February 25 Sunday • Little Italy!

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p1000328Boyoboyoboy – am I ever in the soup. Here I am, six years old, escaped from my parents and standing on the corner of West 11th Street and Ralston. With mocha on my face from the cookie that Mrs. Graham gave me in the big white house on the corner! I was supposed to be home a half hour ago – at my age I don’t even own a wristwatch yet. But I know I’m in the doghouse. What else is new…

I heard Dr. David, our neighbor next to our new house on Ralston Street, talk about “Little Italy” – a colony of Italian people who all lived north of University Terrace. So, I’m this close, I’m in trouble anyway, so I might as well walk back home along one of those streets – Washington or Bell Street. I started walking west on 11th Street.

These little houses were interesting – not part of the Italian neighborhood, really, but the western edge of another subdivision – called Academy Heights, or Academy Manor. That’s because the homes were mostly owned by professors at the university to the east. Like Dr. David who lived next door to us. The homes were small, with very ornate brickwork set in a parquet pattern – a word I didn’t know in 1946 while I was walking. Many had steep roofs with round turrets, and some had rounded tops on their entry doors, like “Hobbit” doors in the fairy tales.

After a few moments of walking I had arrived at Washington Street, which in 1946 was approaching the west end of Reno. I turned to the left – downhill to the south – and found myself in that magic neighborhood – Little Italy. I took some pictures of the homes with my Brownie Hawkeye so I’ll add them to this story. One is a two-story apartment house that came later, from barracks that were down by Washoe Hospital during WWII. We’ll talk more of those on another day.

p1000329One feature that struck me immediately was the neatness and design of the yards, not something that a six-year old discerns immediately, but I couldn’t help noticing on this warm August afternoon the orderly fashion of the vegetable gardens, home-after-home, a great pride in them. I’d learn in later years that the Italians were fiercely competitive in almost everything they did, and these gardens were so maintained. As were the fruit trees, row upon row of trees in the commodious backyards. The front yards were well-maintained also, lawn, in a day when lawn was popular, even if small areas. Home after home of immaculate yards. And few square feet of land not being used for some sort of food production.

I nodded at some of the residents as I walked by – all seeming to be interested in this “new kid on the block,” which I was. “Where do you live?” they’d ask. “Who are your parents?” “What school will you go to?” I soon realized that they had kids my age. And I met a few – Bobby Ginocchio remained my friend through life. His folks lived in Little Italy; his grandfather the owner of Reno Iron Works, a prevalent industry for the immigrant Italians. Many men in Little Italy worked in the iron fabricating plant on Chestnut Street, down at the bottom of the Ralston hill (in later years it would be called Arlington Avenue.)

As I met kids my age, I noted that their parents and grandparents in the homes all spoke Italian when addressing each other, but when any kids were around – me or even their own children – they spoke English. I learned that all would severely chastise each other should a child be exposed to Italian. (But I also learned that most of them became fluent in it, and would understand Italian the rest of their lives.)

p1000327They enjoyed their wine. In days and week to come, I’d see them enjoying a glass of wine, with dinner when they invited my parents over for dinner, and almost every night. Most had a grape press in their back yards, and it was legal for them to bottle up to 40 gallons a year for their own consumption. I’m told that a few bottles, which they’d save from the restaurants when they emptied, would be refilled and find their way back down the hill to the local restaurants – Siri’s, the Toscano, Colombo’s and others.

On several occasions in the years following World War II I was invited to come to the grape arrival event, held in the freight barn behind the Railway Exress building on Lake Street. (I’d learn in later years that that building would become the site of the “Mens Club,” where men could go and pay to see ladies parade around in skimpy clothes. Why would grownups want to do that? I asked myself…)

Grapes, you see, would arrive in boxcars, loaded in on the boxcars’ floors and stacked to the ceilings – from grape growers in the Napa area of California (my mother and grandmother and a half-dozen great-aunts and – uncles settled there when the emigrated from Ireland.) The bundles of grapes would be off-loaded onto the freight-barn’s floor, and the Italians would arrive to buy them. It was an afternoon of boisterous, often violent, activity punctuated by men hollering at each other in Italian, tossing grape bunches around from one to the other and eventually paying the merchant who was running the whole shebang. They’s pack their grapes – usually enough or more than enough to fill a pickup bed level with the trucks’ sides, and trundle them off up the Washington Street hill. And they weren’t all alone – there were other Italian neighborhoods in Reno, off East Fourth Street behind the old ball park, and in the vicinity of Washoe General Hospital on Mill Street. But the northwest Reno guys would chug up the hill and put their booty into the basements of their homes to keep cool until it could be pressed and bottled.

