The Wells Avenue Trench


On a bright afternoon soon after World War II, two playmates whose names are Eddie Pine and Jim Miller left the brand-new Veterans Memorial School on Vassar and Locust to walk to their homes, across South Wells Avenue from each other on the corner of Claremont Street.  Crossing Wells was difficult, even then, because the new underpass connecting Wells to Highway 40 – East Fourth Street – made it easy for a lot of cars to use the street to get to southern Reno.  It would be easier for Eddie and Jim, and the hordes of other kids that lived on the east and west side of South Wells, to get together if they had a tunnel between their houses.

            So Jim and Eddie began to dig, in Jim’s front yard.  They spent an afternoon digging, moving not a great deal of earth with only the one shovel that they had, taking turns.  But they made a small dent in the task.  The tunnel was underway.

            Jim’s dad, Walter, came home from his job managing the downtown Sprouse-Reitz department store, and assessed the new hole in his front yard.  The boys explained their endeavor and then dove for cover, expecting the worst.

            “You boys need another shovel?  Maybe a pickaxe?” Walter offered.  The boys concurred that more equipment would be good.  While they were digging the following afternoon, Walter came home and brought them another couple of shovels and picks.

            The dig continued; a few more of the Wells Avenue Gang – now comfortable that they weren’t going to wind up in the soup for digging up the Millers’ yard – joined in.  Walter brought a few more shovels.

            The hole grew – two, then three feet deep, from the size of a card table to a four-by-eight blanket.  A rope ladder was fashioned to get down into the pit.  Still more kids showed up each day to help, bringing their own shovels.

            As the hole reached five feet in depth, a bucket-brigade type of excavation system was devised.  Walter brought some buckets.  Kids were making a pilgrimage from Veterans School to Wells Avenue.  Grownups were starting to stop by and watch.  Even the girls in the student body were chipping in; digging, hoisting the buckets, barrowing the dirt to the growing tailing pile alongside the Millers’ home.  The hole was approaching eight feet deep, now getting a little soggy during the day, easing the afternoon’s dig.

            Walter came home one day and noted that the hole was close to the requisite depth, and soon the direction of the excavation would turn toward the sidewalk, then under the street to Eddie’s yard.  The neighborhood excitement was almost overwhelming, and the whole education structure at Veterans Memorial was going to pot while this project moved ahead.

            But, Walter said, could you guys just level the floor of the hole a little bit in this direction for a few feet before starting toward the street and the Pines’ house?  And so they did.

The time was approaching to start the stope under the street.  They perfected the floor of their cavern, by now over eight feet deep, the work product of scores of their classmates.  And all the while, the neighbors to the site and the teachers at Veterans Memorial, acutely aware of the excavation, scratched their heads in wonderment about what was going on on the corner of South Wells Avenue and Claremont Street, and why wasn’t Walter Miller coming unglued?

            Eddie and Jim decided that the hole was deep enough.  The tunnel would begin.

• • •

Virtually the entire student body of Veterans Memorial School marched from the school on the afternoon that the hole would start becoming a tunnel, picks and shovels over their shoulders, boys, girls – researcher Ghia was unable to confirm that they were whistling “Hi ho, Hi ho…” but it could have happened that way – this yarn is basically founded on fact.

            They approached Jim’s house, ready to go to work and turn the bore toward Eddie’s yard.  Then they looked down into their excavation.

            Resting on the floor of the pit was a tank – a brand-new, black furnace oil tank, about four feet around, and five feet long.   It’s probably still there.

• • •

The kids got a good laugh out of it, for they all knew deep down that a tunnel was out of the question, but didn’t know how to call off the project.  And we’re told that Walter made it right for the whole neighborhood.  He’s since passed away, but is remembered as a pretty good guy by the Wells Avenue Gang…

God bless those who dug, Walter, and America.


The Little Engine That Could: the Idlewild Park railroad

loco copy

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 sixty years and is still running this morning, right here in Idlewild Park. [during the warm season…]

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, like my favorite railroad expert/reader Richard C. Datin, 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 throaty brass 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 Duke Lindeman from the City of Reno, toward a grand opening in 1963. (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 for a decade, 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 Southern Pacific’s Daylight streamliner locomotive that the S.P. 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, [1999] when he sold it to a Sacramento-based amusement company that owns several other kiddie rides. The Cihura brothers kept the steam locomotive – it’s still in John’s garage. 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 near the train’s right-of-way 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 other service clubs that contributed to the Kiddie Park, for a future follow-up column. [None came in; the clubs included did it all.]

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.

Go ride a train today. God bless America.

