I’ve grown braver in the past few weeks and discovered that my parents aren’t watching me like a hawk so this fine August 1946 morning I’m going to take a real walk, all the way down the Ralston hill to Fifth Street, buy another Bazooka bubble gum stick at Beetchen’s Cottage Market just east of Ralston and keep going. There’s a neat little brick house across the street from the market, surely a Delongchamps design with his hexagonal turret trademark. I’d learn later that it was owned by Mr. Brown, who with his partner Mr. Milbery fixed electric motors.
I crossed Nevada Street and turned to my right on Chestnut Street. Dad said that if one walked to the Truckee River on Chestnut Street, that he’d then be on Belmont Street, until he walked all the way up the hill to California Avenue, then he’d be on Arlington Avenue – same street, three names. And dad knew Belmont Street – he soon took an account for his new office as the manager of the Belmont Apartments on the corner of California Avenue and Belmont [above]. A nice building; the lobby reminded me of the lobby of the Majestic Theater. We’ll walk down there someday.
This is pretty neat! Since I started writing down what I’ve seen on these walks this is the furthest east I’ve been. I’d left the “two-one” section of Reno, and was now in the “two-two.” Reno’s fire department separated the town into 12 districts, with the “one” being south of the train tracks and the “two” being north. The second number divided the town into six zones, “one” being the furthest west, where I lived, and becoming larger as one went east. I had now passed into the “two” zone – the “two-two.” The fire bell in the belfry of the fire station on Commercial Row would ring two bells, then two more to tell the volunteers where the fire was if it was here. Before they had more sophisticated systems. But no fire today (that’s Reno’s new 1947 aerial truck in the picture…)
Walking down Chestnut, I passed Reno’s only high school. It actually faced West Street, away from me. I passed a row of nice, small wooden houses that would one day be removed to make a playground for the school. And I passed one house that had been turned into Reno High’s music department after it was given to the Reno School District. (I learned in later life that in 1955 the Reno School District would join 16 other Washoe County districts, and nothing would go right since until complete paralysis set in. Too bad.)
Approaching the railroad tracks I passed my new friend Ty Cobb’s house on the east side of the street. His dad worked for the newspaper. I could hear the whistle on a locomotive so I waited for it to cross Chestnut Street. It was a “cab-forward,” sometimes called a “Mallet” which it wasn’t but that name hung on. The last Mallet went through Reno in 1929 but the cab-forwards were still “Malleys” – and boy did it lay a plume of smoke. No one ever talked about that but it really stunk up the town when it went through.
I kept walking after the train passed (did I tell you that I pretended to pull the whistle cord when the engineer passed, and he responded with a little yank on the loco’s whistle, and a big grin…? I meant to…) Beyond the tracks, passing Commercial Row, was a neat building on the east side of the street, between Commercial Row and Second Street. I poked my head in one of the big doors to see what it was, and saw sparks flying everywhere and heard a large din. It was Reno Iron Works, where men would cut and weld and fabricate steel into all sorts of things, like fire escapes and porch rails and stairwells and stuff. I learned later that Mr. Ginocchio started it in 1922 with a friend of mine’s dad, Mr. Avansino. Mr. Ginocchio’s daughter, Andrea, was to become my babysitter! She later married a doctor named Pelter and took over the iron works when her father passed away, but this was only 1946 as I write this so I don’t know any of it this morning. They gave me a tour, and I learned that most of the ironworkers lived in Little Italy, where I walked a week ago. There was another steel plant in Reno, owned by Mr. Schwamb, and all the workers there were either German or Italian. We’ll walk out East Fourth Street some day and see if they’ll let me in so I can tell you about it.
And so it goes – I walked to Second Street and turned back west again to go home. I hit Ralston Street, and turned right to start up the hill. There was a motel being built on the corner, the B-Gay Motel, the sign said. But the neatest thing on Ralston Street in 1946 was the White Pine Lumber yard on the east side of the street, just south of the tracks with a three-story-high wood burner [left]. This is where Mr. Jaksick made “Presto-Logs,” compressed sawdust held together by the pitch from the pine trees, that were clean to handle and burned quite nicely. Three years later when my dad was chairman of the Berlin airlift train campaign that took stuff to Berlin, in Germany I think, when it was blockaded. A phenomenal number of these Presto-Logs were brought by Reno residents to the new Sewell’s Store on Sierra Street and were loaded onto the S.P. train bound for New York City harbor on a Saturday morning, to keep those German people warm. That’s a good story; someday I’ll write about that, but it wouldn’t happen for three more years so I can’t this morning.
But – on a frigid night in January, January 11th, it was in 1952, the Presto-Log storage area picked up a spark, and the stored logs plus the building plus a couple of other buildings at White Pine Lumber went up like a torch in a fire they could see from Truckee (well, not really…) and our town, relying heavily on those logs for heat, had none. Mr. Jaksick had another plant in Alturas, so he started bringing logs from there, but they were a little bit more expensive – five dollars for sixty logs. Two things beg to be told here: My dad at one point picked up a trunkful of Presto-Logs in our 1941 Chevrolet coupe. It was a straight shot up Ralston Street to our home across from Whitaker Park, but the logs were too much for the Chevy’s little “Blue Flame” six-cylinder engine. He damn near fried the clutch, then stopped the car at the bottom of the hill by my friend Marilyn Burkham’s house (“Ma Bell!”) and left me to guard them as he drove off with what the Chevy could handle, then came back and got me and the rest of the logs.
The second thing as I re-read this that I’ll include, is that Mr. Jaksick had a son a little older than I whom many of us know, and it was this younger (late) Sam Jaksick’s dad, Sam Sr., who built the sawmill by the railroad tracks.
Anyway, I cross the Lincoln Highway now – West Fourth Street – and start to trudge up the Ralston Street hill for home. I passed the elegant Frandsen Apartments to my right toward downtown Reno. If you want, we could all walk together a half-block east on Fifth Street, to the Cottage Grocery and get some more treats.
See ya back here in a few days – I’m getting into this walking-and-writing groove, don’t know where we’ll go next…
write the six-year-old author at firstname.lastname@example.org
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