The Sunday in 1948 that downtown Reno burned

JohnnyFeverOn August 15th of 1948 – Dad was mowing the front lawn with the push mower on this Sunday morning. Just before noon we could hear a lot of sirens downtown and a big plume of black smoke came from downtown, just east of Ralston Street. I knew it was a big fire, so I hopped on my bike and started toward downtown. Don Hartman and Hank Philcox and Willy Molini were on their bikes too. We pedaled toward the smoke while every fire truck at the firehouse on Commercial Row came out toward the smoke. Boy, would I get in trouble for riding off when I got home. Maybe I won’t even go home…

It was Sunday morning, and people were getting out of church, all the churches were downtown then – St. Thomas Aquinas, and along Church Street west of Chestnut [Arlington]. Years later I’d count seven churches within two blocks of St. Thomas. And all had people in them, and all were getting out about the time the smoke started. By the time we got to the fire there were probably already 400 people there, according to the fire chief. And all were in the firemen’s way.

Santa_Fe_HotelThe fire was in a building on Lake Street across from the Toscano Hotel behind the Greyhound terminal, where my grandmother would arrive a couple times a year from her home in Petaluma to visit my mother. She actually liked my father better than she liked my mother and they used to sit on the porch of Ralston Street and drink wine and laugh ‘til it was pretty late (she was from Ireland, which explained that). But they’re another story for another day.

The fire was growing incredibly fast and soon enveloped the buildings across the alley south of the Santa Fe Hotel [artwork credit Roy Powers]. The buildings had been bought by the guy who was going to move the bus station across the alley from Center Street to Lake Street. The buildings were going to be torn down but the fire was doing a pretty good job of wrecking them right now. Then somebody hollered, “There’s dynamite in one of the buildings!” and the firemen and all the churchgoing folks started to run away. There was no dynamite, they’d learn later, but something did blow that building higher than a kite and scattered burning building and roofing material and metal and glass a block in every direction from the fire. It blew the windows out of the Mizpah Hotel across Lake Street, and some more buildings nearby. There were a lot of civilians injured by that, and I heard that St. Mary’s and Washoe General Hospitals called all their employees and doctors to work on Sunday, helping over two hundred people until well after midnight, with burns, broken bones from the walls falling, and cuts from the flying glass. The paper the next day gave their names and many were Chinese – probably from the Mandarin – or Basque, from the Santa Fe. Most of the herders were away on this summer day.

We were all skeered, ‘cause we knew we were in trouble for coming down here. There were a lot of rumors – one was that the fire chief had died. He was a nice guy, Mr. Evans, who let us kids climb all over the apparatus and slide down the pole on 1947 Fire ladderCommercial Row (I’m adding a picture of a brand-new fire truck Reno bought, an American LaFrance 1948 hook-and-ladder). But Mr. Evans was OK; the chief who died was Sparks Fire Department’s chief, Frank Hobson. And two other Reno firemen died when the explosion hit – Glen Davis and Earl Platt, who both still would have family around Reno 70 years later. Sparks had sent its two engines and a pumper to the fire to help, Sierra Pacific Power, the Red Cross, the Army Reserve, Nevada Bell and the airbase north of town all sent help also. And Isbell Construction and Southern Pacific Railroad sent some big cranes and Caterpillars to knock the brick walls of the buildings down.

The power company turned up all the pumps nearby to raise the water pressure which by then was falling all over town north of the Truckee. But the buildings kept burning, and the firemen worked mostly to save the Santa Fe Hotel across the alley and the Mandarin Café to the south. And succeeded. It took over five hours before the flames quit and it was overnight before anyone could even get close to the buildings.

When all the dust settled the next day, Monday, five people had died in the fire and some 270 had been treated, with 39 people admitted to the hospitals. Most of the downtown and the schools were closed. It would become known as the Lake Street Fire, or by some the Greyhound Fire, and would stand as the biggest fire in modern times that’s ever occurred in Reno in terms of injuries and fatalities, (there would be one nine years later* on Sierra Street that would do more property damage.) But now it’s only 1948 and I don’t know about that one yet.

The fire was put out; the burned-out buildings would become the site of the new FireMagnoliaGreyhound station, that building still there and now owned by Harrah’s Club. Frank Hobson’s flag-draped casket would pass in front of my dad’s office on A Street in Sparks in the hose bay of a Sparks pumper, and Willy, Don, Hank and I would ride our Schwinns back up the Ralston hill, where our parents, not knowing whether or not we’d perished in the fire, soundly spanked us for taking off to the fire. (I might add, as we did when the old downtown YMCA burned down, but that’s another story for another day!)

[To add a clarification: The 1948 hook-and-ladder pictured above was enabled by this fire – the fire proved that Reno neeeded a new aerial truck. And the white fiberglass roof in the photo was added many years later; it was originally an open-cab apparatus.]

But it was pretty exciting. Come back once in a while, we’ll tell another story!

*Here’s the story of that fire that was nine years later

And, for Sharon Quinn, here’s the 1962 Golden Hotel fire link…

 

Happy Birthday Sweet 16! – virtual HAN

79072_Rear_3-4_WebHow far has Hot August Nights come since the first cruise in 1986? I’ll start a roundabout answer by stating that in 17 years, HAN has had 19 posters. [This column appeared August 2002.]

Why, you ask, were there two extra posters? Harry Parsons, HAN Director Emeritus and local CPA – Cruisin’ Public Accountant – explains: In the second year of the show, 1987, the show’s organizers fashioned a poster with a Mel’s Drive-In waitress on skates waiting on a James Dean-lookalike dude slouching in a hot-pink ’57 Chevy convertible. They took the poster back to Detroit, arrived on the steps of GM’s Chevrolet division and told the Chevy execs how lucky Chevrolet was to be chosen the prime sponsor of such a primo car show.

The Chevy guys told them, through their security staff, for the local entrepreneurs never made it past the lobby, how lucky they were to be able to just leave, take their poster with them, and get back to the divorce capital of the world – that, the view of our town held by most people east of Denver back then.

So how far have we come? This year, 2002, General Motors came to Hot August Nights, to ask if GM could unveil the all-new 50-Year Anniversary Corvette during the celebration. HAN [then-] Director David Saville, always the showman, met with the HAN committee, and after seven nanoseconds of consideration, said yes. And so it shall be done next week at the Hilton, Wednesday morning at 10 AM – under the watchful eye of the nation’s automotive press – what a feather in our area’s cap!

Several thoughts linger – why was there a second poster that year? Because our early organizers took the 1987 poster, reshot it with the same waitress serving James Dean, this version in a hot pink ’56 Thunderbird, and marched to Dearborn, where T-Birds are built, told the Ford folks how lucky they were that…well, you know the rest. Ford also had bouncers in their lobby, so the organizers again returned to Reno. (That’s one extra poster. The second extra poster, to round out the thought, was the ’92 edition, a ’58 Buick – they shot one clean poster and another with tire tracks and an oil drip across it – purposely.) The clean version was adopted, but a few of the dirty ones survived and are collected. I like the oil-stained edition – it’s cool.)