© RGJ 1998

• • •

Washoe County School Nicknames

See copyOur [late, July of 2003] classmate Tom Jensen (RHS ‘59) won the Silver Pen award a while back for his letter to the editor of the Gazoo, regarding the naming of two new Washoe County schools. I’ve opined in columns past that that honor should be limited to a person who received at least one paycheck from the Reno, Sparks, Galena, Glendale, Nachez, Gerlach, Steamboat, or later the Washoe County District. After talking to Tom, I have changed my position. I realize now that some weight should be given to a foreseeable nickname of any named school’s team mascot, worst-case example: the Echo Loder Odor-Eaters.

We could easily have been stuck with the Wooster Roosters, the Greenbrae Packers, or the Glenn Hare Cottontails. The Gerlach Holmes are elementary, Watson, as are the E. Otis (Vaughn) Elevators, the Donner (Springs) Partiers, or the Roy Gomm Bommbers, (opposed by Gomm’s Moms’ Club.) Or the Lemmon (Valley) Drops, the Lincoln (Park) Logs, the little Brown Jugs and the Lois Allen Wrenches.

We could have encountered the Alice Maxwell Smarts playing the Darrell C. Swope Dopes until they were all (Katherine) Dunn in; fortunately Swope inherited its “Panther” mascot from old Central Jr. High first. I was in the first Central student body, the one that chose that mascot. Our late classmate Margaret Eddleman (RHS ’57) designed the Panther-head logo that’s still in use at Swope even today. Then there’s our coach Bud Beasley; surely the students at the elementary school honoring him might have been called the Beasley Batsmen, for Bud at 92 years young still booms [boomed] out Casey at the Bat the way sportswriter E. L. Thayer meant it to be delivered: Strrrriiiike Twoooo!!

Pity that some of our favorite teachers and principals don’t have a school named after them (yet!). David Finch’s inevitable school’s feathered mascot is obvious, (at least to everybody but the late Finch, a legend albeit a man not long on humor. Read the chapter.) But how ‘bout the (Betty) Morris Chairs, a team to play against the Libby Booths? Betty was the dynamic kindergarten teacher for a score of years at Jessie Beck Elementary School, whose first principal was Jim Puryear, who was my nomination for a new school name in the last naming go-around. Central’s vice-principal Chester Green deserves a school, surely to be the Green Hornets, as does Central’s first principal – doesn’t this school board realize that we could have a playoff between the Chauncy (Burger) Kings and Robert (Dairy) McQueens? Seriously, Morris, Finch, King and Green deserve their own schools. And Puryear. And Gonda and Benson and Muth. And more.

But returning to the business at hand, if you don’t like those fast foods above, how about a (Ted) Hunsburger (Elementary) with fries but not French, or a Big (Effie Mona) Mack? Or the great elementary school team, the Anderson Split Peas? From southeast Reno, the (Edward L.) Pine Nuts, Potatoes (Robert) O’Brien from Stead or a slam-dunk nomination, the (Glenn) Duncan Donuts. The late Nevada historian/author/RHS teacher Effie Mona Mack never got a school name, by the way. Should have… Pet peeve of Reno High alums: It’s Huskie, not Husky; sportswriters and spellcheckers take note.

Galena High beat out Agnes Risley Elementary for the Risley Grizzlies. But Galena is a school that could easily merge with another school, as could Mount Rose Bullis Elementary, Florence Hunter Drake Lake, and Ga-Lena Juniper, whose mascot could be the Juniper Berries if the late Peavine elementary schoolmarm Bernice Berry doesn’t get her own school named after her. Bea was a dear lady, a family friend for 50 years, who passed away just months after her 100th birthday last September. Rose Bullis is the reliable archivist for the school district – if Rose doesn’t know about it, it hasn’t happened yet. And Rosie don’ know ‘bout this column…

A few notes are left over, of our late favorites Marvin Picollo, P.E.teacher Ed Van Gorder, and Nancy Gomes. They got their names on schools – Van Gorder Elementary’s mascots should probably be the SweatSox. Everyone remembers Marv Picollo as a fine administrator, and those of us who had him as an RHS English teacher recall that he could also ski our butts off come the weekend. This column started in fun but I now realize that there are scores of dedicated educators – many who don’t have schools named after them – who deserve some RHS alumni attention, like our late contemporaries Neil Fockler, Becky Rose and Kenny Vaughan, who left us, too young.

I was going to wrap this up by throwing in the (Mamie) Towles – a boxing expression, and pointing out that it’s a (Rita) Cannan – a premium brand of towel – but I won’t ensnare these two fine old principals who both had elementary schools named after them with that sort of hi-jinx. (Miss Cannan was normally a warm lady – a Mrs. See’s Candy-box look-alike – but I can still feel her icy stare when she cracked the whip at Mary S. Doten in 1948.) This ain’t over yet – stay tuned.

