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!

 

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 ear 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…

 

 

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!

 

The six-year-old kid visits Commercial Hardware!

LittleKarlO boyoboyoboy – I get to go this morning with our neighbor Mr. Sala and Dad to Dad’s old classmate Mr. Horgan’s new hardware store on East Fourth Street – it’s 1948 and the store’s only a year old. We’re going because Dad and Mr. Sala like to barbecue meat and they need one of those new-fangled gadgets for the backyard where they can start a fire in it then put food on the grate over the fire. And have a couple cold Tahoe beers while they’re at it…

 So into the back seat of the ’41 Chevy I go and they pile in the front seats. Mr. Horgan’s store is east of town a few blocks; his father started the first one in 1904 and named it for the street it was on – Commercial Row. There were two hardware stores on Commercial Row – the other was Reno Mercantile a block east of Commercial Hardware in an old building with a creaky floor that was built as a Masonic hall. Dad said that it should have been torn town a long time ago – thought it might be the oldest building in Reno and I think he was serious!

 But this morning we’re off on East Fourth – what a great new building it is – it has new lights that the Nevada State Journal wrote an article about – they’re called “fluorescent” lights – long skinny tubes that glow and light up the room – no bulbs hanging down. More stores should get them. The new Commercial Hardware is huge and has all kinds of stuff – it’s hard to imagine that a hardware store could be much bigger.

 The new store’s location was picked in line with the old Commercial Hardware and Reno Merc stores – close to the train tracks. Commercial Row was named that because of Reno’s early dependence on the commerce of the Comstock, and the V&T came to Reno daily from the mines in Virginia City. And the agriculture of Carson Valley relied on railroads. That’s why so many stores that relied on mining and livestock were on Commercial Row, like Cannan’s Drug, with all the veterinarian drugs for animals. And mining supplies, like carbide for the miners’ lamps. Neat stuff – get it wet and it makes acetylene gas for the miners’ head lamps. Or flush it down a toilet if you want to move the porcelain commode across the restroom of a service station. But I’m only six years old, so don’t know about that. Yet.

 Commercial Hardware’s new location also benefited from the railroad; in its case the Western Pacific Railway, that connects with the Mighty SP down by Louis’ Basque Corner. The WP served the Sierra Valley, and every morning it brings milk, livestock and produce in to Reno and points beyon, and has a lot of industry along its right-of-way. It now keeps its locomotives in an area between Evans Avenue and the University of Nevada, where my crystal ball says will someday be the Fleischmann Agriculture Building. And its locomotive repair shop will someday be a coffee house on Record Street. But I don’t know that yet; it’s only 1948 now.

The railroads’ influence…

 One of our teachers, Mr. Leimback, told us about how Reno was built around the railroads, keeping the industrial and food-oriented businesses like Commercial Hardware and Nevada Livestock close to the railroad tracks. He was a neat guy. Like most of our post-WWII male teachers, he had earned the right to teach in the big schools, like Reno and Sparks, by teaching in some cow-county (that’s Dad’s word, not mine!) school. The State Education Board had that rule, so most of our men teachers knew our state pretty well – the mining and the ranching.

 David Finch

In years to come we’d meet David Finch, who was the no-nonsense principal of Reno High School and put that school on the national map after taking over its reins after it opened on Booth Street in 1951. Mr. Finch, who wouldn’t let us sing “There is nothing like a dame” in our senior assembly in 1959, came to town from Stanford University, (where he was on the  Indians’ boxing squad) through the little silver mining town of Rochester, a hoot-and-a-holler east of Reno by Lovelock. Looking back we’re glad he wound up in Reno. Even although we had to change our song to “…a girl.” (Which we did for the final rehearsal, but in the actual performance our underclassmen and parents heard it just as Hammerstein wrote it: “…like a dame.”  We sailors paid for that stunt… Mr. Finch, in retrospect, was probably one of the best education administrators to ever hit Reno.

