Have you always lived in Reno? Where did you live before the Ralston Street house in the column? What brought you to Reno? What did your parents do in Reno?
Such are some of the questions put to me during the 30+ years of writing in the Gazoo, and chronicling the six-year-old kid for the past 2-1/2 years.
Fair questions all…
Let’s now turn the clock back to 1931, when a Reno boy named Karl D. Breckenridge was graduated from Reno High School on West Street. He kicked around the west coast for a few years, moved to San Francisco, took a job with Standard Oil Company, was transferred to Petaluma, a little farming town north of San Francisco. There, while residing at Mrs. Carpenter’s boarding house, met the daughter of another habitué who dined nightly at the boarding house. Her name was Florence Hall. He married her.
They moved with Standard Oil around California, finally settling in Santa Barbara to start their family. On October 19th, 1941, Karl took Floie in their brand-new 1941 Chevrolet at breakneck speed from their stucco home on Santa Barbara’s Yanonali Street across the little beach town to Cottage Hospital on Bath Street, hard in the shadow of the Mother Mission, whereupon Karl Finian/Frisbee/Fearless/Footloose – your choice – Breckenridge arrived into the world precisely at oh-eight-hundred on the morn of October 20, 1941. Reports in the Santa Barbara News-Press that Quasimodo, sequestered in the Mission Santa Barbara, sounded the mission bells are dubious, but certainly possible and appropriate.
So, the world has now Dr. Karl Bland Breckenridge, D. D., late of Bath, Maine; the proud papa and Standard Oil product truck driver/salesman Karl Dobbins Breckenridge and bundle-of-joy Karl Finian Breckenridge. When Karl Dobbins went to his reward in 1971, some dipwad from First National Bank of Nevada cancelled Karl Finian’s credit card and suspended his bank account, so there shall be no further Karls in this alphabetical series.
Life remained blissful on Yanonali Street, but the prospect of global conflict gripped the world. All West Coast eyes were on Europe, until that Day Which Will Remain in Infamy in December, when Karl F. was about seven weeks old.
America, if it wasn’t already, was now formally at war. Karl Dobbins gave Standard Oil his notice and enlisted in the Navy. The little family left Yanonali Street for an Irish aunt’s commodious home on Waller Street along San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park “Panhandle,” and awaited the Navy’s call to duty.
But, the Navy never called, but rather inducted Karl Dobbins and immediately contributed him to Henry Kaiser, to help ‘ol Hank build Liberty Ships at the Kaiser Shipyard across the SF Bay in Richmond. This was due to Karl Dobbins’ extensive experience in electrical engineering, about which Karl D. later said that it was a God-damn miracle that all the Yankee Liberty ships didn’t go up in smoke, as he had no – zip – nada electrical expertise but being Kaiser’s superintendent of electrical installation beat carrying an M-1 rifle around and being shot at…
So, off we went to Richmond – actually to El Cerrito, adjoining Richmond. We bought a house – a tiny one, two bedroom, on Panhandle Boulevard, a street later renamed to the more politically-correct “Carlson Boulevard.” I still tacitly chuckle about that when driving past it on the freeway.
For the next four years, Dad wired Liberty Ships, and I’d join him on Saturday mornings when there was a “launch” and family members were welcomed – an awesome sight for a kid of my age to see the ships slide down the ways to the cheers of the families, the workmen and Rosie-the-Riveters and often the family of the person for whom the ship was named.
And Dad would give me a little two-inch painted ship with the hull number of the ship just-launched on its sides. It was made of lead and had been placed into the “shipyard” when that hull was laid and then moved around a ping-pong table-sized replica of the shipyard as the hull was towed to many areas during its construction. I had a lot of those little ships and gave them to a maritime Bay-area warship museum for display many years ago.
The down side of the shipyard years was the birth of my brother when I was two years old. John never thrived, nor did the family ever speak of him after he passed away a year later. I think it was the hyaline membrane syndrome that the Kennedy baby died of in the early 1960s, but I don’t know that nor did my folks ever talk about it. But my earliest memories as a two-year-old included him.
The war was coming to an end! Henry J. Kaiser was scaling back the Liberty ship construction, and turning his attention with brother Edgar to cars – the Henry J. minicar and the full-size Kaiser. He took, by train – on the Mighty S.P.’s City of San Francisco yet – about 30 shipyard workers who he wanted as “key people” for his new venture, to Ypsilanti, Michigan, where the cars would be designed and built. I recall my Mom with my newborn sister Marilynn still in a bassinet, at the SP station in nearby Emeryville to see Dad off on the train to Detroit.
Home they came a few days later, with some pretty long faces. Kaiser had foolishly taken them to familiarize themselves with Ypsilanti in the coldest month of the year where daytime temps of zero-to-10° below are commonplace. The 30-or-so guys save for a few passed on Ypsilanti. Dad opined that one could “freeze their ass off” there. Saving me from being moved to southern Michigan where I could grow up, minus my oh, you know. Others built the cars for a couple years – good cars but against tough, established marques like Chevrolet and Ford, with a short production run. Too bad….
And Dad, soon to be furlouged by Kaiser as production had already stopped and the shipyard was being readied for a civilian occupancy, was effectively out of work. On the upside, he was also discharged from the Navy. So – over Donner hill in the ’41 Chevy we rolled
Dad bought a little house built in 1908 on Ralston Street from a Mrs. Shermerhorne, who had conducted a ladies hairdressing parlor during the war. My baby sister was ensconced in the sunny west parlor, and Dad and his high school buddy Ben Maffi got the converted coal-furnace working. Dad got a job selling houses with C. H. Skipper and we befriended our next-door neighbors John and Chetty Sala. Dad built a sandbox for their cute little red-headed daughter Michelle and I and my sister; a month or so later their son Mike – now a local dentist – would be born.
And 73 years ago in September 1945, Tom Cook’s mother Ellen stopped on the Ralston Street hill by Whitaker Park and picked me up in their family sedan; Tom, Cecelia Molini, Bobby Ginocchio and his cousin Sharon Cassidy, and Jimmy Doll were already in the car. Next stop, Mary S. Doten School’s kindergarten. What a ride it’s been!
In months to come we’ll read of the shift from the private Babcock Memorial Kindergarten to that first Reno public school kindergarten that Mrs. Cook took us to. And of the shift from the 18 school districts in Washoe County to the single train-wreck district that we currently have. And of some other neat stuff.
C’mon back when you can…!