Pedalin’ over Donner Summit – 1950 … some reader comments added at the end, Monday morning  

BodegaLast weekend I took off on my Schwinn over Highway 40, to visit my kids and grandkids in San Mateo, a bit south of Mills Field airport near San Francisco. And the fact that the six-year-old kid is pedaling to meet his son, daughter-in-law and their two pre-teen daughters – his granddaughters – tells the reader just how screwed up the chronology of this little story is going to have to get to make any sense at all!

So – that said – I packed up some peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and Oreos to keep body and soul together, and took off westward along Highway 40 to get there. Pedaling down the road, it dawned on me that this would be a good adventure to write about, so I started taking some notes in my little spiral notebook as I stopped to take each breather. And I soon realized that there’s a whole lot to write about, whether a six-year-old kid is actually driving a Honda (they make cars in Japan? MacArthur just signed a truce with the Japanese aboard the battleship Missouri a few years ago. Now they’re building cars?) Or keeping notes in a spiral notebook or with a digital dictating machine (built near the Honda plant!) [a vague reference to my actually driving a Honda on the trip; the point pretty-well lost.]

Thus along I go, taking lots of notes of stuff that needs to be written up and some BrownieCamerapictures with my Brownie Hawkeye camera. And the sheer volume of notes is growing. I make a decision: I’m going to target one or two things I see along the way in 1950 and write about them, and if anyone from Reno and Sparks cares about another trip to San Francisco, I’ll go back another time and get some more of the notes I made.

The guy at the A-frame bug station down along the Truckee River asked me if I had any fruit or stuff, I told him just a couple PB&J sandwiches. Once I wrote a whole column about the San Francisco Men’s Fishing Club down the hill on the Truckee that’s been there since 1903, and even talked to their lady in SF where the club has run from for so many years. The UP Railroad built the club to build up traffic from SF to the Truckee area. But at the last minute I was asked not to publish the column, so I didn’t. But someday I might.

I breeze through Truckee and rest at the train station and enjoy one of my 30068 Truckeesandwiches. A couple trains go by in both directions, and it’s obvious that the diesel electric engines are taking over – a few trains pass with steam cab-forward 30074 CabForwardlocomotives, but they’re really dinosaurs – the last one went through Reno on a revenue run a year ago, but they’re still the loco of choice, helping the diesels with the heavier trains. My goal is to get through Truckee along Highway 40, then ride my bike up Donner Pass, over the Rainbow Bridge on the highway, get a picture of that refrigerated trailer that went over the guardrail  and stayed at the bottom of that canyon for so many years! Dad always pointed it out when we drove down to Petaluma to see Grandma Frankie. But what I want to get to by daylight is the Southern Pacific roundhouse at Norden. I’ll make it OK.

The hill from Donner Lake up to Soda Springs is a grind, but I pedal it anyway, then ride along the road that goes to Norden. There’s a lot going on in that neck of the woods, but most people don’t ever see it because they stay on the main road. There’s talk that someday there may be a “freeway” alongside Donner Pass and Highway 40, that will cross the summit at a lower altitude. But I probably won’t live long enough to see that!

30078 Norden snowshed

I make it to the roundhouse, and there’s a cab-forward parked in it, being turned around to follow a train back to Truckee, acting as a brake. The “Mallets,” which they’re not but everybody calls them Mallet anyway, are still in frequent use on Donner Pass, but I was lucky to get to see one being turned on the turntable. I got a picture of it.

The second thing I want to write about hasn’t happened yet, nor will it for another two years, when the SP’s “City of San Francisco” passenger streamliner got snowbound four miles west of here in 1952. I’ve written about it before here, but 60020 Goldthere’s one story I keep trying to get told, the story of Jay Gold, a thirty-something employee of Pacific Gas & Electric, that had headquarters in Drum, a little to the west. Gold was the operator of PG&E’s Tucker Sno-Cats© when there were darn few of the machines in the Sierra. Jay heard about the stuck train, and spent the next four days taking his Sno-Cat back and forth, up and down the mountain assisting the rescuers and medical people tending to the people on the train. He worked about 18 hours each day, three of those days in blinding blizzards.

 The people finally got off the train and to Nyack, long story (I put a link to that saga at the end of this piece). No passengers were60098 rainbowlodge injured. Two SP engineers in a rotary snowplow were scalded to death when the plow overturned.

 And Jay Gold died, a month after the rescue was over. Cardiac arrest. He knew, as did very few others, that he had a heart condition, prior to the rescue.

 He worked himself to death, literally. His widow was entreated to a trust fund by the State of California, the Southern Pacific Railroad, and PG&E. But – to my knowledge, there exists no lasting tribute, plaque or remembrance of the man. And I’ve looked, and written of him in the past. To no avail.

It’s been over 60 years, but I’d still like to see Jay’s name somewhere around the scene of the stranded streamliner, or Truckee. Maybe on the train station which has become a popular tourist stop.

 Funny, all this coming from a six-year-old writer……..

 OK, I’m pedaling down Highway 40 again now, to the last stop on this visit with you and for my second PB&J and the Oreos. We’re going to the place Jay worked, to the power plant and reservoir that many grownups get a big kick out of calling “dumb DrumPowerPlantforeplay,” whatever that means that gets everybody yukking it up. The place was there a year or two before the UP railroad went by it, and the owners put up their own railroad to the UP trackage to help build it. It’s actually known as “Drum Forebay,” and is now a major operation of PG&E, and as a matter of fact is the point at which PG&E sells and buys power to NV Energy and other utilities. The forebay – reservoir – was named for Frank Drum, an early California power executive who was instrumental in pulling a number of entities together into mighty PG&E.

 And Jay Gold worked his Sno-Cat out of Drum [pictured above]

 And with that, I’m going to sign off. I’ve a lot more notes and one of these days I’ll write again of my Ralston Street-to-San Mateo adventure!

 I’m dedicating this column to my 1949 next-door-neighbor who rides with me on many of these adventures, Henry Philcox. Hank is a half-a-year older and a school HankPhilcoxgrade higher than I, and now lives on the southeast coast. I saw him when he was in Reno for the Reno High School Class of 1958 60-year Reunion last month, from which he left for his home not knowing whether Hurricane Florence had spared it.

 She had.

 Hank will be back riding along with us soon…!

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The six-year old-kid took the liberty of adding Joan Anglin’s comment below – it’s too good not to get out to the world:

“I remember driving from San Francisco to Reno in a snowstorm. We were just creeping along, and everybody was behaving themselves, except for the people in front of us who kept flashing their high beams at the Truck in front of them. Nowhere to pull over, so we just kept on going. Finally there was a passing lane, and the truck pulled over slightly and then curved back and blocked the lane.

“The driver got out, walked to the back of the truck with a baseball bat and without a word broke both headlights of the car behind him. He got back into his truck pulled over and let everybody pass. The car without lights pulled over behind the truck and that is the end of the tale as far as I know. I wasn’t on a bike either, but in the 1947 Packard that was Jack Reimers pride and joy”

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Ol’ RHS buddy Dee Garrett just checked in; here’s what he had to say:
“Way back in the late 40’s myself & neighbor Mat Conlin ventured out on a bike ride to Verdi.

“I am sure we had our peanut & jelly sandwich as well as a package of hostess cupcakes for a snack.

“With our one-speed bikes either from Oden Cycle Shop or Western Auto Supply we ventured west thinking that the trip would be a breeze. It kind of was until we got to that long upgrade road near Verdi that crosses the river and our legs & one speed bikes were pooped out. Oh yes, we were maybe 12 & 13 years old.

“Not having cell phones and knowing smoke signals will not be seen in Reno we got a message somehow to Mat’s mom to came and rescued us & she did.

“Lesson learned from this, wait until the better & lightweight bikes are built and that we have grown up & had better sense .

“So that is my take on a bike ride to Verdi.

“Keep up the great stories no matter how old you are.”

