Once 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 shops 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:
- The Nevada State Prison then located at the far end of Carson City’s East 5th Street.
- The Nevada State Orphan’s Home, then housed in a massive stone building located on 5thStreet, between the prison and Carson’s Main Street.
- 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!