-pant style called “Bogners,” described by someone (Herb Caen?) as an ankle-length bikini and eponymous with German Alpine ski racer Willi Bogner, Jr.’s father.  A guy named Don Dondero was taking a lot of pictures for the world press, of racers Penny Pitou, Heidi Biebl, Betsy Snite and Joan Hannah.  Knowing Don, he’s still got the negatives, and weirder yet, he can still locate ‘em.  [Don passed away, but his family can still locate them…]

            (Before proceeding, I should thank my friend Don Stockwell of Sparks for Olympic plateloaning me a box of Olympic memorabilia, which enabled a lot of honest research on this piece.)  It develops that Olympic hype is not new.  Be advised that Absorbine was the Official Liniment of the VIII Winter Olympics, while Listerine, the Official Mouthwash, kept Carol Heiss and Toni Sailer from buffalo breath on the high Sierra mornings.  (An older person can tell you of those Olympic idols.)  The Renault Dauphine, sold at Retzloff Motors on South Wells Avenue, was the Official Car of the Olympic Games.  Skater/commentator Dick Button had hair.  And he was already annoying.  The Bavarian Inn was on Fulton Alley downtown and catered to the Nordic oom-pah crowd.    Double rooms were 12 bucks at the Holiday Hotel, no vacancy though.  Long-forgotten facts: The cross-country and biathlon events were held at Lake Tahoe’s McKinney Creek.  And, there was no bobsled or luge in these VIII Olympics.

Luce & Son of Reno, the liquor wholesaler to the local establishments for many decades, pushed the Tahoe Toddy, the official drink of the 1960 Winter Olympics.  I have the recipe and I’ll include it here next week.  I owe it to readers to test it first before endorsing it.

MaddenThe Twilight Zone: Leaving the 1960 Olympics just for a moment – I write this an hour after the 2002 Super Bowl broadcast, where John Madden bid Pat Summerall into a happy retirement.  One of the resources in the Stockwells’ Olympic memorabilia box is a January 4th, 1960 Sports Illustrated, its lead story an account of the famous Colts-Giants football game, the game where a young Giant place kicker named Pat Summerall kicked three field goals…

They’re having no more fun in Park City and Salt Lake City right now than we had working up at Squaw Valley so we’ll probably go back to Squaw Valley next weekend.  I’m on a roll.

Have a good week, and God Bless America.

 

[Here’s a note I got July 2019 from my childhood friend/neighbor Hank Philcox]:

HankPhilcoxAs you will recall, the period leading up to the 1960 Winter Olympics was worrisome for everyone in Reno and, of course, for Squaw Valley. the primary venue.  
It was a very unusual winter in that there was almost no snow toward the middle of February, and officials were getting worried that they may have to truck in snow from somewhere, just to have enough for the ski runs.  Snow making equipment was not really available at that time, at least at Squaw Valley, and certainly not for all the runs that had to have snow.
We were all praying that somehow, it would snow enough for the Olympics to take place.  
Then, came the storms.  Just a week or so before the opening ceremonies they started.  The jet stream set up to guide one storm after another into the central Sierra’s and just before opening day, the worry became ‘how can we get the roads open and accommodate the crowds that were expected”.  I had just bought a new 1959 Renault Dauphine, which was named the ‘official car’ of the 1960 Winter Olympics.  The reason was that all the weight in the back where the engine was located gave the car exceptional traction in the snow, even better than the VW bug that had a similar design. 
A day or so before the scheduled start date on a whim, my future wife and I decided it would be fun to take off in our ‘official Olympic car’ and drive up to Squaw Valley to attend the opening ceremonies. So, I took off work and we set out early on opening day to trek to Squaw Valley.  The little Dauphine lived up to it’s reputation that day.  Roads were not adequately plowed, but, without chains, we made the trip without incident.  The parking lot had been partially plowed, but the night before three feet of new snow had piled up, and the plows could not keep up.  So, we drove as far as we could, and parked in a snow bank where we would not get hit by the plows.  It was still snowing heavily, and I hoped that I could find the car when I returned.
We walked quite a piece up to the gate and bought a ticket…never had a reservation or anything. (try that in today’s world) After walking around the Olympic village for a while, we went to the stadium where the opening ceremonies were to be held, and found a seat in the stands.  We could barely get up to the seats because snow was piled everywhere, and was still piling up.  So we brushed off a place to sit and bundled up in blankets to keep warm.
As the opening ceremonies were about to start, the trumpets began and the teams assembled to march out on the track.  Then it happened!  It suddenly stopped snowing and as the teams started their march out onto the track. And, of all things, the clouds parted and the sun came out.  It even turned warm enough for us to shed our wraps and enjoy the sudden turn in the weather.  The band played, the teams marched, and the whole event was spectacular.   
At this time the world was in the deepest part of the “Cold War” and the animosity between the soviet block and the western world was tense, to say the least. We were all in fear of nuclear war, and I remember thinking…..”well Reno was probably not a high priority target for a soviet missile, so maybe we would survive the initial onslaught, but could we avoid the radiation?”. 
However, at this Olympics in Squaw, the nation teams were all marching out in alphabetical order in celebration of some kind of world order, showing that mankind could rise above the political and military bantering.  And, the thought came to me with the parting of the clouds and the sunshine shining on that opening event, that somehow God was placing His blessing on all the nations and giving His approval to this peaceful display by all the competing nations of the world. Frankly, with those thoughts, I cried through the whole thing.  
But, to finish the story, as soon as the opening ceremonies were completed and the torch was lit, it clouded over and the snow began to fall again.  I did find my car buried under a foot or so of snow when I went back to the parking lot, .  And, as I recall, the storms kept coming throughout most of those games. It was quite an Olympics, with human packers getting plenty or exercise, and with competitors having to battle incredible weather during much or the competition.  However, it was also a blessed Olympics, putting aside for a short time, the cold war tensions that existed among most nations in the world.  
Your old buddy,
Hank

• • •

The View from KT-22, 1960

President George W. Bush’s invitation to the children of the world to convene in Salt Lake City, extended in that magical Olympic opening telecast last Friday night on NBC, must have put readers in the mood to reminisce about the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics.  The e-mails and phone calls with your recollections following last Saturday’s piece were welcome and wonderful.

            A favorite Squaw Valley moment came from a favorite Reno High sweetie of mine, a comely lass named Sherry (Cannon) Butler, now a Southern California denizen who picks this column up off the internet.  Sherry, using her considerable feminine wiles, scored a ticket for the semifinal hockey match, the U.S.A. versus the U.S.S.R.  Remember now, relations between these two superpowers were plumbing new depths in 1960 and the whole hockey match was seen as a metaphor of world politics, but that wasn’t what Sherry remembered most:  It was the slightly disoriented inebriate seated next to her who spent the entire match rooting for “Stanford”.   Apparently the Russians’ jerseys looked a little like the Cardinal.  At least to Sherry’s bleacher mate.  Many of you remembered that contest, on the closing day of the Games – a real thriller – and the final score, 9-4, (the U.S.A. won.)  That score remained on the scoreboard at Blythe Arena until the arena collapsed in 1983, a “maintenance accident” that should have landed Squaw’s management in the hoosegow.  Did a Russian skater die in that match?  One of you resurrected that rumor that flourished for a decade following the Games.  Their goalie got slammed into the wall with a crash you could hear on top of KT-22, and many thought he died.  Don’t know myself, but if he was alive, he was damn sure counting birdies on his stretcher ride out of the arena.