And I might note that in those days there was no cabernet, merlot, pinot Grigot, chardonnay or all that silly stuff – wine was red, or white which was really blush with a little of the red grape inevitably sticking to the press.

But Little Italy was the home of most wine that was consumed in Reno. And, much of p1000330the best fruit and vegetables from those immaculate gardens. In a safe neighborhood – it’s been said that the only time that the Italians locked their homes was during the zucchini harvesting season, so that no one would come home to find that a neighbor had come in and left some zucchini behind for them.

Little Italy was a fun neighborhood, populated by good people with good children my age, and the fun they enjoyed on warm summer nights, or on Columbus Day, which was a virtual national holiday in America back then, was a wonderful experience. Patriotism to their newfound country – for many in the neighborhood in 1946, were new to our shores.

I learned much as a new kid on that block. I’ve heard that tonight my dad is taking the family out for its first restaurant dinner in our new town, to some place called the “El Tavern” coffee shop out on West Fourth Street. C’mon back in a few days and we’ll examine the bill of fare…

contact the six-year old at kfbreckenridge@live.com

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Sunday February 19 • The Graham Mansion on Ralston Street

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SigmaNu houseI walked from the little brick market on Ralston Street at Tenth, northward. On the west side of Ralston, the other side of the street from the market, was a beautiful home – huge, much larger than any other homes on Ralston Street. In fact as I walked, the land that the home sat on appeared to be about three normal home lots. I learned later that it was!

Sticking my head through the brick gate and peeking around, I saw walkways everywhere, going in all directions, brick laid in a “parquet” pattern – criss-crossed, with a brick curb along the sidewalks that I guessed were about four feet wide. And it had a few lights mounted on the tops of posts. The yard was HUGE!

At the end of the main sidewalk was a porch, and a big fancy front door. It was wide, and had a lot of little glass panes in it. Over the door a round half-circle as wide as the door, set also in beveled glass. It was called an “applause” door trim. The home was two-story, brick painted white and to the left, which is to say the south, was another entry door. I could see in, and it looked like a big dining room inside. I could also see in the living room a grand, curved staircase and three large, intricate cut-glass chandeliers and a massive fireplace trimmed in marble.

I wondered who lived here. It looked like a place where a huge family could live, or could be an office. I roamed around like I had good sense, peeking in the windows of this newfound treasure in my new neighborhood. A lady’s voice – not a strong voice, but a pleasant one – said “Hi, little boy! Are you lost?”

Turning around I saw a lady who appeared to be older, like my grandmother. Nicely dressed and spry, she walked up to me and said, “My name is Luddy. Would you like to see my house?” Wow. Would I ever.

I was a’scared because my parents had told me as I wandered around my new neighborhood, never to go into anybody’s house, nor get into a car. But I thought, “What could go wrong here…?” I told Luddy my name was Karl and that my family had just moved in down the street, across from Whitaker Park. I got a tour of the house, and a couple cookies. And I met Luddy’s friend, named Hilda, a lady with a slight accent that I hadn’t heard before.

I didn’t know any of it in 1946, but in later life I’d learn much about Luddy, Hilda and the home at 1075 Ralston Street.

Luddy was born in 1865, which fascinated me in later life when my State of Nevada turned 150 years old: I had met a person who was born in Baltimore a year after we became a state, and was alive during the Civil War! Wow….! Her name was Ludovica Dimon. Her family had sailing ships, lots of them, the Dimon Navigation Company, sailing them with cargo and building them. In fact they owned the fastest clipper ship on the sea, the Sea Witch, which held the record hauling tea; and probably dope from Hong Kong to New York City harbor. A record that stands until today. Luddy was a real gay blade and believed that money was made round to roll, and married early, a jeweler and wasn’t married long. Then in the 20th century she married a doctor named John Graham. They didn’t live together very long but they had a lot of fun, living in Boston on the Social Register and sailing their yacht. They parted, but remained married until Dr. Graham passed away in 1919. Luddy moved west, and traveled a lot. She befriended Ragnhild Tonneson, a Swedish lady whom she met on a cruise from Europe on the steamship S. S. Majestic in 1924. They would remain friends for life.

