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.
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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.
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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.