A long day in Ol’ Sac for Ol’ Reno Guy

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Quick trip to the capital city of the Golden State to do a little business, eat a little seafood at Joe’s Crab Shack, (ok, a bit loud but if a joint ain’t loud anymore no one goes there!)
But – the high point of the day, a visit inside the double-decker Megabus while it was stopped in Ol’ Sac – the greatest thing since night baseball – rates as low as a buck, from Sparks’ Victorian Lane bus place to 4th and Townsend Streets – think AT&T Park vicinity – in San Francisco – from there take the 30-Stockton bus to almost anywhere in the City. Or from SF to Sparks. Twice a day. (I didn’t ride it to Sacramento; I just went aboard for a few minutes)
Go on their website and check it out; it’s on our bucket list for 2013 – AFTER the America’s Cup racers vacate the City…



A class act in Yankee Stadium…


Four New York Yankees – all wearing jersey #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson – join the fans in paying tribute to the Boston Red Sox and the City of Boston following the Marathon bombing by singing Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, which is traditionally sung in Boston’s Fenway Park at all the home games. (The Yankees were playing Arizona in an interleague game, and won 4-2)

Dick Dimond Dodge, 500 S. Virginia Street, c. 1948

Dick Dimond Dodge, c. 1948

An experiment – click here AFTER you read the following text…

I’m here trying to learn how to put a link into a WordPress post, using a column I wrote a few years ago in my old Blue Plate Special website, which was a hell of a lot more complicated than WordPress.

The tale is of old Reno auto dealerships (the inset photo, if it posts, is of the Dick Dimond Dodge dealership in the 500 block of South Virginia – an elegant building in the manner of an architect Willis Polk-designed, San Francisco 1920s dealership.)

A click at the end of the column on the blue license plate will bring you back here. Maybe. Click the lead line, and hang on!

The Little Engine That Could (in Idlewild Park!)

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In 1942 the movie Iron Horse opened in the little Colorado mining town of Trinidad, and movie ticket holders were offered a free ride on a miniature train that was operating behind the theater. That short ride was just the beginning of the train’s journey that would eventually take it for thousands of miles, hauling probably a couple of hundred thousand passengers on a ride that’s lasted seventy years and still running this morning, right here in Idlewild Park.

          The engine – a coal-burning, steam replica of a Pacific-class steam locomotive – was fashioned by a Trinidad ironworker to pull the four open passenger cars, each holding four adults or three dozen kids. The lash-up soon caught the eye of John and Joe Cihura, sons of Polish immigrants who followed the rails and coalmines from Pennsylvania to Colorado. They acquired the train equipment and relocated it to Walsenburg, Colorado, and set it up after the war as an attraction behind a little restaurant, selling rides at a dime a pop to the kids in the diner.

          In 1949, they again moved it, this time to Vallejo, and in 1952 negotiated a contract with the City of Vallejo to operate the train – and a few kiddie cars, a merry-go-round and “airplane” rides – in Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo.  Joe and John traveled to Virginia City in their pickup and bought some old ore cart rails that were being salvaged from the mines. The present railbed in Idlewild Park came down from the Comstock, via Vallejo. (For the train nuts, er, aficionados, the rail is set at live-steam gauge of 11-1/2 inches. And the loco is a 4-6-2 class; if you never saw it, it was about six feet long with a great bell, a real two-chime steam whistle, and towed a tender with coal, water and a seat for Joe. End of tech-talk.)

          In 1961, the brothers moved to Reno and began negotiating for a site for their train and some rides, and zeroed in on a kiddie park in Idlewild Park. The Reno Arch Lions and the 20-30 Club shouldered the task of putting the park together, working with everyone’s old buddy the late Duke Lindeman from the City of Reno. (Many old-timers remember the huge lion-head drinking fountain, which was eventually replaced because the smaller tykes were afraid to put their heads inside the lion’s mouth for a gulp!)

• • •

Our town embraced the little park and the train, the pleasant scent of coal and steam wafting around the park near the California building and the real S.P. locomotives across the river blowing their whistles as they passed the park, and Joe, the only engineer the train ever had, returning a toot for the passengers in tow. Rusty Crook frequently brought the kids from his This Is It Ranch for a ride. Disabled citizens, young and old, were always welcomed as guests. Older children who rocked in their cars found themselves booted off the train in mid-ride. (Every now and then, Joe’s daughter Carol recalls, a waif would show up without the price of a ride in his jeans.  Joe would send him out into the park to find 10 scraps of paper or other junk and bring it back in return for a ticket to ride. John and Joe were the long-time ex officio custodians, guardians and champions of Idlewild Park.)

