A Diamond in the desert

YellowjacketThere are a handful of yarns that I’ve long wanted to write or that readers have suggested over the years, and the maritime tale of Reno’s Diamond Boat ’n Sport was always high on that list. Earlier this week I finally connected with Dave and Brad Jamieson for three hours of yakking about Yellow Jackets, Eagles and falcons. Yellow Jackets were the hottest outboard on the water in the 1950s, every kid in high school salivated over owning a Cushman Eagle motorcycle, and falcons were, well, the raptors that Dave raises but that’s another column in itself.

Diamond Boat was a mid-1950s outgrowth of the Jamieson family’s Diamond Springs Water Company on Martin Street. That family, who moved to Reno from Loyalton after the war, was Dave’s dad Robert Jamieson, with Dave and his brother Robert Jr., who passed away 10 years ago, and Robert Jr.’s son Brad, who was a national champion water skier. Several readers who suggested this column topic recall seeing Brad barefoot-skiing on the seven-acre lake on Telegraph Street that you’ll read of in a paragraph to follow. I should mention Nate Hurst and D. T. Bate as having pivotal roles in the early Diamond endeavors.

The company originally flourished in the building many readers now know as the House of Black-and-White on Martin Street. I’ll remind you that private power boats big enough to do much else than troll for steelheads weren’t on the common scene in 1955 – if you had a boat with an outboard you probably built it from a Popular Mechanix kit, the motor was hand-cranked and steered from a tiller at the transom, and if you had water skis at all you probably made them from spare parts or found them in a Bay Area store. But the Jamiesons changed that – under one roof you could buy a boat, motor and trailer, ready to launch with a windshield, cable-operated steering wheel and maybe even electric start. (The first such unit financed in Reno, by Security Bank of Nevada, went out the door for $1,500; a 30-horsepower Johnson on a 14-foot fiberglass Lido.) Their staff grew; Al Godoy was the service manager; Marie Sorensen was their long-time secretary. Marie came to Reno to help her husband Owen open the Spudnut Shop, another column-in-progress, and Kenny Taber, our Reno High-classmate-turned-dentist who can still hop up an electric toothbrush to 340 horsepower, was an outboard mechanic.

          Yellowjacket dataplateDiamond Boat’s product line grew, from boats, where they became one of industry-dominant Glastron’s biggest dealers, to embryonic ATVs and snowmobiles, to motor scooters – the aforementioned Cushmans, from high school-hotshots’ Eagles to the City of Reno’s meter-molly trikes, Valco aluminum boats, and Travette pickup camper shells, those also in their infancy. Dave recalls a competitor at a late-1950s trade show, turning down a shot at carrying the new Honda line: “A Japanese bike will never catch on in America.” (Nor will the Beach Boys write a mega-hit song about them a couple years later…)

          While all this was going on the family eyed a former gravel pit on Telegraph Street near Mill, chock-full of water and just crying out for boats to kick up a wake. They met with its owner Marshall Matley and struck a deal, and in early 1965 moved from Martin Street to the new site, its only neighbors the phone company and Solari Paint to the distant south, and GRAID (CQ all caps) Equipment and Capriotti-Lemon Construction across two-lane Mill Street.

          It was a good move, with abundant outdoor space and the capability to board a family right into a boat for a demo ride at full speed (briefly!), or tune up a balky motor in an actual lake. The family had operated the west beach at Donner Lake for a decade to accomplish this, giving up that contract with the lake’s owner in 1971. A scare came in the mid-1970s when the nearby gravel pit that we now call the MGM, or Grand Sierra Lake was partially drained with pumps. The resultant lowered water table dropped Lake Diamond also and set the Jamiesons scrambling for an alternate supply until the aquifer stabilized.

          The Jamison family had a good voyage, took care of the Reno boating folks and made a lot of friends with their quality of merchandising. They sold the business, lock, stock and barrel in 1979 and their successors kept it going for a time. I don’t know for sure, but only surmise that the property taxes on a seven-acre lake in what was once a cow pasture-turned-industrial epicenter adjoining an airport of a growing city doomed the land for such use.

