Lou LaBonte’s – the best-kept secret in Auburn

Labonte entranceLabonte Sign

I may be wrong – Reno folks may go to Lou LaBonte’s in droves, and I just don’t hear from them.

But we stopped there for dinner tonight on the way back from Sacramento – a quick day trip – and it was wonderful! Good food, service, great old photographs on the walls of the days when the road in front of the building was the Lincoln Highway – Highway 40 (now it’s a frontage road; Ikeda’s is a short block to the east, on the same side of the freeway). I’d bet – I may lose but I’d do it anyway – that the fireplace was crafted by the Indians from Stewart Indian School in Carson City. Can’t say enough good about it, but give it a whirl, breakfast, lunch or dinner…it’ll bring back a lot of memories, for many of us back to the days before Interstate 80 crossed the Sierra

A new sheriff in town at the Ol’ Reno Reader HQ

NoukText Writter

Taking the reins of the Ol’ Reno Guy in early April at the recommendation of many faithful readers, EXECUTIVE EDITOR Throckmorton (“Text”) Writter frees the artistic genius of website owner Slim Dickens to soar on a day-to-day basis, while handling the down-to-earth challenges of paying royalties to staff writers and dealing with spoiled artists’ and contributors’ attorneys and agents, libel / slander / defamation-of-character litigation, abuse of copyright and plagiarism issues and staff-originated sexual harassment by senior editors and and unfair labor relations discussions

Writter’s associate Masters Degree in Animal Husbandry by correspondence from the University of Southern North Dakota positions him as absolutely, uniquely and totally inept at determining the “look” of the Ol’ Reno Guy, which like no other website in the 21st Century is created with only one column and relies on limited graphics, no changes in ink color (“ink” a term used in early-20th Century journalism), on a background scrounged, er, captured from other, more successful and creative websites, which are almost any of them.

Text recognizes that web browsers have a long way to go until Dickens can comprehend use of two fonts to make stuff on an amateur webpage more interesting and readable – this web’s Bookman Antigua is going to look pretty much like Times New Roman and Arabic as you read it on your browser. He does little for grammar or spelling, as Dickens creates his own language as he moves along, often in English. Attribution, which is to say from whom some passage was stolen, or who took a photograph, or who first published a fact, is important to Writter and he tries to incorporate it into the site. And by the same token, he refers those who steal from our website to our legal affairs director, pictured above right>


Another old University of Nevada friend bites the dust…

Getchell 2getchelllibrary copy
Well, they’re doing it again – tearing down a building that many of us watched being built during our University of Nevada matriculation and one that we visited thereafter, quite often. A couple of them were saved – and I’ll modestly take a bit of credit for calling the regents a bunch of damn ungrateful fools in a column, for coming thhhhiiis close to tearing down the Fleischmann Atmospherium-Planetarium, and taking the name “Jot Travis” off the student union center – a building built in 1958 in honor of Ezra “Jot” Travis, endowed by his son Wesley upon Wesley’s death in 1952. The Planetarium, named for the parents of university benefactor Max C. Fleischmann, was on the endangered list in favor of some dingbat building. It still stands. Moral being, don’t give your fortune to the University – they’ll spend it and in a period of time, demolish it for some younger guy’s endowment. And you and your wife’s name (and your contribution!) will soon go by the wayside.

Now, another building is going, going, soon to be gone – the Noble H. Getchell Library opened in 1962, two years after Noble Getchell’s death, to replace the Clark Library, a building still in use today as the Clark Administration Building. In days past, honored names, like William Clark’s, also a miner, were more revered than they are today. We, as undergraduates and “we” being every able-bodied soul attending the U, hauled the Clark’s inventory of library books, box-by-box, from the Clark up the (then) main drive for re-shelving in the new Getchell Library. The Getchell was a beautiful, modern building, bright, airy and welcoming (still is). Noble Getchell was a miner, and beat the drum for all the Nevada miners to support the University which then had a Mackay School of Mines, not “earth-sciences,” whatever those are – euphemisms abound on the Hill – the “Hill” itself a bygone term of endearment for the U. Getchell, like John Mackay before him, contributed mightily to our school. (In fairness, the mining industry went flat about the time the Nevada miners would have started to fund the library and Getchell and the others couldn’t endow it as he’d hoped to. But, he tried, and name “Getchell” will soon depart from the memory of the University of Nevada.)