          Change was coming.  The US of A was coming up upon a Bicentennial celebration in 1976. In anticipation of all this gala, Joe and John began rebuilding the coal-black locomotive to replicate the Daylight streamliner locomotive that Southern Pacific was repainting red, white and blue to tour the nation for the Bicentennial as the “Freedom Train.” The miniature Pacific’s boiler was shrouded and the cowcatcher was removed. The loco and cars were repainted. On June 7th of 1976 Joe appeared in a Gazette photo in the paper with the rebuilt engine, and on July 4th, 1976, the new line was inaugurated.

• • •

In 1980, Joe and John sold the operation, lock, stock and barrel, to Aldo Andrietta, and took their fifth-wheeler to Alaska for three months for a well-deserved vacation. Aldo ran the park very capably until about three years ago, when he sold it to a Sacramento-based amusement company that owns several other kiddie rides. The Cihura brothers kept the steam locomotive. Aldo opted for another engine the brothers had built, this one a gasoline/propane powered replica of a 1957 General Motors passenger diesel (a steam powered loco was nifty, but firing it up and bringing it up to steam was a chore that only Joe enjoyed.)

          Joe passed away in 1986, and on Arbor Day of 1987 a sequoia was planted in his honor. The families’ contribution to the children of all ages of our town was feted in a ceremony near the park’s railroad station, led by then-Governor Dick Bryan and Mayor Pete Sferrazza. Joe’s wife Harriet was later memorialized with a Colorado Blue Spruce across the street by the California Building. Bronze plaques mark each tree.

          The Lions Kiddie Park and the Cihura brothers’ train is a long-standing asset of our town, and this would not be a bad morning to take a couple of kids, of any age, out to enjoy it.  As I wrote above, I’d welcome more info about the service clubs that contributed to the Kiddie Park, for a future follow-up column.

 What happened to the old steam engine? I could never find out. I’d like to think it’s still running, maybe up in Tilden Park above Oakland with some other old live steam engines of the same guage.      I am grateful to my old friend and retired State Farm Insurance executive Carol Brown – (Joe Cihura’s daughter) – for her extensive input into the column, and, as always, the resources of the Nevada Historical Society and the RG-J archives.

          (Photo credit, steam engine Carol Brown; GM replica City of Reno)

Meet our staff: Photographer Lo Phat

LoPhat2Our Ol’ Reno Guy PHOTOGRAPHER Lo Phat is a photojournalist of the Far Eastern culture blessed with the unique facility of being able to peek through keyholes with both eyes at once, a capability that rocketed him to the pinnacle of Hong Kong private eyes. He was befriended by Ol’ Reno Guy’s Slim Dickens, then on assignment in nearby Macau, and disguised as Chinese hookers, were riding in a rickshaw and Dickens’ cheomsung’s hem became entangled in the spokes and was torn off, his identity then revealed. He, with Phat, fled to the Pearl River and were swept out to sea, to be rescued days later by a tramp steamer and deposited in the SF waterfront, where they took the 30-Stockton bus to the Marina and Izzy’s, met Karl Breckenridge, and were both hired on the spot.

Phat has been the eyes of the Ol’ Reno Guy ever since. While he prefers his 4-by-5 Speed Graphic the highly advanced technology of the Ol’ Reno Guy site dictates a digital camera to take the photos you see in the website. He also stea, er, adapts graphics appearing on the internet, scans graphics that come into our spacious headquarters from readers, and Photoshops pictures sent in by our burgeoning reader base. If you have a photo that should appear here, Phat’s the one to send it to; send it as a jpeg to kfbreckenridge@live.com , and be sure to let him know who “owns” the photo and any Phacts about it.

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.  





More about Mt. Rose, from an earlier post

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In an April 10 post I included a photo of the last vestiges of snow on Mt. Rose take during my stroll around Virginia Lake, and alert reader Gordon Zimmerman chided me that the scene wasn't really Mt. Rose, which was correct – it was in truth north of Mt. Rose. And a couple e-mails rolled in, about the peak's name origin, which has always been kicked around by local historians. So, we turned Carmine Ghia and our research staff loose on the situation and learned of, or at least reinforced some of that which we probably knew and forgot a long time ago about the 10,772-foot landmark. We also sent staff photographer Lo Phat out this Saturday morning to get another shot of Mt. Rose from Virginia Lake. The snow fields of Mt. Rose are barely seen in this view, with Slide Mountain to the left/south.