          Plus, I suspect it had lost the Jamieson “touch.” Have a good week; enjoy the extra hour of the day if you haven’t already, and God bless America.


© Reno Gazette Journal Nov. 2007





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Lee’s Drive-In – Sierra and West Fourth Streets – photo of drive-in now posted

Lees DriveIn

This is sort of a prelude to a column that I’ve been trying to write for Hot August Nights and getting nowhere. My childhood friend Pam (Lee) Bodenhamer sent me the ashtray and menu from her family’s drive-in on the southwest corner of Sierra and West Fourth Streets. I’ve been looking for a picture which I know exists of the drive-in, but while I’m beating around that bush thought all may enjoy seeing the 1958 menu!

More to follow ASAP –

As promised, a bit more about Lee’s Drive-in, here’s a photo, thanks to Cal Pettengill!Lees1

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An old friend writes of Jessie Beck, (of the Riverside Hotel, not the school…!)

John White, my old Sigma Nu fraternity brother and owner/loving caretaker of the 20th Century Building on West First Street contributes the following, and I’m grateful to him!


jessie3Enjoyed today’s column, as usual.  It reminded me of the years when I was counsel for Beck Corp (I handled Jesse’s interests during the three way exchange – Pick Hobson, the Overland; Bill Harrah, Harrah’s Club; and Jessie Beck, the Riverside).

Attached is a blog about Jesse which, based on my memory, is pretty accurate. 
Every once in a while I read about some woman who claims to be the first this or that in Nevada gaming and it makes my blood simmer.




Jessie Howard, a thirty-four year-old divorced mother, came to Reno to work as a roulette dealer in Harolds Club in the late 1930s. While on vacation in Texas, Pappy Smith had offered Beck a job after he spotted her quick mathematical skills while she was working as a cashier. After coming to work at Harolds Club, Beck soon rose through the casino ranks, building a reputation for friendliness and good business sense.

Her third husband, Fred Beck, owned and operated the keno, poker, pan, and horse race book concessions at Harolds Club. Jessie took over the operation when her husband died in January 1954. She lost the lease to the concessions in 1970 when Harolds Club was sold to the Hughes Corporation.

Jessie Beck bought the Riverside in 1971 for $3 million and hired a staff of former Harolds Club employees who had quit or been terminated by the Hughes Corporation. She spent most of her working hours roaming the casino floor, sometimes staying as late as 3 A.M. Frequently, she took over a 21 game and dealt for hours.

Beck, who was known as the Gambling Grandmother of Reno, spent untold thousands of BeckDancershours and thousands of dollars doing favors for servicemen in Viet Nam and all over the world. The Award of Merit, the highest honor the Defense Department can give a civilian, was presented to her in 1968. In 1969, then-governor Paul Laxalt named her a Distinguished Nevadan.

On March 10, 1978, spokesmen for the Riverside Hotel and the Overland Hotel announced that Harrah’s was purchasing the Riverside so it could trade it to Overland, Inc., for that firm’s old hotel-casino site at Center Street and Commercial Row. Pick Hobson was licensed to operate the Riverside the following month. This transaction was favorable to all parties, because it allowed Jessie Beck to retire from gaming and Pick Hobson to get back into the gaming business, and it gave Bill Harrah the key piece of real estate he needed for the parking garage in his multimillion-dollar expansion on North Center Street.

Jessie Beck died on July 17, 1987, at the age of eighty-three. She was a lifetime member of the St. Mary’s Hospital Guild, the Washoe County Medical Center League, and the VFW Auxiliary, and she was active in the Republican Party.

