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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