Dee Garrett

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The location of the stranded “City of San Francisco” here 

Norden turntable photo © Southern Pacific Railroad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The six-year-old kid tours HRPS’ Harvest of Homes…

HRPShomes copyWell, we’re back to business around the house and the youthful miscreants from the Sunnyside/Whitaker/Vine/Peavine/Keystone ‘hoods are hard at it at Mary S. Doten and Central Jr. High schools. The Novelly brothers, Orville, Raymond and Orfeo, are building houses right and left up West Seventh Street, and Wesley Weichmann and George Probasco are on fire also, building east of Peavine Row. In a few years I’ll have to call Peavine Row “Keystone” when they bring that old street north of the SP tracks through the old Reno Press Brick quarry. Reno is booming!

LittleKarlMom and some of her friends are all worked up about a home show that’s going on next weekend. Six owners of nice houses have agreed to open their homes up and let people buy tickets to see them. The addresses of the homes are on the picture they sent out which I’ll try to attach above this mimeographed sheet you’re reading. (I’m writing this in 1949 but have to admit that you’re liable to think I have vision into the future, because I’m throwing all chronology out or I’ll never get this done!)

A bunch of people called the Historic Reno Preservation Society do this every year, and con a half-dozen Reno homeowners to contribute their homes, as I wrote. I type “contribute” because the proceeds of HRPS’s Harvest of Homes tour goes to some eleemosynary purpose like funding grants to beautify our burg. Most of the homes on display have some history or providence [which my ol’ buddy Mike Robinson wrote to say that I probably meant to write “provenance,” and he’s right] attached to them; above there’s a house on a street called Mayberry which once was called “Shewmaker” and long before that was the “Verdi Road.” I’ve learned in my nine years on earth that many streets in Reno got their names from where they went – “Valley Road” went to Surprise Valley north of town, “California Avenue” went to California, the “Purdy Highway” – early Virginia Street –  went to Purdy north by Susanville and so on. The Verdi Road went to Verdi.

The house on Mayberry is evocative (pretty big word for a nine-year-old, huh?!) of the tour. It had some shady dealings and owners for many years until a few years ago. Tim Elam and his wife Joan own it now. It opened as a resort just after the turn of the last century and was hell and gone (Dad says that but I’m not supposed to!) west of Reno and was a training camp for the “Fight of the Century” Johnson-Jeffries boxing match even although the century was only 10 years old. After that some bad guys named Graham and McKay ran it as a gambling spot and night-club called The Willows in the Thirties. The CIA could learn from them both, of keeping pictures out of the history of a place – I’ve looked for years for pictures of The Willows, but nada. The Elams have done a lot of work on it and bought a couple cabins from an old downtown Reno motor court and installed them in the back yard.

It’s quite a house – “Enchanted Gardens,” it’s known as, and really worth seeing. I got Mom’s mailer about the tour and am off to see some of these places on my bike before all those grownups get there on Saturday.

The members of HRPS, Historic Reno, oh, you know, do quite a job with the history of each house on the tour – the years they were built, the builder,, the architect, the owners of the homes and a little vignette about the owner or the house, like the two on Wonder Street and their link to Tony Pecetti. He owns the El Patio Ballroom down by the fire station where all the grownups who live in Reno, not the tourists who drive here, go to dance on weekend nights. It adds a lot of color to each house to know a little bit about it. I’m too little to go to the El Patio but any place whose motto is “Swing and Sweat with Tony Pa-chett” has to be a joint I’ll go to when I grow up.

The Pecetti pair of homes are on Wonder Street near my friends’ house on the top of the hill which, looking in my crystal ball, would become Baileywick’s burger joint in the years to come, and even deeper in the ball I see the Silver Peak Brewery in that old house. I pedal over that way but get held up by a V&T train on the tracks on Holcomb Street. That train will only run for one more year…

Not too far away is another house open next weekend, at 619 Sinclair Street. That’s a neat Reno neighborhood now in 1949 as I write this. I wrote you one time about the four Reno elementary schools – the 1911 “Four Sisters” or as Walter Van Tilburg Clark wrote in that new book of his,  the “Spanish Quartette,” but there is one elementary school in Reno ten years older than those four, “Southside School,” on Liberty and Center Streets. This Southside neighborhood is the nicest in Reno now, and the open house on Sinclair was built a year or so before Southside School. Dad and Mom know Dr. Hilts, the veterinarian who lives there now. It’s a nice house, more of a mini-apartment as this tour kicks off.

Two of the homes on the tour this weekend are in southwest Reno – the one at 1118 Nixon Avenue arguably the most attractive, at least to this nine-year-old following a bike ride across town. It’s got some beautiful trees and is in a neighborhood that’s developing nicely. The HRPS group’s handout is a beauty to read, even for a nine-year-old, and is typical of the monumental amount of research put into the tours, with the original owners’ names, architects, contractors, and quirky stuff like the fact that this home was once, briefly, a high-end school teaching dancing, French and singing, a virtual boarding school. Also in the handout is the account of burglars raiding a refrigerator in a garage, and another telling of a blonde Norwegian “Viking of the Air” who apparently turned down more than most men got in 1932.

Truly, a Reno classic house. And unbeknownst to anyone in 1932, a house that will be a half-block from mine 80-some years later.

A strong element of the tours is the knowledge and the training of the HRPS volunteers, who walk visitors through each accessible area of the homes (some areas of some homes may not be open, owing to privacy concerns or inaccessibility in conformance with ADA and safety standards). Those docent volunteers participate in many hours of preparation and are afforded the benefit and knowledge assembled following an incredible amount of research by a lady who I don’t believe was born as I write this in 1949. Her name is Debbie Hinman. And those 130-or-so volunteers are organized by a three-year-old named Linda Patrucco Doerr, a task the equivalent of herding cats. Carol Coleman is the boss of the whole shebang. There are a lot of yet-unborn or youthful people and parts to this puzzle in 1949. I, at age nine, will be stationed on the patio of the final house to be included in this tour, at 1300 Humboldt Street.

It’s a vintage Hancock & Hancock home, (we all know of the second Hancock, Melville D. who built some of the finest homes in southwest Reno in the latter half of the 20th century.) This home was designed and built by the earlier Hancock, Mel’s dad Homer, in 1940. The program calls him “Charles,” his first name, for which the writer of the program would be shot. He liked “Homer,” with his two brothers Heber and Hiram.

And that’s the kind of little-known stuff you’ll pick up next Saturday. Did I mention that local antique cars – the age of each home – will be parked in the homes’ driveways? I meant to…

Mom will be roaming around somewhere; come see me at 1300 Humboldt. My blue Schwinn will be on the sidewalk.

Tickets for this all-day show are available at Sundance Books & Music, Moana Nursery, Marcy’s Gallery and Gifts, Labels Consignment Bowteek, St. Ives Florist and Rail City Garden Center.

August 17, 2018 – A new school for the six-year-old kid!


LittleKarlWell I’m back in school – Central Jr. High now, which was the old Reno High School until the new Reno High opened out on Booth Street west of town this summer of 1951. Dad says I gotta quit doggin’ it and get to writing – I’m no longer on Ralston Street and if I go another summer without writing no one is going to care what or if I write. But I’d still like to meet the moron that changed the school-start day from the day after Labor Day to a couple days into August.

RenoHigh1912

Our new school opened in 1913 as Reno High School. [Here, I’m going to insert the reminder I received from retired WCSD teacher  and my kindergarten classmate at Mary S. Doten Elementary, that our school was known as “Central Intermediate” when we were there, and  it had just been converted. The “Jr. High” designation came later. But changing it in this tale is laborious, and I like Jr. High better anyway. The Beach Boys never sang of an “Intermediate” school…!] Back to work: It was on the north side of the alley between Chestnut Street and West Street, facing West Street (the Temple Emanuel was directly across the street). A bunch of old apartment houses were on the south side of that alley, separating the school from the Lincoln Highway – West Fourth Street. The Lincoln Highway became Reno’s apartment row in the 1920s and ‘30s, with some of the nicest apartment houses in town on that stretch of the road.  One-by-one they were torn down, mostly to make motels, and the last one that most remember was the Frandsen Apartments on the south side of the highway. The apartment houses on the alley were eventually razed and the land became a playground for Central (I should mention that a home on the Lincoln Highway was donated to the Reno School District, and became a music/band area for the school!)

