Turkey time, already?

Some of my columns have become iconic to a time of year; they were crappy when I wrote them 15, 20 years ago and haven’t become any better since, but maintain misleading, boring, non-factual, ill-researched, plagiarized and generally pathetic information. But, if I don’t run the Wreaths & Shamrocks piece on St. Patrick’s Day or the Squaw Valley 1960 Winter Olympics Opening with every new Winter Olympics, I catch hell: “Hey, it’s Thanksgiving; where’s the turkey story?” Just in case anyone alive hasn’t read this yarn that I stole from somebody in 1988, here it is:

Comet3In the dawn of the transition from propeller-driven to jet airliners – c. 1955 – the British DeHavilland builder of the Comet airliner turned to the Yankee builders – Lockheed, Boeing and Douglas – for insight into fabricating test strikes of aircraft windscreens, caused by planes striking birds at low altitude – takeoff or landing. The three Southern California giants gladly sent information about a rudimentary slingshot, to propel a store-bought 15-pound turkey into a windscreen to guage its effect.

Several weeks later, the Brits sent photographs of a windscreen with a gaping holeFrozenTurkey in it, then photos in sequence of a hole in the bulkhead behind the pilot’s head, the demolished flight engineer’s console behind that bulkhead, a hole in the bulkhead separating the flight engineer’s station from the crew lavatory and the interior of the lavatory, also trashed, with the turkey at rest on a countertop surrounded by glass from the mirror above the counter. The final photograph was of a question mark drawn on the damaged lavatory bulkhead. 

“Next time,” the American engineers wrote, “thaw the turkey…”

Reno–Almost the Hollywood of the Truckee Meadows?

Debbie2Please welcome guest writer Deborah Hinman – a decade behind me at Reno High School, retired from Ma Bell and currently enjoying a second career with the Renown Foundation. Debbie’s the lead writer and researcher for the Historic Reno Preservation Society’s quarterly, Footprints magazine, and now files this story:

Reno—home of a motion picture company? And a studio occupying one city block in the Old Southwest? And an investor/business manager/secretary who bears the same name and well may have gone on to become an Academy Award-winning director? Hard to believe, isn’t it?

Hard to believe but true, at least on two counts. The company did exist (however short-lived) and the business manager (if one and the same) would someday be very famous. The studio was never built but unless it was a case of fake news of 1920, it very nearly was.

On September 23, 1919, Articles of Incorporation were filed with the Washoe CountyCapra Clerk for the Tri-State Motion Picture Company. The incorporators were Miss Ida May Heidtman, a wealthy woman from Los Angeles, W. M. Plank and F. R. Capra. Could this have been none other than Frank Russell Capra (at left) as an unknown 22-year-old? Plank was the driving force behind the company. Of his plans, Plank stated, “We expect to spend $25,000 for buildings, and will erect a permanent Alaskan Village and a permanent Western Village. We will use the villages for pictures produced by our company and will also rent them to other producers of Los Angeles who will come here for snow scenes.”

A full-page ad in the Nevada Newsletter, dated January 10, 1920, details the plans for the studio. Tri-State had purchased property in Arlington Heights. The studio would face Arlington Avenue, bounded by Arroyo Street on the north and Pueblo Street on the south. The rear of the studio would face Catherine Street (today Wright Street). The story announced that ground had been broken and construction would begin immediately. The architectural drawings show an elaborate building with large arched windows on the first floor and many smaller arched windows in the floor above. Steps lead to a massive columned portico with a triangular pediment. The poor-quality rendering attached below at least gives an idea of the grandeur of the proposed building, which was to be supervised by architect Stanley C. Flawn.

MovieStudioI believe it’s accurate to say the studio was never built, and definitely not at this location. In looking at the homes on the 1300 block of South Arlington and Wright Streets, most were built in the 1930s when the city was extending southward. According to the Assessor’s records, the earliest house was built in 1926. A blurb in a 1959 Reno Evening Gazette under “40 Years Ago” reads, “Miss Ann Austin arrived in Reno to take the leading role in two movies. She was to perform in the movies The Pulse of Life and The Ranch of the Wolverines, productions of Tri-State Motion Picture Company. The studio was to be located on the Riley Ranch on Arlington Road.” Ann Austin shows one film credit on IMDB for 1941’s Moon Over Miami.