Shortly after her death, Harold Smith Jr. said of Mrs. Beck, “She was a credit to the gaming industry, to Reno, to the state of Nevada and to all concerned. We all held her in highest regard. Jessie was a lady.” And Helen Mapes, wife of former casino owner Charles Mapes, described Mrs. Beck as “a very gracious person; a loving, caring, generous person. And she was a very good businesswoman.”

Here’s a postscript: I asked John if I could use this in the website and he acquiesced, with this nice short aside about Jessie:

“Jessie was a good woman. She had a nice place out by Virginia Lake, but often
(too often she would say) ended up sleeping in her room at the Riverside,
being too busy to spare the half-hour it would take to go home and come back.
She was often busy dealing 21, for if a player was winning what she
suspiciously thought might be a bit too much, she would take the cards and
deal herself.”

Source: Reno Evening Gazette, 31 Mar. 71; Nev. St. Journal, 10 Mar. 78, 18 July 87 (obit.)



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Leave the driving to us

Bishop Manogue Bus

Leave the driving to us
A fortnight ago in a treatise about Stead AFB I noted that “…there was only one high school in Reno until 1961” and proceeded to recall that all the high school students in town could fit into two 66-passenger school buses.
The remark endeared me to many a Manogue High School graduate, who called en masse to remind me that there was indeed a second high school in Reno in 1961 – their alma mater, then as now on a site just east of the University of Nevada campus. The thrust of what I was writing was that Reno High was the only school in Reno with a bus program. But, when life hands you a lemon, a writer makes lemonade: In talking with one of the Manogue alums who was kidding me about my gaffe, Nancy Howell Spina, the topic of school buses inadvertently arose.
Starting closer to the beginning, a word about Manogue, formally Bishop Manogue High School. The school’s name came from Bishop Patrick Manogue, who contributed to the education of miners’ children during the Comstock gold rush and was later the first bishop of the Sacramento Catholic diocese. The school opened in 1947, in a couple of old barracks in a beautiful meadow at the old Flick ranch by the Truckee River near the present southeast McCarran Boulevard (it’s now utilized by Sage Winds school). Within a decade it had grown and was relocated to its present campus in 1957. I should say parenthetically that the present site will become part of the University campus when Manogue’s new campus is completed south of town by Zolezzi Lane. (Arrowcreek Drive, to the newcomers.)
Nancy told me that a bus made the loop around Reno picking up Manogue students to transport to the school’s original location, which back then you had to pack a lantern and a lunch to drive to. “A bus, you say?” I asked. “A bus,” she replied. There I was prepared to get myself off a hook by saying that Manogue never had a school bus system and get myself into yet-another jam. But you read it here first: Bishop Manogue High School indeed had a school bus system, in the 1940s. There were two high schools in Reno in 1960. Finally, we wish Manogue’s leadership well in completing their new campus. [and they did]
• • •
On the topic of schools, Reno High School Alumni Club honcho Joe Granata tells of a bit of school apparatus that has been around longer that it might appear. There’s a strong probability that the flagpole at Wooster High, which spoiled Reno High’s place as the only PUBLIC! High school in Reno when it opened in 1961, was the same pole that was originally installed in the front courtyard of the Reno High School on Fifth and West Streets in 1913. (I almost wrote “the original high school”, which it wasn’t.) Take a look at the flagpole next time you’re traveling down East Plumb Lane past Wooster – that baby’s been around for a long time.
Now, I’ll solicit some reader help, maybe from Dale Sanderson, Washoe County School District’s great facilities manager: I think, but have never been able to prove, that the scoreboard that originally clocked basketball games in the old Reno High (later serving as Central Junior High) gymnasium, was later relocated to Vaughn Middle School on Vassar Street near Kietzke. It’s a classic scoreboard/timer with a revolving hand, not the contemporary 00:00 electric numerals – the words I’m groping for might be analog and digital. Last I saw it it was hanging unused in the Vaughn gym, alongside a modern digital scoreboard. It might be nice – if it is indeed the old Reno High gym clock – to relocate it to the Reno High Alum Center on Booth Street someday, or at the least be aware of its heritage and not trash it as pre-WWII junk.
• • •
We’ve had a little fun closing columns with the Ralston Food Company’s “Safe-Day” readerboard count, watching the number of injury-free days grow to make a safe full year look like a good possibility. Recently I left the day-count off the end of a column, for no apparent reason. On that weekend I got a healthy dose of email and calls, wondering if the chain had been broken by an injury. No, they’re going to make it a full year.
Several of those callers wondered about the name. As it happened I had received an email from Ralston exec George Smith shortly after I had erroneously referred to it as Ralston Purina this summer. Turns out that Ralston Purina became Ralston Foods in a corporate buyout in the early 1990s, and shifted their production to packaging cereals.
Many of us recall the plant when it was built 20-plus years ago, far and away the largest significant structure, seemingly all by itself miles east of industrial Sparks. The Purina Checkerboard – now redesigned – was a standard reference for Reno airport control tower operators, telling pilots arriving from the east to report in when “over the Checkerboard.”
Ralston Foods is a good neighbor. Check the Safe-Day readerboard on the guard shack when you’re driving out East Greg Street. Early next year you’ll see a big 3-6-5 and George will be out in front handing out miniature boxes of corn flakes in celebration. We wish him and all the Ralston employees a safe holiday!
• • •
Real estate editor Tom McGuire thinks that my mother’s origami shop folded because she failed to keep a good paper trail. And in response to many readers’ queries: There were both a Waldorf and a Little Waldorf on Virginia Street, different places, different sides of the street – their locations are both correct in the “Walking Virginia Street” columns.
We have seventeen more shopping days to buy a new home for Christmas, 329 Safe-Days at you-know-where, and, God Bless America.