You may bid the Getchell Library goodbye – apparently it couldn’t be converted to another use in this cash-rich Nevada university system (the tale is that it’s built with student funds. Students, as we know, have a lot of spare cash lying around to build buildings with.) I wonder if this occurs at other universities – the destruction, whether they pull it off or not, as in the case of the Jot and the Planetarium – look-out the Campanile at UC Berkeley, surely taking up a lot of room that could better be used for parking, or the Hoover Library at Stanford, or that damn ol’ Pauley Pavilion at UCLA, right in the middle of what could be a solar array for campus power, or Crisler Arena at Michigan – definitely showing its age. The Tables Down at Morey’s, and the Place where Louie Dwells back east in the Ivy League.

The Getchell served us well for half a century. Thanks, Noble…

When life hands you a lemon…,


This is a columnatic outgrowth, if that’s a word, of our post about our friend Larry Horning-from-Corning, (April 20th), who ran roughshod over the 7-Up distributing network in Northern Nevada for several decades, and who had the temerity to impugn my skills at the Good Old Days Club, but all that has absolutely nothing to do with this Friday post.

What is of consequence here is a corporate blunder, a major goof on the part of no less than the Seven-Up Company’s head shed in wherever, where somebody, no doubt a graveyard shift worker with his mind on some Baywatch babe or another diversion poles apart from the safe watch over the 7-Up bottling racks. He let this goof go unnoticed for most of his shift – labels inverted from their cargo.

And lo! 7,400 cases, if I may start a sentence with a Cardinal number, were bottled, cased, and put onto trucks in the shipping bay with a goodly number to be sent by rail hither and thither to the far corners of the land, or maybe not to thither at that.

But what do we do now? We have 7,400 cases of product with the name inverted on the labels, to form what appears to be a “dnL” as the name of the product. Do we admit that we screwed up in the bottling plant? What would Coca Cola and Hires and the other bottlers say: “7-Up can’t keep their products straight!!!”

Well, when the dipshit in the bottling line puts the labels on backwards, they did what any mega-corporate, national bellwether of doing-it-right would do: THEY INVENTED A NEW PRODUCT! This, in 2002, they added some lemon-lime, caffeinated it, gave it a greenish color unlike clear 7-Up, and did a few other things, mostly legal, to differentiate it from the plain ol’ 7-Up. For all the world to see, from the capitals of Europe to the backwaters of third-world countries; from Saturday afternoon football games on TV to fine ladies sipping something at the Kentucky Derby, move over Mint Juleps, the cognoscenti are swilling “dnL!” a new drink from 7-Up!

Photographed here, in an exclusive shot taken in the parking lot of the Black Bear Diner, where gentlemen of a certain age meet daily and if no rumor is heard by 9:00 a.m., one is then started, is seen a cooler with the “dnL” trademark upon it, and please note this is not a label placed upside down, for to keep the ruse alive, you can see that 7-Up made sure that the copyright registration “®” mark was appended in the inverted position barely, yet visible, below and to the right of the accidental “L”.

We of the Ol’ Reno Guy editorial staff will meet you all, for a “Seven-Crown-Royal and dnL,” the new highball of choice for the 21st Century! dnL – that’s where it’s at! And in closing, don’t forget the giraffe, who walked into the bar and said, “The highballs are on me…!

Have a good weekend…..




Fun with surreys, gigs, bass fiddles and John Phillip Sousa!

music man

Several days ago a reader took me to task for insinuating that Dave (Buck) Wheat, who too few knew as the brilliant bass fiddle player for the Kingston Trio, wrote the letters attributed to him in my piece (April 14th). Actually, it didn’t seem to bother that reader that the letters were primarily bullcrap, manufactured as a vehicle to tell a few stories about pre-1960 Reno and those who lived in it. The greater concern was my chronology for the production and maturation of the Kingston Trio. I knew damn well that the whole thing was haywire, but, in the pattern of Mark Twain, I’m seldom prone to let a good story get screwed up by the facts. Fact is, most of the column beside what the reader complained about was also sheer baloney.

Curiously, I had a couple other projects going this week; in both, I determined some facts that America has come to love and embrace, are about as off-base as my letters from Buck Wheat that never existed. But this reader seems to leave Meredith Willson and Oscar Hammerstein alone, for works that the whole world has come to love and enjoy: respectively, their Broadway shows The Music Man, and Oklahoma!

Professor Harold Hill, in The Music Man, incants, “…And you’ll feel something akin to the electric thrill I once enjoyed when Gilmore, Liberati, Pat Conway, The Great Creatore, W.C. Handy and John Philip Sousa all came to town on the very same historic day.”

Patrick Gilmore was probably dead when most of the others led their bands, Giuseppe Liberati lived a continent away,  Pat Conway – well, maybe he was in River City, but it’d be a stretch timewise, The Great Creatore like Liberati was hell-and-gone away from River City for most of his career. W.C. Handy, now he was a little younger, a black musician of great renown but mostly for jazz, and John Phillip Sousa – of him, we needn’t write a great deal. The father of the American March – Stars and Stripes Forever!