• • •

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A star is born (license plates, that is)




“Why,” several e-mailers have asked, “don’t you ever write about personalized plates…?”

            First, 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 still a bit early to invade that popular milieu in his Cobbwebs columns.  .

            That said, this Saturday morning 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 last Monday, 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 Homefinders.

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 Homefinder 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 in 196; 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. 

• • •

OK – I have to deal with a few license plates.  Correspondence has been heavy about another plate with a star, like the plate with the lone star that started the whole thing.  Recall that I mentioned that Swede and LaRue Olsen, whose surname I booted last week, had plate 7 and W76.  While the thrust of that column ran to the one lower-numbered plate, they actually wrangled, or wangled, two plates in the trade, the second one being 7-star-11, the very plate that the correspondence has been about and struck at the same time.  Space limited the text and I focused on the lone star, but the Olsens have them both.

I’ve enough license plate correspondence to start a Cobbwebs redux – the title of the RG-J’s legendary Ty Cobb’s column, if you’re just joining us – and I’ll save the notes for a rainy day.  But one has to be mentioned.  Cheryl Yee’s e-mail this week could be fashioned into a column unto itself – great Reno history you’ll see more of herein in time to come – but for this week, we’ll simply report that her husband, John Doherty, decided some years ago that he’d like a low number plate, so when it came time to renew his registration he asked DMV for the lowest number that was not assigned.  He received at random W411, a great coincidence, as he’s the Director of Public Information for the Desert Research Institute.

[…and two e-mails came in: “What’s so cool about that???”

    (response: years ago, we dialed “411” for “Information”, and, oh, never mind)]

• • •

Promising more acuracy I’ll move on to a few notes about last week’s column, which if you were out of town I’ll remind you dealt with Harrah’s Club’s quest for low-numbered blue license plates.  One of the sadder tales it produced came from affable retired Reno entrepreneur Larry Oakley, who in the late 1960s as a college student, through luck, perseverance, karma, kismet and a little je nè cais quà with Pug Chavez at the DMV, possessed license plate -W- and was approached by Harrah’s to part with it.  Larry read last week of others’ trips to Harrah’s Middle Fork Lodge in Idaho and a menu of other grandiose inducements to motorists to give up their low plates.  I detected a tear falling from Larry’s eye as he confessed that he yielded his single-letter plate to the casino for two cases of beer.

            On the bright side, he recalled that at least it was quality Anheuser-Busch suds, not Fisher’s or Red-White-and-Blue or some of the other inferior rotgut that was in vogue on campus 35 years ago.  Larry went on to get three degrees on the Hill, but never made it to Harrah’s Middle Fork Lodge.

            Two notes beckon: The Nevada DMV office was then on the northwest corner of Mill and Kietzke, in a building now a convenience store, and, the dash-symbol-dash plates were an early precursor of personalized plates, prior to the time one could actually spend 35 hard-earned bucks to get OICUQT or some other foolishness.

            As I wrote last week I’m not anxious to include every cutesy vanity plate in our valley individually, but reader responses invited some pleasant recollections.  One was that 50 years before one could order a personalized plate, hundreds of folks laid awake nights to get a plate with their home’s address – my childhood friend’s family had W2240, for they lived at 2240 Plumas.  Or to match a phone number – the Reno Bell – recursor of Nevada Bell – customer with phone number 70X6 would garner the matching plate; (the phone number grew to 2-70X6 then FA2-70X6, later 322-70X6.  That friend still has the plate and the phone number.)  Many of those early plates are still in use.  A Homefinder contribution to Guy Clifton and Marilyn Melton as they complete the inevitable sequel to their excellent book You might be a Nevadan if… might be: “…if you knew someone with a license plate that matched their phone number or street address.”  Many plates went with numbered organizations: W597 for the director of Elks Lodge #597 and W14, held by Fred Bonnenfant’s odd grandfather, the Supreme Poobah of Chapter 14 of the turn-of-the-century Odd Fellows Lodge.  Finally, I’m told Harrah’s never went after W13 – unlucky in the gaming game.  (W13 was held by Fred Bonnenfant Sr., large-in-charge of the I.O.O.F. Hall #13.     And if you had a party line with 70X6 and wanted to call someone else on the same party line, you dialed “1191” then hung up, making both phones ring, then picked it up and said hello when it quit ringing.  You just don’t get trivia like that any other morning of the week in the Gazoo.