And I’ll pose a final question and some speculation: Chevrolet historically named their post-war cars after beach towns – Del Ray, Bel Air, Biscayne – where did they come up with “Corvette”, a smallish warship? No answer here; as I recall the working name of the America dream roadster in the early 1950s was the “Laguna” or the “Cerro”. Nor do I know how Pontiac took “Catalina” away from Chevy, should you ask…

I dropped in on David in the Hot August Nights office on East Greg Street a few days ago – on the eve of the incredible HAN volunteer team welcoming a couple of hundred thousand guests to our valley and the show. I took more notes than I’ll ever get into one column, so I’m opting for the good ol’ Herb Caen three-dot journalism to conserve the verbiage:

The HAN committee goes out of their way to avoid displacing the locals by tying inasmuch as it was a continuation of the wonderful old Harrah’s Auto Collection annual swap meets…HAN was originally an Easter Seal benefit; the event now benefits the Hot August Nights Children’s Charities Funds…

RedHANSome car owners are purists, and for example won’t put a modern radio into their dashboard, but opt to stay with the factory tube-set with the ConElRad triangles (I’ll explain all that to the younger set on a slower week)…to accommodate them, Dave ensures that AM as well as FM radio stations are kept in the loop broadcasting during the event…HAN 2002 President Dave Roundtree explains that this is the HAN “Sweet Sixteen” because it’s the seventeenth event, 1986’s being Year Zero…

I mentioned the Big Bopper last week; two callers confused him with Wolfman Jack, the 1950s Southern California disk jockey who defined the Hot August Nights ethos…those of us who lived in Reno and Sparks could only get the Wolfman’s Los Angeles AM station – XEAK the Mighty Six Ninety – in the evening hours…Wolfman was prominent at some of the early Hot August Nights – what a voice! The Big Bopper died with Richie Valens and Buddy Holly when their chartered lane– a Beechcraft Bonanza – crashed in heavy weather late on February 3rd of 1959…Wolfman’s news intro of that event, spoken in an uncharacteristically sober voice was “tonight the music died; back in 60 seconds,” and inspired the title of Don McLean’s enduring and cryptic Bye, Bye Miss American Pie…you’ll hear it a lot next week.

Where did you go during the original hot August nights in the fifties? How about the Friday night dances at the American Legion Hall at South Tahoe? (Harrah’s hadn’t opened the South Shore Room then; it was still Sahati’s Stateline Club.) The fireworks on the Tahoe Commons? Or the Limelighters or Peter, Paul & Mary at Blyth Arena in Squaw Valley after the Olympics – a great night out, two bucks admission, one end of the arena open to the stars.

Later next weekend the cats and chicks will get their kicks on I-80 or 395 with Reno
and Sparks in their rearview mirrors; Jan and Dean, Bobby Darin, and The Beach Boys will go back into their (stereo!) LP album sleeves for a year, and we’ll all be back to thebusiness at hand. Thanks for reading and visiting, have a nice trip home, and, Be Safe, Huh?.

And yeah, in these pages, it will always be “Squaw” Valley. And Newlands Manor, for that matter…55chev

 

A Kodak moment – virtual HAN

A trip back to the home my family moved into in 1955  – affectionately known as the “Puzzle Palace” – always held a fascination for me. I usually threw in a piece of raw meat to ascertain the mood of those who dwelt after I left it in 1961, and by 1971 my mother was the last to occupy it.

HAN2005

On a pleasant summer Sunday afternoon in 2004 I visited the home and was engaged in hand-watering a piece of lawn that defied the home’s sprinkler system. I was reclining in a folding chair that either I had stolen from the Reno Air Races or donated to them – I was never sure – downing a bottle of Mickey’s Hard Cider and quite content to just watch he world pass by. Life was good.

A nice-looking car drove up, then stopped. Two young well-dressed gents got out; one with his camera started taking pictures, the other approached me. “We need your house,” he proclaimed. “You’ve got it,” I  responded. “The old lady in the master bedroom goes with it.”

“No, no, no,” he countered. “We’re with Hot August Nights’ publicity firm, and this house is configured just the way they want it.” He described what they had been driving around, seeking: They wanted a south-facing white or light-colored house with a generous two-car driveway and windows on a second floor above the garage. The Puzzle Palace had all these attributes.

The scenario for the forthcoming 2005 poster was that the young chick/daughter of the home’s owners, had been forbidden to see a certain rowdy dude with a hopped-up jalopy. But, as lovebirds will do, he and she elected to violate this edict and by prearrangement, he would show up with a ladder and she would exit a bedroom window to join her swain. At sunset. Risky Business, it was to be called. Made sense to me.

“We will need the total run of your house and yard from about 3 o’clock to 10 o’clock at night, to prep the house and driveway then restore it to the way it was before we get here.”  So, deal was done. “A contract will come to you with releases for our crew and…….blah blah blah.” “Just tell me the date,” I asked. They said that the graphic director would have to compute the optimum time of sunset, and then they’d let me know. Made sense to me, said I.

Compute the optimum time of sunset? I thought that they were turning fun into hard work, computing the right time of sunset for a snapshot. I had no idea…

So, back into their car they went, and back to my watering went I. Thinking that I probably should tell the old lady in the master bedroom. Naahhh, not yet, I decided, and popped another Mickey’s.

-o-0-o-

The contract and the agreement arrived to turn the Puzzle Palace over from the old lady in the master bedroom to the Hot August Nights publicity firm. I executed it on the “owner” line and put it back into the mail – no sense having to explain anything. Yet. The day for the shoot – weather permitting – as I recall was near June 21, longest day of the year.

As the owner I felt an obligation to make the parties comfortable. A trip to Raley’s resulted in a supply of soft drinks and beer with few bags of chips. I dragged an extension cord out of the garage for power. The hose reel was close by. I hid my purloined, or donated, Air Race lounge chair. I was ready.

Three o’clock came and went. Maybe I got the wrong day. Or they did. The first sign of life came when the catering truck – Pinocchio’s or Nothin’ To It – I forget which – rounded the corner. A catering truck? Yup. I offered them the extension cord. They had their own generator.. In the ensuing six hours, they’d  make sandwiches and nosh for the cast of thousands apparently headed this way. And mixed drinks. So much for my trip to Raley’s!

The neighbors started to appear, two-by-two. A crew appeared in a pair of vans – some began hosing down the driveway, others went in the house, taking screens off windows, tying back drapes and placing light fixtures that they’d brought. Another truck appeared, towing a small trailer. Within the trailer, a generator. So much for my extension cord.