The new Reno High School was a pretty snazzy building – it was designed by the same architect who did the “Spanish Quartette” elementary schools I told you about a while back – Mary S.  Doten was one of them, only three blocks away to the west on Fifth Street.  The new Reno High was quite similar to the Spanish Quartette – or Four Sisters – George Ferris designed them all – picture two of the four that would remain in town for many years, McKinley Park on the Truckee River or Mount Rose School on Arlington, but with one more story, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Reno High looked like. They got rid of some of the better features like the balconies on the third floor when it became Central Jr. High last summer, but some of it stayed – the flagpole that was a gift of the VFW after World War II remained. That flagpole would be placed in front of another high school named “Wooster” many years later, but of course I can’t see into the future so I can’t really say.

The old Reno High – now our Central – was a neat place with a lot of nooks and crannies and stairwells. It had a big room downstairs with some built-in bleachers lining both sides, and a stage, with a full set of lights of different colors and a “fly” with curtains that would raise straight up, and a main curtain to draw side-to-side. It had a hatch to open big hole in the floor so an actor could jump in to fake a getaway. My own father shot a man on that stage in 1931, he did – he shot a classmate named Ralph Menante and his pistol backfired, damn near took his finger off! (This was all in a student play, by the way ….. they remained friends for a lifetime to follow.)

The ROTC had a shooting range in one wing of the building’s basement – the ceiling of that range was all screwed up from 40 years of kids – soldiers – misfiring Garand M-1 rifles into the air. [See Hank Philcox’ letter below…] Upstairs was a big gym that was a lot brighter than the assembly room of the same size directly below it. It had windows and was quite bright. Back in my crystal ball mode, I’ll write of the electric scoreboard for basketball games that hung in that gym – the scoreboard later went to a school that would be called E. Otis Vaughn, and is still there as you read this. I have, with the usual luck anyone has with the school district, tried to save  that unused scoreboard and have it donated to the Reno High’s alumni center but the school district doesn’t give a rat’s ass about its heritage so the scoreboard will probably eventually be dumped. Too bad.

Speaking of school districts, I should probably write that when we started at Central Jr. High and until 1955, Reno School District was only one of 18 districts in Washoe County. No wonder things worked.

The food was good at Central Jr. High. We had a big lunchroom in the basement with good, cheap lunches. Most of us took turns bussing tables. In the colder winter days we enjoyed the “noon movies” – mostly fairly new Hollywood movies, comedies, some drama, some Westerns – usually split into three segments and they showed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  A good sound system and a bright Bell & Howell projector – a pleasant way to spend a lunch hour!

Upstairs in the south wing was the library, and we at Central were the benefactors of an almost total updating of the Reno High library when the high school relocated to Booth Street. The lion’s share of the books were left in the “new” Central, and we had this wonderful asset upstairs, Miss Thomas presiding over it, and came to really enjoy it [See Anna Siig’s  comment below].  A wood-shop downstairs, a home-ec suite upstairs. Dropping names, Chauncey King was our principal, Chet Green, one of the best teachers I ever had, was the vice-principal; John Gonda, Ted Furchner and George Getto became good friends, and in the fifth-grade slot, a new teacher named Fran Trachok! Mrs. Howard was the school’s secretary, a lass not hard for a fifth-grader to behold.

Frandsen ApartmentsWho went to Central? Well, if you lived north of the Truckee River and west of Virginia Street, we were probably classmates (the alternatives were Northside, east of Virginia Street, and B. D. Billinghurst, south of the Truckee in the sparsely-populated area of town) [see Eric Nummela’s comment below]. We were starting to see more kids from the air force base north of town that had just last year been renamed “Stead” from Reno Air Base. I’ve written before of the children of ladies, and a few men, living temporarily in Reno seeking a divorce; since most of their housing was in the upper-Ralston area, they came to Central while in Reno. A lot of kids lived west of town along the Truckee in the power company’s hydroelectric plants, and the only school bus I remember brought them in to class each day.

Anyhoo, it was a great school, comfortable, with good teachers, sports and facilities. I’m sure that the same could be written of Northside and B.D. The 1950s were good years to be a kid.

Oh – on a sadder note – Central Jr. High suffered a fire in 1966, which didn’t do a great amount of damage, but Darrel Swope Middle School was open in a populous area southwest of the new Reno High, and Central was razed…

DUE TO THE EXIGENCIES OF THE LIFE OF A SIX-YEAR-OLD KID, IT IS EXTREMELY UNLIKELY THAT THIS SITE WILL BE UPDATED UNTIL LATER IN THE MONTH……….June 27 – Look out Eric Clapton – the kid bought a banjo!

cropped-kf_headshot.jpgOh boyoboyoboy – I’ve been working for my grandmother all I can, at her new house in that new bunch of houses called Westfield Village. I’ve been saving my money and finally got enough to buy a musical instrument I’ve wanted ever since Dad took me to a meeting of the Reno Banjo Club at the church down across Bell Street from Mary S. Doten School. His friend Mr. Goodwin helped me and told me what I could play with small hands like mine and Mr. Trump’s (couldn’t resist that!)

So today I’m off after school with my money, almost forty dollars. I left Central Jr. Banjo2Hi and crossed at West Fourth Street, which was also Highway 40 — the main drag across the nation. —  I can see Lee’s Drive-In to the west.   Guys my age all remember the neatest store in downtown Reno in the late 1940s –Shim’s Army Surplus store – authentic war stuff, hot off the Pacific war theater, just like John Wayne and Dan Duryea wore in war movies at the Tower Theater every Saturday morning.  Next to Shim’s was Quimby’s Awnings – this was before we knew what air conditioning is and every store in downtown Reno has an awning to extend over a sidewalk. For many years, Mr. Quimby made ‘em all.

            Railroad tracks! Teams of new “streamliner” diesel-electric engines started 30074 CabForwardreplacing S.P.’s venerable cab-forward steam locomotives a few months ago. The last cab-forwards in revenue service went through Reno only recently in late 1950.*

            At the north end of the block at Commercial Row, my buddy Jerry Fenwick’s parent’s art supply. And if you’re into model railroading and want a real-looking locomotive, you need to go to Fenwick’s. The American Fish Market, selling, fish, what else?  (Sometimes stunk up the whole block but Mom probably won’t let me write that.) Next to that store, the Sierra Bar, probably sold Sierra Beer, then the Nevada Photo Supply. A good store – the Land Corporation’s “Polaroid” was a brand-new photography process as we were walking this 1950s day.

Lees1Next the Sunshine Card Shop; if you wanted a card in 1950 you went to a card shop, not a drug store. On to the Dainty Cake Shop, two cupcakes for 14 cents, mocha topping, no sales tax, then mighty Sears and Roebuck, their farm store backing onto West Street to the rear. The other giant J.C. Penney’s filled the block from Sears to the corner. Those stores wouldn’t let us kids in, never did like them after that!

 

            Across West Second Street, a Hale’s Drug, then National Dollar Store, in one of those great old two-story loft buildings with the hardwood floors. Monkey Wards, sponsored our bike show every fall.

Bools & Butler Leather, saddlers to the Hollywood western movie icons who came to town for the Silver Spurs awards during the rodeo each July Fourth. And on that corner, Home Furniture. The Ginsburg family, nice people.

I’m going to cross Sierra at First Street. Just north of the Truckee I walk past the old brick Elks’ Home, whose four stories would be reduced to rubble in a fast fire following a nearby gas explosion in 1957. (I have a vivid recollection of my dad – and a score of other peoples’ fathers, husbands and sons – who customarily had lunch at the Elks’ and could not be located for a short period of time following the explosion.  That specter brings to mind the terror and frustration, multiplied by three-hundred-fold in the missing and by weeks instead of hours, that East coast residents must have felt on September 11, 2001.) But of course, I don’t know anything about that yet…

            Next to the Elks’ Home in the block south of West First, the finest department store in Reno: Gray Reid, Wright, a locally owned treasure.  That store in later years would move into a new building that later formed the main floor of the present Circus Circus casino.  But I don’t know about that either. I’m having a tough time writing today, my head must be on my new banjo-uke that I’m going to buy!            Across West First to the north, a retail building with clothier Murdock’s on the corner, and the Vanity ladies wear, the popular Town House (Dad’s friend Al Vario is behind the bar!) and jeweler Morgan Smith. Dad’s trying to get Mr. Vario to open his own restaurant, south of town.