            And just who was Andrea Mead Lawrence, the skier who carried the torch down Little Papoose?  Sorry, I should have fleshed that in for the younger readers: Lawrence won the Slalom and Giant Slalom at the Oslo games in 1952 and was the 27-year old darling of the American skiing scene in 1960.  One anonymous caller corrected me, rudely, that it was Tenley Albright who skied the torch down the hill.  Not likely; Albright was the ladies figure skating Gold medalist in the 1956 Games at Cortina (Italy).  Maybe this caller is a Stanford alum.

jumperThe reigning jumper during many prior Winter Olympics was the Finn Juhani Karkinen, a star jumper in the Oslo and Cortina (1952 and 1956) Games.  USA’s Gene Kotlarek, who won the Gold in Squaw and Innsbruck (1964) jumping wore classic, as in baggy, Nordic-style ski apparel and hit the 80-meter jump like a herd of turtles with his arms out in front of him, his knickers rattling in his own 50 mile-an-hour breeze.  Imagine his surprise, (and jump hill steward/judge Jerry Wetzel’s), when the Japanese jumpers hit the inrun wearing new skin-tight Spandex flight suits, their hands at their waists.  And they glided like silent birds…  Not enough good can be said about Wetzel, the late Reno ski-store co-owner (with partner Hal Codding).  And, as some old 1960 newspapers remind me, the local employees of Nevada Bell, then a local company, donated their time generously, and Bell made time available to them. They basically ran the communications for the Olympics, with fewportable radios back then that I recall. One volunteer who has to be included, although I haven’t permission to use his name, was a college guy from the Midwest who came to Squaw as the operator of the brand-new Zamboni.  He lovingly tended the ice rink and speed skating oval and now lives in Lakeridge.  Truly, the hero of every American male (a Zamboni’s a guy thing.)  I should probably do a stand-alone column about Squaw Olympic volunteers.  Virtually the whole town of Reno and certainly the University of Nevada came to a standstill, providing labor to the Games.  White Stag ski wear donated the officials’ nylon parkas with the Games’ logo, probably a thousand of them, color-coded by work assignment (Nordic, Alpine, gatekeepers, communications, Ski Patrol, judges – things were pretty well organized.)  I recently dug my red (Press) parka out, and pulled a “Sparks Nugget – Two Fine Restaurants” matchbook from a pocket.  I’m donating it to John.

I mentioned “Bogners” last week – a reader pointed out that the namesake for these ski-pants (Willi Bogner) competed in the Squaw Olympics (Downhill, 8th place).  Another reader reminds us that Vuarnet sunglasses got their name from the gold medalist in Downhill (Jean).  Several of your recollections were of the Indian snow-dances in the valley – the Shoshone tribe sending a team of their best dancers.  They did well – it snowed beyond belief for twenty-four hours preceding the opening.  And the valley “parking lot” – many remembered that fiasco: Sawdust was mixed with snow and compacted, to make a solid, non-slip surface to park on.  Worked great for the Games’ chilly first week, then it warmed up and thawed the second week, and, well, there’s probably a couple of heavy DeSotos and Packards still out in that valley somewhere.  Yikes, what a mess!

Last week we promised to reveal the Tahoe Toddy, the Official Warmer of the Olympic Games, according to Esquire magazine, March 1960 edition.  Here goes: garnish a glass with lemon twist, pour in four ounces of very hot water, add a level tablespoon of batter.  (That’s batter, not butter.)  Batter up: 4 teaspoons brown sugar; 2 teaspoons butter (that’s butter, not batter.)  2 dashes of cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg, a pinch of allspice, and 2 teaspoons Bols Orange Curacao.  Serves four.  (Oh, and did I mention one ounce of Early Times per drink.)  Have three and the butter and batter won’t matter.

VasserotOf course, as we learned in a column last summer, it would be easier go to Eugene’s restaurant on the way home from Squaw Valley, where bartender Cliff Challender could make us a Toddy from memory.  And, we might see Eugene’s owner Gilbert Vasserot (right) entertaining the athletes from his native Switzerland, notably favored skater Madaleine Chamot. (Eugene’s hosted the prestigious International Olympic Committee at a luncheon prior to the games, a feather in Reno’s cap.) 

Wrapping up Squaw Valley

            Stop the presses!  An email and a phone call arrive into our lonely writer’s garret in the God-forsaken desert, regarding our visits to Squaw Valley during the 1960 Winter Olympics.  One’s from an old friend, the other from an Incline Village resident who called me a male chauvinist for the way I worded a passage.  Imagine that.

            What offended her was that I identified by name the 27-year old darling of the 1960s slopes, Andrea Mead Lawrence, the twice-Gold medallist skier who brought the torch down the hill during the Olympic opening ceremony, but then I left the male speed skater that Mead Lawrence handed the torch off to to remain in obscurity.

            Frankly, I skipped over a whole bunch of people in that description of the opening ceremony, including Vice-President Richard Milhous Nixon, who declared the Games open, and Karl Malden, who recited the Olympic prayer.  But the skater?  He fell into relative obscurity, and only after uncharacteristic and tedious research can I offer that his name was Kenneth Henry, which should make Henry’s mother and the Incline Village reader happy.

            Karl Malden???

• • •

The phone call came from my old buddy Buddy Sorensen, who helped me with a couple of names: Gene Kotlarek  and Juhe Karkinen.  I’m glad he called, because it prompted me to write what many of us know: When local skiers gather in the warming hut to speak of the golden days of 1950s-skiing, Buddy’s name comes up prominently with Dick Buek, Jack Bosta, Jon Madsen, Dick Dorworth, the late Harry EricsonEricson (right) , Lynette Gotchy, Linda Smith Crossett, Rusty Crook and a bunch of other guys, as a Far West Ski Association official and coach, Nordic Director, sometime Falcon coach and a mentor to a hundred local skiers that went on to regional and national prominence.  Our area and our sport are indebted to all of them.

            Another name and anecdote that came up in the past few weeks was that of George Kerr, known by many as Harolds Club’s photographer/host, when mighty Harolds and Harrah’s ruled Reno.  George clicked thousands of golf tournament and celebrity photographs, many going ‘round the world on wire services, and was known as a linguist:

            Just prior to the Games, he was asked to be available as an interpreter.  “You speak several languages, don’t you?” George was asked.  “Actually, I speak only two: the King’s English, and Nevadan.”

            In truth, George could say “Say Cheese” in seven languages, not counting the King’s Nevadan after a Tahoe Toddy at Eugene’s.  He did Yeoman duty during the Games.

• • •

WeaselA week ago I wrote of my red Olympic parka, the color assigned to the Press whereupon a friend accused me of posturing as a hotshot.  In truth, I was a grunt, working with seven other University of Nevada grunts who could ski, backpack, snowshoe, yodel and a few less upstanding qualities, and we were assigned “Weasels” (seen at left) – open Jeep-sized tracked vehicles built by Studebaker, loaned to the Olympics by the marines at Pickel Meadows Winter Training Center.  We ran all over the valley, typical cargo being endless paperwork, clipboards full of race results, times, schedules, a dead Longines timing clock, an urn of coffee destined for a CBS camera crew at the jump tower, somebody’s glove that was left in a limousine, a pair of snowshoes, three reels of communication cable, box lunches for the slalom timers and a very important person needing to be somewhere else (a very important person being almost anyone in Squaw Valley beside us.)  We mentioned earlier that CBS carried the Games, but in 1960 only 15 to 30 minutes each day – taped – in reality not even videotape, but movie film with sound on a different recorder, the big tanks of film and huge batteries somewhere in the back of the Weasels, to be processed in the Bay Area and aired that night. 

            I’m waxing (skier-term) sentimentally toward the close of the 1960 and 2002 Games, with an observation about how things have changed in 42 years [and now in 2018, 58 years!], as we watch on NBC tonight – a production not filmed, but digitized, sent not to Sacramento by courier for processing, but to a satellite for instant broadcast.  The clocks, timing, and standings are instantaneous, not delayed hours by the lag between the start house and the finish line and virtual longhand computation.  A tiny camera gives us a real-time pilot’s view from a bobsleigh (the sleigh built from materials developed by NASA).  Ice dancing and the half-pipe.  How the sport, and the way we view it, has changed in 42 years…

• • •

They were wonderful weeks in our towns’ heritage, and we wish the children of the world now convening at Park City the fun, success and memories that we continue to enjoy.

text © RGJ and Karl Breckenridge; ski jumper photo from handout; license plate issued to Ed Pine, Sr., photo courtesy Jack Pine; Andrea Mead Lawrence, photo © Getty Images; Tower of Nations & Olympic Flame © California State Parks – State of California; Harry Ericson, Hank Philcox and Gilbert Vasserot, from KB

 

Jot Travis, Noble Getchell and Max Fleischmann – Three big men on campus…

Fleisch“What’s on deck for Sunday morning?” the crew of the Seven Ayem Senior Moment Krispy Crème BS & Kaffeeklatch asked.  “So many topics, so little space,” I lamented.  The suggestion that followed was unanimous: Resurrect some University of Nevada history for the alums in town.  (In a column years ago I scribed that for many of us, “the Hill” remains a term of endearment for the Nevada campus.) 

