Not exactly from Tony Pecetti’s Ballroom on Commercial Row, but you might have seen these squeezebox players on KZTV – now KOLO-TV – when it first went on the air. The accordion students of Frank Greco; most remember the “Girl with the laughing eyes,” Nilsine Nillson now married for umpteen-plus years to my buddy Skip Hansen

One of these days soon I’ll tell the story of KZTV’s 1953 opening, right here on the Ol’ Reno Guy (NYSE stock code ORGY) And I did, see Mar. 22!<

School principals ain’t what they used to be…


With some amusement our morning coffee group consisting of men of a certain age  who have grown up in Reno, if indeed we’ve grown up at all, have been noting with some amusement the heartbreaking and ongoing saga of the wussy school principal who got chased out of Double Diamond School by some tyrant mother and is now sitting home getting paid to watch The View while somebody sorts out his dilemma for him. A part of what we await is for the RGJ’s writer Siobhan McAndrew, in our opinion tied with Guy Clifton as the best writer on the staff, to get tough and find out and tell us what the hell is really going on at that school.  This lady is a great writer but has become bogged down writing about kiddies, of which most of us have at least one and have long ago discovered that there’s little new to be said about them. Nor of the school district, which trying to improve upon is akin to shoveling s**t into an incoming tide. She could do better than writing of them when topics of consequence beckon her.

But what we really find interesting is that this situation could have become so screwed up in the first place. We talked this morning about what would have happened should a parent, possibly ours, have stuck their nose into principal Rita Cannan’s office, or Eleanor Miller’s (pictured above) or Jean Conrad’s or Esther Traner’s classrooms in Mary S. Doten Elementary School on West Fifth and Washington in 1948, in an attempt to offer their wise counsel and advice about their methods of teaching us.

Good luck with that! And good luck with chasing Rita Cannan out of the school, which absolutely wouldn’t have happened, while Mr. Corbett the Reno School District superintendent adjudicated the issue with the parent, which would have taken him until about noon the same day. (If this principal thinks the Double Diamond mommy’s tough, he’s never crossed Rita Cannan!)

One wonders, how did we ever get an education with people like these, who steered their own ship and didn’t take any crap off the students, their parents, the public, or the Nevada State Journal?

Actually, pretty well…

The El Tavern – Reno’s first truck stop?


Here’s an old friend, just west of town on West Fourth Street – Old Highway 40 – an old friend because as a child, I ate a lot of good meals there in the coffee shop that was generally crowded with Reno residents and long haul truck drivers, breakfast, lunch and dinner

The highway in front of the motel was always lined with trucks – which then were trucks with a cargo body pulling a full trailer, as opposed to the semi-trailers common today (and I  don’t recall any sleeper cabs then, but I could be wrong.) I fudge a little in calling it the first truck stop; it probably was tied for that honor with Ernie’s Flying A on East Fourth Street, which was still Highway 40, or the Lincoln Highway

And the food? Great – after all, the guy that owned it was an old hardscrabble miner from some central Nevada mining camps, operating before WWII. His name was Bill Parker, a good friend of my dad’s. He made his swag mining gold and silver. Which probably accounts for the name of the restaurant he later opened, a few blocks to the east: The Gold ‘n Silver. You’ve probably eaten there…!

The ol’ Pony Express Lodge


With great fanfare this motel opened in the years after WWII, at the confluence of Prater Way, El Rancho Drive and B Street in Sparks – the first animated neon sign across the street above Cal’s Drive-In (the animation being an arrow flying off the Indian’s bow in the direction of the motel.)

And what a place it was! Ballyhoo-ed all over the West Coast, with the cachet of a Harolds Club organization. (As I type this I get an error message for not using a possessive apostrophe in “Harolds” – Reno advertising wizard Tom Wilson steered the club’s owners away from an apostrophe, and writers have been screwing it up ever since. The club’s advertising never used one, so we won’t either.)

