Take the bus; leave the driving to us…

 


school-busTravel 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, Tinawoodtina 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 visionariesltr-bus-vintage 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!

kfbreckenridge@live.com

© RGJ a long time ago…April 2011????

Photo credit Jim Wood: JA Nugget

 

 

A turkey lays an egg…and a link to the 1950 Thanksgiving flood…

cometThe non-sensical piece that follows has run innumerable times, usually proximate to Thanksgiving, in the Gazoo when I wrote those columns, on my website when I had it years ago, and a couple times in the SF Chronicle when I sent it in (I didn’t really write it; I merely stole it from someone who told it in a joke and turned it into a news story.) It may be true, or not. The photo is a vintage British airliner, a Comet made by the forerunners of the Airbus consortium. A friend asked me over the weekend, are we going to read that stupid turkey story again? Yes you are; here it is. Maybe the next post will be of some substance. Or not. Happy Thanksgiving to All!

~ ~ ~

Early in the maturation of jet airliners, British aircraft engineers, addressing the dilemma of strengthening pilots’ windscreens against bird-strikes at low altitude, think a Canadian honker vs. a FedEx Airbus getting together over Peckham Lane after takeoff. They knew the United States had much experience with this matter and contacted some Southern California aeronautical engineers, who supplied plans for a rudimentary catapult that hurled a standard, store-bought turkey at a test windshield at a calculated velocity for analysis.

            The British guys fashioned a catapult, and soon after sent the Yanks photos of a test cockpit with the windshield shattered, the pilot’s headrest in smithereens, a gaping hole in the bulkhead behind the pilot’s head and the flight engineer’s console behind that bulkhead totally demolished. Other photos depicted another huge hole aft of the console in the next bulkhead separating it from the crew lavatory, which was also trashed.

            A few weeks later, the Brits received a telegram from the Americans: “Next time, thaw the turkey.”

Here’s the story of a flood in Reno, Thanksgiving 1950

Operation Haylift

hayliftiiAs promised, I’m fulfilling a part of what I promised, by posting the web address of the U of Nevada Special Collections website, which leads to some stories and photographs of the 1948-49 haylift operation to save the state’s, and many other states’, cattle and sheep. I’ll try to get the letters that I received from readers posted tonight or tomorrow, am having a bit of a challenge posting them.

Heres’s the website:

http://knowledgecenter.unr.edu/sheepherders/haylift.html

 

Six letters stamped on a blue steel plate

 

harrahboarddirectors1959

A local man of our acquaintance once came into possession of six vintage automobiles in various stages of disrepair, through a process that’s ‘way too circuitous to spend valuable column space on this morning. He kept them in the Liberty Garage, a splendid bygone brick building in the shadow of the Toscano Hotel on Lake Street just north of East Second. A friend of ours named Larry Heward, yes the local dentist, was employed part-time when we were in college as the caretaker, duster and tire-pumper for this nascent collection of largely forgettable rolling stock.

          The little collection grew, from six cars to a dozen, then more. Some full-time people came aboard to sand and paint and tune up the growing fleet. They ran out of room at the Liberty Garage. “Bring me more cars!” the collector cried out, and men were sent hither and yon from the great Atlantic Ocean to the broad Pacific’s shore, with an aggregation of strange trucks, lowboys and cash in their jeans to bring some better cars from the tonier villages and some clunkers long-stored in the barns of the plains states. Contemporaneously, the Mighty SP Railroad and Pacific Fruit Express closed a large concrete building in Sparks where once ice was frozen for trains carrying California produce to the waiting nation (this, by the way, was 1958).

          1908thomasThe growing collection of cars (and now trucks and boats and airplanes and streetcars) found a new home in this former PFE icehouse. And more men were coming aboard – the best and the brightest of body metal, upholstery, paint, internal combustion engine guys – assembled to do some serious work on our friend’s automobile collection, now taking its place among the best and largest collection of cars in America. Adjacent were three warehouse buildings owned by John Dermody, and into these single-story buildings went the cars, impeccably restored to better than their factory finish, all lined up in dozens of rows to be enjoyed by all.    