But – did they ever  all come to town together, as Professor Harold Hill suggests, on that same historic day? Ta-ta-daaaah…I think not.


But – did anybody bother Meredith Willson? Nooooo…  Did they nominate him for two Oscars for his misconceptions? Yup. Did he get a star on Hollywood Boulevard? Yup. Do I get that after a slight mis-step with my Buck Wheat tale? Noooooooooo…

          Now, let’s talk about Oscar Hammerstein, just one song, Surrey with the Fringe on Top. That one. Did he write about a surrey, with a fringe on top, with four, count ‘em, four, wheels. That’s how many wheels surreys have. Yup. And don’t the lyrics mention, “You will set behind a team of snow white horses, in the slickest gig you ever see!”? Yup.

          And what’s a “gig?” It’s a horse-drawn carriage with two wheels. Count ‘em: two. A “brouette,” an Irishman might say. Or might not. But does anybody bug Oscar Hammerstein? Noooooooooo…  Does he get Oscars, Grammies, Platinum records, a place in the pinnacle of American entertainment (which he richly deserves)?Yup.

          Life ain’t fair. One little column, one slight goof, intentional at that, and my career is doomed.

          See you tomorrow, right here on the Ol’ Reno Guy. Maybe I’ll tell you about the night I played banjo for the Limeliters at Blyth Arena in Squaw Valley…

          That ought to get somebody worked up!


A Star is Born


“Why,” several e-mailers have asked over the years, mostly in reference to the old Blue Plate Special, “don’t you ever write about personalized plates…?”

            I’ve revered the late RG-J columnist Ty Cobb from a time dating back to my early 1950s Reno Rec youth baseball days (before Little League), and it’s been  a bit early to invade that popular milieu in his Cobbwebs columns. 

            Today we’ll read of a personalized plate that has prompted some calls and comments over the years.  It was attached fore and aft to a late model Cadillac parked at Longs Drug in the Village Center a while back, so I laid in wait for the owner. 

I first saw this plate in the early 1970s on a red Caddy, and often through the years on a number of intervening Cads, always red.  I thought back then “How in the world did he get that plate?”  Over the years occasional column mentions of blue license plates have sparked inquiries about this unique one from some of the readers.

Soon a couple exited Longs; a nice-looking couple who could pair in any TV commercial as the all-American, picture-of-health grandparents, and they fortunately also had a great sense of humor when this total stranger/drive-by columnist told them that the time was here and now, to speak of their license plate for a hundred thousand-or-so waiting readers.  We talked for a half an hour.

            A little background is required here: Before World War II Nevada plates used just numbers, and shortly before the war they received a county prefix, in our local case a “W.”  Fast forward to the late 1960s when the connoisseur of all things automotive, William Fisk Harrah, wanted something a little more unique than “W23743” or whatever on the tail end of his hopped-up Chrysler 300.  He dispatched his minions out into the hinterland with orders to bring the casino every plate in Washoe County from W1 to W100, car and truck alike (trucks wore “WT” back then), and use any asset in Harrah’s arsenal to convince the plate’ owners to cough them up.  There were a whole lot of Nevadans winding up with everything from trips to the club’s Idaho Middle Fork Lodge retreat to showroom tickets for life to a date with Olivia Newton John in a chauffeured Harrah Rolls Phantom V, and acquire almost all the double digit “W” plates for his execs and truck fleet, Harrah did.

            One such plate was W7, whose owner resisted early efforts by club delegates.  “Do you like to hunt?” they asked.  “Why sure,” the owner said, “but what I really want is one special plate.”  “We can get it,” the suits promised.  “We otter just hop in the club’s Twin Otter and fly up to Idaho and get acquainted.  We’ll get you an Idaho elk tag, pack horses and a guide and have a little barbecue for a couple of days while we chat.  Bring a friend.”  And so they did, successfully.  Harrah’s mounted the trophy head, skinned the beast and tanned it, and processed the beef when they got home.  “Now, what plate was it you wanted?”

            “A star, a simple, five-pointed star, smack in the middle of the plate,” said Swede Olsen, aka W7, and as a matter fact, as W76, for Swede owned the Union 76 service station at the Village Center almost since the center was built in the mid-1950s.  “We can do it,” said the Harrah people, secretly wondering how in the hell they could sell that symbol to the Nevada DMV, but Harrah’s had clout then.  The craftsmen at the gated community in Carson City that make license plates lacked a star in their font of dies, so they sent it to their branch office at San Quentin to be struck – a star centered in the field of blue, the ’69 stamp on the upper left corner (those plates were issued January of 1967 and validated with a sticker in 1968; 1969 was the expiration year.) 