            Next to the north, the Parkway Hotel, with the wonderful Moulin Rouge restaurant on the first floor, the pride of Gilbert Vasserot who would later open Eugene’s restaurant.  Mr. Vasserot and Mr. Patrucco, who ran the Riverside Hotel’s Corner Bar, are Dad’s friends also and they told me when I grew up I could park cars at their new restaurant! Boy, are they in for a surprise…last weekend I almost turned Mr. Philcox’ Jeep over on the big hill at the end of Sunnyside Drive…ouch…

          Next door, Karl’s Shoes, no relation.  Hank’s dad’s place, Ken’s Fountain and Luncheonette. Somewhere in there was the old Eagle Bar that moved south to California Avenue in later years, then the southeast corner building with clothiers Leeds, Reeve’s and Mode O’Day, and a Payless Drug working their way east on West Second Street.

            WigwamCrossing West Second, I’ll stop for apple pie with Mrs. Lerude’s secret topping in the Wigwam Cafe, adjoining what was once the Wigwam Theatre and later the Crest Theatre on Second Street.

            Past the Wigwam Café was the Emporium of Music, a popular store founded Emp_Music_used  by Dick and Joe Woodward and that’s where I’m going! They’re nice people and are in the process of selling the business to the Maytan family. Mr. Woodward said he’d be my manager and get me some jobs playing my new ukulele around town when I got really good.

            We’ll, it’s getting close to dinner time and I want to go home and play with my new toy, so I’m going to sign off here are just walk without writing (my Irish great-aunt calls that “taking Shank’s mare” to get home.) I used that expression once in newspaper column and the whole damn newsroom thought I’d lost it. There I go again, writing in the future!

            I am going to explain one thing soon about locomotives that comes as a shock to people, about the old “Mallet” euphemism for steam locomotives. Come back in a few days and I’ll tell you about the rest of my walk home today, from the Emporium of Music to 200 Sunnyside Drive!

*A reader once sent a question about the old steam engines that’s propitious for this nostalgia offering: “Weren’t the cab-forward locomotives known as “mallets?”  Yes and no; the last loco of the mallet design locomotive probably went through the town in the late 1920s – the name eponymous with Anatole Mallèt, a Swiss mechanical engineer who developed a process for managing high pressure steam in heavy locomotives, having nothing to do with forward or conventional cab placement.  The Mallèt design fell out of favor with emerging technology and went by the wayside, but the name stuck as a term of endearment with the old-timers for the cab-forwards, into the 1950s and through to the 21st century, when we still hear “mallet” or see it in print occasionally, often as “mallett.”   Probably incorrectly, but little worth an argument.

WigwamCafe

Let’s go thwimmin’

“Knock, knock…”

“Who’s  there?”

“Panther…” 

“Panther who?”

“Panther no panth, leth go thwimmin!”

FearlessNoTextJune 18, 2018: Here, a moment of six-year-old kid honesty: I started to write a column about swimmin’, and turned to an old column of mine for some research and dates and stuff. The more I read, the more I decided, to hell with all that work; I did it once, why not just run it again with a few tweaks. So, that’s what you’re reading here…! I wrote,

When you’re up to your, er, waist in alligators, it’s sometimes hard to remember that the objective was to drain the swamp. Such was the dilemma a fortnight ago when my focus was on two new downtown bridges we read of last week right here – the Sierra Street and Lake Street bridges. But as I pored over the microfiche in the mossy stone-lined torch-lit chamber reserved for me five floors below the Nevada Historical Society on North Virginia Street, a dozen other tempting topics beckoned, and this week those hen-scratched notes become a column. The towns’ old swimming holes loomed large.

We alluded to the original Idlewild Pool last week, and here I wrote of the concrete-a_poollined pool in the present pool’s location that was dedicated in 1937. The city parks department in the years prior to 1937 maintained the west pond of Idlewild Park created ten years earlier, with rudimentary creature comforts like changing rooms and a snack bar. (The present 50-yard pool, with an adjoining kiddie pool, replaced the 1937 concrete pool in the early 1970s.)

a_reno hotI found a great article about Reno Hot Springs, penned by now-RGJ editor Peggy Santoro a decade ago. “Reno Hot” as we called it was a bit of a challenge for kids on our Schwinns, being a mile or so up the Mt. Rose highway. But, on the days that we could score a ride from one of our parents, it was a favorite, with a big warm pool, a good snack bar and a vista all the way out to Pleasant Valley to the south. On the topic of that pool I’ll mention the minuscule rock housea_herz still standing all by its lonesome across the Mt. Rose highway south of Summit Mall: That’s occasionally cited as a last vestige of Reno Hot Springs. The straight story is that it’s a leftover from the Herz Hot Springs – a resort that went away in the 1930s, a hoot-and-a-holler east of Reno Hot. 

Peggy’s yarn evoked many pleasant memories, from dog-paddling with Marcie Herz as twirps later to the high-dive boards with Rusty Crook, which mercifully went LawtonToweraway in what most agree were the mid-1970s (the boards, not Rusty). Three meters off the water, they were, almost ten feet for us Yankees. Lawton’s pool, several miles to the west on the Truckee, had boards before my lifetime and replaced them with a tower, not only one- and three-meter platforms, but a 10-meter, reminiscent of Butch Cassidy’s famous line, “Can’t swim? Don’t worry; the fall will kill you!” Lawton’s was probably the most pleasant pool in Reno, when combined with its hot tubs to the east; rooms; and excellent dinner for grownups, poolside on warm summer evenings; and the Mighty Southern Pacific’s choo-choo trains plying the tracks next to it – which we kids enjoyed but in reality probably doomed both Lawton’s and its present forlorn cedar River Inn replacement. 

The Mark Twain Motel came along, across South Virginia from Park Lane, with a great pool available to the public with the added amenity of a cover, ergo a year-a_human corkround pool. (Photo credit above: Nevada State Journal, August 5, 1955) The other year-rounder was another favorite, the Moana plunge on Moana Lane east of the ballpark (it’s frustrating to cite a landmark as a location for a bygone building, only to realize that the landmark’s gone also!) Moana plunge or Moana Springs was on the present soccer fields west of Baker Lane, site of the bygone ballpark. There. The Berrum family brought us a lotta laughs for a hundred years out there. If you liked diving off the three-meter boards around town, then you’d have loved the infamous rope at Moana, where one could take the rope to the ceiling and jump while emitting one’s best Saturday-morning Tower Theater Edgar Rice Burroughs “Tarzan” yell and bailing off, hopefully to land in the pool and not in the snack bar, the locker room or on your best friend in the pool. How did we ever reach adulthood, one wonders…? 

a_deerParkThe Railroaders had Deer Park, one of the last public structures completed after the beginning of WWII, and still immaculately maintained by the City of Sparks. I’ll be reminded of others – the YMCAs, downtown until 1953 then on Foster Drive after 1955. Baker’s, mentioned in the Nevada White Hats yarn a month ago. The prohibited and banned swimming holes, like Highland Park reservoir, Virginia Lake, Charlie Mapes’ home on Mt. Rose Street, the ditches (you ain’t lived ’til you take an inner tube down the Orr Ditch under Ralston Street a half-block from my boyhood home!) The city fathers (no mothers then) voted in 1947 to create a pond by the Orr Ditch at Whitaker Park – “No, guys; we’re trying to keep kids out of the ditches…” That idea sunk, no pun intended.

