Travel with me now to a time, and this a time not in the dark ages but one still vivid in the minds of many readers, when every high school kid, including members of Stead Air Base families, between the city limits and Bordertown to the north state line, could ride in two 66-passenger school buses. Similarly, every high schooler from Franktown to the south city line would fit in a similar size bus. And here I note that Reno High was then the only public high school in Reno.
The county district didn’t operate their own buses back then, “back then” being 1960 as a year to base this tale upon. That task fell primarily upon a couple of local private bus companies – V&T Transportation, a successor to the railroad, and Nevada Transit, managed by Orville Schultz. Operating those 20-or-so buses for the most part were University of Nevada frat rats taking advantage of a job that was a perfect “fit” for college – drive from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m., park the things on campus and go to class, and return to work near the three o’clock hour. It worked well for all.
Leading the effort was one of the greatest guys ever to ply the streets of our town – James E. Wood was his name, Jim to us, who bought the transportation rights soon after the demise of the V&T Railroad in 1950, together with some buses that couldn’t be given away for free in 1953 but would bring a pretty penny now for Hot August Nights cruisin’. Jim was a member of most of Reno’s service clubs and a State of Nevada Assemblyman from the early 1950s through the 1970s and in that capacity was instrumental in getting the University’s medical school underway. Vic Charles, another popular Reno guy was the company’s manager, Vic’s sister Dollie the office manager and her husband Al McVey the dispatcher. They all remain good friends of many of the old drivers of five decades past.
Jim built a fleet of buses, starting with some pre-war and ex-military recycled units, to newer, yet used, vehicles, eventually to all-new and first-class rolling stock. And he expanded the non-school bus transportation side of his business into tour buses serving Virginia City and Lake Tahoe, some charters with over-the-road equipment, transportation of school athletic teams for every school in northern Nevada, and the Reno Ski Program, leaving weekly on ten Saturdays a year from Southside School downtown on Liberty Street and from Huffaker School ‘way out South Virginia. In later years Carson City added a program. We didn’t know what “snow days” were; short of a full-blown Sierra blizzard, off to Sky Tavern we’d go, chaining up as necessary (and Jim was there helping put on the chains). It was a great deal for drivers to ski all day until one among us busted his leg, stranding his bus and its passengers. And that was the end of ski days for us.
Jim had a little “showman” edge to him; the photograph is of Jim and Tina, Tina pictured sporting a bus driver’s hat as a promo for John Ascuaga’s Nugget in the early 1970s. I know not who dreamed this stunt up, the names James E. Wood and John Ascuaga come to mind and I detect the fine hand of a young Sigma Nu named Fred Davis, by then the Nugget’s PR director, as a co-conspirator to it. The back-story is that one must understand that elephants don’t as a rule back up, nor do much else, with any grace or predictability when in tight quarters, and secondly that elephants aren’t accustomed to being passengers in tour buses. That said, we learn that Tina, after the frivolity with the cameras and flashes and dancing girls was over and being an elephant known to be somewhat recalcitrant anyway, basically said to hell with all of this and plopped down, as best she could, leaving others to deal with getting her considerable mass off the bus. Several stories exist, maybe more, one option being driving the bus to Flint, Michigan where it was built, to be there disassembled by GMC who had built it a few years before. The operative story is that Bertha was brought alongside, who inveigled her smaller partner to vacate the bus that it might be used by others.
And at this point for the benefit and enlightenment of younger readers or those not from around here in the early 1990s I should mention that Bertha and Tina were performing elephants, hence the long-standing name “Circus Room” at the Sparks Nugget.
Virginia & Truckee Transportation Company had strong Nevadans and visionaries at the helm and was manned by good men and true – and few ladies, you out there Misha Miller? – who all had a lot of fun, and were aboard when many of Nevada’s earlier memories were taking shape. The Olympic visitors in 1960. San Francisco’s airport would be socked in by fog and the airlines would bring their passengers to Reno, and we then bused them to SFO. The filming of “The Misfits?” Yup – we hauled Monroe, Gable, Clift, screenwriter Miller, director Huston. One of our frat brothers didn’t know the Chollar Mine from the Sutro Tunnel yet became one of the most requested drivers on the Virginia City tour.
But mostly, we hauled the school kids. Safely. We’d moderate study groups on the long runs to Franktown and Bordertown. We’d patch them up with our first aid kits. We’d get them singing Broadway instead of “Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer…” On my bus on Friday mornings when all were settled aboard northbound on Highway 395, we’d sing “Home Means Nevada,” with great gusto. I’d like to think that somewhere this morning there’s a 60-year-old kid reading this column who can still nail that State Song!
And with that, we bid you a good week; no April Fooling, now, and God bless America!
© RGJ a long time ago…April 2011????
Photo credit Jim Wood: JA Nugget