A piece that ran a while back drew a lot of mail, because very few of us, and I include myself, ever knew who the Jot Travis Student Union was named for.  His name was really Ezra Johnson Travis and he raised horses and built stage lines until he died in 1919.  His son Wesley Elgin Travis, who ascended to the presidency of Greyhound Bus Lines, bequeathed the university the tidy sum of $300,000 upon his death in 1952 “…to be used for the construction of a building to be named the ‘Jot Travis Student Building,’ so long as a matching amount be approved by the Nevada State Legislature.”  

            Work on the student center commenced in October of 1956, amid a gnarly challenge of trying to build a structure so close to Manzanita Lake, and the building was finished in May of 1958.  Three generations of us have met “at the Jot.”  This, in retrospect, beats what might have become known as “the Ezra.”

            The Getchell Library was named for Noble Getchell, a Nevada miner and member of the Nevada legislature, and the chief executive officer and vice-president of George Wingfield’s Getchell Mines.  Getchell donated a portion of the $2.8 million cost of the new building – he had hoped to donate more, and twist the mining industry’s tail to help out, but a dry stretch in the state’s mining industry curtailed a lot of the hoped-for participation.   It opened in January of 1962, and would be the largest library in the state and the definitive resource for Basque history and heritage the world around. 

            The “Jot” and the Getchell Library have been replaced, and many alums hope that the benevolence of the Travis family, of Noble Getchell, and the memory of the Mike Ingersoll Associated Students of the University of Nevada Senate Room will live on in the replacement buildings.

            But the dominant donor to the university remains Max C. Fleischmann (pictured above).  He was born in 1877 to parents who had already made their fortune in yeast production, and what follows is the tale of a man who started with 20 million dollars and ran it into a fortune.

            He moved to Nevada with his wife Sarah in 1930, bought ranches near Yerington and Carson City, built a grand home in Glenbrook, and lost little time in starting to enhance northern Nevada for the next half-century.  Early on he enabled the conversion of the federal Carson City Mint to the Nevada State Museum, the purchase-then-donation of the sprawling 264-acre Ladino Dairy Ranch to the university, help to the Boy Scouts, Ducks Unlimited, libraries, both local hospitals and the school district.  After WWII came the endowment of the Max C. Fleischmann College of Agriculture and the Sarah H. Fleischmann College of Home Economics. 

            In 1952 he endowed the Fleischmann Foundation to the tune of 63 million dollars, give or take a mil or two and rising with accruing interest like the yeast that created it.  Foundation trustee Sessions (Buck) Wheeler’s biography of Fleischmann Gentleman in the Outdoors was published by the University Press in 1985.

            Max died by his own hand on Oct. 16, 1951 in Santa Barbara, where he maintained another ranch, very shortly after being diagnosed with cancer.  The foundation continued his philanthropic work; two major benefactors in the years shortly following his death were the new National Judicial College and the Desert Research Institute.  Sarah passed away in July of 1960.  The Foundation’s final reconciliation was made in 1978, and the obligatory public record revealed 192 million dollars in grants, with 47 per cent of them staying in northern Nevada and the University the biggest benefactor.  Its smallest single grant was 250 dollars; the largest, 19.3 million dollars, that to the University. 

               The Fleischmann Atmospherium-Planetarium, named at his request for his parents, was built in 1963 by McKenzie Construction to a Ray Hellman design.  The Gannett Foundation of Gannett Publishing, known for its great Sunday columnists, endowed the sky projector.

            Where did the other 53 per cent of the Fleischmann Foundation’s grants go?  A great deal went to education throughout Southern California and specifically in Santa Barbara.  There were some major endowments to schools in the Rockies heavy into mining and agriculture, including a wing on the University of Colorado’s planetarium.  And we’d like to think he just frittered a few mil away (a WWI combat pilot, he commuted to and from Santa Barbara in his own Lockheed Vega, similar to Amelia Earhart’s Electra.)  

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

Added, a note from Dr. Gene Pascucci:

As you know my parents bought the bunkhouse on the Evans ranch on Evans Ave in 1955, Evans being another integral donor to the then- University of Nevada.
Such a great article to read today as our house bordered on the campus and it literally was my childhood playground growing up. I jumped our back fence and cut thru the campus everyday walking past Getchell and Jot Travis to go to school at St. Alberts on North Virginia across from Jot Travis Student Union, a building my dad had worked on.
I watched them build Getchell Library and collected the workman’s empty soda bottles for 5 cent refunds to buy candy at the little corner store on Artemesia and Sierra Streets
We rode our bikes down to Fleishmann’s Ag building and would wander thru the halls to look at all the biology specimens entombed in formaldehyde glass jars. Little did I know at the time how much I would appreciate that I would eventually get my Biology degree and those three men’s buildings would be so integral to my early life and later my education. Such fond memories stimulated from your article this morning of days gone by.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.

Thanks, Doc!

© Breckenridge; Fleischmann photo U of Nevada Library Special Collections

Let The Games Begin!…the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics –

 

squawvalleytowerofnationsWritten February 7, 2002 (©RGJ) rewritten, combined and updated July 18, 2019 – (Three columns combined + a personal recollection from Hank Philcox, a [too] long read! )…

Some readers may have watched NBC’s Olympic Opening Ceremony coverage from Salt Lake City last night [2002].

            CBS carried an earlier opening a little differently 42 years ago [2019: 59 years] at Squaw Valley.  I quote from the official VIII Winter Games’ brochure, published – writer unattributed – prior to the opening ceremony:  “…A fanfare of trumpets, crisp against the mountain snow…2,000 doves of peace flutter skyward…and all eyes are on Little Papoose Peak as Andrea Mead Lawrence bears the Olympic torch down the hill on the final leg of its journey from Norway.

            “She passes the torch to a speed skater who circles the speed skating oval once, then holds the flame aloft and lights the Olympic torch…the Olympic prayer is preceded by chimes high in the mountains… the 2,645 voices and a band of 1,285 pieces render an impressive God of our Fathers.”

            A nice prediction, but the real drama preceded the event.  What the writer didn’t foresee was that there was no snow at all until a day before the Games’ opening on February 18th, 1960.   Fallback plans were being made to use Slide Mountain for the downhill events.  Then on the 17th it snowed – boy, did it ever.  It was cloudy and still snowing an hour before the Opening Ceremony.  And windy and bitter cold – the musicians’ trumpet valves and trombone slides froze.  The 2,000 doves, caged in two flatbed trucks brought by Walt Disney Productions (who staged the opening ceremony) chirped “no way” and stayed perched, waiting for the trucks to haul them back to balmy Anaheim.

Then – and I kid you not: As the chorus started to sing through the gloom, the clouds parted and a brilliant sun – which we hadn’t seen for three days – glowed above Little Papoose then eventually lit up the valley as Mead Lawrence (pictured right) Andreadescended the slope with the torch.  She did hand it off to the skater, who took it around the track.  (One glitch: As he lit the flame, it flared as high as the nearby pine trees, scared the hell out of him and he fell off the tower.  That’s show biz…)

            The program writer mentioned chimes and the chorus, maybe not knowing of the yodelers and the Alpenhorns – a half-dozen of these ungodly loud instruments, surely the Swiss’ revenge to the Scots’ bagpipes, waited high above the valley and began at once to play (you don’t hear an Alpenhorn – you feel it under your boots!)  The sky by then was fully bright and blue, the pine trees green, the new-fallen snow pure white.  The five Olympic rings hung above Blythe Arena, framing the Tower of Nations and the burning cauldron (a replica of this peristyle had been built in Newt Crumley’s Holiday Hotel – now the Siena – parking lot.)