A few leftover hen-scratches: How many knew that in August of 1923 a bath house and “beach” was built on the river at Belle Isle? (Old-timers know that Belle Isle is the island between the two bridges on Arlington Avenue.) Or that in the mid-1920s Reno’s earliest incandescent, outdoor electrical lights were first introduced in Idlewild Park? Or that the city had bought 300 bathing suits to rent to patrons of the new Idlewild Pool? The August 14, 1937 Reno Evening Gazette was silent as to whether bathing suits were optional; we tend to think that they were obligatory. And now comes the pièce de résistance of the whole column, if such there be: Reno mayor John Cooper and Sen. Pat McCarran were dedicating the new 1937 Idlewild Municipal Pool in long-winded and flowery oratory, when a 12-year-old bathing beauty of unchronicled name decided to hell with all that, dove in, and became the first lady to swim in the new pool. The children who followed would pay a nickel to swim, their parents a quarter. Thanks for reading, and God bless America!

© RGJ 2014

 Lets give some attribution for photographs: Old Idlewild pool, RGJ file; Reno Hot Springs sign, Marilyn Newton/RGJ; Herz Hot Springs rock house, Tim Dunn/RGJ; Lawton’s dive tower, Nevada Historical Society; news photo 7-Up stunt, Nevada State Journal; Deer Park, Sparks Heritage Museum

 

 

June 8, 2018 • Let’s go to a movie!


VirginiaStreetNorthThis episode of my journalistic endeavor starts kind of biographically, if that’s a word. It started by me walking into walls and trenches and stuff ‘cuz I couldn’t see them, and not being able to see the board in Mrs. Conrad’s third-grade class at Mary S. Doten. She told my parents that I couldn’t see. They sent me to Doctor Magee, the elder, in the bank building across First Street from that new hotel by the river that just opened. He said that I couldn’t see too. Or also, whatever is correct.

LottaJPEGSo I got glasses – big ugly ones, for I was blinder than a bat and needed real “Coke-bottles” and they were. But I couldn’t keep them on my head and they fell off and I lost them and had all sorts of problems. Doug Bishop called me “four-eyes” and I punched him and got sent to Miss Cannan the principal.

About that time two companies, American Optical and Bausch & Lomb were in a joint-venture to make something called “contact lenses” were looking around the nation for kids like me – young, active, and blind as bats. Mr. Hamilton, the optician that made my Coke bottles sent them my name. They got hold of my parents. “We’ll give young Mr. Magoo a set of lenses, at no cost to you,” they said. My folks said OK. No one asked me.

I was taken to Dr. Magee, not Magoo, in the bank building and went through a bunch of gyrations to make contacts for me. About a week later, I went to Hamilton Opticians next to the Crest Theater and the lenses were put into my noggin.

I could see like an eagle, and they didn’t really hurt, even although they covered upContact-lenses-old-new almost the entire white part of the eye [old and modern pictured at the right] I couldn’t get them in or out too well, but I could see. Like I’d never seen before. And nobody called me four-eyes. I was Reno’s first successful contact lens wearer, and would wear them the rest of my life. And at one point, become one of the last people to still wear hard lenses, albeit a lot smaller than the first ones, in existence. I think they made them special for me in later years.

But, the reason for all this jabber tonight is, that I’m functioning, or not functioning, on one lens, the close-up lens (in later years one lens was for driving and distance, the other for reading and writing. I trained my brain to look through the appropriate lens.)

But as I type this I can’t see diddeley, nor will I ‘til I get a replacement next week. Therefore, (I started to type ergo but I’m only a little guy and don’t know that word yet) this column will be pretty short and have few pictures. Sorry ‘bout that.

Having used half a column with my personal BS we’ll now all go to a movie. It’s Saturday morning in Reno, Nevada; Big John and Sparky were on No School Today on KOH radio earlier, and we’re off on the bike to the Tower Theater!

The Tower is an old theater on the northeast corner of Ryland and South Virginia Street, at the near right in the photo above. It  shares a building with a bowling alley, and it’s not too hard to hear through the walls – a dashing young Reno columnist once wrote of the moon overhead, the trailing wake of the ocean liner, the tradewinds echoing soft violins as he looked deep into her yearning eyes in the Tower Theater, just as the toasted keglers on the other side of the wall in the Reno Bowl picked up a turkey third strike in the last frame and all hell cut loose. So much for romance. But this was 10 ayem, it was Saturday morning, and every kid in town, almost all under 15, was at the movie.

We all – 500 of us from all five Reno elementary schools, plus Billinghurst, Northside and a few from Reno High – remembered what happened last week. Our admission was the tear-tab from the center of the paper cap in a glass bottle of Old Home Milk, plus 14 cents. I’ll get argument about that, but I checked it out. A cap and 14¢, no lie. The theater had no loge, just a big, sloped floor, with pretty comfortable seats that would stay around Reno in various venues for 75 years, but that’s another story. Most remember that the end-seat in every other row was one-and-a-half seats wide, or wide enough for cuddling with an older gal with a medium-sized fanny. They were in great demand (the wide theater seats, not the narrow fannies.)

(Boy, Mom’s really going to be mad about that line…oh well…stet)

Our Saturday morning movie always started with two or three funnies – ones that wouldn’t be shown to children in another 60 years – coyotes getting blown up with Acme dynamite, rabbits run over by cars, pigs, (named Porky, at that!) being slapped around by their dates, cats beating up mice, an old guy in an Elmer Fudd hat with a shotgun, blind guys like me getting the raspberry from Waldo – bullying, abuse, violence – we were marred for life. We just didn’t know it yet!

Then we’d get the newsreel, and surprisingly it was pretty-well done – not too much detail, easy to follow, palatable even for a ten-year old – what was the latest on that asshat senator McCarthy and Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss? And the Rosenberg spy trial? Perry Como was singing Don’t let the stars get in your eyes, Patti Page – How much is that doggie in the window? and Dean Martin That’s Amore! Mickey Mantle and Pee Wee Reese lead the leagues in batting (check me on that; it’s been a while!) Thus we got our news…

Now, a serial. They don’t film them anymore. As we left last week, she was tied to the railroad tracks, the pianist was playing some ominous chords, the locomotive, maybe an old V&T loco once from Virginia City, was bearing down on her full bore with the bad guy holding a six-shooter to the hapless engineer’s skull (ahh, those guns and bullying again) while the good guy is throwing a switch to take the loco out of harm’s way and save the damsel. Would he throw the switch in time? We’ll know in a moment…

And, finally, the main course – a full-length movie, usually a pretty good flick, fairly new, sized for kids – no deep stuff nor heavy breathing. Nor naughty words. Almost. A fun time.

We left – our thespian needs satiated for another seven days – always with the carrot to bring us back next Saturday like a locomotive, having avoided the maiden tied to the tracks, but now left in mid-event while making wide-open-throttle toward the bridge that’s out over the 400-foot ravine to the raging river, the 3,000 nuns and orphans on the train unaware of their possibly pending fate.

Daylight was bright in midday on Ryland Street, but our bike, left unlocked blocking the street, was still there.

And we all had something to talk about for the week ahead…! Save a milk carton lid, Mom; I’ll need it next Saturday…

 

SOME GOOD COMMENTS FROM OLD FRIENDS IN THE ‘HOOD FOLLOW BELOW:

May 13, 2018 – a pocketful of notes……..

cropped-kf_headshot.jpgLike that hed? A Pocketful of Notes – Dad buys a paper from San Francisco that comes to Mr. Savitt’s store every Sunday, and there’s a guy writing in there that I really like, even though I’m only six years old. His name is Herbert Caen; he’s from Sacramento and has been writing his column “It’s news to me!” in that paper, the SF Chronicle, since 1938. The “Note” thing is one of his sayings. Dad says he’ll be around for quite a while.

