Cruisin’ in our 1941 Chevy

1941 ChevyAn old friend offered me a yellowed copy of a Nevada State Journal – “Nevada’s Only Morning and Sunday Newspaper,” according to the masthead. Since there’s some readers in town engaged in the current Hot August Nights nuttiness that drives sane people to live in the past, and since there’s readers who would actually pay good money today for a car with a flathead-6 engine, no heater, vacuum window wipers that died going up the California Avenue hill, a carb that needed choking before it would start and steered like a John Deere baler, then it follows that they might also enjoy reading some of what was happening in town when that same car was built, and retracing their car’s old path. The paper was interesting to me because it went to press the day I was born in Santa Barbara, six Sundays before Pearl Harbor. I left Cottage Hospital in a ’41 Chevy coupe. I remember it well.

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Perspective established, here we are seated now in our brand-new ’41 Chevy, a slick little car like a hundred others that will be in town seventy years later on a Saturday morning at a Show ‘n Shine or a Poker Run to Tahoe. There’s no drive-in theaters in Reno or Sparks yet, but a good choice of flicks, with the Sparks Theater; in Reno the Majestic that defied attempts at demolition 40 years later. Or the Wigwam near where many of us remember the Crest, and the Granada, the Reno, and the Tower –“Reno’s newest and smartest show house,” according to the ad. I didn’t know that; I did know that kids my age went to the Tower in droves on Saturdays for a morning of movies for 14¢ and an Old Home Milk bottle top. But I’ve written about that before, so we’ll keep driving.

Our date might want to stop by Hilp’s Drug Stores for a jar of Marie Earle’s Essential Cream for two bucks, this week only, on North Virginia Street in Reno (phone 6104) or 938 B Street in Sparks (333, free delivery.) Whatever essential cream is, it sounds important, a chick thing. Hilp’s was a great old store… R. Herz Jewelers was a block south of Hilp’s in Reno, Credit Available, wedding rings $7.50 to $300, “You can pay by the week or month.” They must know what they’re doing, they were “Established 1885”and still at it in 1940, [closing in 2007]. A little low on gas in the Chevy? Among other service stations in this paper, try Krieger’s, 14¢ a gallon, which is interesting, but the real item is the address, 111 West First Street – a service station near where the downtown parking garage is today at Sierra. Want a ride out into the country? Head out past the County Hospital on the Mill Street Road to the Reno Riding Stables, “also renting horses for the upcoming deer hunting season.” (The hospital would later be Washoe Med, finally Renown.)

Here’s an intriguing establishment: the Carlisle Bar & Service Station, corner of Wells and Second Street, and another, Dougherty’s, South Virginia and Mt. Rose Streets, featuring a bar, dancing, and Richfield Oil Products. Buying gas was once fun, apparently, beating the hell out of sitting in line at Costco. Lyons & Maffi Signal gas advertises its address at 1111 California Avenue and Granite Street; hearken back to past columns speaking of Sierra Street once being known as Granite. [The address is really 111, not as typoed at 1111. These old typos are what make nostalgia columnists crazy…and, the astute reader will note that that this is on the site of the Levy Mansion, detailed in another chapter.]

Ramos Drug was a favorite, first on the corner of Second and Virginia Streets, after 1952 at midblock between Hill and Flint Streets on California Avenue. Genial Bill Ramos was a great friend to many, and the interior of his drug stores looked like a soda fountain background for a Hot August Nights poster. In this particular newspaper the Ramos ad is for “the Bracer, the First Step Toward That Well-Dressed ‘Executive’ Look, to trim the waistline, pull in the stomach muscles, and eliminate the ‘bay-window’ for the vital, up-and-coming look.” (In my experience, the muscles aren’t the problem.) Two bucks for a Bracer, for the very few readers whom that might benefit, this week only at Ramos’. Cheaper than going to the gym.

Heading for the barn in this ride in our Chevy, we find a foreboding ad from John Whitmire Motors on South Virginia Street: a full half-page layout, depicting an Oldsmobile (with HydraMatic!), with a license plate lettered New 4-42 in the artwork. Why foreboding? Two reasons: Many years later, Olds would introduce a muscle car called a “4-4-2” – four-on-the-floor, four-barrel carburetor, and dual exhaust. That 4-4-2 thing was surely a coincidence that had nothing to do with the 1941 ad. But ponder this: The ad’s text reveals that the 4-42 plate was to indicate New for 1942.

Remember, this paper came out six Sundays before Pearl Harbor. Oldsmobile never made a ’42 model….

            [And it gets weirder: As I assemble this book, the last Olds ever are coming off the assembly line.]

© RGJ 1999

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Thanks to my late childhood buddy Mike Lindeman for the old newspaper, welcome to Reno and Sparks if you’re in for the weekend, and happy Cruisin’ to all!

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