            Did someone say a party line…?  What’s that…?  Housekeeping item: Like other writers, I tire of clarifying “turn-of-the-century.”  ‘Til further notice, on these WordPress sites, that phrase connotes 1899-1901 A.D.  There.

• • •






You’re doing WHAT to the Liberty Belle?

Liberty Belle


I’ve a fond recollection of a ’52 Chevy full of Reno High hotshots returning from an afternoon of skiing at Sky Tavern.  Far south of where U.S. 395 became South Virginia Street on the east side of the two-lane road was, well, a little red barn.  We needed nourishment…

            “Let’s stop here,” said one.  “Wasn’t this the Li’l Red Barn?” another asked.  “Yup,” said yet another.  (That watering hole had become the “Liberty Belle” a month or so earlier, on Nov. 20, 1958.)  We entered, ordered, and met Frank and Marshall Fey, whose grandfather had invented the Liberty Bell slot machine, that Bell with no second “e,” and they had just moved from San Mateo, Cal. to open their new saloon.  We formed a friendship that has lasted for 48 years. [and, 61 years next March 2014!]

            I scribe this on a Tuesday for you to read on a Saturday, not knowing for sure whether or when we will satiate ourselves at the Belle again.  I do know that there will follow scores of other patrons’ pleasant recollections and a ton of ink about it in the next few months, and thus I’m moved to offer a few thoughts to the assembled Homefinders.

            By some measure I write of many old Reno establishments that have all converged over time under one roof – that roof itself supporting some of the eight horse-drawn wagons that the Feys acquired from Roy Stagg’s Roaring Camp, a downtown 1940s tourist draw in the now-vacant triangle bounded by Lake, East First and Second Streets.  Two heavy ore wagons near the building later arrived, one from Death Valley and the other from Mina.

            One hundred years minus 30 days ago, the city of San Francisco was ravaged by an earthquake and fire – from that maelstrom to Reno came the heavy bronze doors from Market Street’s Palace Hotel.  Marshall once quipped that it cost them $250 for the doors and two grand to adapt the Belle’s front entrance to utilize them.  We’ve all opened them a few times.  Underfoot, wooden planks form the decking of the entrance, not just any planks but wood taken from the entrance to the Federated Church on Virginia Street at Fifth when the church was razed to make room for parking at the new Sewell’s market in 1948.

            Inside the Belle and over the bar hang two chandeliers and three round glass globes – those hung for 80 years downtown at the Wine House until that venerable saloon was razed to make room for Harolds Club’s addition in 1960.  Dust them carefully; they’re pushing 125 years old.  From the Golden Hotel, following the 1962 fire came the curvaceous life-size cocktail waitress mannequins-with-built-in slot machines in the south dining room. 

Tripp Plastics made the mirror-image signs…

            The back bar’s been around for a while also.  The rosewood and birch classic started life in the Owl Club downtown at the turn of the last century – some speculate that it came ‘round the horn from Europe but I can’t prove that – and following the repeal of prohibition was relocated to the Pastime Club on Sierra Street at Douglas Alley.  The Feys got it in 1964 and my recollection is that it was unveiled during Nevada’s Centennial celebration, after the ceiling was raised two feet to accommodate it.  Somewhat noteworthy was Walt Tripp’s early frustration in locating a letter font in mirror image to make engraved signs with, enabling a patron at the bar to read in the mirror “Winchester Model 94” or whatever above the rifles displayed over the bar.  Walt’s son Warren, now the honcho of Tripp Plastics, reports that the Liberty Belle’s signs were the only use that mirror image font ever saw.

            The list goes on – ephemera from Becker’s Bar on North Virginia, later the site of Southworth’s Cigar Store, antique street lamps from downtown Reno in the parking lot, and a gas lamp brought down from Virginia City.  Here’s a note to fit somewhere in this yarn: Behind the original bar in the years before that back bar was installed, were hooks to hang beer mugs from.  Frequent customers had their own time card on a rack by the front door, and after they “clocked in” on an antique time clock 16 times they were accorded their own personalized steins to display behind the bar,

            In 1967 the south dining room of the building was added and served for a couple of years – at least during the summers – as the Bella Union Theater.  Some of my own greatest memories of Liberty Belle visits were to the Bella Union, and I will probably hear enough from Homefinders in the next few weeks to accord it its own column.  There was little in Reno in the late 1960s to compare with a warm summer night at that theater – a production of “The Drunkard” with local talent, using that term judiciously.  “He tied her to the railroad tracks” the narrator would announce as the villain twirled his moustache, the audience gasped and Barney Barnard of Hatton’s Mens Wear rumbled an ominous chord on the piano (Hal Goodwin of Kentile Floors played the banjo).  The show ended in an “olio” – a grainy black and white movie with song lyrics, follow the bouncing ball as Barney and Hal played and all sang.  Two nights a week at the Liberty Belle, repeated on another two later in the week at the Bucket of Blood in Virginia City, all summer long, and life was good.