I’ve got a pocketful of notes some of which came in the mail to me when people started finding out that I live at 200 Sunnyside Drive. (Don’t send me any mail there because I’m not there anymore. My dad was a real estate man so we moved around a lot, but I always found them.) These letters are asking me to write about something. So this morning I’ll pretend I’m a grown-up Herb Caen and write in his wandering style…I’d like to grow up and write just like him. I hope he keeps writing for a while. [OK – crystal ball-time: He wrote until he died in 1997! And I did write one column for him when he was in the hospital in 1988.}

….First is, I have to go back to Hubbard Field. I wrote about Hank Philcox’ and my Electrabike ride out there a while ago, and all the stuff we saw. But I forgot to include the altitude guage, which I remember. Just at the end of Airport Road north of the hangar was a bright spotlight, that pointed straight up. It was big, like about as big around as a card table in a box on the ground. Somewhere distant, I think at the University of Nevada on Evans Street, a weatherman could put a telescope on the light’s beam, where it hit the cloud level. From the angle of the telescope, he could then determine the height of the clouds, or ceiling, and phone the airport’s tower with the information. Thanks, writer, for the letter. Dad says not to include anybody’s name without their permission, or I could get in trouble. So, if you write me, tell me if it’s OK to use your name. This is a very disciplined column.

Gamewell_fire2…Another note: “You wrote about a ‘fire alarm box.’ What were they?” Thanks for the question. Even before the turn of the century in the late 1800s, the Gamewell Company made alarm boxes for street corners, so citizens could turn in fire alarms. The boxes, all over towns, were wired to a central place like a firehouse where there were big wet-cell batteries making power. If a person pulled the handle on the box, a spring-loaded wheel would start to turn, pulling brass or copper tape over a gadget that “read” it. The tape was punched, each tape different, so the fireman receiving the alarm could detect which box had been pulled and send the firemen to the fire.

The City of Reno had a Gamewell system which was intact until the 1970s when phones and alarm wiring became more prevalent (pretty big word for a six-year-old, huh!?) and the system was abandoned. The Gamewell board, a big brass beauty,Gamewell_fire was kept, in operating condition, by retired fire captain Jim Arlin, in the Reno Fire Department’s museum at the Reno main station until some genius figured out that the site would be better for a ballpark than a fire station. I don’t know that anyone’s seen the Gamewell board, nor much else from the museum, since. But now I’m editorializing. Some cities, notably San Francisco, still maintain the Gamewell systems, that city’s system taking up a whole wall on the Brannan Street headquarters. But, there I go again, using a crystal ball…! I don’t know about that in 1948 as I write this.

Postscript: Gamewell also made police-call boxes. They were blue.

OK – next saved note: “You wrote of the elevator operators in the First National Bank building and the Medical Dental Arts building knowing all the dirt on Reno’s citizens. What are “elevator operators?” What I wrote was that the two little ladies, elevatorcontrolfor they were indeed short in stature, knew who was boarding their elevators in the old FNB building at 1 East First Street, and the medico-dental building up the block on Virginia Street, and who was consulting an attorney or who was going to doctor and listened in the morning to the patient or the client, and later in the day to the doctors and the attorneys describing them as they rode the elevators. Two plus two equalled four to these ladies, they compared notes and knew what couples were splitting the sheets or which person was suffering from some private malady.

Self-service elevators didn’t arrive in Reno ’til the mid-1950s, and the buildings I mentioned plus the El Cortez and the Riverside and the Mapes hotels also had little ladies to open thefloorindicator inner doors and start the cars up or down. (They were good; they could turn that big wheel-switch just at the right time to stop the car level with the floor!) And they jabbered the whole trip, so little escaped them. The Holiday was maybe the earliest to have self-service cars in 1957 on a major scale. And I wrote one time many years after I write this in 1947 that Gray Reid Wright, in its new building on Fifth between Virginia and Sierra brought the first escalator to Reno.

But, this is 1947. What’s an escalator??? 

Space draws short, but one more reader said that I had to write about the X-ray flouroscopemachines for feet. OK – let’s do! But let’s call them by their name, which was flouroscope.  As kids, we always looked forward to going to some of the shoe stores around town, and I should include the Sparks Bootery in faraway Sparks, and standing on the flouroscope. With our new shoes, or just breaking loose from our parents in Sears Roebucks, Buster Brown Shoes (Big John and Sparky!), Monkey Wards or some other places I can’t remember, whatever they were.

The flouroscope was probably the greatest invention of the 20th century since sliced bread or night baseball. Wearing your old Keds if you’d ridden your bike combatbootsdowntown and just wanted to play with it, or, buying new shoes (combat boots were the norm after WWII in Reno’s cold winter climate, you could stand on the flouroscope and see your feet and bones, and the outline of the shoe faintly enclosing the foot. 

Why the machines went away is a mystery to me and most – probably something on the same order as lead-based paint and asbestos poisoning – some idiot probably learned that a flouroscope would make your feet sterile – but we had the paint, the asbestos and the flouroscopes at Mary S. Doten Elementary School and Buster Brown Shoes, and the world didn’t come to an end. 

CrossEyedTeacherWith that I bid you good day on a chilly weekend; when the sun again returns we’ll ride around somewhere else in Reno. Saddle up your Schwinn and ride along with me!! 

 

 

 

April 15, 2018 – Hangin’ out with the kid on East Fourth and Fifth, near Alameda Street in 1952

FearlessNoTextMonday, April 23 – The six-year-old kid rested this weekend at the Coliseum with about 5,000 friends, each driving 1.4 mommywagons and playing or watching volleyball on 88 courts. This number includes his two granddaughters. He is back to work now, will probably put up a new “bike ride” Wednesday….c’mon back!


 

Well, we’re back to school after our Easter Break, which we still call “Easter,” by the way. I gave all my brochures that I collected from my bike ride last week to Dad so he could buy a new car but he decided to keep the Buick he got from Mr. Scott. We’re taking it to New York and back this summer, I’ll have to do a lot of writing about that trip!

I wanted to finish up a story of cars, by adding some pictures of trucks but a few friends have asked about the new TV station coming to town, and the big tank that’s being torn down out on Fifth Street. Since the new TV station is being built across from the gas storage tank, that’s where I’m heading today.

Down Vine Street I go from Sunnyside Drive on my bike. Safeway is building a new store on Vine, the second of the “big” supermarkets in Reno. Don’t know what’s going to happen to the little markets – “Mom & Pops” Dad calls them. I better hurryBabcockBldg. up and write about them soon before they’re all gone. I ride east on Fifth Street, past Reno High School [left below]and the Babcock Memorial Kindergarten [right]. Until WWII it was the only Kindergarten in Reno and your parents had to pay to send you there. I pass by the new Sewell’s RenoHigh1912market between Sierra and Virginia Street, and press on beyond University Street and the Western Pacific railroad tracks on a street that’s not a street, named on the Sanborn map as private, owned by the railroad, but named “East” street. In a few years it will be called “Record Street” probably for those pretty girls in my class, Dale and Nikki. Their dad sells plumbing stuff south of the Lincoln Highway but it’s nothing to do with WPlocoEast Street. A brand-new Western Pacific locomotive, diesel-electric at that, is heading up north to Alturas and a couple guys are blocking Fifth Street while it passes.

I’m at Elko Street now, and can see the big gas tank, which is on a full-block lot GasTankbetween Fifth and Sixth, and Alameda Street and Eureka Street. [That’s a picture that I found in my World Book Encyclopedia, not a photo of the one in Reno, which I’ve never been able to find. But they’re all pretty much the same – the sides move up and down along the rails – this one’s down about 12 feet or so.] Pretty soon the City would re-name “Alameda” street to “North Wells Avenue.” That big square block is owned by Sierra Pacific Power Company and that’s where Reno’s early natural gas is made, mostly for cooking and less-so for heating homes. But all that would change. Dad’s friend Mr. Probasco was building homes after WWII away out east of Sparks almost east of Stanford Way, and heating them with a central gas furnace in the home. They were the first home furnaces in Reno and Sparks using gas as a fuel. They weren’t  forced air, but they worked well! Dad tried to tell me how they made gas but it was pretty complicated and people who read about it all scratched their heads, so I’ll just write the simple view of it here:

If one smashes coal hard enough, a gas is produced. And that’s what they did at the Alameda Gas Plant. A “retort” smashed the coal then collected the gas that that smashing produced. Coal was brought into that plant on railroad cars. The gas that resulted in the compression was routed into a big tank, whose sides were free to move up and down. The weight of the tank pushed the tank downward, and forced the gas within the tank to go out into the gas “mains,” which were all over pre-war Reno and Sparks, on the north side of the Truckee River.

