Been a long time since I could get to my notepad and write of more of what it’s like in my new town. One big news break is that Dad and Uncle John got me a bike – actually, they found a used bike and spray painted it blue in a friend of Dad’s auto painting shops, and they used some blue paint that the customer was getting his car painted.
They made the brake work, by pedaling backward, and went to Monkey Wards downtown on Sierra Street and bought some new hand grips with “Schwinn” spelled out on the rubber, and a new seat and some tires.
Pretty neat. I learned soon that after the war steel was still hard to get and bike factories weren’t back in production yet, so like most of my friends I had a used bike with some new parts. It’s a little bike, but I’m a little guy, and now I can get around all over town quick.
The afternoon that I got it I rode it on University Terrace from our house on Ralston Street, and crossed Washington Street. There’s a big hill there, and after only one block on my new bike I fell off of it and took a chunk out of my knee that would leave a scar the rest of my life! I got back on my bike and kept riding along University Terrace, beyond Vine Street. That was almost the end of Reno north of the railroad tracks. Most of the houses that I rode past had been built recently, just after the war, and didn’t have any grass or trees yet. They were fairly small with a garage for one car but not much else.
I rode past Sunnyside Drive, which hadn’t been paved yet where it met University Terrace. A lot of friends of mine’s fathers would soon start building a house for a family named Kotter. Reverend Vernon Kotter was the pastor of the Lutheran Church and these men had just finished building a church on California Avenue at Belmont Street so the church could move out of the Masonic building downtown. Now they were building his house on the northeast corner of University Terrace and Sunnyside. I got to know his kids; his daughter Marilyn was in my class at Mary S. Doten School. She was really funny. And her dad was a good guy – he’d become the resident pastor of Reno High School in years to come, and come out and bless our ball teams and stuff.
A street called Canal Street turned to the left off University Terrace. A lightning storm had just started a fire that burned the house at that corner pretty bad and there were some men there trying to fix it. Riding all the way to Peavine Row I could see where the flood came, as I heard it did every summer for about 10 years, from the wash on Peavine Peak. The water came down every summer and flooded the neighborhood about six inches deep, finally getting into the Orr Ditch down the street. The street would later be paved, and even later get the name “Keystone.” Keystone Street back then didn’t come north of the railroad tracks, and in time would be cut in to meet Peavine. I’ll have to tell you someday about our swimming hole at the brickyard “pit” between the end of Seventh Street and Highway 40. We’ll go back to that.
Some friends of mine lived at the south end of Peavine where it stopped at the Orr Ditch. Their names were Cairns, and on a Thanksgiving Day both brothers drowned in the Truckee River. A man out on Idlewild Drive found them both. It was a real shocker but we sucked it up and went back to school on Monday. I heard that someday there would be a crowd of “grief counselors” at school to make us feel better. But we remembered the Cairns brothers without counseling.
There were some old barns on the west side of Peavine, and one day they were bulldozed by Mr. Games’ dozers and trucks. A new market went up there, a big one. The Gastanaga family built it, and in years to come would enlarge it. It was one of the new “supermarkets” being built in Reno, like my dad’s friends the Sewell brothers were building a supermarket down by the high school on Sierra Street by Fifth. Across University Terrace to the north, was the Rosasco chicken ranch, in a house that in years to come would be rebuilt as an eye-doctor’s office. Imagine that; an eye doctor thinking he could make a living anywhere but downtown Reno! What will happen next, I ask.
The Rosasco ranch owners had some cute granddaughters whose names were Pam and Jan, about my age. Pam was fun and her sister was quite a singer, I think she married a guy named Frank Savage and sang all over town. Remind me and someday I’ll write the story of how I was riding Mr. Thompson’s horse and trampled about 20 chickens and Mrs. Rosasco read me the riot act in Italian. Mr. Thompson was a neat guy, a childhood friend of my dad’s, and was an attorney or something and got a building named for him years later downtown. But he sure had a big palomino horse in 1952. A mean SOB too.
My dad’s friend Mr. Novelly was building a lot of houses west of Peavine Row, on a street that he named for himself, Novelly Drive. His first name was Ray, for Raymond Drive. They sold a lot of houses. He built a lot of houses, bigger ones, on the top of the Peavine Row intersection with Sunnyside. My dad sold him some land for the Metzker family and sold the City of Reno some land for a street, named Irving after my mother’s maiden name Irving. They were pretty nice houses.
Mr. Games, whose first name I think was Earl, did all the digging of foundations for the houses on Irving and Novelly, and later on Whitaker Drive when Mr. Weichmann and Mr. Probasco opened that street and Keegan Circle up and paved it. Mr. Games’ brother ran the shovel that was already 30 years old then, and could dig a foundation for a house with a full basement, a hole for the furnace oil tank and the trench for the sewer and water lines to the streets, in about a day. He was good. I heard Dad say that natural gas was coming to that part of town soon but back then they all had oil heat.
It was always exciting to see Mr. Games’ trailer with the shovel on it, drive up to a vacant lot, because we knew a new house was going to be built. We used to steal, or at least move around, the little smudge-pots that the men would light every night to mark an open trench where a car might fall into it. We quit doing that the night that a police car drove into a big open hole that he didn’t see in the dark. We were too scared to come out of our rooms for several days and play…
I should add before I go to bed, that in the summer of 1960 when the big fire took out the power lines between here and California and Reno was without power for three days, that somebody got a whole bunch of those smudge-pots out of a building they were stored in when they quit using them, and they filled them up and lined out an approach path to guide airplanes into Reno’s airport when the landing lights were out of business.
Ha! The old ways still work. I’m going to bed – that bike ride wore me out! – come back in a week or two and we’ll yak some more.
contact the six-year-old kid at KFBreckenridge@live.com
If you want to read about that big 1960 forest fire above Truckee, click here
Added Sunday morning: My little lifetime buddy Hank Philcox, who grew up a couple doors from me after my family moved to Sunnyside Drive, wrote me a letter on binder paper, I’m including it here: “Your description of the history of our neighborhood brought back many memories. You mentioned the Cairnes brothers…. Steve was in my class. He and his brother Jay were trying to wade across a swollen Truckee River with another classmate, Dee Rytting, when they lost their footing and were swept away by the current. I was actually in Idlwild Park when they pulled Steve from the water, and I didn’t recognize him when they asked me if I knew him. Still feel bad about that. Steve and I used to go shooting our BB guns together in the farm field at the corner of 7th and Keystone, which is where his family lived.
“I also remember the floods that continued to come down the wash which is where Elmcrest and Novelly Drives were placed. One time I was playing Ping Pong with Tom Weichmann when we saw cars floating down Elmcrest. We jumped on our bikes to the water and a six-foot wall of water hit the house at the east end of Elmcrest. Funny part was the flash flood washed out a pig farm upstream and there were pigs washing down the street and when the waters passed, they were running all over the neighborhoods clear down to Vine Street.”