© RGJ 2006

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2 hot 2 write


[Photo credit Roy Powers]

Until the last local attic and basement is cleaned out and dad and mom’s last priceless antiques are taken to the Nevada Historical Society to put with everybody else’s priceless antiques, this column will always have unlimited new, vital and earthshaking input. And when it’s hot as a firecracker on the Fourth of July, don’t look for much sense out of this blog.

A case in point this morning comes from an old throwaway tourism brochure from the early 1950s that depicts a window into our valley. This Week, dated Oct. 1, 1949 was printed by Cleve Crudgington at Silver State Press (Cleve and his drop-dead gorgeous wife Phyllis were a popular couple in Reno through the 1950s.) In that pamphlet we learn that the University of Nevada football team would be playing St. Mary’s Gaels in Kezar Stadium – that note only a minor squib in 1949, but prescient of a game that would be talked about for 60 years to follow and put Dick Trachok and Tommy Kalminer in the Nevada Athletic Hall of Fame.

We read a name forgotten since our childhood, Laurance, often Larry, Layman. Layman was a Nevada-style Justice of the Peace, probably one of the few in the nation who listed not only his office in the courthouse but his home phone number 2-3116 and his residence at 420 W. Sixth Street. This was for the convenience of a Bay Area couple fresh off the Lincoln Highway desirous of tying the matrimonial knot at 2 ayem – not an unusual event in Reno. Several jewelers listed night numbers, as did Reno Florist at 40 E. First Street, also in order to capture this nocturnal wedding trade. Forty East First Street deserves to be written of herein on some future Sunday morning; kind of a crummy little office building sandwiched among the Majestic Theater, the Mapes, and the YMCA (which would blow up a couple years later.) Crummy, maybe, but half the state’s prominent businessmen and politicians, read Norman Biltz for one, quietly emanated from there (or from Eugene Gastanaga’s Eagle Drug lunch counter, two blocks to the south.)