Regarding the “Rose” name, take your pick: One version, the one I always heard and grew up with, was that Hank Monk – the incomparable! The most daring – the most reckless of drivers; and the luckiest. The oddest, the drollest of all the whimsical characters who made Western staging famous the world over* – in other words, a  stage coach driver of some note who drove between the Carson Valley and Placerville, saw the image of his daughter Rose in the mountain to the north.

If you don’t like that story, here’s’ another: The name might have come from early 1800s settler Jacob  H. Rose, who built a lumber mill near Franktown. Or, another possibility is that it might have been for Rose Hickman, a friend of  Washoe City newspaper editor H.S. Ham. For these past two names I offer attribution to the U.S. Forest Service information on the web. And what moved newspaper editor H. S. Ham to name a mountain for this Hickman lass is a tempting inspiration for a song or a column, akin to the folk song Darcy Farrow – having a mountain named for oneself is no mean feat, and thank God it’s not Mt. Hickman…

Carmine further learned the more northern peak of Mt. Rose was named for Dr. James E. Church (Church Peak), a University of Nevada professor and hydrologist born in 1895, who perfected the snow-water content sampling device still in use today. Dr. Church passed away just months after we graduated from Reno High in 1959, and many of us were so fortunate as to have met him in our Physics class taught by John Marean at Reno High School. He held the distinction of being the first white man to have summited the peak which would later be named for him, while conducting his snow experiments in the 1920s. And many of us have visited the shelter that he constructed over a period of years at the very summit of Mt. Rose, following a robust but enjoyable hike up to the peak from Sheep Meadows on the Mt. Rose highway. And I mention parenthetically that political correctness guidelines in use today, largely ignored by the Ol’ Reno Reader, would indicate that it was “…the first European to have summited…”. But we have a tale to tell, our way.

So there you have it – a bit more about Mt. Rose and its name. And to the south of Mt. Rose, to the left in the photograph, is Slide Mountain, a thousand feet lower in altitude. Many remember the Memorial Day slide of 1983 when the southeast face of Slide Mountain – in actuality a man-made lake, known as Price Lake, man-made as a hydroelectric plant reservoir – let loose a 15-foot wall of water that inundated Washoe Valley below and to the east, blocking Highway 395. And let’s all bear in mind that the two neighboring mountains are in the Cascade range, not the Sierra, which we’ll never convince the travel and ski writing press so we won’t even keep trying.

Stay tuned for a future update of the wiles and charm of Miss Rose Hickman, for whom Mt. Rose may or may not have been named.

*Idah Strobridge, The Land of the Purple Shadow


TGIF, with beans and rice


A commitment was made at the inception of this website to do what I have not been able to perform for the 16 years that I’ve been putting up a website, the Blue Plate Special for 14 years, now the Ol’ Reno Guy. That commitment was to make a post-a-day, but nowhere does it say that that post shall be of great quality or social benefit. Today is such a day, and this post will fall short in many readers’ view.

For it is Friday, and just as I was preparing an offering of some substance, the phone rang: “Miguel’s. Six.” Then a deafening quiet. How could one turn down such a well-articulated invite? One couldn’t.

We remarked while we were dining tonight about Miguel’s long heritage – arguably one of the first Mexican restaurants in Reno, and I’ll hear about that, but can’t think of one that predates it. We went there in high school, which would be the latter half of the 1950s, and diagonally parked our ’52 Chevy sedan in front of Miguel Ribera’s little restaurant. The FNB to the north had recently opened, with the olfactory delight of Rauhut’s bakery next to it in the same building (now Heritage Bank), wherein was installed the first drive-in window in Reno, which is like saying the first Mexican restaurant in Reno. “First,” “longest,” “oldest,” “highest,” and so forth are words we learn never to use in a column because somebody will always make a liar out of you. “First drive-in window in Reno” is probably correct; there was one in almost a dead heat in Sparks at the Greenbrae FNB, and I’m told another in Las Vegas in another bank’s branch.