Luddy and Hilda built a house in Palm Springs, a grand place that she later sold to Liberace as a young man. She liked Reno and had her lawyers find these three lots, tore down the houses on them and built a magnificent new home in 1927, the one that I was in. Did I mention that she married her chauffer who was a hell of a lot younger than she was, but that didn’t last long.

I found this all out in later years, but in the years shortly following the war I was always welcomed onto the grounds of the magnificent home. And I made myself welcome, because she always had some treats for me and the neighborhood boys and girls that I’d bring along. She was quite close to the University of Nevada, just a few blocks away down 11th Street, and made her home, and the park-like front yard available to the U for group parties and meetings. She did the same for some Reno clubs; the 20th Century Club for one. The home was always alive with people coming and going.

But, Luddy and Hilda wanted a smaller home, and had their lawyers buy three more lots on Bell Street, straight west across the alley behind the “Graham Mansion.” It’s also brick, now painted a darker brown, but it too is a neat house. The original home that she built on Ralston Street was sold when the Bell Street house was completed, to the Werner family, who had originally owned some of the lots it was built upon. They intended to turn it into an apartment house, but never got it together, and wound up renting it out as the “Jack & Jill Nursery” for a few years, until they sold it to Sigma Nu fraternity in 1951. It remained a fraternity house from then until a few months ago, when the Sigma Nu national fraternity terminated the Reno chapter.

“Aunt Luddy,” as her nephew in Philadelphia, whom I’ve spoken with a few times, called her, passed away in Reno at St. Mary’s Hospital in June of 1952. The University of Nevada, and many Reno residents, lost a great friend, who had over time become a Nevadan. And I knew her. That still fascinates me…

Her ashes were taken to Brooklyn for inurnment. Ragnhild Tonneson was well taken care of for the remainder of her life, and passed away in 1969 in Reno, at 85 years of age.

And that’s the story of my walk up to the corner of 11th and Ralston Streets in 1946. Now, I’m late to get home to 740 Ralston, but I’ve heard about this neighborhood called “Little Italy,” that the Graham Mansion abuts. I think I’ll just wander a block to the west and get home down Bell and Washington Streets, and see just why it’s called Little Italy.

C’mon back later in the week and we can walk it together!

Contact Breck at KFBreckenridge@live.com

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February 12 Sunday • Upper Ralston Street

pubnsubI had grown tired of hanging around in my own front yard on that sunny summer morning in 1946, and wanted to cross University Terrace to see the mysteries that lie beyond. But the instructions were clear: Don’t go beyond the corner ‘til we say it’s OK. Parents, even for a six-year old, were a pain in the ass.

Down the street, a neat old truck had stopped, its burly driver throwing a chunk of wood behind one of the back tires. He was wearing an apron made of leather, and it was well-worn. In his hand was a gadget that I soon learned was an ice-tong, to span the width of the blocks of ice in the truck, behind a piece of leather hanging in the doorway to keep the truck cool. While I didn’t know it at the time, the truck had no refrigeration unit of its own, but was cooled by its load of ice, coming from Union Ice Company down along the Lincoln Highway west of the brick plant.

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“Who are you?” he asked me in a gruff voice. “I live here, since yesterday,” I responded, pointing at my house. My sister’s bassinet was visible through the front window. “Oh, Mrs. Shermerhorn’s house,” he said. “She was my customer ‘til she bought a new refrigerator last month.” I saw that thing in our kitchen, a big round condenser on top of it. “This is for the Sala family,” he nodded toward the ice block now over his shoulder. “About half the homes up in this neighborhood have bought refrigerators.” He told me that his employer, Union Ice, went into the business of selling them to their customers. He walked away toward the Salas’ house, just below the alley east of Ralston Street.

“OK, you can go up the street and poke around, if you want,” my dad said. I learned later that my mother had got mad at him for letting me loose, but also learned that that would go on all my life. I crossed the street. And started looking for the kids that owned the bikes on the porch of the boarding house. I had asked my folks for a bike but following the end of the war steel was in short supply, and most bicycles had been built before WWII with no new ones yet available. I’ll tell the reader about my new bike later. No kids were in sight so I walked over and looked at the bikes. They were pretty cool.