We got our “barbecue” gadget that morning, which wasn’t easy in 1948 – it would be five more years before they really became available. I read once that some guy working for the “Weber Steel Company” that made round steel buoys, cut one in half, took it home and put a grate on it and the Weber buoy company thereafter became Weber Grills. Don’t know if that’s true, but I learned early the words of Mark Twain, not to let the truth interfere with a good story. And that’s a good story!

 So, we’ve toured Commercial Hardware and Reno Merc with its squeaky floors and bats and birds zinging around the store, and walls that creaked whenever a million-pound SP cab-forward steam locomotive passed across Commercial Row. Then. And it didn’t get any better.

Too long!

 And as usual, I’ve used up ‘way too many words, 1,019 on my page-counter on my yellow lined tablet that I’m writing this on after Dad and Mr. Sala and I returned to our homes on Ralston Street across from Whitaker Park. And I’ve no pictures that aren’t protected by that picky-picky “copyright” thing that I’ve been warned about.  So – I’ve several other early hardware stores in Reno, and of course Carl Shelly’s on Green Brae Avenue in the Rail City, Greenbrae two words then, had opened during WWII and I want to have some space to say something nice about Carl Shelly, whose influence on Sparks’ history, with his friend Tom Swart’s, would endure for 40 more years. So to keep this from getting too long, I’m going to wrap it up and get back to the other hardware stores in a separate column in three or four days. Now, the Great Gildersleeve is on KWRN radio so that’s where I’m going. Meet you right back here midweek.

 And I’ll point out a milestone that we’ve all reached together: The Six-Year-Old Kid has been pedaling his Schwinn around the village, splitting participles and using run-on sentences since his first column, a no-brainer was written out of boredom during the Super Bowl game of 2017. Two years later, he’s still six years old; he’s grown up once in a while so he can ride his bike with his buddy Henry Philcox, but usually returns to 740 Ralston Street. He thanks you for riding with him…!

kfbreckenridge@live.com  – lemme know if I have permission to post your comments!

A comment about David Finch: “Hi Karl, I was so glad to see mention of David Finch.  Senior year, I was in his Human Relations class.  We had to write an essay every week.  It was the best class I took until graduate school in Anthropology 15 years later, and the skills he helped us develop were the best preparation I could have had.

“When I was working for Sen. Howard Cannon in 1962-63, I sent him a thank you note and received a very nice reply.  I put both letters in the Reno High School Museum.
‘Hugs to you, [AWAITING HER PERMISSION TO USE NAME]’

 

A Thanksgiving dinner in 1948

Freedom

Oh boyoboyoboy – we’re having our first Thanksgiving dinner in Reno since we moved here after the war at our house at 740 Ralston Street. And the best news is that the little red-haired girl is coming, with her parents and grandparents. And her baby brother Mike who like my sister Marilynn is still in a bassinet, unless they get loose somehow. A little birdie tells me that someday Mike will be a dentist and Meri will teach school in Napa for 32 years. But I don’t know that now. Rug-rats, Dad calls them.

SlimDad’s been working hard on the house. He’s got his friend Mr. Maffi helping him to 740Ralstonconvert the coal furnace over to oil. They put an oil tank on a stand that feeds the oil to the furnace by gravity, and while it hasn’t been too cold yet it really helps to get the heat up in a hurry. Dad found a tag on the old furnace that says “1905” so it’s pretty old. But we knew that anyway because the carriage house behind the house had a couple old gigs and axles and wheels in it.

All the neighbors are getting rid of the leaves that are falling off the trees everywhere. Last year, our first in Reno, Dad burned them in the curbside but this year they’re still green and won’t burn too well. Anyway, Mary S. Doten School is closed for Thanksgiving Day and the day after, so I’m going to write about it for my teacher Mrs. Angus to get extra credit against my deportment demerits so I won’t have to stay after school. For a while.

The Thanksgiving dinner is turning in to quite an affair, and a lot of work. Mom is peeling potatoes like crazy and will start soon on the sweet potatoes. The little red-haired girl’s mom is working on the stuffing for the turkey and her grandmother is baking some pies – apple and pumpkin. I got to help clean out a couple pumpkins for that pie. Mr. Thomas, who owns a little ranch south of town on a lane called “Huffaker” brought the turkey over. He’d already cut its head off so it’s in a burlap sack.