As far as production, Tri-State’s first five-reel feature is listed as The Pulse of Life. The Nevada Newsletter article says the company expects to complete and release the picture before January 27, 1920. Oddly, a film with the same title is listed in IMDB with a date of 1917. None of the names of production personnel match the Reno crew, Ann Austin is not among the cast and it was filmed at Universal Studios, however. The article also announced that still photos from actual scenes were on exhibit at Weck’s Drug Store on the corner of Second and Virginia Streets. The second picture to be produced by Tri-State was listed as Love’s Scars. There is no mention of Wolverines (Tri-State was no doubt waiting for the Western Village to be built).

The Pulse of Life (Reno production) opened at the Grand Theater on April 25, 1920. Read the newspaper ad, “The first motion picture feature to be produced in Reno. With local players in the cast. A dramatic story that is enacted amid scenes of beauty in the environs of this city.” There were no listings for the other two films which probably never got made. Plank and Capra were shown in the 1920 City Directory as residing at the Overland Hotel but just for that one year. I’m not sure what happened to Plank, but if this was indeed the famous director Frank Capra, he certainly went on to great fame and fortune. According to his Wikipedia bio, as a young man after recovering from a burst appendix, “Capra moved out and spent the next few years living in flophouses in San Francisco and hopping freight trains, wandering the Western United States.” The timing fits and he could well have ridden the Southern Pacific to Reno.

Though Tri-State seems to have been disbanded following its first film and has been lost in obscurity, it’s stories like these that give us a real taste of what 1920s Reno was like, with all sorts of entrepreneurs arriving in our city, trying to make a buck with their grandiose dreams. More than likely, no copy of Pulse exists today but I would sure love to see it, or even the still scene photographs. I’ll keep an eye on Ebay—who knows, they might show up some day!

 

Graphics of Capra and structure courtesy Debbie Hinman

Happy Bill Howard, The Nugget’s Flagpole Sitter

Howard

‘Twas in the year of 1955 that the battleship gray and black-and-green high-reach crane trucks – Sierra Pacific Power and Nevada Bell’s respectively – set a spindly 60-foot pole on the north side of B Street in Sparks just across the street from the Sparks Nugget’s brand-new building, set guy wires to keep it vertical, and then lifted a replica of a shiny gold nugget as big as a Chevy Suburban to the top of the pole.  On that nugget they set a platform, and finally a canvas tent on the platform, then aimed floodlights up to illuminate it.

            The Nugget casino south of B Street was tiny compared to the Nugget of today; no I-80 freeway over the building, just B Street out in front doubling as transcontinental Highway 40.  No elephants; this was pre-Bertha.  Last Chance Joe had just arrived to keep an eye on the happenings out in front.  And pilgrim, did he get an eyeful as Happy Joe Howard, the last of the great pre-war flagpole sitters arrived to begin his ascent to the platform atop the tower on August 4, 1955, where he would stay longer than any flagpole sitter would ever sit.  Flagpole-sitting was a rage that died out somewhere in the 1930s, probably for good reason, but the Nugget’s then-owner Dick Graves, already well-along in the process of selling the Nugget to John Ascuaga, was a showman, attuned to every PR stunt in the book. 

            Howard soon became accustomed to life on top of the highest building in Sparks.  He became the darling of the local media and the West Coast scribes when his time on top of the gold nugget started to look like a serious attempt.  A month, two months, dragged by, the number on the base of the “flagpole” being changed daily to indicate the number of days he had stayed there.  The summer of 1955 arrived and the world was in turmoil, but local notice was paid first to Happy Bill Howard, so high above B Street, drawing crowds of people who would stop on the highway to look in wonder at how he could possibly keep doing it. 

            Casual visitors could speak to Happy Bill on a phone provided by Nevada Bell, from the base of the tower to his lofty perch.  Several times daily a truck from the Nugget arrived to lift a basket of grub – the best fare of the Roundhouse Room or an Awful-Awful burger from the Coffee Shop, maybe an iced pitcher of piçons from the Nugget’s long-gone Basque Bar, the day’s edition of the Reno Evening Gazette, and letters from his fans.  He had a radio, no TV.  For reasons unknown to anyone, a band of local idiots tried to incinerate Happy Bill by burning down his tower, forgetting that the Sparks Fire Department and Police Department were housed nearby on C Street then.  The fire laddies doused the fire and Sparks’ Finest threw the perpetrators into the hoosegow for a few nights.  

            Time marched on into the dog days of August.  The West Coast press still loved it, and afforded the Nugget the ongoing publicity in the Bay Area that Dick Graves had hoped for.  Happy Bill’s birthday arrived, with accompanying hoopla and a cake from the Nugget’s bakery, songs from the local media and fans. 

