Elevating a Train, and other oddments

SP Sparks roundhouseWhile some towns lower their train tracks, others raise ‘em:  In about 1903 E. H. Harriman bought the Central Pacific Railroad from the Big Four and immediately started to re-engineer the CP tracks to get rid of some awkward grades and curves to accommodate a new, heavier generation of locomotives and rolling stock. (Photo credit City of Sparks)

The main line at that time ran down Prater Way, and engineers decreed that the better route would be south of Prater with a major yard in a lowland area just south and east of the Sparks Nugget’s present location. The area south of the Nugget was low and therefore flood prone, but did afford room to expand the train yard, build a first-class roundhouse and locomotive shop, and relocate Southern Pacific’s branch operation from Wadsworth to the west, closer to the east threshold of the Sierra and Donner Pass. No sweat; a large community of Chinese laborers were available, the toughest in the world, whose fathers gained experience in creating the landfill Marina/South of Market areas of San Francisco in the 1840s, later in the Comstock mines, their descendants in the Donner Pass railroad tunnels and the Virginia & Truckee Railroad’s mountainous right-of-way, and were by 1902 looking for work.

They laid railroad tracks from the present Sparks rail yard along the route of the present Highway 40 to a spot near the present Stoker Drive. As many as 300 laborers, according to the Sparks Heritage Museum’s railroad expert John Hartman, took earth by pick and shovel to the gondola cars and offloaded it at the site of the new railroad yard. The work continued under torchlight night and day for 13 months until Sparks’ new railyard had been elevated and then compacted, adding an elevation from four to eight feet. Dead level, and it’s never flooded. The early engineers knew what they were doing.

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This item hurts: The RG-J last week bore the news that Mirabelli’s Music City in Park Lane Center is closing.

          The article noted that the store moved to Park Lane as an original tenant in 1967 from the Village Shopping Center, where it opened in 1956. The Village was Reno High turf, and we sent two of our finest, Gary Bullis, now a local attorney and RSCVA board member, and Gary Machabee, local office furniture mogul, to be DJs at Mirabelli’s live from the Village. They weren’t bad; Gary’s even keeping it as a fallback career. What the article didn’t say was that the store actually had tenuous roots even prior to that in Savier’s Appliances on West Second and West Streets, where it was the “Record Room.”

          Good luck to Betty Mirabelli and to Buddy and Lori Lehman and their families, and our thanks for six decades of good tunes.

          Epilogue: When Park Lane was opened by a bunch of local guys in the mid-‘60s, the detractors wagged “How could a doctor and a car dealer [among others] possibly run a shopping center?” Who knows, but they did, and it was a great, successful center. Now it sits dying, even while standing on the confluence of two well-traveled Reno streets, with acres of parking and easy access, thanks to some out-of-town experts who came to show us local yokels how it’s done. “Reno’s demographics changed,” they say.         

          Baloney. Any number of local commercial Realtor firms could fill it up again.

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OK, as promised this last week: The exact text of the legend ringing the wall in the Farm House Coffee Shop in the Sparks Nugget reads:

Heresto Pands Pen Dasoci Alhour Rinhar M Les Smirt Hand Funl Etfri Ends Hipre Ign Bejus Tand Kindan Devils Peaks of No Ne.

          A spell-checker’s nightmare, or a saying from the village of San Sebastian high in the Basque country? That’s what some would let us think for forty years. But not so; try this:

Here stop and spend a restful hour, in harmless mirth and fun; Let friendship reign, be just and kind, and evil speak of none…

A pleasant sentiment for a Saturday morning.

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I thank the volunteers at the Sparks Heritage Museum for their help, and God Bless America

This column was ready to email – including my thanks to the Sparks Heritage Museum – when I learned that Carl Shelly, the founder and driving force behind the museum and the fortunes of the town of Sparks since his childhood, passed away last Saturday at 97 years young. Carl was friend and a hell of a guy…


© RGJ May 2002


The site of the Snowbound Streamliner

60059 site

Regarding the story this weekend of the stalled train carried in the RGJ: I’ve sent this to a few people over time and am now getting more requests. The red dot on the railroad track is where the passengers departed the stalled train, the arrow points to where they arrived at  US 40. They were taken westward to Nyack Lodge. This was prepared shortly after the incident, copyright if any unknown

Mike Ingersoll lives on at the U of N

NevadaStateMuseumA while back I lamented the impending departure of a couple of University of Nevada campus names that became hallowed to students and alums in the last 40 years – the Getchell Library and the Jot Travis Student Union – both buildings being replaced by newer facilities with newer names.