The little red-head’s dad made a temporary icebox out of his old Navy footlocker and went to Union Ice Company on the Lincoln Highway just west of Vine Street and got ten pounds of dry ice to keep everything in the footlocker, like the turkey and his mother-in-law’s pies, cold. Dad also went to his friend Mr. Chism’s dairy and got a carton of ice cream – he’s going to start marketing it year-round and would have already but no one has a way to keep it cold.

That seems to be the largest problem in putting together this dinner – all the people in Reno have little tiny boxes in their refrigerators for freezing stuff. If they even have a refrigerator at all – there are a lot of homes that just have iceboxes. So the grocery stores don’t carry much frozen food and there aren’t too many grocery stores anyway. Dad’s  friends the Sewell brothers – Harvey and Abner [whoops – might be Herb. But what does a six-ear old know? (All three were founders of Nevada Bank of Commerce)] – are building a big store – biggest in Reno – on Fifth Street between Fifth Street and the Lincoln Washoe MarketHighway. And a father-and-son, John and Bob Games already have a store downtown [pictured left] but are building a big market on the spot on South Virginia Street where the Shrine Circus used to be held [the antique store in the 1200 block!].  They will go a long way to improving shopping for big dinners like this one. The Gastanaga family already has Eagle Drug and is thinking of offering groceries as Eagle Thrifty. And we have the Twentieth Century Market out South Virginia at the south edge of town by the drive-in. Now all we need are more people with bigger refrigerators, which the American industrial factories can now work on since the war effort is over.

Within about four blocks of 740 Ralston Street, and most other homes in Reno, are maybe four grocery stores – Ralston Market at the bottom of the hill, the Quality Market at Seventh and Washington, the Hilltop Market on 11th Street and the University Market on 10th [Pub ‘n Sub!]. Oh, and the Cottage Grocery on Fifth Street also has a butcher shop which most grocery stores don’t, and the Santa Claus Market on Vine and Sixth is open on Christmas Day.

That’s how it got its name………

Anyhow, there’s no shortage of markets, but all are limited in their selection.

Mom says that a lot of groceries could be frozen for a dinner like this. Like the pies they’re making for dinner, the ice cream from Chism’s dairy, even the turkey. She says that someday turkeys will be for sale frozen, and people will have refrigerators big enough to store them. And Dad says he won’t have to go to Union Ice or Brickie Hansen’s market anymore to get ice cubes for the cocktails. Even the whipped cream will come in a can with some kind of pressure, like hair spray and room deodorant will also. Dad says she’s nuts – why would anybody put whipping cream in a can for topping? I just stay out of it. She is a little batty…

Dad’s friend Mr. Conrad is in the grocery business so he’s helping with some of the dinner. His wife Jean will be my third-grade teacher next year. They have a cute little daughter named Carolyn; she’s a couple years older than I but I’ll bet she’ll still be my friend 70 years from now. Getting dinner rolls is kind of tough this time of year; Rauhut’s Bakery carries them but we’re getting ours from Nikki Pistone, Inezwho lives close by on Sierra Street and cooks and people go and pick up what they order – rolls, sometimes other stuff and ravioli – she’s known by all as the best ravioli cook in town next to some lady in a house Halfway between Reno and Sparks. She’s good too.

The little red-headed girl’s dad is getting the wine – he’s a basko, whatever that is, but he has a lot of friends in Little Italy, walking distance from our houses! His friend Mr. Nieri [Aldo] has saved a couple nice bottles of red wine for us. Actually, they’re jugs – everybody who gets wine from Little Italy has to bring their own jugs and they get refilled from the wine the Italian people crush themselves. Dad says the druggist Mr. Ramos is going to start selling wine in real bottles with labels on them, in red, white and blush, which are the three types of wine now being bottled. Mom grew up in Petaluma, a hoot-and-a-holler from a little town called Napa which is the Portuguese capital of America. The Portuguese know wine and how to bottle it and age it and make barrels for it, but the Irish mothers wouldn’t let their daughters date the Portuguese boys. If I heard that once, I heard it a thousand times.

