Over the years of writing these columns a number of truths have become evident, one of which is never write about irrigation ditches, churches, architects and railroads because one can research them all ’til hell won’t have them, and you’ll still be wrong. Another, ranking right up toward the top, is that Sparks, to Reno’s east, is a cool city, had the coolest chicks in Washoe County in 1959, has the best place to watch Hot August Nights revelry, has the Sparks Hometowne Parade with Santa every year, has the Farmers’ Market all summer, the Marina, the best (and biggest)) city manager in the lower-48 in Shaun Carey [when I wrote this originally], John Ascuaga need-we-say-more, and, a museum. Which Reno doesn’t. So I say to my Sparks buddies who rag on me for not writing about Sparks, read the chapters in my book about Ascuaga’s shark, (which is still thriving in San Francisco’s Steinhart Aquarium), about the Nugget flagpole sitter and about Sparks’ fire department – and one of their chiefs who died in the RENO 1948 Lake Street fire. I do write about Sparks. And a few weeks ago on this web a photo of a Sparks fireman and a link to the Man On The Bench, a column I wrote that I’m proud to say is in the FDNY’s firehouse that gave it all on 9/11. I like Sparks, and make no bones about it.
Ergo, whatever that means, this week we are going to learn more of Sparks’ museum – the Sparks Heritage Museum on Victorian Way, with great parking behind it and a thousand stories to tell, and most of them relevant to kid of all ages, and not just the ones growing up in Sparks.
I’ve written about the formation of the museum, of the guys like Carl Shelly and Tom Swart who got the thing going. And tonight as I write I’m betting that maybe we’ll get a few folks to go to the Rail City and enjoy the museum!
The museum, pictured above, is in an old county building that was originally built in 1931 for the Washoe County Library’s Sparks branch, note Harry Scheeline’s name on the plaque, Scheeline the hotshot banker of that era. The little brick building, attributed to architect Frederic Delongchamps but I’m standing clear of that, became the Sparks Justice Court in 1966 – the domain of the legendary judge Jack Lamberti, one from the family of great Sparks residents spanning several generations, most of them railroaders.
The stuff in the museum is to some degree a story of railroading – from Sparks’ earliest heritage with photos and artifacts and hardware and displays of the tools of railroading, and ranks right up with the artifacts in the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento. I would think that the Sacramento museum would give their eye-teeth for some of Sparks’ displays – and the close-up, hands-on presentation in Sparks. Check out the telegrapher, one of several displays in Sparks using mannequins. His desk probably mimics one in the Sparks of the 1900s. And the photos on the walls – one could take hours just looking at the artwork!
But it’s not all railroad – we’ll see some more railroad photos, like the clock that once was evident in downtown Sparks, a Ball clock that kept time with remarkable accuracy and was available in the window of W. R. Adams & Sons Jewelers on B Street – now Victorian Way – in Sparks.
The railroads of old prided themselves on timeliness, and a method of keeping time – prior to GPS systems and WWV short-wave transmissions – was the Ball clocks (“on the Ball!”). A trackie in Sacramento would look at the Ball clock in Sacramento prior to leaving over Donner Summit for Sparks, set his pocket watch, and get the Ball clock in Sparks “on the ball” (the Sacramento clock in turn had been reset by the same process to the Ball clock in Oakland.) Railroads insisted on a certain brand of watch with a specified dial pattern (trackies couldn’t vary from the Hamilton watch, and only in recent years has Seiko been accepted as a railroad-grade timepiece.)
Many Sparks businesses contributed liberally to the Heritage Museum; a barber chair from a B Street tonsorial artist and the Derby hanging on the rack and the barber-pole, still turnin’ – find another like that in our valley today (OK, Town Barbers has one…!)
The Sparks Heritage Museum is one of the best-kept secrets in the valley – its displays mimic not only the railroad heritage of Sparks, but the lifestyle of our towns in turn-of-the-20th Century, early photos of the Nugget, the agricultural endeavors around the area. They are volunteer-based, get no money from any governmental agencies and do one hell of a job. Next time you have friends in town, or kids that would like to see the way we were – the volunteers would love to show you around!
Next WordPress post, we’ll get closer to the story of the Sigma Nu house and the heiress who built it – join me then, have a good week, and God bless America…
Posted February 18, 2009
Read about Sparks Fire Department’s Guy on the Bench