Comes now our college contemporary and later the popular long-time principal of Reed High School Tim Griffin, who reminds us that another revered facility name is on the endangered species list, the Mike Ingersoll Associated Students of the University of Nevada Senate Room within the doomed Jot. I could write now that Mike – (“Foot,” he was known as) – was the consummate BMOC but that dated 1960s mnemonic would probably be lost on 61.3 per cent of our Saturday morning readers. A Big Man on Campus, Foot was; his effusive presence and great sense of humor transcended graduating class and fraternity and sorority lines (he was an Alpha Tau Omega), and he was elected ASUN president in 1965. I remember him best for organizing a campus-wide blood donor drive for Vietnam casualties, with nary a warm-blooded mammal setting boot or paw north of Ninth Street and east of North Virginia Street spared – probably the most successful such drive ever carried out in Reno.

And Foot gave the first unit…

Mike would die in a skydiving accident before he graduated with his 1966 class (Sigma Nu Bill Chaffin took over for the remainder of that year.) A campaign grew to a huge groundswell gaining campus-wide support from all – students and faculty alike – and the room in the Jot devoted to ASUN business was named in his memory.

Regrettably but inevitably, 40 years later Mike’s name over the ASUN Senate Room’s doors means little to the current students, indeed just as the name “Jot Travis” itself is vague to many, but be assured that there remains a large cadre of us Homefinder alums still out here that recall Mike’s name fondly, and implore those on the Hill who make such facility-naming decisions to keep the memory of a guy from our era alive in the new student union facility.



Our Nevada State Museum in Carson City (pictured above) is doing a cool thing: As within most museums space is available to display only a fraction of the artifacts and mementoes that they house. Our museum has started a “Behind-the-Scenes” display, periodically delving in the darker reaches of the storage rooms and bringing assets up to the light of day – watch for news of these special displays being carried in this paper – it’s worth a trip south, especially on the new freeway extension.

            One motivation to include all this on page 10 is to remind newer readers and residents that the grand old museum saw its first use as a federal mint, placed near the Nevada source of silver and gold and opening in 1870. It closed in 1893, and if you’ve got an 1893CC Morgan cartwheel or Double Eagle gold piece in the ol’ jewelry box, it’d look mighty fine in a belt buckle.

            And to give credit where due, the Silver State is grateful to Max and Sarah Fleischmann, they of the yeast fortune, who shortly after their arrival to Nevada to set up residency here in the 1930s endowed the museum, then somewhat floundering, with a grant necessary to convert the building from a mint to a museum – and continued the endowment for two more decades for construction and artifact acquisition.

            As kids a trip to Carson City and the museum was a slam-dunk requisite of our education (just as was singing “Home Means Nevada” every Friday morning in school!) and the descent down into the mock “mineshaft” beneath the museum was a memory we carry with us for a lifetime.


In last week’s raw text I spelled a reference to the Spreckels family right but my spell-checker recognizes “spreckles” as a word, whatever a spreckle is, and kindly converted it to thus for me automatically. I alone take the rap for letting Spreckle get loose. On the bright side, I did get it right a long time ago in connection with the Spreckels family endowing San Francisco’s Palace of the Legion of Honor. So I’m batting .500 on Spreckels, Sugar.

            Milestones: We say goodbye later this morning to Jim Puryear. “Bud” had at least two firsts in his lengthy tenure with the Washoe County School District: He was our P.E. coach in his first year with the district in 1951 in Central Junior High’s first year of existence, and later was the inaugural principal of Jessie Beck Elementary School when it opened in 1958. I’ve scribed his name several times in this column as a great candidate for a school name, but thus far with no success (yet!). Jim was a hell of a guy, a good friend to us all, student-through-adulthood.

            And, we said hello last Friday night to Julia Michelle Breckenridge, born to Brent and Laura Breckenridge in San Mateo. She’s already interning to take over Gramp’s page 10 in 2038, that year coinciding with real estate editor Bob Brundage’s retirement from the Gazoo.

                I’m advised by George Smith, the Guru-of-Grain at Ralston Foods on East Greg Street whose Accident-free day count we’ve long been including in this column, that the plant two weeks ago reached 5 accident-free years, with a whopping 1,769,000 hours worked with no one getting sliced, diced, crushed, boiled or stuffed into a boxcar. Ralston treated the whole staff to dinner at Famous Murphy’s, and no, Rice Chex and corn flakes weren’t on the menu. Nor were Spreckles. Nicely done, all 150 of you Ralston Folks!

            Have a good week; be as safe as the Ralston folks, write a U of N regent near you about keeping Foot’s room-name alive, and God bless America.