More neighbors showed up – the number grew to maybe 40, eventually 100 or so – all were offered a sandwich or a drink. A police car drove up – I thought this ought to be good…the cop got out and said, “Just came by to see the photoshoot – we heard it was this afternoon…what time do you need to close the street?” “Have a sandwich,” I said.

An hour later, the street all but blocked by vans, food trucks, theatrical lamps on dollies that would later allow the home to show even although it was to be dark outside, the generator trailer with cords snaking all over the vista, came the stars of the show: the rods. A candy-apple orange ’32 Ford two-door sedan, and a ’57 Chevy ragtop.

And the personalities on the double date arrived: one guy who would sit in the sedan, rolling a joint or whatever, awaiting the others; a young couple, he to climb the ladder and help his breathless date with her poodle skirt climb out my old bedroom window, while the dude in the sedan’s date, a young lady of extreme beauty with bodacious ta-tas would hold the ladder for the escaping couple. And all dressed right out of Reno High School authentic 1959 Under-the-Dome garb, one dude with a pack of Lucky Strikes rolled up in his sleeve. I think the Luckies went bye-bye in the name of political correctness. They all arrived in one car and posed with the neighbors for photos.

I peered around at this specter. Yikes…what have I enabled????

Various camera positions were tried, and the orange sedan was relocated several times until all was just right. The camera was a large-format industrial film camera, with a digital camera mounted to it to capture the same image as the main unit for use in aiming the units. Many of the strobe lights in place – those in the sedan – were slaved to the camera.

The old lady in the master bedroom asked, “What’s going on in the yard?” “Oh, a few people taking pictures of the house, Mom.” No sense going in to a lot of detail.

The hour for the photo was drawing nigh. There was really no need for the Bel Air Chevy in the poster, but it was parked in the driveway where the signature “V” on its trunk could be seen. Lights were placed in the orange sedan, and beneath it on the chassis, to fill in the shadows. Large silver umbrellas were placed to bounce light onto all in the scene, and the generators cranked up and the floodlights came on, to wash the house in a dim light. Note that the photo was taken with a tiny amount of daylight still visible through the tree branches above the car…

HAN2005

The poster appears again here for the convenience of deciphering what I’m attempting to convey in the text       

One on-the-scene, seat-of-the-pants decision was made, occasioned by the home’s window fenestration behind the Ford, which is actually the dining room of the home. There was a dark void above the trunk of the Chevy, so a lamp was placed to illuminate it. It still appeared awkward, so a neighbor lad was seized and placed in the window, portraying a little brother, holding his hand over his mouth in awe of his big sister’s tawdry behavior!

The field review of the shots, made by the inspection of the digital twins to the actual film captures, revealed that there were sufficient shots to work with in the darkroom and computer, to make into a poster for the HAN event the next year. And so, the task of restoring the Puzzle Palace to a residence and not a movie set, began. Piece-by-piece, item-by-item, window screen-by-screen, peace once again reigned over the manse. Sort of.

The vans, food trucks, generator trailers, the police car and others left one-by-one (did I mention that good ol’ Engine 5 from the Mayberry firehouse dropped by?); the ’57 Chevy and the ‘34 Ford rods cruised off and the two young couples went up Windy Hill to neck for a while then off to the Mapes Coffee Shop for a sundae.

And in time I got a handful of posters in the mail. I framed one, and showed it to the old lady in the master bedroom. “Why, that’s your old room,” she remarked. “And who’s that climbing out your window? And who owns that orange jalopy in our driveway? When was this? What kind of people are you bringing over here, anyway?”

As I wrote, peace reigned again at the Puzzle Palace, sort of …

text © Karl Breckenridge … poster art © Hot August Nights

July 4  • The Fourth of July!

 

This is a fine how-do-you-do? Dad took off with Mr. Blakely and Mr. Corica to work at the Reno Rodeo, which is always on the Fourth of July. And I’m home with my baby sister and my mother on Ralston Street. But not for long! I’m takin’ off down the hill with my buddies Hank Philcox and Don Hartman to see what’s going on downtown this holiday weekend with all the people in town for the rodeo! HA!

LoudspeakerTruckSo Dad, while you’re opening beer cans for the Jaycees at the rodeo grounds in the heat and the dust, I’m off. Walking down Ralston Street I can really see a lot of cars, more than usual, on West Fourth Street. Most of the better motels built after the war are either east or west of town. I got to stay In one a couple weeks ago when my Aunt Isabel came to Reno from Petaluma, down by the San Francisco Bay where Mom grew up. She stayed at a motel with a swimming pool and that was the first pool I ever swam in. I’ve swum in the Russian River by Guerneville but the pool is pretty neat too.

Coke truckI walk toward downtown and get to Virginia Street, where the rodeo parade is starting to march. There’s a big truck down by the railroad tracks with a loudspeaker on the roof. Some of the gasoline companies, and the Auto Club, or Three A or whatever dad calls it, have these trucks and send them around the country to rodeos and parades and stuff where somebody wants to talk to a bunch of people. I cross the highway at Virginia Street, the busiest intersection in Nevada. I better go home before I catch hell for sneaking off.

Many have accused me of dogging it this Fourth of July weekend because I haven’t written anything new. C’mon, I’m only a little guy and it’s a holiday and it’s hotter than a bride’s breath so I’ll post soon, soon, soon….beside, I’m trying to listen to a New York Giants baseball game on the radio – everybody says that some day it will be on a “television” set right in our living room but today it’s on KOH, live from Detroit. Hard to write and watch at the same time.

Harolds Club BuickI was asked what’s around the bend on these little walks we’re taking. Well, I can tell you – I want to get Dad to take me down to Harold’s Club – note that as I write this  in the 1940s it’s still using an apostrophe in the name. In a few years it will go away. If we can walk down on a Saturday morning between 10 o’clock and noon, Mr. Smith closes the second floor of the casino so that kids can go in. I want to see the “Roaring Camp” stuff that Mr. Smith bought from Mr. Stagg and all the old guns and saddles the blue Buick station wagon with the steer horns and stuff. There’s supposed to be a bar with silver dollars in the bar. I’ll tell you all about that soon.

Another story is going to be about learning to swim in Reno. I’ve received a lot of letters from readers at our home on Ralston Street, asking me to write about old swimming places like Reno Hot Springs and Lawton’s west of Reno (pictured), Idlewild Pool in Reno (the new one, not the big pond on the west side of the park that was the first LawtonsTowercommunity pool). And Baker’s Stables a long way south of Reno and Deer Park in Sparks, that only opened right after the war. And I also have some notes about the people who gave us swimming lessons, like Marcie Herz, Rick Burgess at that new pool at the Riverside Hotel and some of our friends like Billy Berrum who show us about swimming at Moana Springs. Billy’s a good guy, only a little bit older than me, maybe ten years old. (And in a few years Mrs. Conrad would slap me for writing “older than me” when it should be “older than I” but I’m too young to get hung up on grammar.)