Of Wreaths and Shamrocks

The following yarn originally gained life in 1997, and has been resurrected on days proximate to St. Paddy’s Day quite often. A friend asked last week, “So where was the St. Patrick’s Day column?” And begorrah, here’s our traditional blarney, wheels up, and away we go:

<<<<<  Blanchfieldpictured, men help a pilot load bags of mail aboard a DH-4 at the U.S.Air Mail airport, now part of the Washoe County Golf Course]

William Blanchfield was a young aviator, an Irishman and World War I RAF pilot who flew the Reno-Elko run for the embryonic U.S. Air Mail Service [pictured right].   He perished when his biplane crashed into an unoccupied home in northwest Reno while trying to drop a wreath into the funeral service of Air Mail mechanic Samuel Gerrans, being conducted in the Knights of Pythias Cemetery a block west of the tiny University of Nevada campus

Just prior to St. Patrick’s Day in 1925, the first St. Patrick’s Day following the tragedy, a box arrived at the office of Silas Ross, the funeral director who had handled Blanchfield’s interment.  The small box was posted from Ireland and contained a shamrock, with a request from Blanchfield’s mother to lay it at his grave.  This, Ross did, as he did for almost a score of years to follow, when a box arrived from Ireland before each St. Patrick’s Day.  Inevitably, one year the box failed to arrive before the holiday.  Inquiries, made with some difficulty during the dark days of World War II, revealed that William Blanchfield’s mother had passed away.  The tradition was resurrected the following year by his sister, who resided in County Cork on the Emerald Isle.  But those annual shipments too, ceased in 1976.

One of my favorite readers for many years, who passed away several years ago, Barbara Rabenstine, whose association with Blanchfield we’ll learn more of soon, continued the tradition faithfully since 1982.   

Getting somewhat caught up in the story, I visited Blanchfield’s grave in 1998.  Looking south from the promontory at Mountain View Cemetery on that dour afternoon, I could visualize young Blanchfield lifting the big DeHavilland DH-4 off the runway, now part of the Washoe Golf Course.  His thoughts might have been with the airman slated to fly with him for this ceremony, who now but for a change in plans would have been in the forward cockpit to handle the drop of the wreath. Protocol of such a solemn tribute would dictate Blanchfield circling the funeral service twice, surely flying with his right hand while fumbling with the wreath with his left.  He’d roll the plane high on one wing, dropping the wreath from the open rear cockpit as he firewalled the engine and let the plane roll through to level flight.

But it didn’t happen that way. Pre-teens Chet and Link Piazzo, who lived at Tenth and Ralston Streets, were walking down Ralston Street to Humphries’ Meat Market.  Link remembers a load roar from the west and the shadow of an airplane passing overhead followed by an impact, and later a fireman removing him from power lines that the plane had severed.  (The wires were cold; Chet passed away a few years ago and Link is still with us. [2017: Link has passed away also]  Curiously, planes frightened them as children, but both went on to fly combat in World War II.  Don Small, a great guy then 10 years old, later a retired Sierra Pacific executive [Don passed away in 2012], recalls billowing smoke and another neighbor pulling the fire alarm box on University Terrace.

Now 96 years later when airmen gather to speak of the caprice of the skies, they speculate what might have happened – or not happened – had Blanchfield’s co-pilot and fellow Irishman been aboard to jettison the wreath, as he had planned to be.  Many eyewitnesses thought a freak gust of wind had played a part; aviators attributed the crash to the difficulty of controlling the heavy biplane while getting the wreath ready to drop.

On that fateful day, had year-and-a-half-old Barbara McKinley Rabenstine’s 9andRalstonmother’s bridge game not been canceled, Barbara and her infant sister Bettie might have been where they frequently spent summer afternoons, enjoying the sun in the south window of their home on the northwest corner of Ninth and Ralston Streets – the same window the DeHavilland impacted into, the resulting fire destroying the house within minutes.  On another day, the accident may never have occurred, or another day yet, Silas Ross might have emplaced the headstones of not one, but four Irishmen, a couple of Italian future sporting goods merchants and a future power company exec, all inscribed with the date August 1, 1924.