            From a valley bereft of snow two days before, to a breath-taking winter scene, filled with that ethereal, incredible Alpine sound.  River and plain, and mighty peak – and who could stand unawed?  As the summits blazed, I stood unfazed at the foot of the throne of God…”

            I wish I had written that, but poet Robert Service beat me to it by about a hundred years in his Spell of the Yukon.  And this Disney fellow was good, breaking that sunshine through like he did.  But his doves never did leave their cages. 

A note to readers, added Feb. 2018: You will note there are few graphics in this text – I didn’t take many pictures, and the few I can find I sold and thus are copyright-protected, which I will respect even after 58 years! Sorry…..

• • •

The Games were underway in Squaw Valley and the eyes of the world were upon us.  Bill Harrah had opened up a brand new casino at Lake Tahoe’s south end, and Red Skelton inaugurated the South Shore Room just before midnight on New Years Eve of 1959 and continued into the newyear.  (Liberace and Marlene Dietrich would play the room during the Olympics.)  Lee Frankovich had renamed the Riverside Hotel’s showroom the Olympic Room; the Will Mastin Trio with a new fellow named Sammy Davis Jr. would head up the Mapes Sky Room.  A leggy local fashion model named Bobbie Bender wrote a segment in a ski magazine about appropriate dress for snow, and another fashion article told of the new ski-pant style called “Bogners,” described by someone (Herb Caen?) as an ankle-length bikini and eponymous with German Alpine ski racer Willi Bogner, Jr.’s father.  A guy named Don Dondero was taking a lot of pictures for the world press, of racers Penny Pitou, Heidi Biebl, Betsy Snite and Joan Hannah.  Knowing Don, he’s still got the negatives, and weirder yet, he can still locate ‘em.  [Don passed away, but his family can still locate them…]

            (Before proceeding, I should thank my friend Don Stockwell of Sparks for Olympic plateloaning me a box of Olympic memorabilia, which enabled a lot of honest research on this piece.)  It develops that Olympic hype is not new.  Be advised that Absorbine was the Official Liniment of the VIII Winter Olympics, while Listerine, the Official Mouthwash, kept Carol Heiss and Toni Sailer from buffalo breath on the high Sierra mornings.  (An older person can tell you of those Olympic idols.)  The Renault Dauphine, sold at Retzloff Motors on South Wells Avenue, was the Official Car of the Olympic Games.  Skater/commentator Dick Button had hair.  And he was already annoying.  The Bavarian Inn was on Fulton Alley downtown and catered to the Nordic oom-pah crowd.    Double rooms were 12 bucks at the Holiday Hotel, no vacancy though.  Long-forgotten facts: The cross-country and biathlon events were held at Lake Tahoe’s McKinney Creek.  And, there was no bobsled or luge in these VIII Olympics.

Luce & Son of Reno, the liquor wholesaler to the local establishments for many decades, pushed the Tahoe Toddy, the official drink of the 1960 Winter Olympics.  I have the recipe and I’ll include it here next week.  I owe it to readers to test it first before endorsing it.

MaddenThe Twilight Zone: Leaving the 1960 Olympics just for a moment – I write this an hour after the 2002 Super Bowl broadcast, where John Madden bid Pat Summerall into a happy retirement.  One of the resources in the Stockwells’ Olympic memorabilia box is a January 4th, 1960 Sports Illustrated, its lead story an account of the famous Colts-Giants football game, the game where a young Giant place kicker named Pat Summerall kicked three field goals…

They’re having no more fun in Park City and Salt Lake City right now than we had working up at Squaw Valley so we’ll probably go back to Squaw Valley next weekend.  I’m on a roll.

Have a good week, and God Bless America.

 

[Here’s a note I got from my childhood friend/neighbor Hank Philcox]:

As you will recall, the period leading up to the 1960 Winter Olympics was worrisome for everyone in Reno and, of course, for Squaw Valley. the primary venue.  
It was a very unusual winter in that there was almost no snow toward the middle of February, and officials were getting worried that they may have to truck in snow from somewhere, just to have enough for the ski runs.  Snow making equipment was not really available at that time, at least at Squaw Valley, and certainly not for all the runs that had to have snow.
We were all praying that somehow, it would snow enough for the Olympics to take place.  
Then, came the storms.  Just a week or so before the opening ceremonies they started.  The jet stream set up to guide one storm after another into the central Sierra’s and just before opening day, the worry became ‘how can we get the roads open and accommodate the crowds that were expected”.  I had just bought a new 1959 Renault Dauphine, which was named the ‘official car’ of the 1960 Winter Olympics.  The reason was that all the weight in the back where the engine was located gave the car exceptional traction in the snow, even better than the VW bug that had a similar design. 
A day or so before the scheduled start date on a whim, my future wife and I decided it would be fun to take off in our ‘official Olympic car’ and drive up to Squaw Valley to attend the opening ceremonies. So, I took off work and we set out early on opening day to trek to Squaw Valley.  The little Dauphine lived up to it’s reputation that day.  Roads were not adequately plowed, but, without chains, we made the trip without incident.  The parking lot had been partially plowed, but the night before three feet of new snow had piled up, and the plows could not keep up.  So, we drove as far as we could, and parked in a snow bank where we would not get hit by the plows.  It was still snowing heavily, and I hoped that I could find the car when I returned.
We walked quite a piece up to the gate and bought a ticket…never had a reservation or anything. (try that in today’s world) After walking around the Olympic village for a while, we went to the stadium where the opening ceremonies were to be held, and found a seat in the stands.  We could barely get up to the seats because snow was piled everywhere, and was still piling up.  So we brushed off a place to sit and bundled up in blankets to keep warm.
As the opening ceremonies were about to start, the trumpets began and the teams assembled to march out on the track.  Then it happened!  It suddenly stopped snowing and as the teams started their march out onto the track. And, of all things, the clouds parted and the sun came out.  It even turned warm enough for us to shed our wraps and enjoy the sudden turn in the weather.  The band played, the teams marched, and the whole event was spectacular.   
At this time the world was in the deepest part of the “Cold War” and the animosity between the soviet block and the western world was tense, to say the least. We were all in fear of nuclear war, and I remember thinking…..”well Reno was probably not a high priority target for a soviet missile, so maybe we would survive the initial onslaught, but could we avoid the radiation?”. 
However, at this Olympics in Squaw, the nation teams were all marching out in alphabetical order in celebration of some kind of world order, showing that mankind could rise above the political and military bantering.  And, the thought came to me with the parting of the clouds and the sunshine shining on that opening event, that somehow God was placing His blessing on all the nations and giving His approval to this peaceful display by all the competing nations of the world. Frankly, with those thoughts, I cried through the whole thing.  
But, to finish the story, as soon as the opening ceremonies were completed and the torch was lit, it clouded over and the snow began to fall again.  I did find my car buried under a foot or so of snow when I went back to the parking lot, .  And, as I recall, the storms kept coming throughout most of those games. It was quite an Olympics, with human packers getting plenty or exercise, and with competitors having to battle incredible weather during much or the competition.  However, it was also a blessed Olympics, putting aside for a short time, the cold war tensions that existed among most nations in the world.  
Your old buddy,
Hank

• • •

The View from KT-22, 1960

President George W. Bush’s invitation to the children of the world to convene in Salt Lake City, extended in that magical Olympic opening telecast last Friday night on NBC, must have put readers in the mood to reminisce about the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics.  The e-mails and phone calls with your recollections following last Saturday’s piece were welcome and wonderful.