Dad still goes down to Sparks a lot in his business, and one day got me in to the railroad’s locomotive shop. I got to climb up onto a cab-forward steam engine. They30070 cab forward were working the shaking tank in the shop and I got to see (and feel!) that. And they’re starting to tear down the roundhouse at the south end of 8th Street in Sparks, (later they’d call it Pyramid Way). Writing is funny, in Reno it’s written “Eighth Street” which is up by the University but in Sparks it’s written “8th Street”. I’ll never make a very good writer.

Dad’s friend says that we should take a good look at the old steam locomotives because pretty soon they’ll all be those boring streamliners. I didn’t know it then but the last steam engine that would roll through Reno and Sparks on a revenue basis would be pretty soon – late October of 1949. After that we only saw them in the winter pushing plows or pulling heavy trains over Donner Summit. I’ll try to find a picture of one for you.

We got out to the new airport a while ago and Dad drove right out onto the runway so we could watch the Nevada Air Guard land a couple of P-51 “Mustangs” – little fighter planes. And we watched a United Air Lines DC-3 take off for San Francisco. And we went up into the “control tower” on the second floor of the United terminal and hangar. That was pretty cool and I’ll try to write it down.

C-119We had a little excitement in Reno and western Nevada last winter – it got really snowy and the cows and sheep couldn’t get to their pastures to the Army Air Corps brought in a bunch of huge freighter airplanes that had doors in the back, and all the men of Reno and Sparks met out at the airport to load hay into the planes to drop to the livestock. We’ll read about that. Dad got to go on a couple of their flights.

Yeah, Idlewild Park, for sure. I’ll write about the zoo at the park, and our class going to the Old Home Dairy across the street from the park, where we get a lot theCalifornia Building milk around Reno. And the fishing derby. Virginia Lake has a new park too. We’ve gone to some Reno band concerts out there in July, in August they’ll all move to the “Quad” at the University where we can walk from our house. Dad and Mom know some people who play for that band. And we get watermelon during the show and get to march to a Sousa march around the Quad with Mr. Tinkham the bandleader. And the grownups – can’t sing worth a darn but they end with “Home Means Nevada.”

Got to go to the neighbors’ for some hot dogs. Fireworks tonight at Mackay Stadium, Joe Battaglia and the Men of Renown will do the National Anthem as usual. Sorry to bail on you  early but the game’s tied at 3-3 and the barbecue’s starting.

Be safe out there, come back once in a while….

If you came here looking for the story about Ronald Reagan and the Fourth of July at Edwards Air Force base click right about here

 

Dec 18 – The Six-year-old kid: “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus!”

SlimYes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus … by editor Francis P. Church, first published in The New York Sun in 1897.

 

Dear Editor—I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?  Virginia O’Hanlon

“Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except that that they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds.”

34thStreetOK, back to reality now, from 1897 to 1948 – I’m hangin’ out around town, with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, whatever a sugar plum is. We’re already planning Christmas dinner with the Salas from next door on Ralston Street, with that cute little red-headed daughter, her baby brother Mike and my sister Marilynn who’s now hell-on-wheels all over the house.

SleighRideDad got us a Christmas tree from the Lions Club downtown, brought it home on the roof of the Dodge and got pitch all over the car. We’re putting it up this afternoon later. He got six boxes of lights from Nevada Machinery & Electric downtown; he said that it’s taken a few Christmases after WWII to get any Christmas decorations and lights and stuff. We’re putting up a tree in our classroom at Mary S. Doten School – I hear tell that a day is coming when we can’t even say the word “Christmas” at school but this is 1948.

lightboxThere are only a few weeks left until Christmas; we get out of school for a couple of weeks before and after the day, through New Year’s Day. We’re all making Christmas cards for our classmates. I’m lucky because my neighbor Margaret Eddleman is a pretty cool artist and she’s helping me. A bunch of guys from a “fraternity” up the street got in trouble for putting a red nose they made out of a tennis ball on one of the buffalo out at Idlewild Park and took it downtown saying it was “Rudolph,” or some such name, and the thing got loose in a bar on Sierra Street and nobody could catch it! (Who was “Rudolph,” anyway…?)

We like to go to the downtown library in the State Building downtown, and next PeterWolfweekend some musicians are coming and a man named Darrell Cain is going to read a poem called “Peter and the Wolf” by some guy named Sirgay Prokophife or something like that he wrote before the war, and the musicians are going to play their weird horns – trumpets, piccolos, oboes, saxophones, bassoons and such – each instrument representing a character in the story. It’s supposed to be pretty cool. They did it last year also kind of a Christmas tradition that I hope hangs around. A friend of mine named Gene Aimone who lives around the corner from us on Nevada Street is reading the part of Peter. My friend named Lauren House gets to play his French horn, which I think is the duck in the story but I’m not sure. It’s a neat morning; no grownups allowed!

CookingI wrote a letter to Santa Claus, but I haven’t heard LionelTrainback yet. Mom said he isn’t very good at answering his mail. I asked him for an electric train but I’m still pretty little for that. The little red-haired Sala girl next door wants an oven and some cooking stuff so she can cook like her mother Chetty does. Girls – yeecch – I’ll never understand them….

Dad brought home a couple boxes of records from his friend Mr. Saviers’ store on Second Street. There are about eight records in each box; each one has one song on it. The neatest one is by a guy named Bing Crosby – that’s a funny name – how would you like to go BingChristmasthrough life with a name like “Bing”? But he’s a pretty good singer. Dad got a record player when we moved up to Reno. It’s pretty big and noisy but you can put about 12 records on it and it will play for two or three hours. He got one of some group from a “Tabernacle” that’s pretty heavy singing. The “Men of Renown” singing group goes downtown every night from now to Christmas and sings carols while people shop on Virginia Street and at Gray WhiteChristmasReid’s. Dad’s friend Mr. Battaglia organized that group. My friend Billy Crouch’s mother organized a group of four ladies who also sing around town. I heard that a famous group came to the New Gym at the KingstonTrioUniversity of Nevada, and a local drive-by newspaper columnist called them “Fred Waring and the Blenders” and not one soul, including the genius editor, knew that  their actual name was the “Pennsylvanians.” But that was 50 years after today so I can’t really write about it yet. But they were good singers.

The evening newspaper the “Reno Evening Gazette” is running a contest for outdoor decorating for Christmas, with categories (pretty big word for a six-year-old, huh!?) for businesses downtown, for private homes and one for kids-only decorating. Last year Reno people weren’t happy because a kid from Sparks named SantaFrostyBobby Warren won it for decorating his parents’ home on B Street at 4th Street. (I want to learn to write someday, but stuff like “4th Street” in Sparks, but “Fourth Street” in Reno is already making me crazy.) Nobody is using any light bulbs yet. The first outdoor lighting anybody in Reno remembers was done in the mid-1950s by the president of the power company, Mr. Fletcher, on a home on Skyline Drive just before the street ended at Moana Lane. It was just a simple five-pointed star. My playmates Linda and [the late] Jon Madsen lived there much later.