But owing to the luck of the Irish and William Puchert of the Sons and Daughters of Erin, this St. Patrick’s Day shor’n a contingent of Irishmen again paid a mother’s respect last weekend to a Son of Erin who died, so long ago, so far from home.

 text © RGJ quite often … photo source – various

“When Irish eyes are smilin” – our companion St. Patrick’s Day blarney; a tale of Harry O’Brien – click here

Bill Harrah would turn over in his grave…


This photo, taken on a glorious March day, would make William Fisk Harrah revolve in his grave, if such he has not already done. It’s by request; an old reader asked me about the house, which was built in the late 1960s by a local dentist, a nice guy, for his large family at the south end of Nixon Avenue on the west side of the street (1555 Nixon).

The large house was acquired by Harrah’s Club as a rest and recreating place for the stars and their families, who were indeed stars in this period of Reno-at-its-prime. The club hired Oakland architect Henry Conversano & Associates, who designed the Harrah’s South Shore Hotel, to gut the place and turn it into a home every bit as nice as any Harrah property. I know; I was in it once with Neil Sedaka, after we got into a conversation out in front and he invited me in for a beer. Nice guy. Good singer…

And, its exterior was impeccably groomed, a point of pride with the Harrah organization, with the name “Interlaken” in brass on a rock out in front, evocative of “Rancharrah” on Talbot Lane in Reno, and “Villa Harrah” at Lake Tahoe’s southeast shore. Mr. Harrah liked brass plaques.

And the stars lived there, and enjoyed it to the max. One of the most noted guests was Willie Nelson, who when playing the club, might have gone in and out of the place once in a while, but what neighbors remember, and not unpleasantly at that, were the four huge motorhomes – think stretched MCIs and  Prevosts, belonging to Waylon, Willie and the Boys (the Highwaymen!)  parked on Nixon, with the Boys jammin’ and havin a toke or two after their midnight show downtown. These guys knew how to party, and didn’t give a rat’s ass that the Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court lived next door – he was welcome to come over and light up a joint also, but it didn’t spoil their party one bit.

The asset was disposed of in the 1980s, when entertainers ceased to be a concern for what remained of Harrah’s. I think it’s had a couple of owners since, and sadly, looks like hell.

And there you have it, Misha…

Happy Birthday, Ron!


He was 8 years old when I took this picture, now he’s turning 47 this week. Our ’72 Ford pickup’s gone; Larry Hicks won his District Attorney race (the bumper sticker in the back window!), the binoculars sitting on the water cooler just out of view, still work, as does the VHF aircraft radio sitting on the roof

Ron was illegal as hell out where this was taken, at the Home Pylon of the air races where I was the flagman for 28 years (as he got older – and bigger – he gave me a hand. As did his younger brother Brent). The FAA turned their heads when he sat in the truck, all day, at the races, surely the best seat in the house

He’s in San Francisco now with wife Amy, daughter Jackie (14) and son Andy (12 yesterday). Happy Birthday, Ron!

Link Piazzo and Lew Hymers – an epilogue

Sportsmana href=”https://karlbreckenridge.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/hymersstreeter.jpg”&gt;HymersStreeter
A popular feature of the Nevada State Journal in the 1930s and ’40s was Seen About Town, a collection of caricatures of local movers-and-shakers, drawn rapidly in the lunch counters and legislative halls and wherever they appeared. One such was Jack Streeter – Jack’s seen in the bottom row of this montage, second from the right.

Hymers was a local treasure; some of his work apart from caricatures that’s best-remembered are the cartons of Chism Ice Cream, and the black-and-white striped sign with the likeness of Chet and Link Piazzo, from the Sportsman sporting goods store (he drew a few women also, mostly in State government, one of Mamie Towles, arguably Reno’s first lady school principal, and one of Dr. Mary Fulstone from Yerington.)

And here, I’ll stick my neck out and say that Link Piazzo is Hymers’ last living subject – I narrowed it to four in an article five years ago, and heard no argument: Piazzo and Streeter, plus Jack Horgan and Louie Capurro. With the passing of the latter three, Link’s it. (If there are others, please let me know)

[Epilogue: Link passed away on Nov. 12, 2014…]

A change in direction?


In an effort to combat the boring nature of this site, our five-man editorial board is meeting on Sunday to eliminate uniformity and to try to infuse a little individualism into the Ol’ Reno Guy’s pages