Natural gas was being brought into the power company’s generating station east of Sparks, so they elected to make another run from the power plant to Reno. The retort building was dismantled, and the tank soon after was taken down. We all got our gas at our homes through the same mains as before, but it was put into the existing mains at a different location (eventually north of McCarran Boulevard and Hug High School). But I’m only a six-year-old kid, so I don’t know that yet. I also don’t know that the power company began storing transformers which are basically tanks of PCB, which fall over and spill the stuff on the ground. And PCB is one of the most toxic liquids known to man, and the square block was so contaminated with the stuff that it was decided by someone to just leave it alone, that the cost of cleaning it would exceed its value. So that’s why there’s nothing on the lot now but an X-ray building, on an area that wasn’t contaminated.

And that’s the story of gas coming to Reno and Sparks. I might write that when the new bridge over the Truckee was built in 1937, the gas lines were brought to southern Reno. And that little known to most and I’ll probably get spanked for writing this, but the big fire that I can’t write about until 1957 was probably in all truth caused by a bum hookup in the Sierra Street area, and just stayed kinda safe until it blew in 1957.  I’ll attach a “link” at the end of this writing to tell you about that. And if you ever go to San Francisco, as we’re going to do again one of these days soon, you might have seen “Gashouse Cove” on a sign or the name of a neighborhood out by the Marina – that’s where the early city of San Francisco had its gas retort. But that has nothing to do with Reno and I shouldn’t even write about it.

I’ve bitten off more than I can chew (Dad says that and I think it’s funny!) by threatening to write about the new TV station in the same letter with the gashouse and retort, so I’ll work on that later this week. And we  should talk about old groceries more; there’s one on the corner of Alameda and Fourth Street where my little (!) friend Benny Akert works – his parents own it. He dreams of growing up and running a store to sell discount liquor – he says he’ll just call it “Ben’s”. And another little playmate of mine, a foxy little gal named Beverly Pincolini, her family has a grocery store a couple blocks away, called “Pinky’s”! Bev would graduate from Reno High with me in 1959 and marry a guy named Fabio Reginato, the lucky dude. But I don’t know anything about that yet, of course. I thought a Pincolini Reginato Fabio was one of those new-fangled sports cars from Europe!

Come back in a week – I’ll tell you all about KZTV’s grand opening! Now – if you want to read more – click here whatever “click” means! and read about the big fire down on Sierra Street in 1957.

See ya later…….

 

 

April 8 – the new 1950 car models are out; let’s go downtown and look at them!

cropped-kf_headshot.jpg

The new cars models are out and a bunch of us from Whitaker and Peavine are going to ride our bikes down and see them! The salesmen in the showrooms aren’t too nuts about a bunch of rag-tag kids coming in and leaving their bikes in their doorway but how else are we going to know how the new cars work? And someday we may buy a car, so HA!

I s’pose we rode to see the Studebakers first, since they were at Western Distributing on the northeast corner of Sierra and the Lincoln Highway. They soStudebakerCommanderld American Flyer trains and hardware too. Studebaker had been around since they first made covered wagons for the pilgrims. And they made a lot of wartime stuff, like Weasels and Ducks. Their cars were pretty neat, and they sold a lot of pickups too. I didn’t know it in 1950, but in a few years they’d build the Avanti, which could have been America’s Corvette if they knew what they were doing.

Mercedes 188Just to the west a couple blocks, across Chestnut Street where the high school would this year become “Central Junior High School,” was Oden Motors, that sold a bunch of foreign cars, like Jag Jag 120and MG and Austin, later the Austin Healey, and Mercedes Benz. Those Mercedes were a little over $3,500 a car, the most expensive car  in Reno! And the Jaguar XK-120 was one of the prettiest cars ever made. Mercedes would later move to the northeast corner of Virginia and Liberty Streets.

FordRichardson-Lovelock Ford was to the east, on what I guess was now called “Center Street,” but not too long ago was “University Street” and some maps and Yellow Page ads still show University. Ford was a big seller, had some pretty neat cars, but I mostly wanted a pickupFordTruck truck like my Uncle Vic’s, which was an “F-1”. But I’d probably never get one, because I’m only nine years old and those pickups cost over six hundred dollars, more than the Ford cars.

We rode down Virginia Street past the courthouse, where there were a bunch of car dealers. Scott Motors sold Cadillacs Caddyand Buicks and at one time sold the Durant, a high-end General Motors car. My dad bought a 1950 Buick from Mr. Scott. He was a pretty neat guy; he had a Lockheed Electra like that lady pilot who got lost flying around the world. His son was my age and would later run the dealership. But I didn’t know that in 1950. Buicks had a touch that would continue BuickI’ll bet until at least 2018 – they had “portholes” on the sides of their hoods, three was for Special, Super, and Century; four was for Roadmaster, their big expensive model. They all had big engines, bigger than other GM cars. And the Cadillacs in the same showroom, on the west side of Virginia where Ryland dead-ends into it, were no doubt the ritziest car on the road. Some had air conditioning, and a gadget to dim your headlights when a car was in front of you. Dad said it didn’t work.

The Pontiac dealership was a block to the east, on Center and Ryland. Mr. Winkel owned that. Dad got Lees1a 1950 Pontiac “Catalina,” a two-door coupe that GM introduced that year that was designed to look like a convertible. Chevrolet had the “Bel-Air” version, and Oldsmobile the “88” model – all hardtops. Our Catalina (second from the left, light-colored car) was in a picture of Lee’s Drive-In on Sierra and Fourth Street that I found by accident researching drive-ins. But that was a lot later, I was a really old man then, about 50. Marsh Johnson’s Chevrolet was north on Virginia across Court Street from the courthouse. Mr. Johnson would later build a shopping “mall,” they called them later, called “Park Lane” a couple miles south of town.

Waldren Oldsmobile was just south of Scott Motor’s Buick. Mr. Waldren would be OldsRocket88one of the first to move off “auto row” on Virginia Street, staying on Virginia Street but building a whole new building just south of what would later be “Plumb Lane” by Mr. Johnson’s shopping mall. In later years there would be no Oldsmobiles (nor Pontiacs!) and the Oldsmobile dealer would become a fish/sushi place. Yecch…raw fish……

We parked our bikes and toured the Dick Dimond Dodge dealership at South Virginia and Moran Streets DimondDodgeand looked at those cars. Their dealership’s building was really pretty, said by some to be designed by a man named Frederic Delongchamps. I got in trouble once for writing that it looked just like an auto dealership on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco designed by prominent SF architect Willis Polk so I won’t write that again. I got a picture of it from my buddy Jerry Fenwick – someday I’ll write about Jerry’s parents’ art shop downtown. The Dodge and the other MOPAR cars  had a “Fluid Drive” – kind of an automatic transmission that you had to shift, but the clutch was automatic. Dad had a 1948 Dodge and like most Chrysler products the back-up light, which had to be turned on and off manually, was always on.

ChryslerWoodyDad and my uncle John and their friend Wayne Spencer were once in San Francisco, and while my mom and aunt and sister and all took off downtown to the City of Paris and Gump’s and Maiden Lane, my dad and John and Wayne had a few in some dive bar and got pretty well toasted, and Dad went up the street and bought a Chrysler convertible with wood sides. The next day he had to go back to the dealership on Van Ness Avenue and beg and plead to call off the purchase. It was almost a two Chryslerthousand dollar car anyway so he probably wouldn’t have been able to buy it. But we sure had fun, and was sorry to see him back out. Mom was, well, I’ll write of that another time.  Above, is the Chrysler New Yorker

MercurySuicideWe didn’t have to ride our bikes too far from Dodge to see the new Lincolns and Mercurys – just across Virginia Street. The Mercury (at left) was kind of a ho-hum car, not too much different than a Ford, (who owned Lincoln and Mercury), and the one in the picture has “suicide doors” (like the Lincoln below) – the rear side door hinged in back, so that if the car gets in a wreck the front and back doors jam and no one can get out. But the Lincoln was a great, big luxurious barge, the choiceLincoln 1950 of many rich people and government officials, and the Continental (below) was about the only specialized, souped-up car made in America. It had a V-12 engine – the biggest of the other cars had a V-8. And most had just a straight-line six cylinder engine. The ContinentalReno Motors showroom, which I didn’t know then, would later become the casino for the Ponderosa Hotel, and even later a place called a “men’s club” where ladies would parade around naked. Yecch – sounds  like an air conditioning  and heating problem that needs repair to me but what do I know? I’m only nine years old.

