A post-a-day in July

That’s my goal. NBafferto Facebook correlation; if you want to be heard, send an email to kfbreckenridge@live.com – please know that all emails are subject to re-posting here, same with photos if source is indicated. Let’s have some fun – it’s too damn hot, Artown events are underway and traffic’s too screwed up to research anything seriously anyway!


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JohnnyFever  OK, now leave me alone; I have work to do….

The Mayberry Bridge vs. 20 tons of strawberries….

BaffertOn a clear spring 1970s morning by dawn’s early light one Mr. Thomas J. Armstrong of Des Moines, Iowa peered from the cab of his 18-wheeler truck at the sign “Load Limit 5 Tons” on the one-lane steel-girder bridge spanning the Truckee River. Mr. Armstrong was the sole occupant of a vehicle whose estimated weight that morning was 35 tons, which consisted of a semi-trailer, the tractor pulling it and the 20 tons of strawberries in the trailer. He might have noted the five-ton limit sign, done the math, then employed some aberrated logic and decided that if perhaps he went fast enough he could make it across the stream without incident. He couldn’t. Several fisherman were wetting their lines near the bridge on that peaceful morning just west of the present Mayberry Drive span, and looked up to see the truck moving at a high rate of speed to the south. They witnessed the front axle, followed by the rear axles of the tractor splinter the wooden deck of the bridge as it approached the south landing. They dove for cover as the iron trusses on either side of the bridge ripped the trailer open, the momentum from the weight of the cases of strawberries pushing the front axle of the truck to the south landing, and the axles of the trailer then falling through the deck to dangle above the Truckee’s channel.

StrawberryBridge The fishermen on that morning saw case after case of strawberries break open, and the berries, which do in fact float, start their journey downstream, reaching by some disputed accounts all the way to Pyramid Lake. And the fishermen noted Mr. Armstrong of Des Moines, Iowa climb out of the cab of the truck, shake his head and utter the words, “Well, son-of-a-gun,” or an epithet something to that effect. Mr. Armstrong a few minutes later would be escorted by the responding Washoe County Sheriff’s deputies to the county hoosegow, for the initial infraction of driving under the influence of something better than strawberry Coca-Cola, with additional transgressions like destruction of property, failure to heed, misdemeanor general stupidity and a bunch more being added as his journey progressed to his cell awaiting in the old sheriff’s office on South Sierra and Court Streets. Needless to say, his life changed dramatically in a heartbeat that early morning of May 20, 1974.

So now, what needs to be done? Strawberries were there for the grabbing in the Truckee, and were being grabbed with great glee downstream, later that morning and in days to follow, with the reports of waders entering the river near the California Building in Idlewild Park and from the Dickerson Road shore, and nearer to downtown Reno in the Riverside Drive area. Every eddy, rock pile and tiny oxbow contained two or three of the edible little treats swirling around it. But most of the cargo remained in the carcass of the trailer, which continued to hang precipitously from what was left of the bridge. Salvors were called, I think but can’t confirm as being from one or two of the local produce companies, who off-loaded the strawberries into refrigerated trucks.

As memory serves, they later had to be destroyed per the decree of the health department and I’ll take help from a reader on that [help never came]. Mayberry Drive, which had long been called the Old Verdi Road in years preceding 1974, was then closed at Fenno Lane west of the later McCarran Loop and at old Highway 40 on the west end, and would stay closed for quite a while. The trailer was hauled off and that remnant of the bridge – the part that Mr. Armstrong didn’t beat the county to – was disassembled. Curiously, a contract had already been let to Holcomb Construction for $1.479 million for a vehicular undercrossing and a railroad bridge. The 1907 Mayberry Bridge, a twin to a railroad bridge upstream, was already destined for removal, a fact probably used to no avail in the defense of Mr. Armstrong for his litany of offenses. In a perfect world, the bridge he demolished would have well served the community until the new structure was completed. And that’s the story of the Strawberry Truck vs. the Mayberry Bridge – Truck 1, Bridge 0. I’ve started to weave this tale a dozen times but it took a similar crash, not involving a bridge, of a trucker dumping 7,000 pounds of watermelons into the Truckee River  a couple of weeks ago to shake this long-overdue strawberry column loose.