MormonChristmasI’ve got a lot more notes for stuff to write about – Santas at the 20th Century Club and the YMCA downtown and the Elks Club on Sierra, and a lot of other stuff, but this is getting pretty long so I’m going to “post” it, whatever that means. Come back here on Christmas Eve and we’ll re-do Cactus Tom’s perennial favorite “Smokey Joe” then the Ol’ Reno Guy is going for a long winter’s nap…. 

 

 

 

Dec. 13 – still hoppin’ down the Santa trail…

SlimIt’s cold on Ralston Street up by the park this morning, but no snow in sight (kind of like to see the street with enough snow to bring the town’s kids and sleds and toboggans, but not today…)

I need to make a confession to those watching me write this on binder paper with a Ticonderoga #2 pencil, that I possess an ability to look into the future, assemble tea leaves, and own a Ouija board and a crystal ball. If I didn’t have this secret power, I could never be just a six-year-old kid who just moved to town from Richmond after the war, and tear apart the veil that covers the future to see and view the supernal beauty that lies beyond. (I wish I’d have said that first; actually I stole it from a guy who wrote it a hundred years ago!*) But if I couldn’t see into the future for a few years, there wouldn’t be a Christmas story today.

I’ve a whole lot of notes still in my jeans. One’s about Rabbi Frankel of the Synagogue across West Street from old Reno High School. He was a pretty cool guy, and for FordPoliceCarmany years he would, on Christmas Day, show up at the new police station on Second Street and tell Reno’s police chief to go home and enjoy his family on Christmas Day. Then he’d wear a chief’s shirt and hat and badge and stuff around the police station and bring candy canes and doughnuts to the other cops who were working their holiday. And he’d get in one of Reno’s old Ford police cars and ride around with the cops, stopping every once in a while to cheer up a downtown guy. This was a tradition in Reno for many years, practiced by a number of rabbis and chiefs. One year a guy actually died of natural causes on Christmas day and the rabbi said, “Oy Vey, now what the hell do I do?” (I don’t know if he said ‘Oy Vey’ but my little friend David Ginsburg told me that.)

There was a guy named Red Nibert who was a sign painter, out at the end of Mill Street east of Kietzke Lane (Dad said they were going to pave Kietzke someday and make it four lane!). Red worked hard all year painting signs and trucks and stuff but one day he went to a new restaurant out by what was going to become “Plumb Lane” and cross South Virginia, and he painted a bright red and green sleigh and reindeer and a Santa on the restaurant’s window – I think the restaurant was the one at the end of Wells Avenue. The work caught on, and Red painted a couple more windows that year, I think also the big window on the Coca-cola bottling plant where Center Street came out onto South Virginia. Pretty soon they’d make Center one-way so people would quit killing each other at that intersection with Virginia, Mary and Center. Within a few years Red would paint Christmas scenes on over 40 local windows – he could do the whole restaurant in about 10 minutes and move on.

I should tell you about a new friend of mine named Luther, who came to town withLuther his family from Hawthorne when we were little kids. We worked together at the Reno High cafeteria, but he didn’t do too well there. I was supposed to make the cinnamon rolls with him, but all he ever wanted to make were “hamburgers,” he called them. I don’t know what ever became of him. “Ham”burger. Hell, there was no ham in them! (Mom will be made because I wrote “hell.” Sorry, readers…) A drive-by writer used a photo of him in a Santa hat 50 years later and scared the h…, er, the pants off every kid in Reno who saw the Gazoo that morning.

OrnamentA big deal in town came in 1964, which is really long after I started writing this. A big bank put up a building taller than the Mapes Hotel, and that Christmas to everyone’s surprise, a giant Christmas tree that you could see from all over town, was turned on. It was made with a bunch of lights and wires with light sockets by the bank’s maintenance guys, who put up the “tree” on their own. The flagpole, I read in a drive-by writer’s column a few years later, was 42 feet tall above the building, and placed onto the building with a helicopter. That’s a pretty good story, someday I tell it.

Not to be outdone, Harrah’s new hotel tower, which was taller than the bank building, one Christmas put up a “necklace” of golden lights around the top rail of their building, and a tree on their flagpole like the bank’s. So there were TWO Christmas trees downtown!

Downtown Reno was a pretty scene in the winters; the City put up holiday lights above the Truckee, and played Christmas music on the speakers on downtown telephone poles. The best scene in town was from the Holiday Hotel’s Shore Room when the hotel opened in 1957, looking west up the River with all the lights. The City’s Christmas tree was in Wingfield Park, and every year there would be a lighting celebration with over 2,000 people coming downtown to watch. “Tink” SantaFrostyTinkham, and later my classmate Glenn Little, conducted the local musicians and singers from the University, the high schools (Reno and Manogue!) and the casinos in Christmas carols. A guy named Rocco Youse gave the City his huge statues of Frosty and Santa that used to be in front of his house on Fireside Circle. He was moving to a gated community and wouldn’t need them anymore. My friend John Trent reminded me of that…

Store windows were fun to view, with the storekeepers putting their best into Christmas displays. I’ve written of this before, and always forget, and am then reminded that the little mechanical cobbler in the window of Spina’s shoe repair shop on Sierra Street, always got dressed in Christmas clothes and a Santa hat at Christmas time! (There. I wrote it.)

BudweiserI’m getting pretty tired and Dad says I have to do some work for him around our house. (Mom doesn’t know it, but he bought two tennis rackets from Sears Roebuck’s catalogue store and they’ll be here by Christmas, so we can go play tennis in the courts across the street in Whitaker Park.) So – I promised I’d write about some local Santas in the stores around the town, and I see some stores opening south of town we’d better write about. C’mon back one of these days!!!!

(* I stole the passage from editor Francis P. Church who wrote that in “Yes Virginia There is a Santa Claus” in the Sept. 21, 1897 edition of the New York Sun)

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Day…

cropped-slim Well, I’m in the doghouse again; Dad says I can’t go out and play ‘til I replace that stupid story of the turkeys and the airplanes that’s on the website now for the 20th time. So while my buddies are all across the street in Whitaker Park playing, I’m slaved to this little Remington of my grandmother’s on the front porch of 740 Ralston Street. And my baby sister Marilyn is in her bassinet crying. As usual. How is a six-year-old kid to get anything done?

For some reason all I can think of is winter stuff – ‘cuz winter’s coming. And stuff I’dTypewriter like to write a story about next year. Or some I’ve already written of. People say I should come up with an “index” of what I’ve written, which sounds like a lot of work. There’s a search box where somebody can type in a name or a “keyword” and then scroll to a bunch of stories and find one they like. Or like many people do, just email me (this is 1948!) and I’ll send them a “link” to a story if there is one. Or I’ll write one. But an index? Why turn fun into hard work??

