Well, we’re back to school after our Easter Break, which we still call “Easter,” by the way. I gave all my brochures that I collected from my bike ride last week to Dad so he could buy a new car but he decided to keep the Buick he got from Mr. Scott. We’re taking it to New York and back this summer, I’ll have to do a lot of writing about that trip!
I wanted to finish up a story of cars, by adding some pictures of trucks but a few friends have asked about the new TV station coming to town, and the big tank that’s being torn down out on Fifth Street. Since the new TV station is being built across from the gas storage tank, that’s where I’m heading today.
Down Vine Street I go from Sunnyside Drive on my bike. Safeway is building a new store on Vine, the second of the “big” supermarkets in Reno. Don’t know what’s going to happen to the little markets – “Mom & Pops” Dad calls them. I better hurry up and write about them soon before they’re all gone. I ride east on Fifth Street, past Reno High School [left below]and the Babcock Memorial Kindergarten [right]. Until WWII it was the only Kindergarten in Reno and your parents had to pay to send you there. I pass by the new Sewell’s market between Sierra and Virginia Street, and press on beyond University Street and the Western Pacific railroad tracks on a street that’s not a street, named on the Sanborn map as private, owned by the railroad, but named “East” street. In a few years it will be called “Record Street” probably for those pretty girls in my class, Dale and Nikki. Their dad sells plumbing stuff south of the Lincoln Highway but it’s nothing to do with East Street. A brand-new Western Pacific locomotive, diesel-electric at that, is heading up north to Alturas and a couple guys are blocking Fifth Street while it passes.
I’m at Elko Street now, and can see the big gas tank, which is on a full-block lot between Fifth and Sixth, and Alameda Street and Eureka Street. [That’s a picture that I found in my World Book Encyclopedia, not a photo of the one in Reno, which I’ve never been able to find. But they’re all pretty much the same – the sides move up and down along the rails – this one’s down about 12 feet or so.] Pretty soon the City would re-name “Alameda” street to “North Wells Avenue.” That big square block is owned by Sierra Pacific Power Company and that’s where Reno’s early natural gas is made, mostly for cooking and less-so for heating homes. But all that would change. Dad’s friend Mr. Probasco was building homes after WWII away out east of Sparks almost east of Stanford Way, and heating them with a central gas furnace in the home. They were the first home furnaces in Reno and Sparks using gas as a fuel. They weren’t forced air, but they worked well! Dad tried to tell me how they made gas but it was pretty complicated and people who read about it all scratched their heads, so I’ll just write the simple view of it here:
If one smashes coal hard enough, a gas is produced. And that’s what they did at the Alameda Gas Plant. A “retort” smashed the coal then collected the gas that that smashing produced. Coal was brought into that plant on railroad cars. The gas that resulted in the compression was routed into a big tank, whose sides were free to move up and down. The weight of the tank pushed the tank downward, and forced the gas within the tank to go out into the gas “mains,” which were all over pre-war Reno and Sparks, on the north side of the Truckee River.
Natural gas was being brought into the power company’s generating station east of Sparks, so they elected to make another run from the power plant to Reno. The retort building was dismantled, and the tank soon after was taken down. We all got our gas at our homes through the same mains as before, but it was put into the existing mains at a different location (eventually north of McCarran Boulevard and Hug High School). But I’m only a six-year-old kid, so I don’t know that yet. I also don’t know that the power company began storing transformers which are basically tanks of PCB, which fall over and spill the stuff on the ground. And PCB is one of the most toxic liquids known to man, and the square block was so contaminated with the stuff that it was decided by someone to just leave it alone, that the cost of cleaning it would exceed its value. So that’s why there’s nothing on the lot now but an X-ray building, on an area that wasn’t contaminated.
And that’s the story of gas coming to Reno and Sparks. I might write that when the new bridge over the Truckee was built in 1937, the gas lines were brought to southern Reno. And that little known to most and I’ll probably get spanked for writing this, but the big fire that I can’t write about until 1957 was probably in all truth caused by a bum hookup in the Sierra Street area, and just stayed kinda safe until it blew in 1957. I’ll attach a “link” at the end of this writing to tell you about that. And if you ever go to San Francisco, as we’re going to do again one of these days soon, you might have seen “Gashouse Cove” on a sign or the name of a neighborhood out by the Marina – that’s where the early city of San Francisco had its gas retort. But that has nothing to do with Reno and I shouldn’t even write about it.
I’ve bitten off more than I can chew (Dad says that and I think it’s funny!) by threatening to write about the new TV station in the same letter with the gashouse and retort, so I’ll work on that later this week. And we should talk about old groceries more; there’s one on the corner of Alameda and Fourth Street where my little (!) friend Benny Akert works – his parents own it. He dreams of growing up and running a store to sell discount liquor – he says he’ll just call it “Ben’s”. And another little playmate of mine, a foxy little gal named Beverly Pincolini, her family has a grocery store a couple blocks away, called “Pinky’s”! Bev would graduate from Reno High with me in 1959 and marry a guy named Fabio Reginato, the lucky dude. But I don’t know anything about that yet, of course. I thought a Pincolini Reginato Fabio was one of those new-fangled sports cars from Europe!
Come back in a week – I’ll tell you all about KZTV’s grand opening! Now – if you want to read more – click here whatever “click” means! and read about the big fire down on Sierra Street in 1957.
See ya later…….