            The new plates were returned to Carson City, and Swede and his wife LaRue (retired from Sierra Pacific Power Company) journeyed there to pick up their star plates in trade for W7.  It’s been on four or five Caddies since, all red.  The Olsens have pizzazz.

            I asked if it drew any inordinate attention from the fuzz.  Once on their way to Portland, Swede recalled, they were yanked over by one of Oregon’s Finest, piqued about Swede’s mile or two (or 15) over the speed limit.  The officer gave him the usual admonitions and checked his license, but as the moment drew closer to putting pen to paper on a ticket he seemed to have second thoughts, something disarming about a sharp, well-spoken driver and his attractive wife in a new clean Caddy with a weird license plate that didn’t fit into any highway patrol computer.  Who was this guy?  He let the roadside visit end with a pleasant “Now you all be careful and keep it down a bit.  My wife and I were married in Reno so I want you to enjoy Oregon.”  Swede and the trooper were both relieved.  (Spend five minutes with Swede and you’d learn he’d have just paid the ticket like the rest of us would.)  “What happens if you get rear-ended and the plate gets mashed?” I asked.  I’m sworn to secrecy, but an extra might have fallen out of the press that day in San Quentin, just might have.

            That started the era that personalized plates started to proliferate, owing largely to, you guessed it, Bill Harrah, who eventually came up with almost all the low numbers save for one – I still smile when I see another Caddy streaking across Washoe Valley to John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks, then parking in the Nugget’s executive lot – “John” on the parking space, W6 on the car.  Perfeck. 

Mr. Harrah was eventually able get the low numbers, yet longed to put “CLANG” on the auto collection’s cable car, “SAMMY” on Mr. Davis’ son’s Duesenberg or a lone “H” on his personal Ferrari Boxer (red, natch).  He successfully lobbied the Nevada legislature for personalized plates, grist for a future column unto itself.  Ty Cobb deciphered them for us in grand style, but it was Swede and LaRue who got the Star of the Show. 


• • •


Ol’ Reno Guy gets a Sunday off…

Red T-Bird

It’s Sunday; the Giants are beating the Padres in AT&T Park, it’s Earth Day, all is right in the world so we make a light-duty post just to keep the streak alive. We’ve  extolled the virtues of staff photographer Lo Phat. Here is a shot he took over the back fence of the Ol’ Reno Guy global headquarters onto Allen Street, a dead bird under tow from a ’57 Chevy tow truck.

    Actually, the T-Bird and the tow truck are each about four inches long, seen sitting on top of the fence, and now back in their place in the cabinet in the headquarter building. How does he do it, with that old pre-war Speed Graphic?

     Have a good weekend. Go Giants,

Update: Giant won, shutout

The Wreck of the Ol’ 97


The inherent peril in promising the world that you will post something, every day, come hell, high water, sleet, rain, power outage, abduction, waking up with weasels tearing at your flesh, death by fang, cliff, claw, sudden wealth, pestilence, hooch or hot lead, is, that sometimes the bar for the quality of the post can be lowered, or in today’s case, tanked, just to get a post posted daily. Today, Saturday, is such a day, and this is such a post.

We see here a vista that I’m not sure of, somewhere between a Sheep Dip stunt and a Laugh-In segment, a hot Olds 4-4-2 with two drivers and three groupie babes. The guys are Tim Burke holding the helmet, and Larry Horning, who presumably needs no helmet. Larry – Horning-from-Corning – or close to Corning (N.Y.) anyway, came to town in the 1960s to ensure that diners, tavern denizens, picnickers, residents, all the denizens of the valley, would have 7-Up on their tables, bartops, checkout counters and picnic baskets everywhere on this side of the Sierra, and he did a pretty good job of it ’til he retired as a top–exec, no-bull, all-business type, which he remains in retirement. He has also rendered some beautiful music from a great pair of pipes, for Masterworks Chorale and a few  other groups and monthly at the Good Old Days club. The guy can sing, no question about it; he could have gone to the Big Apple instead of Reno, and moved ol’ Blue Eyes aside in the hearts of American lasses in the early 1960s.

(The ladies occupying and glamming up the Olds are, and this is true, are the Barq girls, Barq being a root-beer drink that we see little of in the West who loaned these ladies to whoever took the picture. We’re told.)