Finch copyOne story I’m trying to get written is of a man named David Finch, who became the principal of Reno High School after it moved out by Idlewild Park from right down the street from my house (if this column’s going to get written I have to suspend time and talk about stuff that hasn’t happened yet.) Finch is like that and I’ll get to him. He was a bit weird but deserves a lot better than he ever got out of Reno. I’ll get there, promise. And on a day like today I think a lot about some other stuff – like the train that got stuck in a snowbank up on Donner Summit for four days and how they got the people off it. That was 1952 but I’ve already written about it. But probably will again. I s’pose I RHS2009ought to start writing down what I’ve already written about before I get 340 columns and can’t remember. One like that is another snow story, in 1948 when the Army Air Corps sent a bunch of C-119s from southern California and ranchers sent hay to airports in Reno, Douglas County, and other little airports in Nevada and all the way east to Denver, really, and the hay was put on the airplanes by all kind of guys like my dad who then flew with the airplanes and kicked the haybales off the 119s’ back doors, to feed the cattle and sheep that were starving with all their normal food buried under snow. That’s a good story; I’ve got some pictures and will have to publish (or re-publish!) it soon in 2020.

50010 iconic cityof sf locoI’ve always written often about trains – they’re kind of part of our Reno history. One column I wrote made a lot of people scratch their head because I wrote that no “Malleys” – named for Swiss engineer Anatole Mallet – went through Reno and Sparks after 1929 because they were so complicated and maintenance-hungry. But the big ‘ol cab-forwards were called Malleys until they quit running. And the other thing that irritated my readers was that the last steam locomotives to go through town IN REVENUE SERVICE was about this time of year in 1949 – next year. I dug that out of the Mighty SP’s records in the Bancroft Library just to silence a detractor who doubted what I wrote. The ones we saw after October 1949 were in helper service. And we never write just “SP” – it’s always the “Mighty SP.” You wanna be my editor and put up with crap like that weekly for 32 years?

Another train story that I can’t find now is of the “Merci Train” – little European SinatraIIboxcars, 51 of them, that were sent after an postwar aid airlift to France and Germany, in gratitude for the life-sustaining effort by Americans. The French boxcars were sent to each state and the D of C, with  gifts to Americans from the French people, many peasants who put clothing and dolls and toys in the cars. The contents of the cars were soon stolen, natch, but the Nevada car was displayed on a flatcar on Commercial Row before being taken to the RR museum in Carson City, where it fell MerciTraininto disrepair. I had lunch every Tuesday at the Liberty Belle with Richard C. Datin, who became the director of the railroad museum, where he kicked ass and took names to get the little boxcar restored. You can see it now on display. But this is only 1948, so I don’t know that yet.

I do know that mom’s going to be steamed when she reads me typing the “A-word” ManoguePowersin that last graf. And I should include that Richard C. Datin, also a Hollywood modelmaker, created the starship Enterprise for the Star Trek TV series.

Here’s a good story that needs to be told: Atop Peavine Mountain (Peak) there’s a Bell Telephone relay station. Some kids we go to school with live there with their families, who stay there all the time and bring the kids down the grade for a  couple of days at a time. They are snowed in right now, can’t get down or up the hill; the phone company doesn’t have Tucker Sno-Cats for another year so the kids have been snowed in for a week. So a bunch of us collected warm clothing, books, fun-food and other stuff to be airlifted to them by a new-fangled “helicopter” from Reno Air Base. And speaking of which, they’re going to rename it “Stead” air base soon. And the City of Reno is going to build a new fire station across Ralston Street from the Jack & Jill Day Care Center that we understand some fraternity – Sigmanoo – bought. Why is this news? Because the Fire Department is going to try to staff it with airmen stationed at Reno/Stead air base. That’s why.

SHMlafranceAnd we don’t know this yet, but in the first big fire after the new fire house – Station 4 – opened (which was the Granada Theater fire, then two weeks later the old YMCA exploded!) the fire chief had to tell the men of Station 4 that English, and not Italian, was the preferred language on the fire department’s radio…. (Often I wrote something unpopular with editors, like that, and of the revelation that Sierra Pacific Power, in league with Southwest Gas in 1964, wantonly destroyed the antiquity-act-protected structure at the entrance to the Sutro Tunnel. The present gates are but a lame effort to restore them. Did they go to jail as you or I would have for wrecking it? Noooo…)

Anyway, there’s a lot left to write about in this burg. I kind of like being the “six-year-old-kid” but having the capability of moving time around. On a downer note, HankPhilcoxthat allows me to mention a lass who attained fame, fortune and notoriety by mowing down a couple dozen fellow citizens on Virginia Street on Thanksgiving Evening, 1980. As an aside I’ll mention as I do occasionally that I don’t run stories of unpleasant stuff, like a full story of the above, I get, monthly, a directive, “You gotta write the story of the lady on Nixon Avenue who awoke with weasels tearing at her flesh and shot her six kids and the cleaning lady……” or some other unpleasant Reno story. I probably know the stories, more accurately, in that case I have the police report and newspaper accounts and have already written the stories for my doomsday trove of such stuff, but prefer to write happy stuff. There’s enough of the other, hashed and re-hashed, in the paper – it was sensational the first time and embarrasses the writer pounding it over and over on slow news days – just let them die. (And it was three kids; the cleaning lady found them. And not on Nixon Avenue.)

Plus I’m only six years old – what do I care?

Stay tuned, return occasionally; this is 1.048 words to the last comma so I’m outta here, Dad; gonna go across Ralston to Whitaker Park and play with Don Hartman, Henry Philcox (above, in the shades), Mike Fischer, the Molini kids, Marilyn Burkham and Trina Ryan. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

 

WALKIN’ EAST FOURTH STREET, ca. 1955, with a great reply from a reader added at the end, and the picture of downtown Reno that she wrote of

LittleKarlA strange effect is starting to occur: The Six-Year-Old Kid from Ralston Street was going to saddle up his bike with his neighbor Hank Philcox and ride out to the Sparks railyard and get a last look at the old roundhouse as it’s being torn down; our school Mary S. Doten elementary on West Fifth Street closed this Memorial Day weekend for the summer, Hank’s mom Corrinne packed us some sandwiches and goodies for ou trip – but – I started researching our journey with City Directories and an old Gazoo column that I wrote in 2004, and got lazy. “Why rewrite all this when I can cut-and-paste it?” So I did.

But, that said, Hank and I are riding all the way to the Mighty SP’s railyard, soHankPhilcox watch this space as I chronicle our trip down B Street and within the railyard – probably two columns you may come back to in a week or so.