Here’s an ad for the Mesa (across the Mt. Rose highway from the present Galena High, later to be the Lancer and to burn in 1971 while Glenn Rolfson tickled the ivories.) Just re-read that: Glenn Rolfson had nothing to do with the fire. Did I write that? Moving on: On the way to the Mesa/Lancer, party at the Zanzibar across South Virginia from the present Peppermill. Owner Tilli Botti, a retired Air National Guard pilot, told me before he died just a few years ago that when the Guard was activated in 1968 he leased out the Zanzibar and never once set foot in it again. [Nor did he the rest of his life.] Or, on the way home from the Mesa, perhaps we should stop for a nightcap at the West Indies (Reno’s West Indies preceded Carson City’s West Indies, just as the Crackerbox on Ryland predated Carson’s Crackerbox.) Or try Tommy’s Big Hat on the corner of Moana and Virginia, [now called La Vecchia, we understand at press-time to be wiped out by the widening of Moana Lane] with the big white Stetson on the roof, rotated by a war surplus Navy radar antenna motor. Next door was the Moana Coffee Shop, “only five minutes south of downtown Reno.” Try driving that today in your Hudson in five.

Branding Iron or Stirrup Cup?

For some reason I’ve heard from column readers trying to recall a joint on Airport Road, (OK, Gentry Way.) The name Moody’s Lounge must be hard to remember, but it sure did a big late-night business. Confusion also reigns to this day over the Bonanza (no taxes, no cover), then at 207 North Center Street, now north on 395 in what used to be the Branding Iron, [2014: a name that remains alive today in its signature restaurant, the Branding Iron. Good place, by the way…]

International dining: We had it, at the Santa Fe Hotel on Lake Street, “fine French cuisine” (yup, now great Basque family style with a picon or two); here’s an ad for the Chinese Pagoda at 4th and B in Sparks (Sparks’ numbered streets use ordinal numbers, Reno spells them out; go figure.) And that answers the age old question “where was the Pagoda?” (Everybody wants to put the original Pagoda on Sparks’ 4th Street, not the older location at 7th.) It later moved to Reno’s West Fourth Street, into the former Circle RB steakhouse – the only Chinese restaurant east of Peking with wagon wheels and stagecoaches on the Formica tabletops. [I think that tidbit’s in a column somewhere else in this book] Better yet, the Chinese Mint Club downtown offers “Chinese food like mama used to make,” and I wouldn’t touch that motto with a nine-iron. West of town on the “Truckee Highway,” now we call it Washoe., note that period that’s not a typo but an integral part of their name. We used to call it the Glory Hole but in This Week in 1949 it was the Villa Roma, with a cute little hat-check chick named Gloria (now Garaventa!) Further out the Truckee Highway was the popular Stirrup Cup in a picturesque old once-ranch house, now restored to a private home housing one of my faithful readers. Downtown again by the Downtown Bowl at 130 N. Center Street (that Harrah’s later took over for offices) and across the street from the Frisco Club (don’t tell Herb Caen that). The Colombo on Lake Street; Ralph Festina, your genial chef. Ralph would later open Festina’s Pizza, and his wife was only one of two people ever to drown in Virginia Lake, a dubious distinction she shared with a 15-year-old boy who drowned at three in the afternoon on the east shore of the lake, on June 17, 1952.

A bowling tournament was in town at the aforementioned Downtown Bowl and the Reno Bowl on South Virginia by the Tower Theater, still using human pinsetters. Nevada State Bowling Association president Len Crocker, our lifelong friend and the Nevada State Journal’s ace sports reporter of long tenure, reported that one bowler rolled a perfect 301 (that’s not a misprint; the pinsetter had a wooden leg.) This Week reported that the tournament, in three days, would bring about a thousand dollars in bookings to the area’s 19 motels. The Nugget had Five Great Restaurants: the Round House, the Golden Rooster Room, the Pancake Parlor, the coffee shop, and the Prime Rib Room, (Saturday and Sunday nights only.)

And every business plugged above was represented in that little eight-page flyer. Columns are where you find them; have a good week, y’all, a happy and safe Fourth of July to you, and God bless America!

© Reno Gazette-Journal April 12, 2006
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