            I’ve got more notes but no space, so I’m probably not done as yet.  I thank Geno Oliver, who’s spent three decades behind the Liberty Belle’s plank, for passing on this morning’s column head which was uttered by an anonymous customer last week.

            We’ll end this visit to the Belle as we always do, with a chocolate sundae in a shiny bowl served up by a pretty lady in a black skirt, a crisp white blouse and a smile.  Thanks Marshall, Frank and Jeff Fey, Jeff Courson, Geno, Alice and all hands for what seems like a lifetime of pleasant memories.

            Have a good week, and God bless America.

March 17, 2006


BundoxThe River House, and the Bundox

from an old column…

Word reached me last weekend that yet another Reno landmark will bite the dust – the once-intimate Bundox restaurant and the adjoining River House motel on Lake Street at the river will soon feel the wrecker’s ball.

We’ll turn back the clock to about 1910 when a photographer of national renown named Loomis*, who with his wife, the former Anna Frandsen, was working in Argentina for a number of American newspapers. Anna was the daughter of Andrew Frandsen, a pioneer Reno sheep man who had emigrated from Denmark. In Buenos Aires, the Loomis’ only son would be born and named Eugene Frandsen Loomis. One day he would become known simply as “Bud.” (Bud’s older sister, Inez, would marry Scoop Johnson in later years; his younger sister, MaryAlice, would marry Bill Blakely.) [All, and Cebe below, have passed away.]

Bud grew up and went to law school, then journeyed to mysterious pre-war China, where he acted as an envoy for American people and companies doing business in that inscrutable land. He acquired – legally – many artifacts, shipping them home periodically to Reno, where his mother was by then teaching Spanish at Reno High School. When the Chinese closed their borders and excluded foreign nationals in the 1930s, Bud returned to America and Reno. He met and wed his wife Cebe – say “Seeb”. He opened a law practice, and maintained an interest in his father’s vocation – photography. Bud and Cebe moved into a home on the Frandsen family property at the west end of Wingfield Park, that originally served as a carriage house for the Gray mansion above it on the Court Street bluff, that burned in 1939. Across the river was the Christian Science Church, on a site donated to the church by Anna Frandsen Loomis – as kids, we called her “Dosh.” Anna commissioned architect Paul Revere Williams to design the church and the Loomis Manor Apartments to the west of the church on Riverside Drive. The Frandsen Apartments on West Fourth Street bounded the family’s property holdings to the north.

• • •

But the Loomis’s’ home was not large enough to display their art collection. Bud at that time was serving as an advocate to the Chinese community in Reno, and the Chinese owned a piece of property on the north bank of the Truckee River – there was still a joss house operating on it even into the 1950s.

Loomis negotiated with whatever entity owned the site, and eventually acquired it. He and Cebe built, on its eastern end, the headquarters for Ben Dasher’s Universe Life Insurance Company. On the East First Street corner they built a smallish restaurant, cocktail lounge, and the River House motel, all with a Chinese motif. Into this restaurant and bar, and with the hearty approval of the local Chinese community, who were grateful to have their story told, went the Loomises’ collection of artifacts. Cebe told me years ago that there was at least one artifact from China in every room of the motel.

The name? Bundox. It was frequently mispronounced bun, as in “cheek”, but always by the cognoscenti as boondocks. Bud told me years ago that the origin of the name was the Tagalog – (Filipino) – word bundoc anglicized by pre-World War II American soldiers to connote a remote, forgotten, and somewhat romantic place, somewhat like Xanadu.

At least I think that’s what he said – better than 20 [40 as I write this in 2014!] years ago. Or then again, maybe it’s taken from Kipling or Coleridge – who knows?

But it was never remote to many movers and shakers in Reno, and the little bar was a favorite watering hole for the rich and the famous for several decades, or at least for civic leaders in the days when civic leaders actually got something done from start to finish. (I remember my own father laboring there into the wee hours in the nascent days of acquiring land south of town for a big building to be called the Centennial Coliseum in 1962.) [the present Reno/Sparks Convention Center.]