          And the unexpected occurred – Happy Bill woke up with a hell of a toothache one morning, and the Nugget summoned respected Reno dentist Arnold Johannes to his aid.  In a display of humanitarian emergency not one bit concealed from the adoring press, Dr. Johannes was lifted in a Jacob’s Chair-harness with his black bag of drills, pliers, wrenches, laughing gas and an Blue Cross form to Happy Bill’s side, to administer on-the-pole medical aid.  I suspect that the rest of the late Dr. Johannes’ career, excitement-wise, was downhill after that procedure…

            As the leaves turned to gold on the trees lining the Reserve in Sparks, the evening winds turned wintry.  Happy Bill’s reign over the little town was coming to a close, although not for lack of interest – the town and the media continued to embrace his effort, but the simple fact was that his flagpole had no heat, and the night was rapidly approaching during which he’d freeze his celebrated buns off.  Leaving on a high note started to become realistic.

            In a round of PR embraced by Reno and Sparks and the San Francisco press, by then including Herb Caen and Terrence O’Flaherty, Happy Bill Howard was returned on February 12, 1956 to Mother Earth by the same Nevada Bell snorkel truck that had set him atop the flagpole, 204 days – almost seven months – before.     

            Bill’s work on earth, or in this case above it, was done – his effort was vastly successful in putting the little burg of Sparks, known before by very few in the Bay Area as being a little east of Reno, wherever that was, permanently onto the map.  For his efforts he was awarded $6,800 and a sterling silver belt buckle as big as a penny postcard engraved with Thanks from the Sparks Nugget in a very public ceremony.  To our knowledge, he never sat flagpoles again.  And Sparks, whatever it been before that, was defined as a destination town; Dick Graves departing, a legend named John Ascuaga soon to arrive.  .

            I thank several readers for inquiring about Happy Bill Howard and inspiring this story, [the late] Fred Davis – the Nugget’s longtime (1958-1972) publicity director, Sparks native Don Stockwell – he of the ironclad memory, the Nevada Historical Society, John Ascuaga, Nugget executive secretary Nancy Trabert for their help with this yarn.

teext © RGJ, a long time ago

photo Bill Howard © JA Nugget/Custom Publishing Group

 

July 7th – Rollin’ on S.F.’s Stern Grove

Fidlr_helmetIn the early 1960s I bade fairwell to Reno and the University of Nevada and came to roost in a boarding house in San Francisco, known as the “Dair House” on Bush Street between Taylor and Mason – two blocks from Union Square. 

Life was easy at Dair House; I paid them $115 a month and they gave me two good meals a day, a big breakfast on Sunday, clean sheets once a week, a sunny south room with a view to Sutter Street  and free television (Andy Williams in Living Color!). For another $22 a month my Jeep got a parking spot at the new garage at Mason and O’Farrell Streets.

(Pictured above, Arthur Fiedler in the helmet and some clown named Klem Kadiddlehopper, looks a lot like Red Skelton…)

Early on in my tenure there I met the neighbor, who lived in the house across Bush Street. I’d noticed the house before; I had thought it was a fire station  but had also noticed that the doors to the apparatus bays never opened, nor did any engines ever leave it.

It was a private residence, the home of San Francisco’s fire chief. Built to look like  firehouse. Wowee.

FireResidenceIts occupants were Fire Chief William Murray and his wife Alida. Murray had been the chief for about ten years, and was one of the most respected and revered men ever to live in The City – by both the fire community and all its other residents. San Francisco loved its fire service, and Murray was the top kick. And he was a nice man besides, funny as a crutch!

Our nexus was my Jeep. The chief loved Jeeps, and our relationship jelled when I lent it to him to take Mrs. Murray around the block one afternoon. They were gone over an hour and I heard later they hit a considerable number of fire stations, showing it off to the boys!

One weekend morning I was washing it and he came out the door. “Karl, do you know who Arthur Fiedler is?”

“DO I KNOW WHO ARTHUR FIEDLER IS?”

Arthur Fiedler was the larger-than-life conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, FiedlerHeadprobably the nation’s finest. Immensely popular in the music world… I had a couple of his albums – my favorite was a classic on RCA Red-Seal called Concert in the Park – the park being the Pop’s home facility in Tanglewood, outside of Boston. Still have it 50 years later – my friend Deidre McCormick recently transferred it onto a CD. Fiedler was a legend…

I responded to the chief in the affirmative, the chief saying “Fiedler’s coming to town for the Pops summer season and staying with us – you want to meet him, be here at 10 a.m. next Saturday.”