Horning would have us believe that this is a publicity stunt conjured up by 7-Up, but as trained professionals, we find this to be a load of horse-hockey and that he and Burke, and the Barq girls had probably in truth stolen the Olds from Waldren Olds’ lot and the NASCAR suits from John Tyson, in some failed attempt to pad their burgeoning expense accounts at the bottling company.

And that’s the story the Ol’ Reno Guy is going with. This has almost nothing to do with the post itself, but it might be known by all that the stalwart members of the Good Old Days club, not prone to hi-jinx, were witness to Mr. Horning relating an anecdote of dubious veracity yesterday at their meeting at the Tamarack, that anecdote bearing upon some shortcomings in the Ol’ Reno Reader’s intelligence, work-ethic, and shoddy use of the English language, speling and grammer.

It is logical to believe that Mr. Horning, having brought himself into the crosshairs of this civic offering of commentary, will from time-to-time again be featured in this website with further accounts of his adventures about our hamlet.

Actually, he told a pretty good joke. And really, he’s a great singer, and a good friend!)

Researching our history – the Sanborn map

SanbornKeySanborn viewSanborn Index

While at the Nevada Historical Society this afternoon BS’ing with my old buddy Mike Maher, the NHS’ chief librarian, I took a few shots of the Sanborn maps that we who research Reno’s history utilize so often.

I worked in my younger years at the Hartford Insurance Company in San Francisco, and can tell you that these babies – huge books with solid covers, 24 by 30 inches with heavy pages that weigh a ton – were one of the greatest creations of good ol’ Yankee know-how ever assembled, starting from Sanborn’s inception in the second half of the 19th Century, creating map books of almost every major, and some minor villages, all over America. The insurance industry was Sanborn’s biggest customer.

The Sanborn system was pure genius, borne of a time when men ignored the time clock and just got the job done – agents in the field, think any medium-size town to metropolis across America, made it their business to know every new structure, and modification, or removal of a significant structure, and conveyed it to Sanborn’s main office in New York City, or a branch in San Francisco, Atlanta or Chicago. The change in the map page for that building would be drawn out, then sent to the clients across the country. The clients would then moisten the back of the changes – which in fact were stickers – and place them over whatever appeared in the existing pages, thus changing the map.

If the Mapes Hotel, shown as a non-combustible, 12-story building occupied as a hotel with gaming on the main floor and Walgreen’s Drug on the northwest corner, was to be imploded, a new sticker would be sent to clients showing a vacant lot at that site, joining the stickers for the YMCA when it blew to the east, then the 40 East First Street office building that was demolished, and the Majestic Theater when it was razed. An insurance underwriter in San Francisco or St. Louis or Houston could look at a map of that block, and see a big, vacant lot.

We who write about Reno use these maps, at the Historical Society; there’s several massive volumes of Reno maps up there, donated by the Reno Fire Department, and the Pacific Fire Rating Bureau, and a couple of insurance agencies. They are no longer in use in the insurance business, nor maintained by Sanborn. The latest issues we have are 1972, but, not all of them were maintained. But they are of great benefit – my quest today was to see if Church Street, parallel to West Second between Ralston and Arlington, used to go all the way east to Arlington. And I learned that it did, right through the present Town House Motel on that site where Church Street was abandoned (Arlington shows as “Chestnut,” the street’s former name and the name on the map page.)

The maps are rich in information; the ages of the buildings, the occupancies, the height and construction, shown in yellow for frame (wood), pink for brick with wood floors and roof, blue for full masonry, and gray for non-combustible (cement floors and walls). The size of the lot it sits on, the size of the water main serving it, the distance to a hydrant, an incredible amount of information for the underwriter, but for us writers, the ages, occupancies, neighbors, dates of demolition. And some unplanned surprises: Stay tuned, and one of these posts when time permits I’ll publish the original name of the New Gym, now known as the Virginia Street Gym at the University. The regents thought they’d eradicated it from memory prior to WWII, but it inadvertently remained visible on a Sanborn map. Cool.

The upper photo is the “key” for the maps – the code for the information the map includes. The center graphic is downtown Reno in a Sanborn page, a lot of pink (brick) and some yellow (frame), the Truckee, the bridges (no Sierra, Center or Lake Street bridges in 1928, but a bridge on Rock Street, by the present Harrah Auto Collection), much information, (note the V&T Railroad track weaving from the southeast, across the Truckee to the SP tracks). See why we can spend hours on one tiny project…! And the lower graphic is the “index” for the map book; Reno split into map pages, to help the user get to the sheet he’s looking for. I’ll post these; I’m still working on graphics in this WordPress webpage so bear with me. And, we’ll have some more about maps in another post in a while to follow