At least, that’s what he told my mother…

Maybe the civic leaders should have acquired a little restaurant called the Liberty Belle back then, which had already been open for three years, but that’ for another column – the Belle lives. [No, it doesn’t}

Straying back now to the Bundox story: Bud died about 35 years ago; Cebe kept the place hopping for another ten years, and then sold the property. (Cebe too passed away, in June [2003] in southern California.)

The corner’s buildings are now abandoned and boarded up, an ongoing insult to the by-gone revelry and that certain je nè cais quà that the Bundox and the Loomises once brought to our fair city and the Truckee’s shore. [And now they’re gone altogether. The question on everyone’s mind: Who got the brass door handles…?]

• • •

Two footnotes form an epilogue to this yarn: The wrecker’s ball is not Earl Games Construction’s Christmas party, and “je nè cais quà” is dedicated to the lady who questioned “ethos” last week. We’re introducing a new feature: the Homefinder word of the week – use it correctly and the duck’ll drop down and bring you 25 bucks. [And as you read that, I hope you watched the old Groucho Marx You Bet Your Life on KZTV, or you won’t know what I’m writing about.]

Have a good week, and God bless America.

• • •

*[The rest of that story, that might have been inappropriate for the Gazoo column: I am close enough to the Blakely family that some use me as a tax deduction, and one night I asked “What was Dosh’s husband’s given name?” (The photographer of “national renown” in my column.) No one knew – he was always “Mr. Loomis” when they were growing up. Dosh and Mr. parted after their youngest child (Mary Alice) was born, and Dosh came back to Reno and taught Spanish for many years at Reno High School.]


Dania Hall/the Reno Little Theater


On August 24th of 1894 the Afdeling Waldemar Lodge #12 of the Dania Society held their summer ball at Laughton’s Resort west of Reno, all 120 or so of the members and their attendant brides, and the gala was considered by most accounts as a success, save for Hans Block and Peter Rasmussen winding up with a broken wrist and an amputated thumb, respectively, during a vigorous old-country Danish dance.  But notwithstanding those inconveniences, according to the Reno Evening Gazette a day later, all were looking forward to next year’s party.

            This has little to do with this morning’s column.

            Time marched on, and the Waldemar Lodge #12, through the beneficence of several local Danes, one recorded as an Andrew Frandsen, were able to  acquire property on North Sierra Street at Seventh Street, and build a handsome brick home for the Dania Society.   In August of 1925 they christened that building, with no further bodily injuries reported in the Gazette.

            This has peripheral interest to the column that follows; the name Frandsen being of some interest.

            A decade later, a young thespian named Edwin Semenza would fire up a group called the Reno Little Theater, reportedly kicking in bucks a few of his own to make the thing work and offer a play.  On April 15th of 1935, “The Three-Cornered Moon” opened with an all-star cast in the Frandsen Education Building at the University of Nevada (that building named for Peter Frandsen, nephew to Andrew and another icon in the early local Danish community.)  The play was an instant hit with the local townsfolk, and the new little theater’s offerings continued on a regular basis – three or four first-rate, straight-from-Broadway offerings a year – for six decades to follow.

            The little theater’s productions soon moved to the State Building downtown – on a personal note I watched “42nd Street” last Sunday and judge it the best show I’ve ever seen in Reno, and I’ve seen a bunch – at the Pioneer Theater, or Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts or whatever the cognoscenti call it now.  The Pioneer Whatever now occupies the site of the wonderful old StateBuilding.  The RLT – Reno Little Theater – held their plays in that venue for many a year.  And through Semenza’s guidance, their consistency and quality of production was remarkable, and I can’t go too much further into this column without mentioning a name: Blythe Bulmer – actress, director, mentor – Semenza and Bulmer, what a team for so many years, and how lucky our little city was to have them.  How we could use their dedication today…

            The Danish community in Reno waned, (their predominant occupation was as dairy cattlemen), and their need for a building of their own ground to a halt.  In October of 1941 they sold their little brick building on North Sierra at Seventh Street to a Dr. S. K. Morrison, who immediately resold it without profit to the Reno Little Theater and carried back a mortgage at an attractive rate while the theater, now with a venue all its own got the momentum growing.  Through Semenza’s stewardship, the theater became a successful business, as well as artistic, success, and the mortgage was retired ahead of schedule.

            That early prewar year was frenetic, with much work being done on the former Dania meeting hall to convert it from a hall to a first-class theater facility.  The plays continued through the war years, and the casts of characters in the Nevada Historical Society’s clips – where I got invaluable assistance in putting this together – contain the names of some well-known Reno folks.  Some work was undertaken on the building in the mid-1950s, necessitating closing of the theater, and Semenza negotiated the use of a church on West Seventh Street just off Virginia, and the theater operated as a theater-in-the-round with great success – he called it the “Circlet Theater” – little more than a stage in the middle of the church akin to a boxing ring with no ropes.  In 1954, hometown writer Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s “Track of the Cat” was a hot draw into the Circlet Theater, which was so successful that it operated for a while even after remodeling was completed in the main theater.  I was in one matinee audience to enjoy it.