Next Saturday I was indeed outside on Bush Street when a SF Fire Department hook-and-ladder came over the crest of the hill across Taylor Street (Bush is a one-way street down a pretty good grade toward the Ferry Building). No siren. In a jumpseat next to the tillerman was seated, Arthur Fiedler. 

For the uninitiated, Arthur Fiedler was known as a fire-department junkie, who made friends with the fire service in every town he visited. No less than Herb Caen, writing in the Chronicle, once wrote that “Every time Fiedler comes to town [for the annual Pops concerts], something goes up in smoke!” He was followed by a car with his luggage, and staying with the Murrays for this, the summer concert rehearsal and S. F. Pops Stern Grove Summer Concert, toughest ticket in The City.

Sigmund Stern Grove is a beautiful tree-lined concert venue about a block square, out 19th Avenue on Sloat Boulevard toward the SF Zoo. To that shady grove each summer, the SF Pops orchestra and about 5,000 of their fans would congregate to be seated at tables with red-checkered-tablecloths and mimeographed (remember those?) music lyrics and the program, BYO picnic basket lunch and wine. Fiedler would hold forth for two-and-a-half hours of the greatest music in the world – classics, modern, and even the Beatles.

You wanna go to the concert, Karl? We’ll leave from here, next Sunday morning.” I jumped at the invitation. And the following Sunday morning, a hook-and-ladder came over the Taylor Street bluff and we hopped in…out 19th Avenue we went and turned into the grove off Sloat Boulevard.

-o-0-o-

The hour came for the concert – Fiedler, resplendent in a white morning coat with tails, his silver mane tumbling over his collar, strode onto the music pavilion of Stern Grove, as he had done before on half-a-dozen summer days before. The crowd knew they were in for a treat. As is custom, he shook the hand of the first violin – the San Francisco Pops Orchestra’s captain. He raised the baton, and mesmerized the Grove’s denizens for two hours – Aaron Copeland, the Gershwins, Sibelius – their Rhapsody in Blue brought tears to all our peepers. Most of the repertoire was taken from composers still among us.

And then – the moment that all awaited.  Five thousand people in Stern Grove knew it was coming, marked by the seven introductory notes of “Ta-ra-ra-boom-dee-yay.” Now I know that younger column readers, if such there be, never heard of Aaron Copeland, Arthur Fiedler or probably Karl Breckenridge and think I must be daft, but all knew that the concert would end with Fiedler’s signature “Song Fest.” One of the greatest thrills I’ve ever known was hearing five thousand voices – the strong, the soft, the young and those older – lifting their voices in unison, almost, to the music they’d waited a year to hear, and many who had played every stunt in the world to gain admission to Stern Grove, where the tickets were free but “sold” out almost a year ago. One could probably hear us to Stonestown.

Some used the lyrics sheets available on each table, but most had grown up  with the tunes and averred the sheets, singing from memory – “Sweet Adeline”…”Bicycle Built for Two”… “Tavern in the Town” …. “Mandy” … and a half-hour’s worth of such old barbershop tunes – for some reason, the Cal fight song was quite popular. A couple tunes came from “The Music Man” which was newly on Broadway… a couple more from Rodgers & Hammerstein, then “You’ll never walk alone” and “Sunrise, Sunset” became instant favorites new to the Song Fest perennial collection.

The music ended, but no one moved for a while, content to enjoy the shade and finish their wine. I rejoined the Fiedler party, which was actually about a dozen people. Most boarded large sedans for the trip back to their host hotel – the St. Francis, as I recall. Dr. Fiedler and I roughed it, he again in his white helmet, catching a fire truck, for this trip a “triple,” not the aerial we rode out to Stern Grove.

I was amused to see the firemen on that apparatus snap to at the sight of the white fire helmet, emblematic the world around of a fire chief. Fiedler’s had “SFFD” and “Fiedler” on the crown, proof that he didn’t just find it lying around!

Inbound on 19th Avenue we traveled, with the flow of the heavy traffic – no drama from the siren or red lights – just a few of the guys out for a Sunday ride (in the patois of San Franciscans, “inbound” is travel toward the Ferry Building……).

