June 26 • Remembering some early Reno sawbones…


How this all began…

Some of you have emailed me that I haven’t written a story for a while. That’s probably mostly due to me breaking my left leg on May 10 and being unable to walk around my new town from our house at 740 Ralston Street. I’m grateful to Dr. Peter Althausen for fixing my feemer, the big bone in your leg. He works for the Reno Orthopedic Clinic and in a while I’ll tell you a little bit about them. And I’m also grateful to Dr. Wlodarczyk for writing a column for me last week and helping meMadScientist get my head out of my ass insofar as chronology of my stories. I’m going to start taking his advice. Some of you mentioned that Dr. Wlodarczyk’s photo resembled another person who was in a movie 40 years later; that movie was probably “Young Frankenstein.”

I’m a lot better now and am walking around on a walker and supposed to be getting a cane soon instead. But I learned a lot about post-war Reno’s medical stuff in the past few weeks. One doctor I came to know is named Frank Russell. He has a little office in Sparks, a hoot and a holler east of Reno (hoot and holler – I love that expression of my Uncle John’s!) Frank is what I guess grownups call an old-fashioned family doctor, and does a lot of work for the Southern Pacific Railroad. His wife Fran is also his nurse. He takes care of everything, and his advice is most often “If it’s wet put something dry on it; if it’s dry, put something wet on it…” He’s a pretty cool guy. I didn’t know it after the war as I write this, but in years to follow I’d have two sons and Dr. Frank would deliver them both (actually and grammatically, which I try to be to keep Mrs. Conrad from rapping my fingers with her switch, a doctor delivers the mother, not the sons, but that’s a battle I’d learn to lose for the rest of my life!).

My leg was for the purpose of this story  set by two doctors at St. Mary’s Hospital down the street from our new house on Ralston Street. One doctor was Dr. Jack Palmer, a pediatrician. But he does it all: General Practice. He’s a neat guy and dad says he’s a pretty good golfer. His kids, Grace, Jayne and Pete would become my lifelong friends.

The other doctor who worked on my leg (with Dr. Althausen,  who in reality did the whole thing many years after the other doctors had passed away) in this tale was Dr. Wesley Hall who had a little office near St. Mary’s Hospital, across Elm Street from Dr. Palmer’s.  Most doctors in Reno practiced alone, and had little houses for offices. Dr. Hall was a wonderful man, whose wife E’lise would live on until 2017. He Smoking Report Anniversarywas from the south and came to Reno after the war. The coolest thing I remember about Dr. Hall was that one morning my dad saw in the Nevada State Journal a picture of a couple of famous people who I didn’t know, but dad and mom did. The man in the picture was a singer, I think. But I remember my dad saying, “That’s Wes!) It turns out that Mr. Dondero, a friend of Dad’s in the Jaycees, took the picture for Time magazine at the Riverside Hotel in 1951. The magazine and the newspaper ran the picture, no one noticing that Dr. Hall was visible over the singer’s right shoulder, in a national magazine! And that photo has run once a year since then, and I always notice Dr. Hall. Pretty neat.

St. Mary’s Hospital was just down the street from our house and was the lead hospital in town. It started as a school, St. Mary’s Academy run by the Dominican Sisters. When the University of Nevada moved in from Elko fewer ladies went to St. Mary’s Academy and Bishop Whitaker School but to Nevada University instead, and there was a big health scare in the 1910s and the school quit being a school and became a small hospital, run by the nuns, called Sisters’ Hospital. In a few years it became St. Mary’s Hospital.

The other hospital was a long way out on Mill Street and started as a part of the county’s poor farm, then became Washoe Hospital. It came close to closing in 1949, but a guy who knew how to run hospitals moved to Reno and dad sold him a house. His name was Clyde Fox, and he started a club for Reno’s ladies to join and raise money to keep the hospital from having to close. Mr. Fox and all those ladies started a really neat thing called Tombola Days in the park across Mill Street. They had lots of games and booths and music and in later years a guy from Sparks brought two elephants named Bertha and Tina and gave us kids rides. And the fire department set up its new hook-and-ladder and let us climb up the ladder. Tombola Days went for many years; soon I’ll tell you more about it.

But the good news was that Mr. Fox saved the little hospital, which became the Washoe County Hospital and later Washoe Medical Center and then some name after that I was too young to know. And the ambulances would go to either hospital. They were run by off-duty firemen from Sparks in an old Navy ambulance but it worked!

As I wrote above, most of the doctors had their own little offices, and then started going into larger buildings with three or four of them together. One was behind my dad’s office on California Avenue (he’d moved by then from A Street in Sparks). Three of his friends who were “orthopods” according to dad bought an old barracks from the Army that had been on East Second Street by Washoe General Hospital, and moved it to the northwest corner of Marsh Avenue and Humboldt Street [it’s still there]. Their names were Jim Herz, an old Sigma Nu; Jack Sargent, and Bill Teipner. They called it the Reno Orthopedic Clinic. They were great guys, all; fine historians, Herz the curator of an incredibly-complete photographic history, and Teipner, a golfer with “million-dollar hands as a surgeon, and a four-bit backswing as a golfer.” Teipner performed the first hip-replacement surgery in Nevada.

And 50 years later, a member of their nascent clinic – Pete Althausen, one of the foremost hip surgeons in the world now, would give me a new femur/hip bone. Pretty neat, huh? And the little clinic has a hundred employees in four locations now. (Of course, I didn’t know all this then….)

Many of these one-room doctors found their ways into our lives – Dr. T. C. Harper on West Second Street did the employment physicals for almost every business in Reno and Sparks. He aforementioned Frank Russell was the Mighty S.P. Railroad’s doc. Dr. Roland Stahr was a good guy; had an office at the dead south end of Sierra Street (originally Granite!) that got hit by cars a half-dozen times until Sierra Street was swooped around to join with Plumas Street south of California Avenue.  Doc Stahr was a good guy.

To wrap this up and go out and play in Whitaker Park where I see my buddies gathering, I’ll mention a doctor I remember – he lived four doors from our house – whose name I’ll skip out of deference to his family who might read this, a doctor who I’m told three times a year I should write a column about. I haven’t in print, but will make brief mention on a website. I don’t need to be told much about it. We came home from Lake Tahoe one 1954 summer Sunday to a host of cop cars and vans in front of the doctor’s sumptuous house in Northwest Reno. Seems that his wife was found in a bathtub, a possible drowning victim. Whoops; a number of her bones in the neck were broken. Murdered. This sort of thing didn’t happen in 1954 Reno, and traffic up our lazy street was incessant for a week.

The doctor went to the state prison. But lo; in college, possibly 10 years later, I’m pumping gasoline for Standard Stations in Kings Beach.  A man in a fine car comes in; I fuel it up and he hands me a Chevron credit card. I glanced at it – yikes – I’d just pumped that doctor’s car full of Supreme.

Ten years later. Enough – come back in while, we’ll stroll the old streets once more….



6 thoughts on “June 26 • Remembering some early Reno sawbones…

  1. We have missed your column in the Gazoo the past few weeks. Will it be back? If not, we’re cancelling our subscription !


  2. Ditto on the above comments. I felt like I had misplaced a good book I wasn’t through with yet.
    I am also anxious to read about the doctor who lived in my new (about a year on University Terrace) neighborhood because it was very scary to me then to have a murder so close. And wasn’t that near the time of a pretty big earthquake? I had a lot to write about to my friends in quiet upstate NY.
    Your friend, Phyllis

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