Guest columnist Red Kittell writes of roadkill and bygone Carson City..

Kittell Aug 2013Once upon a time, in Nevada’s Ormsby County-renamed-Carson City, wards of the Silver State regularly feasted on government-provided roadkill.

During the immediate post-World War II period all Nevada’s transportation-related matters were managed by the State Highway Department and overseen by a gentleman I remember as “Dutch” Burning.  He was my Mom’s boss.

Mom worked in Carson City as one of the five employees running the state’s vehicle registration office.  Most of the several state departments were housed in the State Capital Building. There was no DMV nor Department of Transportation. The state’s population hovered around 150,000.  About 2,500 of us resided in Ormsby County. The state’s legislative complex now stands where our home used to be.

Just about every family had at least one member working as a state or county employee.  My family had two.  One was my Mom, the other was my stepfather Elmer Sturgeon, who had, before marrying my Mom, gone broke selling Kaiser and Frazer automobiles.

Elmer’s now full-time job was to patrol nearby highways with two objectives: He was to identify and report maintenance hazards, and to remove and “appropriately” dispose of large carcass roadkill.

The tools of his occupation were a red Dodge pickup truck which the state prison 48-dodgeshops had outfitted with a ten-foot bed.  A large silver Nevada state seal was decaled on each door. The deck of the truck had a slide- out feature and a manually operated drag winch mounted behind the reinforced bed’s front panel.  The deck also housed a large toolbox containing among other things a chain, both a hatchet and an axe along with two meat cutting bow saws.  Elmer’s contribution to the working tools and “appropriate disposal” mandate were gloves a shovel and two half-sticks of dynamite.

In spite of the state’s restriction related to passengers in the truck, Elmer regularly took me and select others along with him both for our company and heavy lifting.

The frugal nature of Ormsby County’s post-great-depression economy dictated that the slightly aged rewards of Elmer’s efforts would daily be delivered to the kitchens of three grateful government agencies.  The three designated beneficiaries were:

  1. The Nevada State Prison then located at the far end of Carson City’s East 5th Street.
  2. The Nevada State Orphan’s Home, then housed in a massive stone building located on 5thStreet, between the prison and Carson’s Main Street.
  3. The Ormsby County Poor Farm, then located where Fuji Park. south of Carson City, now exists. This facility provided for the care, feeding and domicile of Ormsby County’s poor and distressed.

Those voluntary residing at the Poor Farm, to a great extent, self-funded the project with proceeds from a dairy, the Clear Creek fish hatchery, a massive truck garden, and wood harvested from the adjacent Sierra.  Along with marketing weaned bummer lambs, they also voluntarily hired themselves out as casual laborers.  The farm successfully operated for over 100 years, closing down in 1965.

Elmer’s Poor Farm deliveries were the only one where we could actually see how excited the recipients were.  As I recall the large common kitchen and dining area were managed by a well-nourished lady named Minni Waterhouse.  I never saw her without her companion Chihuahua attached to a five- foot leash skillfully dodging Mimi’s feet.

It goes without saying a portion of Elmer’s labors often came home with him.  He marinated everything in a big earthenware crock that had a wooden lid.  I’ve never forgiven myself for not recording what the chemistry of that pot was.

All of the above was the status quo when was I enlisted just in time to greet the truce in Korea.  It was gone and apparently forgotten when I returned home from Vietnam a couple of decades later.

During that time Mom’s letters advised me that Minni Waterhouse had eventually crushed her Chihuahua and that the invention of aerosol cans exploding in the 55-gallon incinerators behind Ormsby County’s homes had resulted in the incinerators being outlawed.

Red’s my ol’ Black Bear Diner 50-year kaffee klatch buddy, a retired State Farm Insurance agent, a Viet Nam veteran with a sleeve-ful of Air Force Master Sergeant’s stripes and a Purple Heart to show for it,  a one-time wedding disc jockey who can still do he Hand Jive, a 33rd degree Mason who wrote a best-selling book about the craft, and a host of other diversions – one named Connie – who is hopefully going to start writing here of his youth in Carson City. Enjoy!

 

 

 

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Oct. 20, 1941 ~ The birth of the six-year-old kid

740Ralston

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…!