            A favorite Squaw Valley moment came from a favorite Reno High sweetie of mine, a comely lass named Sherry (Cannon) Butler, now a Southern California denizen who picks this column up off the internet.  Sherry, using her considerable feminine wiles, scored a ticket for the semifinal hockey match, the U.S.A. versus the U.S.S.R.  Remember now, relations between these two superpowers were plumbing new depths in 1960 and the whole hockey match was seen as a metaphor of world politics, but that wasn’t what Sherry remembered most:  It was the slightly disoriented inebriate seated next to her who spent the entire match rooting for “Stanford”.   Apparently the Russians’ jerseys looked a little like the Cardinal.  At least to Sherry’s bleacher mate.  Many of you remembered that contest, on the closing day of the Games – a real thriller – and the final score, 9-4, (the U.S.A. won.)  That score remained on the scoreboard at Blythe Arena until the arena collapsed in 1983, a “maintenance accident” that should have landed Squaw’s management in the hoosegow.  Did a Russian skater die in that match?  One of you resurrected that rumor that flourished for a decade following the Games.  Their goalie got slammed into the wall with a crash you could hear on top of KT-22, and many thought he died.  Don’t know myself, but if he was alive, he was damn sure counting birdies on his stretcher ride out of the arena.

            And just who was Andrea Mead Lawrence, the skier who carried the torch down Little Papoose?  Sorry, I should have fleshed that in for the younger readers: Lawrence won the Slalom and Giant Slalom at the Oslo games in 1952 and was the 27-year old darling of the American skiing scene in 1960.  One anonymous caller corrected me, rudely, that it was Tenley Albright who skied the torch down the hill.  Not likely; Albright was the ladies figure skating Gold medalist in the 1956 Games at Cortina (Italy).  Maybe this caller is a Stanford alum.

jumperThe reigning jumper during many prior Winter Olympics was the Finn Juhani Karkinen, a star jumper in the Oslo and Cortina (1952 and 1956) Games.  USA’s Gene Kotlarek, who won the Gold in Squaw and Innsbruck (1964) jumping wore classic, as in baggy, Nordic-style ski apparel and hit the 80-meter jump like a herd of turtles with his arms out in front of him, his knickers rattling in his own 50 mile-an-hour breeze.  Imagine his surprise, (and jump hill steward/judge Jerry Wetzel’s), when the Japanese jumpers hit the inrun wearing new skin-tight Spandex flight suits, their hands at their waists.  And they glided like silent birds…  Not enough good can be said about Wetzel, the late Reno ski-store co-owner (with partner Hal Codding).  And, as some old 1960 newspapers remind me, the local employees of Nevada Bell, then a local company, donated their time generously, and Bell made time available to them. They basically ran the communications for the Olympics, with fewportable radios back then that I recall. One volunteer who has to be included, although I haven’t permission to use his name, was a college guy from the Midwest who came to Squaw as the operator of the brand-new Zamboni.  He lovingly tended the ice rink and speed skating oval and now lives in Lakeridge.  Truly, the hero of every American male (a Zamboni’s a guy thing.)  I should probably do a stand-alone column about Squaw Olympic volunteers.  Virtually the whole town of Reno and certainly the University of Nevada came to a standstill, providing labor to the Games.  White Stag ski wear donated the officials’ nylon parkas with the Games’ logo, probably a thousand of them, color-coded by work assignment (Nordic, Alpine, gatekeepers, communications, Ski Patrol, judges – things were pretty well organized.)  I recently dug my red (Press) parka out, and pulled a “Sparks Nugget – Two Fine Restaurants” matchbook from a pocket.  I’m donating it to John.

I mentioned “Bogners” last week – a reader pointed out that the namesake for these ski-pants (Willi Bogner) competed in the Squaw Olympics (Downhill, 8th place).  Another reader reminds us that Vuarnet sunglasses got their name from the gold medalist in Downhill (Jean).  Several of your recollections were of the Indian snow-dances in the valley – the Shoshone tribe sending a team of their best dancers.  They did well – it snowed beyond belief for twenty-four hours preceding the opening.  And the valley “parking lot” – many remembered that fiasco: Sawdust was mixed with snow and compacted, to make a solid, non-slip surface to park on.  Worked great for the Games’ chilly first week, then it warmed up and thawed the second week, and, well, there’s probably a couple of heavy DeSotos and Packards still out in that valley somewhere.  Yikes, what a mess!

Last week we promised to reveal the Tahoe Toddy, the Official Warmer of the Olympic Games, according to Esquire magazine, March 1960 edition.  Here goes: garnish a glass with lemon twist, pour in four ounces of very hot water, add a level tablespoon of batter.  (That’s batter, not butter.)  Batter up: 4 teaspoons brown sugar; 2 teaspoons butter (that’s butter, not batter.)  2 dashes of cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg, a pinch of allspice, and 2 teaspoons Bols Orange Curacao.  Serves four.  (Oh, and did I mention one ounce of Early Times per drink.)  Have three and the butter and batter won’t matter.

VasserotOf course, as we learned in a column last summer, it would be easier go to Eugene’s restaurant on the way home from Squaw Valley, where bartender Cliff Challender could make us a Toddy from memory.  And, we might see Eugene’s owner Gilbert Vasserot (right) entertaining the athletes from his native Switzerland, notably favored skater Madaleine Chamot. (Eugene’s hosted the prestigious International Olympic Committee at a luncheon prior to the games, a feather in Reno’s cap.) 

Wrapping up Squaw Valley

            Stop the presses!  An email and a phone call arrive into our lonely writer’s garret in the God-forsaken desert, regarding our visits to Squaw Valley during the 1960 Winter Olympics.  One’s from an old friend, the other from an Incline Village resident who called me a male chauvinist for the way I worded a passage.  Imagine that.

            What offended her was that I identified by name the 27-year old darling of the 1960s slopes, Andrea Mead Lawrence, the twice-Gold medallist skier who brought the torch down the hill during the Olympic opening ceremony, but then I left the male speed skater that Mead Lawrence handed the torch off to to remain in obscurity.

            Frankly, I skipped over a whole bunch of people in that description of the opening ceremony, including Vice-President Richard Milhous Nixon, who declared the Games open, and Karl Malden, who recited the Olympic prayer.  But the skater?  He fell into relative obscurity, and only after uncharacteristic and tedious research can I offer that his name was Kenneth Henry, which should make Henry’s mother and the Incline Village reader happy.

            Karl Malden???

• • •

The phone call came from my old buddy Buddy Sorensen, who helped me with a couple of names: Gene Kotlarek  and Juhe Karkinen.  I’m glad he called, because it prompted me to write what many of us know: When local skiers gather in the warming hut to speak of the golden days of 1950s-skiing, Buddy’s name comes up prominently with Dick Buek, Jack Bosta, Jon Madsen, Dick Dorworth, the late Harry EricsonEricson (right) , Lynette Gotchy, Linda Smith Crossett, Rusty Crook and a bunch of other guys, as a Far West Ski Association official and coach, Nordic Director, sometime Falcon coach and a mentor to a hundred local skiers that went on to regional and national prominence.  Our area and our sport are indebted to all of them.

            Another name and anecdote that came up in the past few weeks was that of George Kerr, known by many as Harolds Club’s photographer/host, when mighty Harolds and Harrah’s ruled Reno.  George clicked thousands of golf tournament and celebrity photographs, many going ‘round the world on wire services, and was known as a linguist:

            Just prior to the Games, he was asked to be available as an interpreter.  “You speak several languages, don’t you?” George was asked.  “Actually, I speak only two: the King’s English, and Nevadan.”

            In truth, George could say “Say Cheese” in seven languages, not counting the King’s Nevadan after a Tahoe Toddy at Eugene’s.  He did Yeoman duty during the Games.