In the meantime, here’s what we saw on that first leg of our bike ride, pretty much as it appeared in print a decade ago:

“You’ve walked all over town in past columns, why don’t the RGJ readers walk East Fourth Street?”  Or so a few readers wrote.

            It’s mostly because the RG-J recently carried an excellent three-issue overview of East Fourth with more ink and graphics than I could ever hope to squeeze out of the real estate editor.  This morning’s piece started as a commentary on old signs, but while riding around with a notepad some quirky thoughts of East Fourth in Reno and B Street – Victorian Way – in Sparks still beckoned to be heard, so we’ll mix up the two themes this morning.

            The two neon signs that most interest me while I’m enjoying an ale or three at the Great Basin in Sparks are first, the Pony Express Motel sign at the Prater/Victorian “Y”, a late-1940s product of Pappy Smith’s (Harolds Club) and Young Electric Sign’s imaginations.  I started to write that it was the first “motion” neon sign in town – (the arrows being shot from the Indians’ bows) – but I now spell-check-eliminate any superlatives, like first, oldest, highest, etc.  And “railroad,” “church” or “architect” for that matter.

            It’s much too big to steal, but the second sign I lust after is more portable [and now gone in 2019], in front of the old Park Motel on Prater Way; the Phillip Morris-type bellboy with the once-waving arm that used to beckon travelers into the “motor lodge.”  It’s a creation that would blow the CC&Rs of the God-forsaken desert to smithereens if I lit it up in my backyard, waving at the architectural committee.  No chance.  Note the other remaining motor hotel signs on East Fourth – the Sandman, with the tires on the prewar sedan that once appeared to rotate.  And the classic neon art style, with no name that I know of attributed to it other than post-war contemporary, on Everybody’s Inn and Alejo’s motels’ signs, and a few others – hopefully they will all be saved, rehabilitated and displayed somewhere as signs of a bygone era, pun intended.   

            Check out the architecture on East Fourth – the brick patterns in the Alturas Hotel, J.R. Bradley Company, the buildings that flourished in the early postwar period like Siri’s Restaurant, Reno Mattress and some of the retail stores.  Replicating the rococo brickwork style in some of those buildings today would cost a fortune.  And Ernie’s Flying “A” truck stop, we called it then, now signed as RSC Something-or-other: The fluted column-tower signature of Flying “A” stations has long since been all but removed from this garage, but look close and you can easily detect a close resemblance to Landrum’s Café architecture on South Virginia – a very prevalent commercial style of a prewar period.  (Ernie’s was, with McKinnon & Hubbard on West Fourth Street, the forerunner of Boomtown, the Alamo and Sierra Sid’s to old U.S. Highway 40 truckers.)  And, if I’m permitted to editorialize, hats off to my old buddy Steve Scolari, whose family business Ray Heating – now RHP – has been on East Fourth for 70-plus years.  Faced with the need to expand, he turned the main office building facing East Fourth Street into a great-looking little office, retaining its pre-war nuance, then upgraded a half-dozen industrial buildings on the street and railroad land to the south into very serviceable first-class modern shops, preserving the workforce and tax base in the East Fourth corridor.  A gutty move, but a lead that more property owners in areas like East Fourth and South Wells Avenue should follow.  And progressive city management, now hell-bent on plowing two or three hundred million dollars into a hole in the ground for choo-choos, should offer tax incentives for this “infill” redevelopment like other cities do.  End of tirade. 

Evidence of a bygone retail presence on East Fourth is Windy Moon Quilts on Morrill Avenue, the only quilt shop in town with a drive-up window.  Why?  ‘Cuz it once was a busy and highly profitable branch of First National Bank, that’s why.  [And Windy Moon has since moved to the Velvet Ice Cream building on Kuenzli Lane, at one time known as North Street. But wait: now that’s the home of Road Shows – Street Vibrations. Still a pretty brick building]

            We couldn’t tour East Fourth without stopping at the architecturally resplendent Tap ‘n Tavern Saloon, and then mosey on down Highway 40 to Casale’s Halfway Club for world-class pizza. And if host Mama Stempeck ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.  What a great lady…

            Many notes remain and readers will kick in a few more, so we’ll probably go back and finish this tour soon.  I detected a slight deterrent to retail development on East Fourth while driving, starting, stopping, backing up, making notes and taking pictures, stopping again: On several occasions local ladies practicing the world’s oldest profession invited themselves into my pickup for a good time, some of whom were probably undercover police.  “Honest, officer, I’m researching a column for the Gazette-Journal.”  (Good story, buddy, tell it to Judge Salcedo.)

  • • •

And we walked some more…

We took a little stroll around East Fourth Street last week, and one observation that just wouldn’t fit was of the arachnid – OK, scarab – atop the roof of the building visible best from the Wells Avenue overpass.  The bug first appeared in the late 1970s, some say as a dare, others say a work of art, still others as the result of seven Sigma Nu frat-rats finding four cases of beer, a blowtorch, and an SAE’s Volkswagen.  As the sun rose over Lagomarsino Canyon it appeared on a field south of a Quonset hut-barn so far out South Virginia Street that you had to pack a lantern and a lunch to get there (but now the only Quonset hut in the South Meadows techie park.) Bug you a little?  [A column about that Scarab appears somewhere in this book.]

The structure that the big bug sits on was Reno’s most modern and largest fire station (Station 2, the first numbered station, replacing the former system, Central, North, etc.) when it was built after World War II.  It replaced Reno’s East fire station across East Fourth Street then west a few blocks, and was a twin of the now-gone Station 3 at the dead-end of California Avenue and South Virginia Street.  Walker Boudwin Construction converted Reno East into a construction office many years ago; it became an independent-living resource for the handicapped, and now it’s a halfway house.   

I had a call or two about the old Wells Avenue bridge – this is the second modern one.  Seven more frat rats (probably ATΩs in this case) with a trunkful of Burgermeister might have built that earlier bridge – swayed in the breeze, it did; no trucks bigger than a Ford Excursion could use it and it ended in mid-lane on the north landing at Wells Avenue, creating basically a one-lane northbound affair.  So much for the low bidder, railroad trench proponents take note.

Akert’s Market?  Right across from Hale’s Drugs.  Benny Akert – as in Ben’s Discount Liquors in years to follow – and his sister Betty (Brown), later one of my favorite Realtors, worked Akert’s for their parents, at the corner of East Fourth and then-Alameda Avenue – now renamed North Wells.  [And no it wasn’t the first Ben’s Discount Liquors – that was at Pine and Center Streets.]

Did I tour East Fourth without even a whisper of Louis’ Basque Corner (picture on the Facebook  page)?  Did I do that?  I owe you all a picon…

Here’s the photo that Sheila referred to in the “Comments” below:

BikeSafety

 

A snowy February morning…

LittleKarlIt’s a grand day in the neighborhood; snow has been on many folks’ minds, particularly the TV weathercasters who might have probably gone orgasmic had they ever seen heavy snow in Reno. The transition from 2004 to 2005 was noteworthy and pretty well constipated our roads that New Year’s weekend and for a week to follow.