But the thrust of this piece that will keep the post-a-day alive is Miguel’s. I could also probably write “one of the oldest restaurants in continuous operation” in Reno. But I won’t. At some point in the 1960s Miguel, some say, was abducted aboard a space ship by alien life forms (Miguel was one of the earlier seekers of intelligent life outside our solar system) where while aboard he was convinced that he should move his little restaurant further out South Virginia (Mt. Rose Street was the county line during all this time), and so he did, to a brick building across from the present Peppermill that’s been a number of things like a golf shop and a dance studio and at this time might be a music store. Voila – a new Miguel’s was born; to pay the rent on the original restaurant he opened a seafood restaurant, well-remembered by local diners as the Cove, which as most recall was as good a seafood as any place in town, the barometer of seafood then being the Holiday Hotel’s offering, a buck-ninety-nine businessman’s lobster lunch. But, the Cove was a big hit and did a great business.

Alas, an ugly rumor about Miguel’s started to be heard around our hamlet, something to do with the disappearance of some local horses contemporaneously with some new offerings on the Miguel’s bill-of-fare. As all know, the substitution of horsemeat for more accepted cuts of beef, sheep and dead chickens is never good, and business at Miguel’s new South Virginia location tanked. Intervention by Miguel’s former associates in the space ship did no good whatsoever, so that location closed. The Cove, then doing a hell of a business and not tainted with the suggestion of horsemeat in the seafood, continued for a time while the townsfolk forgot about the culinary travesty foisted in the second location, and the local dining scene calmed down a bit. In time, Miguel Ribera was able to return to his second love, his restaurant (his first love by this time was establishing a destination drive-in restaurant for space travelers, as reflected in his menus and wall décor. He was hooked on flying saucers and those who traveled in them.)

Thus, he made a business decision and the town said Adios to the Cove, and welcomed back the old favorite Miguel’s – now proudly offering meat primarily from cows, sheep, goats and chicken on its lunch and dinner menu.

Miguel has left us, possibly for some new life somewhere in the Milky Way. His Miguel’s, where we ate tonight, was jumping – a great place to spend a Friday night with friends.

Miguel Ribera, aside from a minor transgression in judgment and the possibility of a slight reduction in the pony population in our valley, was a civic asset, and a great guy. And the restaurant, eponymous with his name, and even without the diagonal parking out in front  and those funny little cars from Germany being sold in the VW dealership across the street and the pleasant aroma of fresh-baked bread as in days gone by, remains a darn good place to go for dinner on Friday night when one should be writing a column…

Under-the-radar local artwork


Here’s a few little treasures that have been around since the early 1950s, when the Lincoln Highway, Highway 40 and West Fourth Street – same street – rolled through our town. There’s a sign evocative of the ol’ west, all different, on every unit door in the motel like the two seen here.

These iron signs have been on the doors of the motel since then, crafted back in the days well-before they could be done by a water-jet steered by a computer, or plasma welding as it would be done today.

They’re neat. I’m always surprised as I drive by the motel at 411 West Fourth, north side of the street, that they’ve survived the ravages of time and aren’t in somebody’s back yard now. Maybe I shouldn’t even post this – I might endanger them. But our readers are pretty upstanding folks, and will just drive by and enjoy seeing them.

Who did them, and when? God only knows. I’ve tried to find out to no avail. But, I’m all ears if a reader knows…

A walk around Virginia Lake


Some columns have a theme that holds them together; this one doesn’t. Today’s pièce de résistance – one of the few phrases I know that contains both an accent acute and an accent breve (é and è) respectively, but I don’t know a lot of phrases – is of Virginia Lake, and was composed in my head while I was walking around it a couple of times earlier this afternoon. Lord knows, I think, that I’ve written ad nauseum about Virginia Lake since growing up in its proximity in the mid-1950s, (2230 Watt Street) but today my brain just kicked out of gear as I walked, with stuff that really should be conveyed…

The picture I took to prove I was really there shows the last (hopefully) vestiges of snow on Mt. Rose, and at that juncture I point out that anywhere you see Mount Rose, Mount written out, is written by a person not from around here, for it’s Mt. Rose, everywhere but the elementary school, which for reasons unknown is Mount Rose School. Here we see the mountain with gentle fields of snow, scarred by the Hawken Fire of 2007. We’ll burn it down yet, I fear.