• • •

WeaselA week ago I wrote of my red Olympic parka, the color assigned to the Press whereupon a friend accused me of posturing as a hotshot.  In truth, I was a grunt, working with seven other University of Nevada grunts who could ski, backpack, snowshoe, yodel and a few less upstanding qualities, and we were assigned “Weasels” (seen at left) – open Jeep-sized tracked vehicles built by Studebaker, loaned to the Olympics by the marines at Pickel Meadows Winter Training Center.  We ran all over the valley, typical cargo being endless paperwork, clipboards full of race results, times, schedules, a dead Longines timing clock, an urn of coffee destined for a CBS camera crew at the jump tower, somebody’s glove that was left in a limousine, a pair of snowshoes, three reels of communication cable, box lunches for the slalom timers and a very important person needing to be somewhere else (a very important person being almost anyone in Squaw Valley beside us.)  We mentioned earlier that CBS carried the Games, but in 1960 only 15 to 30 minutes each day – taped – in reality not even videotape, but movie film with sound on a different recorder, the big tanks of film and huge batteries somewhere in the back of the Weasels, to be processed in the Bay Area and aired that night. 

            I’m waxing (skier-term) sentimentally toward the close of the 1960 and 2002 Games, with an observation about how things have changed in 42 years [and now in 2018, 58 years!], as we watch on NBC tonight – a production not filmed, but digitized, sent not to Sacramento by courier for processing, but to a satellite for instant broadcast.  The clocks, timing, and standings are instantaneous, not delayed hours by the lag between the start house and the finish line and virtual longhand computation.  A tiny camera gives us a real-time pilot’s view from a bobsleigh (the sleigh built from materials developed by NASA).  Ice dancing and the half-pipe.  How the sport, and the way we view it, has changed in 42 years…

• • •

They were wonderful weeks in our towns’ heritage, and we wish the children of the world now convening at Park City the fun, success and memories that we continue to enjoy.

text © RGJ and Karl Breckenridge; ski jumper photo from handout; license plate issued to Ed Pine, Sr., photo courtesy Jack Pine; Andrea Mead Lawrence, photo © Getty Images; Tower of Nations & Olympic Flame © California State Parks – State of California; Harry Ericson and Gilbert Vasserot, from KB

ADDED FEB. 9th – THIS COLUMN LED TO A 13-MINUTE RADIO INTERVIEW ON KNPR FM 94.1 HERE

Happy Bill Howard, The Nugget’s Flagpole Sitter

Howard

‘Twas in the year of 1955 that the battleship gray and black-and-green high-reach crane trucks – Sierra Pacific Power and Nevada Bell’s respectively – set a spindly 60-foot pole on the north side of B Street in Sparks just across the street from the Sparks Nugget’s brand-new building, set guy wires to keep it vertical, and then lifted a replica of a shiny gold nugget as big as a Chevy Suburban to the top of the pole.  On that nugget they set a platform, and finally a canvas tent on the platform, then aimed floodlights up to illuminate it.

            The Nugget casino south of B Street was tiny compared to the Nugget of today; no I-80 freeway over the building, just B Street out in front doubling as transcontinental Highway 40.  No elephants; this was pre-Bertha.  Last Chance Joe had just arrived to keep an eye on the happenings out in front.  And pilgrim, did he get an eyeful as Happy Joe Howard, the last of the great pre-war flagpole sitters arrived to begin his ascent to the platform atop the tower on August 4, 1955, where he would stay longer than any flagpole sitter would ever sit.  Flagpole-sitting was a rage that died out somewhere in the 1930s, probably for good reason, but the Nugget’s then-owner Dick Graves, already well-along in the process of selling the Nugget to John Ascuaga, was a showman, attuned to every PR stunt in the book. 

            Howard soon became accustomed to life on top of the highest building in Sparks.  He became the darling of the local media and the West Coast scribes when his time on top of the gold nugget started to look like a serious attempt.  A month, two months, dragged by, the number on the base of the “flagpole” being changed daily to indicate the number of days he had stayed there.  The summer of 1955 arrived and the world was in turmoil, but local notice was paid first to Happy Bill Howard, so high above B Street, drawing crowds of people who would stop on the highway to look in wonder at how he could possibly keep doing it. 

            Casual visitors could speak to Happy Bill on a phone provided by Nevada Bell, from the base of the tower to his lofty perch.  Several times daily a truck from the Nugget arrived to lift a basket of grub – the best fare of the Roundhouse Room or an Awful-Awful burger from the Coffee Shop, maybe an iced pitcher of piçons from the Nugget’s long-gone Basque Bar, the day’s edition of the Reno Evening Gazette, and letters from his fans.  He had a radio, no TV.  For reasons unknown to anyone, a band of local idiots tried to incinerate Happy Bill by burning down his tower, forgetting that the Sparks Fire Department and Police Department were housed nearby on C Street then.  The fire laddies doused the fire and Sparks’ Finest threw the perpetrators into the hoosegow for a few nights.  

            Time marched on into the dog days of August.  The West Coast press still loved it, and afforded the Nugget the ongoing publicity in the Bay Area that Dick Graves had hoped for.  Happy Bill’s birthday arrived, with accompanying hoopla and a cake from the Nugget’s bakery, songs from the local media and fans. 

          And the unexpected occurred – Happy Bill woke up with a hell of a toothache one morning, and the Nugget summoned respected Reno dentist Arnold Johannes to his aid.  In a display of humanitarian emergency not one bit concealed from the adoring press, Dr. Johannes was lifted in a Jacob’s Chair-harness with his black bag of drills, pliers, wrenches, laughing gas and an Blue Cross form to Happy Bill’s side, to administer on-the-pole medical aid.  I suspect that the rest of the late Dr. Johannes’ career, excitement-wise, was downhill after that procedure…

            As the leaves turned to gold on the trees lining the Reserve in Sparks, the evening winds turned wintry.  Happy Bill’s reign over the little town was coming to a close, although not for lack of interest – the town and the media continued to embrace his effort, but the simple fact was that his flagpole had no heat, and the night was rapidly approaching during which he’d freeze his celebrated buns off.  Leaving on a high note started to become realistic.

            In a round of PR embraced by Reno and Sparks and the San Francisco press, by then including Herb Caen and Terrence O’Flaherty, Happy Bill Howard was returned on February 12, 1956 to Mother Earth by the same Nevada Bell snorkel truck that had set him atop the flagpole, 204 days – almost seven months – before.     

            Bill’s work on earth, or in this case above it, was done – his effort was vastly successful in putting the little burg of Sparks, known before by very few in the Bay Area as being a little east of Reno, wherever that was, permanently onto the map.  For his efforts he was awarded $6,800 and a sterling silver belt buckle as big as a penny postcard engraved with Thanks from the Sparks Nugget in a very public ceremony.  To our knowledge, he never sat flagpoles again.  And Sparks, whatever it been before that, was defined as a destination town; Dick Graves departing, a legend named John Ascuaga soon to arrive.  .

            I thank several readers for inquiring about Happy Bill Howard and inspiring this story, [the late] Fred Davis – the Nugget’s longtime (1958-1972) publicity director, Sparks native Don Stockwell – he of the ironclad memory, the Nevada Historical Society, John Ascuaga, Nugget executive secretary Nancy Trabert for their help with this yarn.

teext © RGJ, a long time ago

photo Bill Howard © JA Nugget/Custom Publishing Group

 

Eugene’s – computer busted, look for new material Wednesday July 17!!

Eugene Jarvis turned a classic old ranch house a fur piece south of Reno into an elegantly appointed restaurant after the end of World War II.  He might have called it “Jarvis’s” but owing to either caprice or the awkward apostrophe, he elected to go with “Eugene’s” thus bestowing one of the most instantly identified and enduring names in Reno’s heritage.

Eugene'sJarvis picked the name, but it took two young men who met in New York at the 1939 World’s Fair and journeyed – separately – to Reno, to get the restaurant underway.  Joe Patrucco was the affable bartender at the Riverside Hotel’s well-known Corner Bar, while Gilbert Vasserot had opened the Moulin Rouge restaurant on Sierra Street.  Their youthful careers were interrupted by a world war, but they rejoined and in 1947 bought the restaurant from Jarvis, retaining the Eugene’s name and assembling a world-class staff that would give Reno a restaurant that would rival the finest in cosmopolitan San Francisco.  (Eugene Jarvis, possibly to create confusion for 50 years to follow, would open a second Eugene’s on a promontory above Lake Tahoe’s Crystal Bay.)