There were a lot of old houses up that hill, small, but with big strong-looking trees and well-kept gardens – “manicured” is a term I’d learn in later years. The houses were all ornate with a lot of bric-a-brac on their walls and rooflines. I saw some adults talking, in a language I didn’t understand. It would not take long to learn that the language was “Italian,” from a country called “Italy” which was a long way somewhere across an ocean. This was my first introduction to my new neighborhood – the neighborhood north of University Terrace was nick-named “Little Italy,” because of all the immigrants who lived there – on Ralston Street where I was walking, and the two streets to the west – Bell Street and Washington Street. And I encountered some kids my age – friendly sorts – who walked with me, and we talked. One of their parents – their mother – walked out of her house, speaking in that strange language to someone unseen inside the home. Then she turned to her daughter, alongside me, who I’d know for life. And the mother spoke to the daughter in a language I understood well. It was English. I learned then a lesson that would stay with me the whole time we lived on Ralston Street: The parents, many who had emigrated from Italy, spoke Italian to each other, but English to their kids my age. Always. I’ll speak much of Little Italy in time to come.

We walked north up Ralston Street, my newfound friends and I. At Ninth Street, kitty-9andralstoncorner on the northwest corner was a brick home, a little one at that, that was one of the few homes ever paid for and built by the federal government in Washington D. C., wherever that was. It seems that on August 24, 1921, a little over 20 years ago that morning, a plane owned by the U.S. Air Mail service, which flew out of an airport near the present golf course in Reno, crashed into the house that was on that corner and burned it to the ground. The pilot died. A few neighbor kids damn near got killed in the downed power lines. Somebody pulled the handle on the fire alarm box on the corner near my house, but it did little good (there was no fire station up the street in 1946.) And the government built the house that’s now on that corner.

We’ll walk a little further – another block north – in this episode of my memoirs. A block beyond the rebuilt house on Ninth Street, on the corner on my side of Ralston Street, was a grocery market – “Maynard’s.” It was a little brick building built just prior to WWII. In 1946  I had no way of knowing that it would become a branch office of the Sigma Nu house across the street (of course, I had no knowledge that Sigma Nu would locate across Ralston Street in 1951).

In a day or two we’ll meet, as I did c. 1947, Ludovica Graham, the lady who built that lovely mansion at Eleventh Street. I would soon learn that in the years leading up to WWII and for quite a few years thereafter, that there was just a whole lot of grocery stores in Reno and Sparks. Few neighbors had refrigerators with any capacity and people had to shop every couple of days. Just within our home on the Ralston Street hill there were a half-dozen stores. This one at Tenth Street, another, the “Hilltop Market” at Ralston and Eleventh, the Ralston Market at the bottom of the hill. Quilici’s Market was at Seventh and Washington, diagonally across Whitaker Park, and the Cottage Grocery, a bigger store with a butcher shop that the other groceries didn’t have, was on Fifth Street. Lotsa groceries, lotsa Fleer’s and Bazooka bubble gum that we’d buy with the money we made taking bottles back and redeeming the deposit!

Space is limited now; when next we meet we’ll walk one more block north to a big white brick home, and meet the heiress who built it. (As I did; she told us little boys and girls that we could always play in the front yard. And we did!)

Until midweek…

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A reader inquired about a “stone house” across from Whitaker Park. I drove up to the park on Ralston Street, and the closest I could find to a stone house is the once-Hilltop Market on the northeast corner of Eleventh and Ralston – here’s a photo…:

hilltop1

February 9 Thursday • Whitaker Park

go to the earliest post in these vignettes

karlatwhitakerI continued my exploration of our family’s new digs on Ralston Street. The parental rules of the exploration were that I was not to cross University Terrace, one house away from ours, and not below the Mighty Orr ditch, which at that time was open throughout its length, passing under Ralston Street after wending its way from the west, forming the southern boundary of Whitaker Park (in later years, corresponding to the construction of a freeway south of it, it would be covered).