Mount Rose SchoolBut I’m not going to regale anyone with snow tales, the “How it used to be” stuff so popular – but – I have a few thoughts and memories, augmented by friends remembering snowstorms that make this last series look like a cloudy day – and I’m not sure that I can still even write – I think it’s A-S-D-F etc. on the keyboard but not sure. And I gotta tell ya: My hands will barely write anymore, hands that once hired out to write cursive – remember that? – for invitations and place cards, so I found a “new” IBM Selectric III typewriter, brown like the last one it replaces, with a couple new balls, er, “elements” to go with the ones I already had. It’s about 40 years old, Handwriting2but reconditioned, and Ken Hamilton of Hamilton Business Machins gave me a “lifetime guarantee.” The S.O.B. knows that I’m 77 years old….. Oh, you don’t want cursive? How ’bout a printed letter with serifs? [at right, a library project I worked on]

SelectricBut, on this snowy morning, I hearken back to earlier days. I attended Mary S. Doten Elementary School [above], a twin to Mount Rose School (one spells out Mount for that school, otherwise it’s supposed to be “Mt.” according to old stylebooks but seldom is anymore.) I started Kindergarten there in 1946. Mary S. Doten School will hereafter be known as “Mary S.” our colloquial term for it –now the school district and media would just call it “Doten” robbing its namesake of the honor. But that’s what they do now – don’t give a damn about old stuff.

SeeMary S. was run by a sweet little lady that looked like Mrs. See on the See’s Candy boxes, a delightful lady that could also scare the pants off our six-foot-plus fathers on snowy mornings like this one. Her name was Rita Cannan, note the spelling – and she also has a school named for her, east of I-580 and north of Oddie. And known by some as “Cannan” but not in this column. It’s “Rita Cannan Elementary,” thank you.

Miss Cannan, heavy on the “Miss,” I think but never proved was a product of theWhitakerSchool Bishop Whitaker School for young ladies [right], in the eponymous park across the Ralston Hill from my family’s house at 740 Ralston Street. Many of the older teachers came from that institution, but that’s another column. Miss Cannan is on my morning musings because she had amassed a collection of shovels appropriate for removing snow – one could not buy a “snow shovel” in 1946. Coal scuttles came close, and most Reno homes had one. These shovels were kept under a stairwell outside the principal’s office of the school, and when, as and if a father delivered his child and some of the neighbor kids to school, he knew that Rita Cannan would land on him like a chicken on a June bug and virtually shame him into shoveling a portion of the elementary school’s infrastructure – the sidewalks, the approaches, some stairs – until the entirety of the school was safely passable. This occurred all over Reno and Sparks on snowy mornings. Dads shoveled. By the crack of nine, when classes convened.

I promised this would not be a “This is how it was” column, but I’m compelled to  relate that classes started at 9:00 a.m., rain or shine, in Reno schools (which were a separate district from Sparks, Brown, Huffaker, Glendale, Franktown, and a dozen  other small districts in Washoe County) and had some well-meaning father or mother suggested following a back-breaking accumulation of almost half-a-foot of snow, that Mary S. either delay its start time to 10:00 A.M. or in the alternative have a “digital snow day,” the only digit they would see was Rita Cannan’s index finger pointing at the aggregation of snow shovels under the stairwell, facilitating the fathers’ (or mothers’) efforts to remove the snow. By the crack of nine.

It should be also noted here, parenthetically, that the superintendents of the Reno School District, Roger Corbett comes to mind, didn’t particularly give a rat’s assFinch copy what the parents, teachers, staff, students nor taxpayers of the City of Reno thought about any issues, nor did he host these ungodly “scoping meetings” seeking “transparent”  input about a pending decision until the district went into complete paralysis with a plethora of opinions. He called the shots, period. Same with dress codes, even through David Finch’s days at Reno High – no jeans for the ladies, no advertising on gh boys’ t-shirts, no appeal, no negotiation. Corbett and Finch steered the ship. As did Cannan at Mary S.

Snow was fun in Reno in 1946, and my buddies from Sparks thought the same thing. We wore mittens and galoshes to school over our shoes (we didn’t know what “Keds” were then – leather shoes were all we had!) Upon arrival at Mary S., many of us went to the boiler room, which Mr. Minetto th custodian unlocked so that we could put our stuff on racks next to the boiler and dry them off. By lunch hour they’d be dry, and Bus 109we went outside to play. And yes, we threw snowballs at each other, at the teachers on playground  duty and at the city buses on Washington Street on the other side of the fence.  And  we bullied – and were bullied by – our classmates, and either toughened up and eventually gave it right back, or are still wimps 75 years later. Our third-grade teacher Jean Conrad could put a snowball into a car’s window if it were doing 60 miles an hour up Washington Street. And did once. (It’s a school zone!) Mrs. Conrad had an arm… I’ve kept in touch with her daughter, Carolyn Darney, the mayor of  Puccinelli Drive in Sparks, for the past 70 years – damn, she’s old!

Anyway, that’s what would be happening this Thursday morning at Mary S.  I’m out oDonHartmanf space, but have to add that after school, 3 o’clock, we’d get our galoshes, mittens, sleds and toboggans and head home. Then the neighbor guys – me, Hank Philcox, [right] HankPhilcoxTommy Weichman, Hugh Barnhill, Don Hartman [left], the Molini brothers John and Willie, Hans Siig and even some of the guurrrrrrrls (yecch) Maggie Eddelman, Mary Eichbush, Trina Ryan, Cecelia Molini, Marilyn Burkham and Ellen Murphy – would shovel the neighbors’ sidewalks and driveways. We never asked nor charged; some neighbors would bring us out a silver dollar or a cup of  cocoa, and some would hide ‘til we were done. But a buck would get us in a movie with a coke to spare, life was good, and the neighbors who hid would lose biggest at Hallowe’en. We had good memories.

And that’s the way is was on a snowy morning, February 21, 1946. Stay tuned if it keeps snowing in Reno, and we’ll learn of the great haylift of 1948 to feed the stranded cattle in Nevada, of our classmates who lived with their families in the Nevada Bell microwave station on top of Peavine Peak and were marooned by the snow and what our class did for them, or of the choo-choo train that got stuck on top of Donner Pass in 1952. Or the memories that you send in…!

karlbreckenridge490@gmail.com

Pedaling to more old local hardware stores – with some added dialogue from Don Hartman about old NW Reno

Last weekend I went with Dad to the new Commercial Hardware store on Eastcommhdwlogo 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:

kb_thingThe 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 kfbreckenridge@live.com

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”

Thanks, Don!