Last weekend I went with Dad to the new Commercial Hardware store on East Fourth Sreet and wrote about it. I got a little wordy so I cut off the news at 1,100 words and promised to finish it later in the week. Well, here goes:
The topic was hardware stores as they exist this year, 1948. I wrote about Commercial Hardware and Reno Mercantile but there’s a few others that need attention also. So, again I hop on my bike and ride down the Ralston Street hill, going now straight through town down Virginia Street to Builders & Farmers Hardware, and no, Mrs. Angus, there’s no apostrophe in their name. I checked. HA!
That store is in the 1200 block of South Virginia Street, across the street from where Mr. Games opened his new “supermarket” [yeah, it’s an antique mall now]. It’s one of Reno’s best hardware stores on the main floor, but Dad’s friends Mr. Karrasch and Mr. Ackerman let a few of their friends put a model train layout in the basement of the store after WWII. The train layout got bigger and bigger until it now takes up the whole basement and there’s no room for stock. But the train layout is a real humdinger (Dad’s word) and a lot of men come in to see it on the weekends. Some even bring their own train locomotives and railcars. The “scale” of the trains is huge – bigger than our little Lionels and American Flyer trains we have at home. Some say it’s an “O” scale but it’s actually bigger – the track is O guage but the model trains are bigger than O. But if I’m going to write about Builders & Farmers Hardware I need to write about its basement and the trains. (In the same breath I have to mention our neighbor Dr. Stanley Palmer, who was the Dean of Engineering at the University of Nevada who had a huge train in his basement across University Terrace from the Whitaker Park tennis courts. Both basements smelled like electrical ozone when the trains were running!)
OK that’s one hardware store I wanted to write about, now I’ll pedal my way over to another store near the Food King Market and across Wells Avenue from the new post office on the corner of Ryland and Wells. It was Bogart Brothers Sunday Hardware at 215 South Wells. Originally, a small building and then later, they built a much larger building more to the west. Carl Bogart and his brother Larry ran the place. It was a great store because it had its own parking lot and a lot of men liked it for that reason. Carl was very friendly but Larry was a crab, so I tried to deal with Carl. Carl became the mayor of the City of Reno in the early 1970s. Larry, who cares? (I’ll probably have to scratch that out. I was going to remark about Tawnee Bogart, the drop-dead gorgeous rage of our first-grade class but I KNOW I’d have to scrub that inclusion.)
Bogart Bros., as their sign read, was typical of so many small hardware stores after the war. There wasn’t a great selection of stuff – stuff was pretty much one size, or one color, and if that’s what you needed, the part you bought there would almost always fit. A duplex outlet cover would always fit. But there was a trend forming, to bring out items with a choice of material, or color, or size. The day was coming when there might be two, or four kinds of duplex outlets, or light switches with a paddle or a mercury action, or a nut with SAE or Whitworth or metric sizes and hardware store owners had to carry them all to be competitive. I found this out when my friend got a bicycle made in England and our wrenches didn’t fit. It was hard on small merchants. But I’m only seven; what do I know?
Onward I rode this morning, to another popular hardware store. This was a long ride for I had to go all the way to Sparks and way out 8th Street, which I hear the City of Sparks is going to rename “Pyramid Way,” because that’s where it goes and everybody calls it that anyway. This hardware store only opened a few years ago during WWII. A guy named Carl Shelly, who I would know until he passed away many years later, was a heck of a historian about Sparks and the railroad, and was one of the Washoe County Commissioners who was instrumental in gaining federal funding for Virginia Lake, back when there were only three commissioners. Carl opened his hardware store in an old balloon-roof hangar on the Green Brae airfield. This was a busy little airfield, when there were quite a few airfields in the area, like the one they called “Vista” down by Kleppe’s pond and the Hillside airstrip up by where someday they’d build a school and call it Clayton.
But it’s 1948; I’m only seven and don’t know anything about Clayton Middle School yet.
Carl Shelly carried almost everything it took to open a house and set up housekeeping, and was the go-to hardware store when Dad’s friend Mr. Probasco was building houses like crazy at the east end of Sparks. And Mat Gibbons, who changed her name from Matilda because no one would buy a house from a lady, was selling Probasco homes like hotcakes to returning veterans under the G.I. Bill.
Carl Shelly was a good man. He and his friend Tom Swart, who also grew up in Sparks, were instrumental in getting the Nevada Historical Society going again after the war, and in forming the Sparks Heritage Museum. Someone ought to write about them someday. (! OK)
I’m going to fast forward (that’s a funny expression; what the hell is a “fast forward” in 1948? Why did I even write that? And why did I write “hell”? Mom will be really mad when she sees that) to 1963, which is far beyond what the six-year-old-kid ever wrote about, because I want to include a couple really nice men in this compendium (pretty big word for a seven-year-old, huh?) of hardware stores.
Their names are Gene Parvin and Bill Spiersch. They opened a hardware store in Keystone Square when the whole town was seemingly moving toward Reno’s northwest. They held sway there for many years and were wonderful merchants and friends, and even did some residential landscape design and installation. They opened a branch location briefly in the Village Shopping Center by Reno High School, but scaled it back. Their store was P&S Hardware, a dandy. Gene died in an auto wreck in the Sonoma Wine Country; Bill is still very much with us and still a wonderful friend to many.
And that said, yrs. Truly will revert to age seven and pedal on back up the hill to 740 Ralston Street. My neighbor friends Don Hartman or Hank Philcox are waiting to see where we’ll ride next; c’mon back in a week or two – the days grow longer and we can all take off on another adventure!
write the six-year-old-kid at firstname.lastname@example.org
ADDED AFTER PUBLICATION:
Don Hartman writes:
“Hi Karl……Wanted to get your memory going:…………
1) Do you remember when 9th and 10th, crossing Ralston, were dirt roads? How about Nevada St. from U. Terrace up to 11th…..dirt. The alley between Ralston and Bell St., dirt. Of course, even in 2019, the alley between Nevada and Ralston still dirt. Do you recall when 9th (dirt) went all the way across Nevada St. through the cemetery behind the ATΩ house , and connecting with the paved Street. east….no dead end.?
And Karl responded, Yes; Don, your recollection is much clearer than mine but all the assertions look to be on target then and now… and one home on Nevada Street was owned by the architect of Death Valley Scotty’s resort in Death Valley. And Reno streets are spelled out through Tenth Street, and use Cardinal numbers above that.
2) OK….how about this: Do you recall at road construction sites in the 1940s – early ’50s, had round, black, steel pots about the size and shape of a small volleyball with a flattened bottom so to stay upright in the street? The pots were filled with oil or kerosene and the top of the pot lit so a flame would warn motorists to be careful of the road work area at night? We had great fun, once, kicking a pot over on Nevada Street at a road construction site and watching the flaming oil flow onto the dirt street!!
And Karl responded, read my post about the Donner Ridge fire above Truckee in 1960. whan the smoke from the fire was so intense and the power was out that airplanes couldn’t land, and a couple hundred of those pots were lined up on either side of the approach to the north-to-south runway one-six, to provide landing pilots a ground reference/
In all your RGJ writings, I never saw you mention the above. Of course, I have not read all your wonderful 73,684 RGJ articles of memories of good old Reno’s long gone days, either..
And it’s only 72, 199 columns thus far! said Karl
Your Ralston Buddy, Don Hartman”