A final note on hauling strawberries: In the golden age of railroading, a passenger train had priority over all freight trains, except for a train hauling strawberries, for which the passenger trains would take to a siding while the strawberry train passed.

A column inch remains, so for this week of May 1974 let’s speak of Governor “Big Mike” O’Callaghan who is scheduled to cut a ribbon opening the last leg to the new I-80 freeway from Keystone Avenue to Center Street in a few days. Meanwhile, Sandler & Young are playing at Harrah’s downtown, every cop and G-Man on the West Coast is looking for heiress Patty Hearst who was abducted a couple of days ago, and finally Vario’s on South Virginia will be open for Mother’s Day.

Personalized license plate of the week is on a Camry, KSRASRA, driven by a woman who quite resembles Doris Day.

Thanks for reading, and God bless America.

Photo credit and text clip © RGJ

Swing and sweat with – oh, you know…

JohnnyFeverIt’s alway nice to start the day, as I did yesterday, with an email wishing me a Happy New Year, on the 8th day of June. I don’t know if seasoned-contributor Bud Holland sent it early for next year or the thing’s been banging around in somebody’s computer for five months plus. But it was pleasant and I’ll now share it. It’s Sunday morning now and I’m in a cantankerous mood so I’ll post Bud’s letter and the postcard without his prior permission while giving attribution to none – that’s just the kind of guy I am. And I hope he will send those pictures he refers to toward the end of his note – maybe by the Pony Express or some carrier that will get them from Tacoma to my home in several days – I’m no spring chicken and these five-month transmittal times are killers! In sincerity, I’m grateful to Bud for this info….

“Happy New Year Karl (aka: Ol Reno Guy!),
   First, I have sure enjoyed reading your updates since chancing upon 
your site last year. I went back through some of the archives and found 
the article on Reno homes with a reference to Tony Pecetti’s home on 
Wonder Street. I have attached a scan of a 1942 postcard for ‘Tony’s El 
Patio Ballroom.’


“There are some notes on the back that the ballroom was located on Commercial Row & Chestnut Street [Arlington Avenue] and that Tony was a part-owner of the “El Rancho Drive-In Theater” at the Sparks “Y”. As you can note the appearance of Ina-Ray Hutton was filled in in purple ink and has smeared over time or going through the USPS as it was sent to a Rural Route in Lodi, California.
   “Keep up your good work and if it meets with your approval, I will 
periodically scan some of my late 1890s and early 1900s photos for you 
to view and share if you so desire .. oh, a few of the snapshots I’ll 
need help on exact locations.”

   R. Bud Holland
   Tacoma, Washington

Here’s another piece about Tony Pecetti

Reno hits the gas, 1905

BaffertRecently a man was seen a couple of thousand feet above Lakeridge, free-falling at a terrifying rate of speed. As he fell, another man shot straight up from the ground near Swope School, climbing toward the path of the falling man like a homesick angel. The falling man shouted at him as they passed, “Hey, you know anything about parachutes?” and the other man replied as he rose above the first, “No. You know anything about gas barbecues … ?”

That anecdote is of dubious veracity, but it will get the casual reader in the mood for Topic A: The introduction of gas, be it natural, manufactured or LPG, to our valley. And not to be confused with gasoline for engines, a whole ’nother product entirely. Here we’re speaking of gas being supplied through a pipe below ground and routed out to homes and businesses to burn. And in its earliest use, gas to provide illumination – for streetlights and building interiors. It wasn’t until after World War II that gas would be more commonly found in cooking ranges and heating appliances.