            The thrust of downtown Reno changed; while the popularity of the Reno Little Theater never waned the business side of the endeavor dictated a sale of the old Dania Society/theater building and in July of 1999 the property was sold to Circus Circus, for that casino’s new parking lot parking lot.  I miss it.

            Curiously and probably apropos of nothing, one name has surfaced in this column and last week’s which some readers will recall concerned the Christian Science Church: the name is Frandsen.  Sheepman Andrew Frandsen basically endowed the Dania Society’s building, later to become the Reno Little Theater.  His daughter, Anna Frandsen Loomis endowed the Christian Science Church, later to become the Lear Theater.   And Anna Frandsen Loomis’ son, E. Frandsen (Bud) Loomis, was chairman of the Reno Little Theater’s building committee when the theater acquired the theater from the Dania Society.

            There’s probably a column in there somewhere, all these Frandsens and Loomises and theaters.  Stay tuned.

            Have a good week, and God bless America.


The S.P.engine shop in Sparks

30074 CabForward

Report from the Rail City

We’ve all left the family SUV idling while we stopped at the mailbox, and then turned to see the ol’ Explorer bucking inexorably off through the boxwood hedge then into the tree beyond.  Picture in your mind’s eye one of S.P.’s legendary cab-forward locomotives walking itself slowly off the track into the roundhouse pit, or crashing through the brick walls of the big railroad shop east of the Sparks Nugget – after a drowsy engineer left the behemoth “in gear” with the boiler fire down, yet slowly building up steam and finally creeping unattended in the wee small hours of the morning when Sparks was fast asleep.  Ugly spectres indeed, but they’ve both occurred.

                Tom Swart entered the world in 1912 in his family’s home on B Street behind the livery stable we all remember between 11th and 12th Streets and now the Silver Club’s parking lot.  He attended Mary Ann Nichols, Robert Mitchell, and Sparks High Schools, Procter Hug Sr. his bookkeeping teacher; he then took a job with the mighty Southern Pacific Railroad in the locomotive shop for eighteen and a half cents an hour.

One of his shop duties was as a chainman – placing lengths of chains between the driver wheels of the big malleys and the track, to keep them where they belonged in the yard (malley, eponymous with Swiss mechanical engineer Anatole Mallet, a descriptor of the cab-forward locos accurate only through the 1920s but surviving to this day as a term of endearment.)  Tom’s recollections of life in the SP roundhouse and shops could make a book – or a chapter in one coming out later this year.  He speaks of the massive overhead-rolling crane in the shop – lifting the boilers and fireboxes off the axles and cylinders, all to go in different directions for maintenance, then be rejoined and repainted.  The flue box area, airbrake shop, the huge vat of boiling water laced with carbolic acid that locomotive parts and the employees’ tools could be lowered into for cleaning, then cooled and drained periodically to retrieve the stuff.  (Maybe we don’t even want to know where the wastewater wound up.)  Tom recalls a mechanic falling into the vat and arriving instantly at the Great Beyond, his soul and bibb overalls cleansed.  The flue rattler?  All 2,500 residents of Sparks knew when the flue rattler was running – the giant vibrator the only way to shake the built-up crud out of the locomotives’ fireboxes and flues.

                Tom recalls life in Sparks vividly – in his early youth an Indian reservation occupied the area now the site of City Hall on 4th and Prater Way.  The U. S. Air Mail’s deHavilland biplane pilots that navigated by following SP trackage from Elko enroute to their daily arrival at Blanch Field on the site of the present Washoe Golf Course, rocking their wings to the railyard workers below.  Conductor Heights south of B Street and west of the train yard (near then-17th Street, now Rock Boulevard), the preferred lair of railroaders and their families.

                A gnarly railroad strike broke out in 1922 that would continue for two years, pitting S.P.’s management against the train operations and maintenance employees.  Tom, as a ten-year old, recalls a powerful spotlight, placed on the roof of the roundhouse by management to ensure security in the yard, but also finding use as a tool of harassment, its powerful beam trained at union members’ homes and into bedrooms through the night.  And railroad timekeeping?  Once a pride and priority with the S.P., less so in the Amtrak days, time was set by the yard whistle sounded precisely at 8 a.m., noon, and 4 p.m., or available in the railroad’s clock in the window of W. R. Adams & Son Jewelers on B Street to set your Hamilton pocket watch with a railroad dial to.