So, up the hill I walked to the corner, kitty-corner across the intersection was the Eichbush home, and within the home a pretty girl with jet-black hair, named Mary, two years older than I. In the other direction, to the east on University Terrace, was a house with a couple kids I’d soon meet and know throughout our lives – their names were Margaret and Bill Eddleman – Margaret, a friend of Mary’s, was also two years older than I, and brother Bill three years’ Margaret’s senior. We’ll learn more about them in the pages to follow. And I probably better snap a picture of the Eichbush home for this journal. [I went up to the house with my Brownie Hawkeye today 2/11 but it’s so overgrown it wasn’t worth taking a picture…sorry]

The Eichbush home was a beauty, and would remain so for at least the next sixty years, one of Reno’s unsung treasures. On the northeast corner of that intersection was a boarding house, with a rudimentary kitchen and restaurant. It was in some respects similar to other boarding houses in the Ralston/Washington/Bell street corridor surrounding Whitaker Park. I would learn in later years that these houses – each with a half-dozen private rooms, more or less, and a common area for dining and guests, sprung up as Reno grew, sharing a commonality of being close to St. Mary’s hospital, down the street four blocks. The homes were generally known as “birthing hospitals,” where by prearrangement ladies could go to have a baby delivered – (grammatically, to be delivered of their baby, but that rule fell into disuse) – where there was a midwife present, nurses and a doctor on call, with many more only a few blocks away at St Mary’s. A remarkable number of people born between 1900 and WWII were born in such hospitals. And we learned more about St. Mary’s creation, which I’ll get around to writing of in a day or two, if not today.

The boarding house across University Terrace had been such a hospital, and as most of the other boarding hospitals did, it fell into disuse during WWII, when there were fewer babies being born in Reno, and, as the hospital started to grow, and opened a maternity ward of its own. There were therefore many empty birthing hospitals in the neighborhood.

I listened intently while my new friend, Dr. David from next door, spun a tale of the neighborhood. Almost beyond my ken to comprehend, he spoke of a law governing divorces that had gone into law in the years before the war. A requirement of the law was that a person seeking a divorce had to live in Nevada for a while before going to court. The increasing vacancy in birthing hospitals and the increasing need for lodging were a marriage made in heaven, no pun intended for the divorce element of this, but simply stated, there opened up a whole lot of private rooms around Whitaker Park and St. Mary’s hospital.

In the weeks to come, I’d start school at the bottom of the Ralston hill, but we’ll get to that later. For now, I’ll flesh in the birthing hospital-conversion-to-boarding houses aspect of this rambling:

Bear in mind, that what popped the whole issue up was that boarding house across University Terrace – the Mount Rose Arms guest house, I think it was called, “Mount” spelled out, which it generally isn’t save for Mount Rose School. There were a couple of kid-sized bikes around the little two-story wood building. I didn’t have a bike. I probably ought to get to know those kids. Not that I’d learned to ride a bike yet…

The thought that will emanate from all this babbling about divorcée-boarding houses is that there lived in the vicinity, quite a few children; those children the kids whose mothers were in Reno for a divorce. I hadn’t started school yet, but came to know that we’d meet those children in school and they would become our friends. Sometimes they’d stay in Reno, but more often than not when the court action was complete, these classmates would disappear as quickly as they joined us. Too bad – we’d made some good friends. This went on throughout our four grades plus kindergarten at Mary S. Doten School. And, yakking with friends in later years, seemed to be more prevalent around St. Mary’s hospital, as that was the magnet for the birthing hospitals that enabled the boarding houses.

This is quite a new neighborhood for me – there’s a big home up the street, whose owner I’ll meet in the next few days. It would later become a fraternity house; of course I don’t know anything about that this morning. And a couple of little grocery stores, lots of professors walking to the University living around here. And that little red-haired girl from next door is out in the yard again. At the next time we write down a few recollections, we’ll walk northward from Whitaker Park, by house where the plane had crashed 24 years before, by the two barracks that hadn’t been moved to that corner yet, and about the Pub ‘n Sub restaurant that was still the Ralston Market as this is written. Come back in a few days; I’ll meet you right here.. 

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Super Bowl Sunday – we’re underway

740ralstonFeb. 5 2017

It begins in the summer of 1946, on the hill bounding Whitaker Park on its east side, Ralston Street, they called it, named for the banker for the Comstock “Billy” Ralston. I was five years old, but have a dim memory of walking out the door of our home that morning after we arrived from Richmond, California on the east SF Bay, where my dad spent the war building Liberty ships for Henry J. Kaiser.

