An ol’ buddy’s memories of the NCO’s Reno depot

WP2One of the joys of writing a column in the Gazoo is the mail we get, some extremely well-written like letters from Jean Myles and John Metzker, which are well-worth putting out for all to see. This is one such, from an old friend Des(mond) Powers, who grew up in Reno and now resides in San Rafael, a practicing CPA. I received this over the weekend, and it brought back a lot of memories, for me and maybe you all. Enjoy, and thanks, Des!

Karl, I just finished reading your column on the former NCO (and WP) depot on Fourth Street. It is great to see that the building has been renovated. The restaurant, distillery and brewery in the building are bringing new life to that part of Fourth Street. Included in the history of the depot, which you may know, during its days as Western Pacific’s Reno terminal where it connected with the SP, each weekday, for many, many, years, the WP ran the Reno Local from Portola to Reno in the morning with the return to Portola each late afternoon. The Reno Local left the WP main at Reno Junction, just down from Beckwourth Pass, in Long Valley, which was (is) the WP’s summit over the Sierra. Beckwourth is about 2,000 feet lower than Donner Pass. I know there is a reason why the builders of the Transcontinental Railroad did not route the line over the lower elevation at Beckwourth, but I don’t recall why. Most likely politics, and money “issues,” but I can’t remember. Reno Junction is not far from Hallelujah Junction where, as you know, CA 70 connects with 395.

Remember that old air strip at Hallelujah, [Nervino – still active!] right next to the bar and gas station? When the Union Pacific bought the WP in 1983 the Reno Local continued to run each day, and occasionally ran two sections a day. After the UP purchased the SP in 1996, the Reno Local’s demise was inevitable and the early morning crew-calls in Portola eventually ended. Occasionally, when a slide in the Feather River Canyon closed the Western Pacific’s line for a few days, the westbound California Zephyr would be re-routed from the WP main at Reno Junction and run over the former NCO to downtown Reno where it would connect with the SP main and head west over Donner. In my recollection, that happened at least a couple of times in the mid- to late 1960s. The Feather River Canyon has always been notorious for slides.

As you recall, the WP was allowed to end operation of the California Zephyr in March 1970. I was born in Oroville and our family moved to Reno in early 1962. I rode the Zephyr several times between Portola and Oroville between the early 1960s and March 1970. I still miss the Silver Lady. I have great memories of riding that train through the Feather River Canyon westbound and eastbound. I went to Manogue (the second campus at the top of Valley Road) and would, whenever I could, watch the Reno Local go by on its way downtown in the morning and return in the evening. I am a rail fan and every chance I got I would get alongside the tracks and watch it roll by. Right next to Manogue was a de-railer switch. Each day, before switching at the Montgomery Ward’s warehouse, Albers & Deming Feed’s warehouse, and other industries along Valley Road, the train would run down to the switch and a crewman would throw it. I spoke with the train crew once in awhile and one day I asked the trainman why they threw the switch each day. He said it was to prevent a runaway car from rolling into downtown Reno. That made a lot of sense. I got a ride in the engine a couple of times. The first was when I was a freshman. The second was when I was a senior. I played football at Manogue. Each year, just after school started, Manogue would have its annual “Clean-Up Day.” This particular September 1970 Clean Up Day, early in my senior year, was a Friday and that night was our first game at Hawthorne. We football players wore our game jerseys to school the day of each Friday night game, or the day before if we played on Saturday for our home games. Manogue’s football field did not have lights.

Being good football players, and concerned about conserving our energy for the game that night, we occasionally picked up a weed or errant food wrapper and threw it into the trash can. Other than that we did not do much for Clean-Up Day. While walking along the tracks right next to school with a teammate of mine, while our non-football playing classmates worked diligently on cleaning up the campus, the WP Reno Local came down the tracks after their morning switching at the businesses north of the school campus. The train slowed to a stop while the trainman got off and threw the de-railer switch back to its “normal” position and the train was ready to roll to downtown Reno. We talked with the engineer as he waited for the switch to be thrown. Just as the train began to inch forward he said to my teammate and me, “Hey, are you guys going downtown?” I took that as an invitation for a ride and said to my friend, “Come on!!” We jumped up on the step of the engine and hurried into the cab so no one would see us, although my friend did see a teammate of ours and waved to him. It was a nice ride downtown to the WP (former NCO) Depot and it was neat talking to the engineer and the brakeman in the cab. Well, all good things come to an end and we had to walk back to Manogue. We walked up the tracks to campus, with our away football jerseys on, and when we got back Clean-Up Day was still in full stride. We resumed our occasional participation in Clean-Up Day by picking up a few more twigs, small weeds and food wrappers and put them in the trash can. Nothing was ever said to us by anyone in authority, so we concluded that we “got away” with our little adventure.

That night, by the way, we beat Hawthorne 46 – 0. Chris Ault was our head coach. We went on to an undefeated and, in those days, untied season and were AA State Football Champions. It was good to save our energy and just pick up a few twigs and food wrappers on Clean-Up Day. The results of our season certainly provide an indication of the benefits of conserving our energy on Bishop Manogue’s 1970 Clean-Up Day!

As always, I really enjoy your columns. Thanks. Des Powers