• • •





The Pacific Fruit Express Icehouse in Sparks

A haunting reminder of the heyday of Bill Harrah’s reign on the local scene remains visible – albeit fading, like its memory – high on the wall of a fairly substantial brick building south of the train yard in Sparks. Harrah’s Automobile Collection the fading white block letters read. Many of us remember fondly the acres of painstakingly-restored cars in that building and the warehouses adjoining it, the Ford Tri-motor airliner stored there, the most comprehensive automotive library in the land, vintage wooden speedboats, and the streetcars that Harrah acquired to eventually rim the collection. (When the collection was first moved there from its original location on Lake Street in 1961, the admission was a buck and a business card.) Sadly, in the [26] years since he passed away [1978] the heart of the collection has been decimated, and the building’s one-time incredible lore is lost on many Homefinders and tourists as they view it from John Ascuaga’s Nugget. I’ll save recollections of the HAC for another day, and I have many. This morning the test following the column will be about the building itself.
To weave this tale about the building, necessity requires reciting several givens: California, the late 19th century, was the produce supplier to the nation. The predominant rail carriers were the Union Pacific and Central, later Southern Pacific Railroads. And produce, to be taken anywhere once it’s plucked, must be refrigerated. But this column is not about railroads or veggies.
Produce grows in the summer, while ice, much to the consternation of the Pacific Fruit Express, a conglomerate owned by the two railroads, forms in the winter. Others have explored the great heritage of our neighboring town of Truckee, and its confluence of ungodly freezing temperatures, its proximity to the Truckee River, and to sawmills, which produced sawdust as a byproduct, which is dandy for storing ice in once it’s been harvested from lakes like Boca Reservoir. Properly stored, ice survived frozen well into the summer months. But this column is not about Truckee’s rich heritage either.
The growing volume of produce being moved by the PFE and the lengthening of the growing season due to improving irrigation management began to deplete the harvested ice ‘way too early in the season to allow safe shipment. Ice production became a mandate. The PFE elected to build thick-walled buildings to manufacture and store ice in along the waypoints of their rail route. The granddaddy of PFE icehouses was in Roseville, California on the west threshold of the Sierra, and a smaller facility was planned adjoining the SP’s railyard in Sparks. And here I better mention, just to keep Curt Risley happy, that the PFE, which operated autonomously apart from the Southern Pacific, bought ranch land from Curt’s grandfather, along Glendale Road at Stanford Way (named for railroad magnate Leland Stanford, natch.)
The main building was erected by PFE in 1920; additions to the compressor and tank rooms were made in 1924, along with a bunkhouse, blacksmith shop, cookhouse, dining room and a well house. The plant could manufacture 330 tons of ice daily in the sub-freezing building (I recall reading once that when the facility was operating full-bore it was Sierra Pacific Power’s largest electric customer.) Peak storage was 19,500 tons of ice, but the typical daily storage was 150 tons, with another 150 tons stored at the dock.
Old-timers can remember a roofed white wooden platform extending 1,800 feet in both directions from the icehouse, which could accommodate 86 produce cars on either side – 172 cars could be iced at once. The ice was delivered to the long icing platform by conveyor and then along its length by a conveyor chain. The conveyor delivered 37 300-pound blocks a minute (an ice-forming mold is on display in the Sparks Heritage Museum.)
When the trains were spotted, the men – all PFE employees – would slide the blocks off the delivery conveyor onto a hinged section of planking that could be dropped onto the edge of the hatch on the boxcar being iced. (The cars had bunkers in both ends.) The icing crew was usually 20 men, two men working on each car.
In the early 1950s small-scale diesel engines and refrigeration equipment had reached a point of cost and reliability that made it realistic to equip produce cars with individual refrigeration units, and boxcar icing began to go by the boards. By 1958 the yellow PFE rolling stock had been converted to mechanized refrigeration, the Sparks PFE icehouse was closed, and the long icing platforms were dismantled.
And in downtown Reno, Bill Harrah, whose auto collection was growing by Maxwells and Reos, struck a deal with the Southern Pacific/PFE and created the best all-afternoon two-dollar show in town for families and auto collectors alike, a civic treasure that would endure for two decades.
Many thanks to the late Reno railroad historian Dale Darney, for his help and research on this yarn…
• • •

Let The Games Begin!…the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics – (Three columns combined, a long read)…


squawvalleytowerofnationsWritten February 7, 2002 (©RGJ) rewritten, combined and updated February 8, 2018

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 [2018: 58 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.

• • •

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 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 him.

            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