Ya know, this is getting too long. Dad  says the most I should write is four sheets of binder paper or people won’t get through it. There’s more to be written – the Henry_Jforeign cars, the trucks, and the attempts at “compact” cars like theCrosley Henry J (left) and the Crosley – let’s get together another time and we’ll ride off to more early Reno auto dealerships…see ya all soon, right back here…

Photo credit Jerry Fenwick for the Osen Motors Dealership building – the rest, God only knows..

 

On our bikes we ride, out to Hubbard Field!

Thumbs upWell, here we go, together again! I’ve not written for a couple weeks while I was benched for my poor behavior, but now I’m on the loose again – my neighbors here in the new house on Sunnyside Drive, Tommy Weichman and Hank Philcox, have planned an adventure today, to ride our bikes out to Hubbard Field, the airport east of Reno. Mrs. Philcox – Corrine, we sometimes call her is a really good cook and packed some sandwiches, cookies, fruit and stuff for our trip. That new girl up the street, Judy Metzker, wanted to go too but she’s a gurrrllll, and would just slow us down. Yecch.

BambooBombar_T50So, off we go, down to the river and across the bridge at Belmont, then ride out toward South Virginia by that new lake with the island in it. We get to Airport Road and there’s hardly any traffic this Saturday morning, so we cross both lanes of Virginia Street and head east. Going further out Airport Road we can smell the swamp to the south of the road where Mr. Biltz and Mr. Dant have their game farm, and can see Mr. Chrisman’s trout farm out further south in the swamp. We’re Staggerwingstarting to get close to Hubbard Field, because we’re riding alongside the cross-runway and there’s a lot of old planes, most of them salvage from the war that was over a couple years ago.

Hubbard Field has been around for about 15 years [from 1950 when this was written!]. It was named for engineer Eddie Hubbard, a friend of Mr. Boeing’s and who built the airport. Boeing sold it to United Air Lines, three words, in 1936. Not too much has happened since. (United would sell it to the City of Reno in 1955.) Quonset hangarThe main airport is a great big Quonset hut turned into a hangar, and a little control tower set on top of it. Painted on the control tower is, “Reno, Nev. Elev. 4,415 ft.” The man who runs the airport, Mr. Hopper, saw us and motioned us to Towercome over to the fence. “What are you men up to?” he said. His real name was Claude (!) but he was a retired Navy pilot. Navy pilots all get nicknames. His was “Grass.” We just called him Mr. Hopper.

We told him we were just trying to see what happened at the airport, and he told us to park our bikes. We followed him up some rickety stairs and into the control tower’s “cab.” One controller was working. He showed us how they handled airplanes in 1950: If a plane was approaching Reno, the tower would call it, “Plane over Reno Hot Springs approaching Reno; if you can copy this, show your landing light.” If the landing light blinked, the tower operator knew that the plane could hear the radio. (If the plane could also transmit a message, the tower would already know, because the plane would have called tower first!) If the lights didn’t blink, tower would know that he was “NARDO” – no radio, which wasn’t uncommon in 1950. If the plane could hear, the tower would clear him, and give him the wind direction, barometer reading and what other planes were around.

But, if the plane was NARDO, the tower would take one of the big spotlights hung InteeriorLightsfrom the ceiling and give that pilot a green light (he had other triggers also, for a red flash or a white flash}. The pilot would continue his approach and land. When he got on the ground, he wouldn’t cross a runway or taxiway until he got another green light from the tower.  Or if he was taking off, he’d wait for a green signal. The system worked pretty well. He let us play with the lights hanging from the ceiling. We didn’t know it then, but those lights are still hanging in control towers today, for NARDO emergencies

 

BeaconHe let us listen to what the pilots who were equipped with visual omni-range, mostly in the larger airliner types, heard. A steady tone, [for grownups reading this, middle C on the piano, 256 cycles/second!] interrupted every 30 seconds by “dah-dit, dah-dit-dit-dah, dah-dah-dah” – R – N – O in Morse code. This told the pilot riding the VOR that he was locked on to RNO – Reno Municipal Airport. If he had all the equipment, he could also tell where he was.  There was a big bright beacon on top of the mountain north of Virginia City that we could see from all over town.

 Tom, Hank and I looked at each other – we’d really hit the jackpot by meeting Mr. Hopper!

 There was one big main runway at RNO – it was numbered three-four if you were landing south-to-north, or one-six if north-to-south. He told us that that was because your compass would be reading 340 degrees from the south, or 160° from the north. The cross-runway was shorter, and 90° off the main runway at seven and two-five. We could see also the “diagonal” runway that in 1950 ran from the south end of the main runway to the east end of the cross-runway. It was used mostly for parking airplanes now.

 The Nevada Air National Guard was in the process of moving from the Reno Air Base north of Reno to Hubbard Field and the City of Reno was buying Hubbard Field Mustangfrom United. A Nevada ANG pilot named Croston Stead was taking off from Reno Air Base in a P-51 Mustang, and neglected to lock his blower switch on “high.” The engine petered out, the pilot was too low to parachute, and died in the wreckage. The Reno Air Base was being renamed “Stead” in his honor.

 There’s a picture around somewhere but I can’t find it, of 17 Lockheed ConstellationConnie airliners parked on that diagonal runway. Mr. Hughes, who owned Trans World Airlines, bought them from Lockheed and took delivery of them in Nevada, because Nevada has no sales tax. Somebody in the state raised hell, whoops, sorry Mom, raised the roof and some say that this triggered the enactment of sales tax in Nevada. (And Dad said I better write that these were Lockheed 1049s, not the later “Super Constellation” 1649s. I hate it when he looks over my shoulder when I type this stuff.)

 A plane is landing now, a big one, and we’re going to go down and watch it taxi up. DC3UnitedIt’s a United Air Lines DC-3, the pride of the fleet. Mr. Hopper says that most all airlines’ DC-3s are really military C-47s that Douglas Aircraft took back after WWII and “civilized,” getting rid of the double cargo doors and military stuff so the airlines could fly people in them. And a local restaurant, Eugene’s, way out on South Virginia Street, got a contract to provide snacks for the flight to Mills Field in San Francisco, and dinners to the passengers going east to Salt Lake City. He didn’t know it then, but by 1955 Eugene’s would be providing meals for 28 flights a day!

ElectraWe watch the DC-3 taxi up to the Quonset hut and the stair placed against the hull of the plane. It’s pretty impressive. And, leave it to Mr. Hopper, he got us a guided tour through the airplane and we all three got to sit in the pilots’ seats. Pretty cool.

We’ll, it’s getting late so we better shove off for Sunnyside Drive. We thanked Mr. Hopper and he said to come back any time! And we will….

That’s about it for now – come back in a week or so and we’ll see where the trusty Schwinn takes us about the city..

HA! I screwed up a fact and no one caught me for 24 hours – Red Kittell, who flew AC-47s in Vietnam, pointed out at coffee this morning that I called the UAL twin-engine plane pictured a rebuilt C-45. I know better – it’s a rebuilt C-47. There is a C-45 pictured, later known as a Beechcraft D-18, or just a Twin Beech. It’s the first airplane pictured in the column….the State of Nevada had one; used it to bomb the burning Golden Hotel with water in 1962…thanks, Red!

And, in response to a reader email, the last plane pictured is a Lockheed Electra, parked behind a Cord automobile parked behind Amelia Earhart, who flew an Electra.