      Gilbert, a Swiss culinary artiste trained in Europe, donned the chef’s toque, a hat he would wear six nights a week for years to follow, while Joe handled the “front” duties – also six nights a week.  And Joe greeted all equally – Eugene’s had the local reputation that a guest was a guest and none were treated better or more quickly than others; that all would receive old world hospitality be they Dennis Day sneaking in for dinner before his show in the Mapes Sky Room, or the local couple taking their daughter out to dinner on her 16th birthday. 

  • • •

The town embraced Eugene’s with civic pride, and eleven years after it opened in Eugene Jarvis’ ranch house, local architect Frank Green was commissioned to design a new restaurant building. 

        Premier local builder Allan Gallaway finished the new restaurant on a spot now near the domes left over from the Century Theater south of the Peppermill, and Gilbert and Joe reopened Eugene’s on May 14th, 1958 (a great photo of Joe and his wife Lucia, and Gilbert with his Lucienne, taken on the steps on opening night, will magically appear on my website soon…) [Lucienne passed away shortly after this column appeared.]   The original ranch house restaurant had been moved a few hundred feet to the west to free up the site for construction.  That structure burned a few years after the new restaurant opened.  And it wasn’t the old James McKay house, as I and many others originally believed; the McKay home was a long block to the south.

What a place the new restaurant was!  A classic bar with a beamed ceiling, leaded glass windows and thickly padded leather banquettes, and a bartender named Cliff Challender who prided himself on committing regular diners’ cocktail preferences to memory (Gilbert points with great pride at his sommelier – wine steward, to some of us – well-remembered by many as Antoine Balducci, who handled the patrons’ wine orders with uncanny knowledge, freeing up the waiters to provide better service.)

        The main room was quiet and open, with rich paneling and more leather – chairs and banquettes – and chandeliers with bulbs hand-painted by Gilbert himself for just the right effect. Pianist Del (few knew his last name was Dellaquadre) could be heard around the room, subtly, but less subtly when somebody would roll in with a party of eight and no reservations.  Del would break into La Vie En Rose, to some a charming love song, but to Joe Patrucco, somewhere out in the room greeting guests, a code to come to the front pronto and deal with a problem.

        One didn’t hear La Vie En Rose too often at Joe and Gilbert’s…

  • • •     

The bill of fare rivaled any fine dinner house in America, garnering Holiday Magazine Five-Star awards year after year when fewer than 75 were conferred in the whole country.  In 1960, Eugene’s hosted the City of Reno’s welcoming luncheon for the International Olympic Committee during the Squaw Valley Winter Olympics.  Business soon came from one interesting market, the airlines. United Air Lines, three words in the 1960s, began with meals for two flights a day to solve a logistical problem and found that the food was so popular on those runs that they eventually selected Eugene’s to prepare meals for twelve flights a day.  Years ago the rumor was that United changed their schedules just to use food from Eugene’s.  Bonanza Airlines also served Eugene’s fare enroute to Las Vegas.  Gil and Joe did take-out judiciously; for a good customer a little under the weather, a Broiled Langoustine Eugene’s or a Filet of Sole Meuniere, with Foigras du Perigord or Zabalione might appear on their sickbed tray.  Or, for Charles Clegg and historian/raconteur Lucius Beebe’s St. Bernard – all three fairly frequent diners — a nice dish of Skippy a la Comstock for the beast.

There’s too much on the menu here to cover in one week.  Soon, we’ll name names: the long-time employees who bought it from Joe and Gilbert in 1961; about photographers Gitta and Jimmie Smith, old-world names like Madalaine Chamot, Annie Creux, Walter Zhand, Rene Jacquemin, Raymond Capitaine, Sergé Nussbaum, Don Richter and Dave Blakely (Richter and Blakely?  Well, not all of them were old-world…) I’ll include some anecdotes from a recent visit with Gilbert Vasserot, some more from the late Joe Patrucco’s daughter Linda, about Eugene’s guests, staff, and great times in a Reno landmark, and finally about Joe and Gilbert’s Continental Lodge.

And now, dessert…

In a recent column, we spoke of what I boldly labeled the finest restaurant that ever graced local nightlife – Eugene’s – and I braced myself for a spate of e-mail pointing out a few other classy places, of which there are many in town.  That argument never arrived (a lot of agreement did, however.)  On the other hand, I heard from all 1,704 people, to listen to them, who had dined in the old house out by the present Peppermill that housed the original Eugene’s on the night owners Joe Patrucco and Gilbert Vasserot closed it in 1958.  And all of the 3,214 first-nighters when the restaurant reopened in the new building across the parking lot on May 14th the same year.  [Sarcasm herein missed by some readers – the new place sat about 130 diners.]  Gitta was there that night and took many photos of the diners, as she did almost every night, trundling off to her studio downtown to process and print them and return before her subjects left for a nightcap at the Riverside.

I promised in that column that in this sequel I’d name names and here we go, with little regard to sequence or grammar:

        It’s hard to think of Eugene’s without thinking of Gil and Joe, then almost automatically of the tall, ethereal waiter-turned-host-turned-owner, who approached Joe Patrucco in 1946, he looking for a job as a waiter, Joe then in the process of buying Eugene’s from Eugene Jarvis.  His name was Walter Zhand (still is) and this “skinny kid,” as Joe described him once in a letter to his daughter, became synonymous with wonderful service and food, first at Eugene’s, then at the Continental Lodge that Joe and Gil opened in 1963 (that’s a column for another Saturday), and later when he built the Galena Forest restaurant on the Mt. Rose Highway.  (Walter, with Raymond Haas and chef Raymond Capitaine, bought Eugene’s in 1971 and operated it into the early 1980s.)  Walter still walks from his home by Virginia Lake, ramrod-straight, still a great guy.

        Many readers wrote of their favorites: Angelo Buccalari tended the bar in the earlier years; Cliff Challender, of the masterful memory for patrons’ favorite drinks, took over later.  Armand was the wine steward of long standing; Raymond Haas was originally a waiter, becoming the lead wine steward when Antoine Balducci, who took over from Armand, retired.  Sergé Nussbaum, Walter Dixon, René Jacquemin, and Carmen.  Waiter Heinz Sauer’s name came up, as did a chef named Mel, and another named Steve LePochat.  Here’s a surprise: Retired Carson City dentist Tom Horgan, who bussed tables while in school. Ingo and Uwe Nikoley, they were there…

  • • •

The patrons were myriad and far-flung to Reno from around the world: During the Squaw Valley Olympics, Joe and Gilbert hosted Lillian Crosa, the figure skater from Gilbert’s native Switzerland, her coach Annie Creux, and ladies downhill contender Madelaine Chamot.  During the filming of The Misfits, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and most of the cast made

Eugene’s their home-away-from-home for dinner (a photo in Gilbert’s scrapbook which he so kindly loaned me depicts our own Betty Stoddard in a page near the Misfit cast, and most people I’ve shown the scrapbook to at first see Betty as Marilyn.  Their 1960 resemblance was amazing…)

        It should be noted that the inspiration for this column came from two fronts occurring within a week of each other: the first, the aforementioned Betty Stoddard sitting with Bob Carroll in a Bonanza Inn TV commercial chatting about great old restaurants – the Lancer, Vario’s, Eugene’s, etc.  Almost simultaneously a lady e-mailed me about a restaurant that her father co-owned, out South Virginia by the Peppermill, a long time ago.  Might make a good column.  “Yeah, I’ve heard of it once or twice,” I answered Linda Patrucco Doerr, and I was off and running.

        Gilbert’s book contains dozens of other neat photos, most from Gitta, Reno’s pre-eminent nightlife photographer, a few from Jimmie Smith and a few more from Don Dondero.  One is of Reno mayor Len Harris and his wife, another of Mike Mirabelli, the music man and state treasurer, one of my old friend Dave Ginsburg and his parents, yet another of Eddie Questa, Jordan Crouch, and a few other First National Bank honchos who I can’t recognize.  And one real treasure: How many people remember Reno’s first TV news anchorman?  I picked him out of a shot, when others couldn’t: His name was, and remains, Durward Yasmer, the voice of KZTV. [later KOLO-TV.]