We’re having some guests – Dad is going to walk to St. Mary’s Hospital down the street and bring a couple of the Dominican sisters up the hill to join us for dinner. Mom knows one of them from Petaluma, which is close to San Rafael, which is the head-shed of the Dominican Order, that started St. Mary’s Hospital. Actually they started St. Mary’s School for Girls which was converted to a hospital in 1918 when Reno needed a hospital more than it needed a girls’ school. I’ll have to hear that story all night one more time. But it will be nice to see them. Last year, when we like many Reno people had ham for Thanksgiving because Dad couldn’t find a turkey, my mother’s Aunt Lola, an Irish Catholic nun loose in the Maryknoll Order came on the train from that order’s HQ in Dubuque, Iowa and she and Dad had too much of Mr. Nieri’s red wine, but we won’t  write about that dinner.

Anyhoo, it’s going to be a fine night indeed on Ralston Street. Dad’s getting out a bunch of his records to put on the changer and I asked him to include Peter and the Wolf. The takeaway for the whole article is of the way things are today in 1948, as compared to the way they might be 70 years later, in terms of putting a dinner together without what I guess will be called a big refrigerator with a huge freezer section, big markets with every grocery item known to man prepackaged or frozen or available somehow, and also some of the cooking tools available – microwave ovens, and range/ovens with such great capacity and alternate cooking temperatures. Think about that as you enjoy your dinner this week!

(Of course, this is only 1948 as I write this, so I know nothing about it….)

Happy Thanksgiving to all…

-o-0-o-

A note about the graphic: In 1941, FDR addressed congress with a goal to revolve around the so-called Four Freedoms —”Freedom of Speech,” ‘Freedom of Worship,” “Freedom from Want,” and “Freedom From Fear.”

Illustrator Norman Rockwell embodied those freedoms in a series of four covers for the Saturday Evening Post; the “Freedom from Want” was published five years ago just prior to Thanksgiving 1943 and immediately became the iconic representation of the holiday.

It is my understanding that Rockwell and the Post released the copyright on the four covers. The original covers are currently on display in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan

Photo of Inez Stempeck holding award, courtesy Guy Clifton

 

 

 

 

Don’t tell Mom….

LittleKarlThe following is a tale of the Grandpa without a Clue. To elaborate, at a family gathering in San Mateo recently assembled some folks, dear friends all. On Saturday a cortège was leaving my younger son’s home – sons and daughters-in-law, grandkids, grandfathers, grandmothers – a lot of grand people in a flotilla of cars. The trip was to be short – through a quiet neighborhood to a youth ballpark where two granddaughters would play in separate games. The Final Boarding Process began. My grandson Andy spoke up: “I’ll ride with Grandpa Karl.”

I sensed a bonding moment. He examined my nearly-two-decade-old Miata ragtop rice Miatarocket, fire-engine red and looking as if it were going Mach One, when in reality 65 MPH was about all it wanted to go. But it looked hot. Andy, now 15, offered to drive. “I can get us there.” Having lived 62 years longer, I sensed the peril of his request. “You have a learner’s permit yet?” I asked. “Working on getting it online. No,” he responded, strongly reminiscent of his father in 1982, absent the “online” afterthought.

“How bad could this be?” I pondered and flipped him the keys. “Don’t tell your Mom,” Mom was now aboard a car enroute to the ballpark. I entered the passenger side, he the driver side. I noted that he didn’t pull the seat forward, owing to his frame well on the way to his father’s 6’-4” range. He cranked up the tiny engine. He slipped it iAndyBnto gear and made a smooth start up the avenue. “YouKFB bow tie been driving your dad’s stick-shift much?” I asked. “Yup,” he answered. “Don’t tell my Mom.” We were off to the races. But not to the game – he passed the turnoff to the ballpark. I just sat and watched, my mind going back to having his dad drive me around in my pickup in 1981. We didn’t tell Mom about that either.