          Our collector friend welcomed people to his collection to view it. In the early 1960s a buck, a business card, or a bar receipt from one of the planks in his casino business, which after all enabled all this to be built, was all he sought for admission. It was a civic asset for all – darn few column readers of a certain age didn’t take their progeny there for a birthday party. The collection in time would grow by some counts to 3,000 cars and include some of the finest cars ever built – the Bugatti Royales, the pre-WWII Mercedes roadster and a couple of boat-tail Duesenbergs. Alongside were the rank-and-file of Detroit production that most of us remember as kids.

          The management of the now-bustling casino in downtown Reno tried to ensure hacoldcollectionthat folks leaving the casino to visit the collection in Sparks actually returned upon viewing it to the Reno casino’s tables, to further their support of the collection that they had viewed and as we said in the day, “Keep Nevada Green.” This effort took the form of buses operated by the casino, the most popular being the replica of a San Francisco cable car. This was an honest copy of such that would make cable car inventor Andrew Hallidie proud, albeit running on rubber tires and powered not by a cable but a big-block Chevy V-8. (And here I’ll predict that I will hear from all of the 14,387 people who drove that cable car, just as I heard from the 9,489 who drove the Zamboni in Blyth Arena at the 1960 Olympics!)

          So – the cable car plied the tracks of East Second Street to the Icehouse, back-and-forth, rain or shine. But a burr had been forming under our collector-friend’s saddle. “I have all these beautiful cars and dozens of fleet trucks and my own Ferrari Boxer (red) and our Phantom V Roll-Royce limos. I’d like to put some license plate beside W78324 on my Boxer and give Sammy a Duesenberg with something beside WRQ784 on his plate.” Or words to that effect.

          And so he dispatched to Carson City his bevy or attorneys, lobbyists, those high in gaming and other influential persons, to buttonhole the legislators, upon whom our collector’s name did not fall on deaf ears. “How can we enable our friend with casinos and hotels and payrolls in Reno and Stateline, and the license fees generated to our State on his 3,000 cars, trucks, speedboats, the Thunderbird yacht, a Ford Tri-motor and four or five airplanes with tail numbers all ending in -411Hotel, plus an honest-to-god cable car, to put whatever the hell he wants to on all his license plates?” A valid question indeed.

      olds    Thus it came to be in 1971 that the legislators took his request quite seriously and directed the Nevada DMV to buy some letter stamp dies for their license plate factory east of Carson City. Thereafter, any motorist with a car and what I recall to be $25 could order a plate that didn’t contain some thinly-veiled reference to something naughty and shortly receive two such plates for the bow and stern of the vehicle. And thus one of the greatest Gazoo column themes that’s ever hit print was born, that being the late Ty Cobb Sr.’s periodic Cobbwebs columns of cool vanity plates. I’ve been asked why I don’t pick up on this theme of Mr. Cobb’s, at one time the Sports Editor and later Managing Editor of the Nevada State Journal. Ty was my friend and I respect the plate stories as his province, and almost 20 years following his passing I still leave them alone.

          But, I’ll end this yarn the way it started, about rubber-tired cable cars inspiring our friend to champion the cause of personalized plates in Nevada. On that venerable vehicle, at either end of its brilliantly polished and maintained wood and brass chassis, Bill Harrah bolted a blue plate that encapsulated the character of a San Francisco cable car: the simple word, CLANG.

          Have a good week, and God bless America!

I should have included that the picture at the hed of this column of Bill Harrah and 16 of his “Board of Directors” was taken in 1959, at the southwest corner of the intersection of Geiger Grade and Highway 395. One man, Bob Martin, remains with us at this writing in November of 2016…he’s in the approximate middle of the photo, the only man with both his hands visible…