  • • •

Finally, the guys who parked the cars.  There were a few, I’ll name two old fraternity buddies: Don Richter, who prided himself on lurking around the restaurant watching for a party to get ready to leave, then bringing their car to the door as they walked out (he used his free time to dump the ashtrays and wash the windshields, and reportedly later took three years in the insurance business to get his income back up to what he made in tips at Eugene’s.)  A later valet was Dave Blakely, whose late parents Bill and Maryalice were steady diners at the restaurant.

        I’m indebted to many for the background for this yarn; to Gilbert Vasserot, who with Joe Patrucco – who passed away in 1994 – set the standard against which local dining class and elegance will be measured for years to come.  To Joe’s children, Linda Patrucco Doerr and her brother Bob (and Wendy) Patrucco.  And to Josette Jacquemin, Christiane Markwell, Denise Haas Hastings, and Carmen Buccalari Borges, for their reminiscences.

  • • •

(this column originally appeared in the RGJ on June 23rd, 2001)

July 13 – A letter from a friend!

A day or so ago I wrote of the Sparks SP railyard in our youth, and this reponse arrived from my ol’ childhood/upper Ralston Street playmate Don Hartman, now living, using the term loosely, in the Sacramento environs. His post is so good and well-written I just cut-and-psated it into this space! Enjoy, and thanks, Don…

DonHartmanSparks was SP and the SP was Sparks. Sparks, back in the day, was a true railroad town. My dad took me to the roundhouse (he, too, worked for the Mighty SP until he went into gaming at Harolds Club). The roundhouse was scary to a 10-year-old. There were the big cab-forward engines and the large conventional rear-cab articulated steam engines. I climbed up on the “cow-catcher” of the cab-in-rear monster and was amazed that the “front porch” was as big as my whole bedroom on Ralston Street! The cab-in-rear articulated locomotives were used on the Modoc line – Sparks- Fernley via Pyramid Lake and then all the way to Alturas and Klamath Falls, Oregon.  The roundhouse was so big and there were signs on the roundhouse walls stating, “Do Not Lean On Walls”….my dad said the SP did not want grease and oil- covered workers to get the roundhouse walls dirty from workers’ clothes if workers leaned on the walls!

I remember the roundhouse was freezing cold in winter. The big turntable was so neat to watch as it spun the giant locomotives around. I loved watching the turntable and never forgot an alarm bell would ring just before it started to turn.

My grandmother lived by the old Sparks High School. When I visited her as a young kid, it was neat to hear a loud, shrill whistle blow at high noon at the SP yard so the workers in the roundhouse could go to lunch. That whistle could be heard all over Sparks at 12 noon and again at 12:30 p.m. and also beginning and ending of the shifts in the roundhouse. The newer building next to the roundhouse you mentioned is where my grandfather worked. That building scared the pants off me when my dad took me in there. It is where heavy-duty machine work took place and where parts for locomotive repair were forged. Very, very loud machine noises…large, heavy-duty drop-forge hammers, sparks and fire from machines everywhere; hot, loud banging pipes and big locomotive wheels, glowing-white-hot locomotive parts, grease and oil and puddles of water everywhere. I do not see how Grandpa Dondero could work in that building eight hours a day, six days a week for many years. OSHA would have a field day!

Side note…my dad took me to the roundhouse one Indian-Summer day, October 1953. While there, we saw my uncle who was a brakeman for the SP. My uncle got me (unauthorized) into the cab of a diesel locomotive and I was allowed to sit in the fireman’s seat and ring the bell at road crossings all the way to Fernley where my dad met us. The SP line followed the Truckee River and it was a beautiful Nevada-Autumn day….golden-yellow cottonwoods, ducks on the Truckee…

[In a separate response]: Karl, you may want to add this: Looking back at my visit to that SP building so many years ago, it is amazing the conditions my grandpa and other workers toiled under in that hot, noise-filled building. Boots, bibb-overalls gloves, flannel shirts, period. No eye protection,..no ear protection…no hard-hats…..and they could not even lean against the walls to rest…

Thanks again, Don; good words…

 

July 12 – A Pocketful of Notes

HerbCaenFairmontSure – Herb Caen is my role model; make no mistake. I’ve always wanted to have a deadline six days a week in six decades as he met. And yeah, I use his heds once in a while, but I don’t think I ever knowingly used one without attribution, especially since he passed away in 1997 (and yes I went to his service, which was at just about any pub in San Francisco that first week of March!). So when you see A Pocketful of Notes, as above, or Out Of My Mind, or These Things I Like or others in this column, look for attribution to him.

Sadly, one of his trademark names, this the one of his mythical ace researcher who he’d dispatch to the darkest corners of The City to ferret out some facts, is no longer relevant. The name he gave this person was Etaoin Shrdlu, and at one time in journalism circles it drew a lot of yucks, for all right down to the newest-hire copyboy knew what Caen meant. Now in the 21st century I used it once, only to find that only I and the Big Dude Lerude knew whereof I wrote (OK, Jim Richards makes three).

etaoinshrdluIn the golden days of the newspaper biz, the type was made by dumping molten lead into a mold created by a Linotype machine, which was already on the pathway to oblivion when I enrolled on The Hill in 1959 (but legendary Professor Higginbotham required a class be devoted to it, 16 weeks. He also decreed hand typesetting, a la the Gutenburg Bible) for another 16 weeks. When the Linotype operator knew that he made an error, he’d drag his right index finger from the top to the bottom of the dominant row of the machine’s keyboard, like a typewriter’s ASDFKL: line, but vertical on a Linotype. On the Linotype, it made a line reading ETAOIN SHRDLU. This line stood out like a sore thumb to the copyeditor, who would pull the lead from the elaoinshrdle line and the one above it – the one with the error.

linotypeCaen named his mythical researcher Etaoin Shrdlu, to the great amusement of newspaper people. I used it, one time (with attribution to Caen) and knew that I’d never do it again. No one knew what the hell I was writing about (which is not uncommon). So – should you see that person’s name mentioned in type, that’s the story. I give all my heavy research to Carmine Ghia, who first appeared in my column in 1999. And, is now about as relevant at Etaoin.

Here’s a classic Herb Caen squib that got the phones in San Franciisco pretty well tied up, probably in the 1950s. Once a year or so, Caen, in the Chronicle and Don Sherwood on morning drive-time on KSFO radio, would make some wisecrack that would actually tie Pacific Telephone’s switching equipment in a knot, with listeners or readers telling their friends stories like this:

The gentleman was up and getting ready for work, breakfast and then catch the 10-Monterey (22-Fillmore, 30-Stockton, whatever) to his office downtown. He’d just stepped out of the shower, and was still in his birthday suit when his wife called him, “Honey, the sink seems to be backed up. Can you take a look at it?” He grumbled but pulled a towel around himself and went into the kitchen. He knelt with his head under the kitchen counter looking at the plugged trap when the family dog ambled into the kitchen and drug his wet nose across his master’s nude posterior.

The guy reared up and struck his head on the sink cabinet quite hard, and knocked himself out. His wife found his unconscious body and couldn’t revive him so she called the ambulance. The ambulance crew couldn’t revive him either so they loaded him onto a gurney and were carrying him down the half-stairway to the street. One asked the wife how this happened, and she told them. 

The ambulance crew started to laugh, one so hard that he lost his grip on the gurney. The gurney fell, the naked unconscious husband’s wrist was broken in the fall. They reloaded him and carried him to the ambulance and drove him to Harbor (Presbyterian, St. Francis, UC Parnassus, whatever) Hospital. There the doctors set his wrist in a cast.

The guy came to shortly, wondering why his head hurt, his arm was in a cast, he was breathing through an oxygen cannula in his snoot and he was in a backless hospital gown, when the last recollection he had was looking under the sink with a pipe wrench in his hand…

Caen photo at the Fairmont © SF Chronicle