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.

  • • • •

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.

  •  • • •

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.

  •  • • •

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


2 thoughts on “Elevating a Train, and other oddments

  1. Hi Karl, Sorry for the loss of your friend. I assume he owned Shelly’s Hardware. I have always loved hardware stores and remember it (them) well. Drove home around Virginia Lake today and saw all the construction going on, and more little gingerbread houses going up, covering every square inch of real estate in that area. Made me feel sad. By the way, I think my mother knew your father, or they were neighbors, in the apartments that have now been demolished. A good subject over a glass of merlot some day.
    Love, Phyllis

  2. I should have added that my kids grew up feeding the ducks at VL. Taught them to swim at the swimming pool… so I have lots of nice memories …that’s what made me sad…to see them all ploughed under

Comments are closed.