I sensed my error in giving him the keys when we turned onto the El Camino. A right turn put us on to Highway 92, and a short block later a big swoop put the rice 747rocket onto the Bayshore. He slipped into fourth gear, then high. Approaching the SFO airport a Boeing 747 that had probably just ridden United’s Friendly Skies from Hong Kong for the past 13 hours was paralleling our route, low and slow in the clear blue sky with full flaps and all the gear hanging. “Take a good look; that’s the Queen of the Skies and we won’t see them in another year.” The death knell hasBeemer sounded for the Seven-Fours and soon they’d all be parked in Mojave, replaced by the Triple Sevens and the big Airbuses. Quite a sight. North we went on  US101, and in a quick glance in my outside mirror I saw a BMW 1600 in our wake, with an older gent in a jaunty driving cap, surely a grandpa, and an underage kid at the wheel. Curious…

T_BirdThe  light towers of AT&T Park came into view on the right. The Giants were in New York, but Jon Miller was on the radio, Pence was on second and Crawford was at the plate. Out Third Street to Van Ness and then Geary, turning south onto 19th Avenue. Looking around, the same Beemer was on our tail, but now with a ’57 T-Bird MG TDdriven by a kid with an old guy like me next to him, and in the inside lane a classic MG TD, with a youngster driving a geezer. Four old ragtops…curious.Muni

Past Coit Tower and the Golden Gate’s orange towers we went, a Goodyear blimp overhead, out 19th Avenue, Stonestown and the Parkmerced Apartments to our right, an SF Muni “M” streetcar on our left. A slight jog at Junipero Serra put us on Highway 280. “Wanna hit the Crab Shack?” Andy asked. I told him no, we’d better get to the ballgame to watch his cousins. Our speed was still OK. Crawford singled with an RBI as Pence scored in New York. And I looked over my shoulder – yikes. The trailing Beemer, T-Bird and the MG had been joined by an early ragtop ‘Vette – a beauty with another youth driving an old guy with a yarmulke then a red Fiat 124 with a young dude namedFiat Luca driving what looked to be my buddy Joe Fazio from Marin. We took up the whole three  southbound lanes of Highway 280. Still doing only 65, as student drivers with no permits should.

But passing Half Moon Bay, the blue Pacific to the west, I noted a black-and-white helicopter overhead, and joining the parade of ragtops in trail was a black Crown Vic, “San Mateo” on the white door over a gold CrownVicstar. We were busted. A CHP cruiser joined the Crown Vic, all with annoying red and blue lights. Then another. And into that mix, an old Mustang and a ’68 Camaro melded, with, you guessed it, underage drivers hauling grinning old guys. Turning off 280 in unison, a dozen old ragtops merged onto Highway 92 toward San Mateo, with half the police in the Peninsula following and H32by now three helicopters overhead. Highway spikes and flares crossed Highway 92 ahead. “What’ll I do?” said Andy over the deafening sirens.

“Punch it,” I responded.

Onlookers were mesmerized to see an aging red Miata, followed by XK120the MG, the BMW, the 124, a T-Bird, a Jag XK120 [left] that had recently joined the convoy, with another half-dozen old roadsters rise up from the pavement, gently lifting through the low hills of west San Mateo, not unlike Elliot and his friends on their bicycles with E.T. in the basket in the Extraterrestial movie. Thin smiles crossed the countenances of the Grandpas without a Clue, and I think I even detected a ETslight grin on the mug of a rather senior CHP trooper alongside the formation as it made its mass ascent. In the manner of airmen everywhere, we tossed a thumbs-up to the other Grandpas and their underage chauffeurs, barrel-rolled the red Miata back to earth to a full-stop landing on the ballpark parking lot, chocked the tires and Andy flipped me the car keys with a grin.

“Don’t tell Mom,” I reminded him.

And this essentially fictitious tale is dedicated by all Grandpas without a Clue to Grandmas with an Attitude everywhere, and to Moms, on Mother’s Day [when this piece was published originally. And yes, the “Grandmas with an Attitude” was in tribute to Gazoo columnist Anne Pershing, who passed away four days prior to the  piece’s appearance in the paper, and editor Brett McGinness let it stand as written].

Thanks for reading and believing, and God bless America.