Buck’s letters home, 1959

Goin Places

  July 2, 1959: Dear Mom, Reno is a big town after growing up in Searchlight and I’m looking forward to starting at the University. They’re building a new Fine Arts building and a dining hall; next year a library. They have a football team with not one but two coaches – pretty big program! Reno is looking forward to the Winter Olympics next year at some place called Squaw Valley. I miss Pinky and know he’s off to law school; he promised that 50 years from now he’d show us why elections shouldn’t last more than four hours. I’m off to find a job!


July 4: The rodeo’s in Reno, Fred MacMurray won the “Silver Spurs” and rode in a parade. The new pool opened at Hidden Valley, a country club ‘way out of town. I met a girl there named Del Loomis who just won the State Jaycee tennis tournament.


July 5: Mom and Dad: I got a job at a new hotel called the Holiday as a busboy; it’s an expensive restaurant with prime rib dinners at $2.99. I was lucky to get it. There are now 29,000 people employed in Nevada, I read. I got an apartment at 128 Maple Street with two meals a day for 15 bucks a week.


July 8: Hi Mom and Dad, been playing a little bass fiddle with some guys I met from Stanford who come up to t he hotel every weekend named Nick, Dave and Bob and play some kind of new “folk” music. Mr. Crumley, the owner of the hotel, lets them stay here for free and play on weekends. There’s a new dancer at the Mint Club called Rose Marie the Bronze Temptress, and when she started dancin’ the dancin’ made me feel that everything she had was absolutely real (my new buddy Oscar Hammerstein, another busboy at the Holiday, said that.)


July 11: Hi – there’s a printer’s strike in Reno and the editors are running the presses so it’s kind of hard to read. Biggest news is the old Reno dump closed, and 40 shirts were stolen from a car on North Sierra Street, just fresh from the laundry, speculation was that the victim was a legislator named Townsend. The Blondie comic strip today is a duplicate of one that would run in August of 2010, but we don’t know that yet. They thought they could get away with re-running it but we fooled ‘em.


July 15: Hi everybody; busy day today at work, Holiday lunch was roast turkey for $1.35. I waited on two bankers just promoted to full vice-president of First National Bank – Bert Fitz and Harold Gorman. The bank’s president Eddie Questa was with them; he seems to be a good friend of Mr. Crumley’s. The county auditorium is being pushed on Mill Street between [former] V&T right-of-way and St. Clair Street [probably Sinclair; typos happened in ’59 also.]  My weekend friends with the guitars and banjo are packing in some crowds – they picked a name, “Jamaica Quartette,” or something, although I think they’re really a trio.  Jim Eardley, a RHS teacher, is offering a new driver training class in a car with dual steering wheels from Richardson- Lovelock the Ford dealer. He came in for lunch; he’s a good guy.  


July 17: Sparks PD is holding an urgent message for Claude E. Dennison EL5-8324.  The newspaper strike is over; there’s an ad for a City of Reno Recreation Director, PE major, must be male, under 45 years old, $475/month. Fifty years from now I’d lump that with premier Realtor Ray P. Smith’s ad today for a home “Ideal for Coloreds.”   Whitey Herzog is on the K.C. A’s disabled list; Dick Williams is filling in for him.                                              


July 19: Dear Mom – the town is busy. My new friend Bob Challender won the championship flight at Washoe Golf Course.  A law school bar review class is being given upstairs in the hotel by the firm of Springer, McKissick & Hug (didn’t Herb Caen call that the “most romantic law firm on the West Coast?”) Will wonders never cease: American Airlines is experimenting with pre-loaded luggage containers for DC-8s.  James Hoffa is P.O.’ed at somebody again (and we’ll learn later where that got him).  A new club called the “New China Club” opened this week on Lake Street.


July 20: Work going well, still playing fiddle with the guys, working on a song called “Tom Dooley” that’s kind of neat, got to play in the Shore Room the other night.  Idel Anderson, a RHS teacher, is spending the summer in Europe (where she flew with the WAC in WWII).    Miss Hawai’i vitals are 35-25-35, whatever that means; we didn’t see that stat much in Searchlight.  The Gaylords duo is playing the Holiday; singer Burt Bonaldi (Gaylord) predicted he’d sing God Bless America at the Good Old Days club meetings at the Elks Home 50 years from now [and he does!]   (I’m told the old Elks Home blew up a couple of years ago.)


