Oh boyoboyoboy – I’ve been working for my grandmother all I can, at her new house in that new bunch of houses called Westfield Village. I’ve been saving my money and finally got enough to buy a musical instrument I’ve wanted ever since Dad took me to a meeting of the Reno Banjo Club at the church down across Bell Street from Mary S. Doten School. His friend Mr. Goodwin helped me and told me what I could play with small hands like mine and Mr. Trump’s (couldn’t resist that!)
So today I’m off after school with my money, almost forty dollars. I left Central Jr. Hi and crossed at West Fourth Street, which was also Highway 40 — the main drag across the nation. — I can see Lee’s Drive-In to the west. Guys my age all remember the neatest store in downtown Reno in the late 1940s –Shim’s Army Surplus store – authentic war stuff, hot off the Pacific war theater, just like John Wayne and Dan Duryea wore in war movies at the Tower Theater every Saturday morning. Next to Shim’s was Quimby’s Awnings – this was before we knew what air conditioning is and every store in downtown Reno has an awning to extend over a sidewalk. For many years, Mr. Quimby made ‘em all.
Railroad tracks! Teams of new “streamliner” diesel-electric engines started replacing S.P.’s venerable cab-forward steam locomotives a few months ago. The last cab-forwards in revenue service went through Reno only recently in late 1950.*
At the north end of the block at Commercial Row, my buddy Jerry Fenwick’s parent’s art supply. And if you’re into model railroading and want a real-looking locomotive, you need to go to Fenwick’s. The American Fish Market, selling, fish, what else? (Sometimes stunk up the whole block but Mom probably won’t let me write that.) Next to that store, the Sierra Bar, probably sold Sierra Beer, then the Nevada Photo Supply. A good store – the Land Corporation’s “Polaroid” was a brand-new photography process as we were walking this 1950s day.
Next the Sunshine Card Shop; if you wanted a card in 1950 you went to a card shop, not a drug store. On to the Dainty Cake Shop, two cupcakes for 14 cents, mocha topping, no sales tax, then mighty Sears and Roebuck, their farm store backing onto West Street to the rear. The other giant J.C. Penney’s filled the block from Sears to the corner. Those stores wouldn’t let us kids in, never did like them after that!
Across West Second Street, a Hale’s Drug, then National Dollar Store, in one of those great old two-story loft buildings with the hardwood floors. Monkey Wards, sponsored our bike show every fall.
Bools & Butler Leather, saddlers to the Hollywood western movie icons who came to town for the Silver Spurs awards during the rodeo each July Fourth. And on that corner, Home Furniture. The Ginsburg family, nice people.
I’m going to cross Sierra at First Street. Just north of the Truckee I walk past the old brick Elks’ Home, whose four stories would be reduced to rubble in a fast fire following a nearby gas explosion in 1957. (I have a vivid recollection of my dad – and a score of other peoples’ fathers, husbands and sons – who customarily had lunch at the Elks’ and could not be located for a short period of time following the explosion. That specter brings to mind the terror and frustration, multiplied by three-hundred-fold in the missing and by weeks instead of hours, that East coast residents must have felt on September 11, 2001.) But of course, I don’t know anything about that yet…
Next to the Elks’ Home in the block south of West First, the finest department store in Reno: Gray Reid, Wright, a locally owned treasure. That store in later years would move into a new building that later formed the main floor of the present Circus Circus casino. But I don’t know about that either. I’m having a tough time writing today, my head must be on my new banjo-uke that I’m going to buy! Across West First to the north, a retail building with clothier Murdock’s on the corner, and the Vanity ladies wear, the popular Town House (Dad’s friend Al Vario is behind the bar!) and jeweler Morgan Smith. Dad’s trying to get Mr. Vario to open his own restaurant, south of town.
Next to the north, the Parkway Hotel, with the wonderful Moulin Rouge restaurant on the first floor, the pride of Gilbert Vasserot who would later open Eugene’s restaurant. Mr. Vasserot and Mr. Patrucco, who ran the Riverside Hotel’s Corner Bar, are Dad’s friends also and they told me when I grew up I could park cars at their new restaurant! Boy, are they in for a surprise…last weekend I almost turned Mr. Philcox’ Jeep over on the big hill at the end of Sunnyside Drive…ouch…
Next door, Karl’s Shoes, no relation. Hank’s dad’s place, Ken’s Fountain and Luncheonette. Somewhere in there was the old Eagle Bar that moved south to California Avenue in later years, then the southeast corner building with clothiers Leeds, Reeve’s and Mode O’Day, and a Payless Drug working their way east on West Second Street.
Crossing West Second, I’ll stop for apple pie with Mrs. Lerude’s secret topping in the Wigwam Cafe, adjoining what was once the Wigwam Theatre and later the Crest Theatre on Second Street.
Past the Wigwam Café was the Emporium of Music, a popular store founded by Dick and Joe Woodward and that’s where I’m going! They’re nice people and are in the process of selling the business to the Maytan family. Mr. Woodward said he’d be my manager and get me some jobs playing my new ukulele around town when I got really good.
We’ll, it’s getting close to dinner time and I want to go home and play with my new toy, so I’m going to sign off here are just walk without writing (my Irish great-aunt calls that “taking Shank’s mare” to get home.) I used that expression once in newspaper column and the whole damn newsroom thought I’d lost it. There I go again, writing in the future!
I am going to explain one thing soon about locomotives that comes as a shock to people, about the old “Mallet” euphemism for steam locomotives. Come back in a few days and I’ll tell you about the rest of my walk home today, from the Emporium of Music to 200 Sunnyside Drive!
*A reader once sent a question about the old steam engines that’s propitious for this nostalgia offering: “Weren’t the cab-forward locomotives known as “mallets?” Yes and no; the last loco of the mallet design locomotive probably went through the town in the late 1920s – the name eponymous with Anatole Mallèt, a Swiss mechanical engineer who developed a process for managing high pressure steam in heavy locomotives, having nothing to do with forward or conventional cab placement. The Mallèt design fell out of favor with emerging technology and went by the wayside, but the name stuck as a term of endearment with the old-timers for the cab-forwards, into the 1950s and through to the 21st century, when we still hear “mallet” or see it in print occasionally, often as “mallett.” Probably incorrectly, but little worth an argument.