The basis for this is not the two human cannonballs on a collision course seen over Reno recently, but a reader question which asked about the predominately vacant CookGaslot bounded by Wells Avenue on the east, Fifth and Sixth streets, and Eureka Street to the west. Coming off the crest of Wells Avenue northbound and looking to the west, or left, an attractive building is visible on the northeast corner. But picture in your mind’s eye on that lot two tall slim tanks, 50,000 gallons apiece, side by side and towering four stories near Wells Avenue. Then, picture adjacent to those big black tanks, a metal framework supporting a round steel tank, six stories high with an 80-foot diameter enclosing 300,000 cubic feet. And, in proximity to all this, a big masonry building with a prominent smokestack and some little shop structures filling out the rest of the block.The tall twin tanks were filled by railcars in this gasification plant’s earliest incarnation with crude oil – heavy, dirty stuff. In the airtight masonry building were a myriad of stacked bricks, laid in an open pattern to allow air and gas to flow between them. The crude oil was sprayed onto the bricks and ignited, resulting in a blaze of terrifying proportion, which in this environment of limited oxygen would produce methane, ethyl hydroxide and ethylene.

These gases would be captured and transferred to the big round tank, the tank GasTankrising as it was filled. And the fire would be extinguished for a while as that stored gas was consumed. This gasification plant was opened per the Nevada State Journal in September of 1905 by the Reno Light &  Power Company. And it wasn’t the earliest plant; it replaced a similar, yet smaller plant at the south dead end of Center Street at the Truckee River. Parts of that original plant were found when the Center Street Bridge was under construction in 1938. My research was somewhat inconclusive on the issue of gas service crossing the Truckee River, but it would appear that the product became available south of the river upon the completion of the Sierra Street Bridge in 1937. And by one account the gas explosion and incipient Sierra Street fire on Feb. 5, 1957 was the result of a failure in the connection when it was made from that new bridge into existing utility infrastructure in the West First Street and Sierra intersection. Curiously, no connection apparently was made in 1936 when Wells Avenue to the south was connected to Alameda Street to the north, with an underpass under the SP tracks and a bridge over the Truckee River.

The crude oil-firing process and resulting smoke over east Reno and Sparks was discontinued in 1948, when then-owner Sierra Pacific Power switched to a mixture of propane gas and air and the huge holding tank taken out of service and dismantled. Many of us remember that floating tank that would rise and fall on the water as the volume of gas being stored within it varied, its weight used to maintain pressure in the lines around town.

Few northern Nevada residents knew in the frigid early days of 1952 how close the then-5,200 Sierra Pacific customers were to losing gas service. By that year gas was being used liberally in furnaces, and the supply of propane used in the system was interrupted by the closure of the railroads over Donner Summit. By a couple of accounts, obviously hard to confirm, we were scant hours away from the area plunging into a deep freeze.

The Wells Avenue plant was relocated northward to Sutro Street in 1955, resulting in a task of epic proportions to relocate the underground mains to the source. And the system took on its present operating structure in 1964, when it was moved westward to a site closer to Vaughn Millworks and natural gas, replacing the propane-air mixture, was brought in from suppliers toward the southern Oregon border. A 1982 “Pipe & Wire” SPPCo magazine pegged the system’s daily gas distribution at 50 million cubic feet. And on a certain day in a certain light when the desert is as verdant as it ever gets, if one knows where to look one may see the route of the natural gas supply lines rising into the hills east of Sparks.

A hundred-plus years ago, you’d have heated the manse with white gas in a Perfection heater, or coal or wood, and lit the sconce on the wall with a wood
match to bring enough light to read this column, written on an Underwood Standard. Now, we take it all for granted, turning on the range and hearing the welcome “pop” of a burner lighting. And I’m going to thank you for reading, email these words and a couple pictures off to editor Brett McGinness who’s still euphoric from seeing his name in his first byline of the USA TODAY this week – catching the brass ring of journalism. And with any luck you’ll read, God bless America.
contact the writer at kfbreckenridge@live.com

© RGJ Feb. 2016