July 23: Hi everybody! Some big company just bought land at Lake Tahoe (a big lake close to Reno) from the California border halfway down the lake’s Nevada side – they say for the timber but they also said they may put a few houses up there someday. The Eager Beaver ladies group is meeting at 155 University Terrace tonight, and the first item on the agenda is changing the name of their club. Here’s an ad:  “Five-room house, West Second street, suitable for a small retail store, information at Chism Trailer Park office.” I’ve got an idea, mom, something like, “Better Browsing.”  How’s that for a name…?  Worked a 50th anniversary party upstairs in the banquet room last night for a couple that was invisible; their kids weren’t too much to look at either. 


July 25: Rita Hayworth sued the Aly Khan for divorce, who is claiming diplomatic immunity; Judge Maestretti told him to get his ass into court (I later learned that donkeys are the transportation of choice for Khans traveling abroad.) Harrah’s, the only casino in northern Nevada without a restaurant, leased the Grand Hotel at Second and Center for a restaurant; John Petrinovich will run it. The Fielding Hotel in San Francisco seems to be the popular spot for locals.  Galena School, ‘way out south of town, I think, will close, its students going to Brown and Huffaker Schools. This saddens a lot of my diners.


July 29: Well, I’ve been here almost a month and getting into a groove. I’ve been promoted to waiter in the Holiday’s Shore Room, the neatest room in Reno by night right on the Truckee river. Sierra Pacific Power, in a full page ad, is sweating Reno’s water consumption [which ceased to be a concern in later years…] The Olympics are definitely underway next February. And I start school in less than a month, looking forward to that, might even play for that new football coach Dick Trachok who came up to the University from Reno High’s team last month. Life is good.


July 31: Hold everything! The guitar guys from Stanford Dave Guard, Nick Reynolds and Bob Shane asked me to drive with them tonight over the new Donner Summit to cover for some gal who got sick named Phyllis Diller, at the Purple Onion (can that be right?) or Purple-something in San Francisco. So long, Holiday Hotel; adios, University of Nevada; sayonara Maple Street – I’m playin’ bass fiddle in North Beach!


Love, your son Buck



Endnote: The late David “Buck” Wheat was the longtime but unheralded bass fiddle player for the Kingston Trio. And we don’t know if Claude E. Dennison ever got his message…    

I wrote this for the Reno High alumni newsletter but I don’t think it ever ran, proving that their editor has better judgment than I do. And no one knew that “Pinky” from Searchlight was a reference to Harry Reid. Oh, well…(for the uninitiated outside the Nevada area, Harry Reid left Searchlight to become a hotshot senator). And for that matter, Searchlight is a tiny town in southern Nevada.  





2 thoughts on “Buck’s letters home, 1959

  1. The chronology of the text, and stated timeframe – 1959, just doesn’t jibe.

    The references to the Olympics as being “next year” would place the article appropriately, however, by 1959, The Kingston Trio had already debuted at the Purple Onion (’57), and “Tom Dooley” had been a hit (’58).

    Please rectify the inconsistency, if not provide scans of Mr. Wheat’s original “letters.” Thanks.

    • This reader is absolutely correct. Consider it rectified. However one rectifies tongue-in-cheek…

      And I have the original vinyl record – not yet in stereo! – the eponymous The Kingston Trio with Tom Dooley, which Eddie Pine, later of the ’49ers, and I rode our bikes to the Record Room and each of us purchased one, and yeah, they’d already played North Beach, I thought the hungry I but read an old album jacket and found the Purple Onion, I think (I actually wrote this a couple years ago and don’t remember what all thought went into the column.) By 1959 they had recorded another, if not two more, records (and Peter will probably tell me. I have I think every one of their albums, but am too lazy to go and look.) Some of the “facts” in this post are somewhat specious, as most readers probably comprehended. In fact in truth Buck Wheat never to my knowledge ever came to the Holiday Hotel with the other three although there were a couple of other guys that came and went for a while. Enrico Banducci did, and he stayed there. And Eddie married the Holiday Hotel owner’s daughter. And the group of Stanford guys we used to watch for free we paid three bucks to see in Blyth Arena in Squaw Valley a few years later. (That was an ugly pattern; the same thing happened with The Limeliters and Peter, Paul & Mary – they’d play for free in Reno, make it big, and we’d shell out another two or three bucks to watch them!
      And thanks for rattling my cage, Peter; you inspired enough for another post, but me and thee will be about the only ones to see this, as no one reads the Ol’ Reno Reader anyway, and I don’t know that they go back a week if they do. Stay tuned; I might turn your comment and my response into another stand-alone post – maybe “The Blyth Arena – best venue ever in Northern California.” Something like that.

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