This was a return to Reno for my dad, and an inauguration for my mother. I was the oldest child; a brother younger than I by two years had passed away a year ago, and my sister Merilynn was still in a bassinet.

740 Ralston was a little home built in what we thought was 1909, with a carriage house behind it, vestiges of horses and tack still hanging from its walls. It was a tiny house, two bedrooms and a bath, and the living room converted to a beauty shop by its former owner, a Mrs. Shermerhorn who was a stylist for the ladies whose husbands were off to war. We bought that house for $4,600 and that room was rapidly returned to a living room.

There was a strange warmth to the air that first morning, my first time not feeling the Bay Area dampness. And – great clarity to the air, with all of Reno lying down the hill, verdant with trees, two silver domes where the street started to rise to the park across the street. I’d soon learn that those domes were a part of the school that I’d start in a month – Mary S. Doten. I seldom drive past its twin “sister” – Mount Rose School on Arlington – without thinking of “Mary S.” as it came to be known. And I learned of the “sister” connection later, as will the reader. The rest of the landscape above the trees was unbroken. A new hotel would become visible in a couple of years, to be known as the Mapes Hotel. But on this morning, the only structure I remember above the trees was another hotel, the “El Cortez,” I’d learn later, and far in the distance a white building – the Veterans Hospital.

I early-on befriended a neighbor, our neighbor to the north on the corner of University Terrace, Dr. David, a retired University of Nevada professor who told me much about my new clime, in the weeks to come. He smoked a pipe, which I thought was pretty neat. I walked to him, seated on a bench in his backyard, and introduced myself. We talked. And talked. The earliest conversation I remember was of the park across the street – a large grassy area with a playground at the top of its grade, at University Terrace, and tennis courts beyond. “There used to be a school there,” he told me. “The Whitaker School.” Its full name was the Bishop Ozi Whitaker School for Girls, but who cared, on such a nice morning for such an unwieldy name. “Whitaker” it would be.

We’ll not dwell long on Whitaker Park much longer here, other than to write a couple things about it while I’m thinking about them (the reader will probably be maddened by these side-trips of mine, ‘til they become accustomed to them!) One thought is that after the school closed, the land beneath it – the park – reverted to the S.P. Railroad, who had originally owned it (I’m not sure that they ever went out of title, or donated the land to the Episcopal Church for Whitaker’s school.) That railroad, in the early 1920s, gave serious thought to putting a major hospital for railroad employees on the site, and came pretty close to doing it. But, they didn’t. Then, the Veterans Administration, in the thought triggered by my mention of seeing the VA Hospital in my early view, considered putting the newly-funded Vet’s hospital on the former Whitaker School site. They later opted to open the hospital in its present location. End of side trip…

Other vistas opened up on that first morning in Reno, and while I was taking them all in, a cute little red-haired girl appeared, my next-door-neighbor to the south, whom I revere to this day 70 years later as my oldest friend in Reno, and first girlfriend! We’ll meet her in these pages one of these days; many readers will know her…

 

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A new journey begins…

kf_headshotThis website is taking a new turn; instead of running old columns, which I still have a ton of and you’ll see them occasionally, but as time permits we’re all going to walk around Reno and Sparks, and stop and make a few observations along the way – the recollections of 70+ years as best as I can recall them, and I’ll try to paint a picture with words.  It’s not going as easily as I thought it might – the Title line above in bold will begin with a date, then the area or the topic we’re going to visit. There will be photographs, some old, some new, some mine, others yours. If you send a note or a photo, make sure and tell me if it’s OK to use it on the webpage. You will see from time to time some photos that have little bearing on anything, just something I want to get out to the community. If you use your browser’s “copy photo” feature please perpetuate the attribution I’ve given to a photographer, if such there be. But do copy and share them; that’s what they’re for..

You will occasionally encounter a “link” which will take you to another website. I’ll try to open it in a new window so that you may return back to the Ol’ Reno Guy page more easily.

I hope to update it once a week. Sometimes it will be a walk, other posts might be anBus 109 event taking place in the valley, and your comments are welcome. Let’s skip the “comments” feature below as it’s cumbersome for thee and me. Just send a email to me at kfbreckenridge@live.com 

This will be a learning experience for me. But, we’re off and running. Little content exists in this initial post, but visit when you can, and stay in touch. 

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