If one looks closely at the photograph, it is evident that my buddy Gordon Zimmerman, that’s Dr. Gordon Zimmerman of the University of Nevada, retired, maybe even emeritus, is in the picture dead on a line with the camera and beyond the island in the lake. Now that island’s an interesting little piece of local real estate. In my early years I was told by no less than Ed Pine, Sr., that the island on Virginia Lake, together with the migratory bird sanctuary on the south east corner of the lake, and the then-fish hatchery, now-off leash dog park on the south side of Mountain View Drive, were all federal properties, in ransom for the Department of Interior’s contribution to the CCC and WPA in construction of the lake. And I can also tell you that somebody should be ashamed of the condition of that island; at one time it was a focal point of the lake, and indeed the city.

I’ve written about the house with the turret on the southwest corner of the lake – on Lakeside and Country Club Drive. That 6,000 square foot beauty was built by Luke Hancock, founder of Hancock Oil Company, one of the major oil companies in the nation in the pre-WWII years. He built it in the late 1930s, and it was completed in January of 1941, which coïncided with the “official,” by many accounts, completion of Virginia Lake.

And while I’m boring you and myself with an English lesson, not that I slipped a diaerisis into coïncided above, which tells you that in those two consecutive vowels, the second one starts a new syllable. You won’t see it anywhere in modern usage except The New Yorker Magazine and Ol’ Reno Guy.

• • •

Did anybody ever drown in Virginia Lake? Yes, they did, two Reno residents – one a teenager who drowned near the east shore of the lake just south of the Cochran Ditch outlet structure, ‘nuff said, and a lady, the wife of Ralph Festina, also known as Mrs. Festina, who was walking along the northeast corner of the lake and fell in – accounts vary as to whether she had a heart attack and fell in and drowned, or fell in and it triggered a heart attack, but in the final evaluation she gained the distinction of being the first person and only woman to drown in the lake, to go with an earlier distinction of being ½ the team in Reno who brought us “Pizza,” for the Festinas were chefs in the Colombo restaurant downtown and legend says they created pizza out of the leftovers of the food from the night before.

You read it first in the Ol’ Reno Guy

Now – up Lakeside Drive we go, up being north to the house at 1900 Lakeside Drive. It was one of the earlier structures around the new lake, and was built with the express purpose of being a rural casino and tavern. The problem was, the citizenry didn’t want a casino and tavern in the proximity of their new civic jewel of a lake, so it never came to be. Nice try.

While walking the lake which I do with some regularity, I’m always taken with the house on the northwest corner of Wildrose Drive and Lakeside Drive – it’s a Tudor of grand proportions. Now, after you’ve checked it out, look at the house at 2230 Watt Street.

They were originally identical houses in 1951, the Watt Street house remaining as-built. Sid King built them, as he did many of the homes around the lake and the Watt Street, Sunset and Sunrise Drives, Country Club and Morningside – quite a builder. I lived in the Watt Street house, and watched the owner of the Lakeside Tudor re-engineer it for that steep pitched roof and virtual rebuilding. Just goes to show that money, in sufficient quantities, can do just about anything, not always with the intended consequences.

• • •

This yarn is starting to grow to a ridiculous length so we’re now going to wrap it up and look at a few of the events and uses the lake and its park were put to. Not the least of which was an automobile race, sports cars, in 1952; out Lakeside Drive to Moana, west on Moana Lane to Plumas Street, (the “pits” were on Plumas, about by the present tennis courts) north on Plumas to Morningside, around the lake and back out Lakeside Drive was a lap. Cool.

We had sailboat racing at Virginia Lake for a time, attorney Thomas Cooke, now deceased (and this is not my buddy Tom Cook, the attorney, Sigma Nu, raconteur, first-nighter, boulevardier, who is, or at least was alive ’til yesterday). Cooke organized the sailboat races.

The Reno Municipal Band, “Tink” at the baton, performed every summer on Wednesday night at the Virginia Lake Park, ending each night’s show by leading the kiddies around the park to Stars & Stripes Forever. My compadre the late Glenn Little continued the tradition for many years thereafter. The muni band back then played Virginia Lake in July, and the University Quad in August. Or vice versa, depending on the whim, but in any case the parking was a lot better than when some genius decided to put the muni band downtown with no parking, signalling its near-demise.

This piece is long enough. We’ll do it again. And we’ll run a full column about the sports car races, as soon as I find my pictures of the Jag XK-120s, Healeys, and MGs. And others, like the Army test-floating, or test-sinking, some amphibious Weasels in the lake. And the year the lake was drained. And the bounty-hunt for cormorants, a buck-a-beak – not a bad idea today. We’re not done yet.