Capture

We arrived at our respective homes on Bush Street, and disembarked the LaFrance. I thanked Fiedler and Chief Murray profusely, and crossed Bush Street to my basement room in Dair House – kicked off my shoes and flopped down on the bed.

“Did all this really happen to me…?”

photo chief residence © Art & Architecture magazine

text © Karl Breckenridge

Fiedler and Skelton  – who knows?!

July 3 – The Beret

Artown continues: This piece appeared in the 1931 Reno High School yearbook, the ReWaNe RHS2009(REno/WAshoe/NEvada).  No attribution given to the student author, who might have penned it on a solitary night at the Santa Fe Hotel.  Some reader might claim it as their work – they’d be 100 years old now. The text begins:

“Introduced into this country about five years ago, the beret has become the sensation of the hour and the inveterate choice of the hoi polloi.  Tennis players have affected berets ever since Jean Boratra, better known as the “Bounding Basque,” made such an outstanding success with his pancake-shaped top-piece. Golfers took it up close on the heels of the tennis fans. And nine-nine and forty-four hundredths per cent of the miniature golfers – or should I say tiddely-winks experts – have adopted the beret as their badge.

BasqueBeret            “There is something uplifting and comforting about the fit of a felt beret on the old cranium. No matter how old or how battered it is, you feel qualified to strut with the best of the crowd when you wear it.  It gives an inexplicable feeling of confidence and self-esteem, which is puzzling, since there are so many other numbskulls wearing “critters” who must be in about the same mental frame.

            “A beret is one of the least distinguished pieces of head-gear ever created. Designed originally for sports, it goes to school, to five o’clock tea, to prize fights, to dances, to weddings and funerals, and even to church.  Every stenographer boasts of a half-dozen in her wardrobe; the screen stars have a beret for e very costume – everyone from the gray-haired dowager to the year-old tot sports one.

            “There are as many ways of wearing a beret as there are of tying knots n a piece of string.  Straight up from the eyebrows, it resembles a French chef’s cap, from which it may have been derived. Placed squarely on a mop of shoulder-length hair, it brings visions of the inverted-bowl and pruning shears haircut popular in our youth, before we were old enough to object.  Placed on the back of the head with hair bushing out at front and sides, a clever impersonation of an Airedale dog is achieved. Worn forward over one or both eyes, it gives that natty, natural aspect, ad infinitum.

            “As to there being anything sissyish in a man’s wearing a beret, we would advise you to say nothing about it if you think so. People have been run out of town for less, and besides, we know a football player who wears one.

            “The beret is ideal for yachting and speeding in a roadster. It sticks like a MilitaryBeretleech in the teeth of the strongest gale. It is the mainstay of the rumble seat rider as well as his protection from the elements. There doubtless would be many more bald pates in this country if the beret had not happened along, just in time to offset the evil effects of hatless rumble seat riding. In B. B. (Before Berets), if a man rode hatless in a rumble seat he was certain of losing at least half his hair combing knows out of it afterwards. Now he doesn’t even lose his dandruff.

            “White berets are considered conspicuous until they have acquired a generous coat of grime. From then on, the object seems to be to get an agent-in-the-dirt effect punctuated by swipes of lipstick and chocolate, with an occasional gleaming white place in a fold. Other colors, particularly tans, are considered bourgeois. Trying to age a tan beret is like trying to sunburn an Australian bushman.

            “Only initiates wash berets; the dirtier they are, the better they feel.  Seasoned veteran say that to wash a beret is net to the sin of washing a sweatshirt, which, according to old theater tradition, brings bad luck to the wearer.”

2001 copyright by somebody, God knows who…

           

 

Swing and sweat with – oh, you know…

JohnnyFeverIt’s alway nice to start the day, as I did yesterday, with an email wishing me a Happy New Year, on the 8th day of June. I don’t know if seasoned-contributor Bud Holland sent it early for next year or the thing’s been banging around in somebody’s computer for five months plus. But it was pleasant and I’ll now share it. It’s Sunday morning now and I’m in a cantankerous mood so I’ll post Bud’s letter and the postcard without his prior permission while giving attribution to none – that’s just the kind of guy I am. And I hope he will send those pictures he refers to toward the end of his note – maybe by the Pony Express or some carrier that will get them from Tacoma to my home in several days – I’m no spring chicken and these five-month transmittal times are killers! In sincerity, I’m grateful to Bud for this info….

“Happy New Year Karl (aka: Ol Reno Guy!),
   First, I have sure enjoyed reading your updates since chancing upon 
your site last year. I went back through some of the archives and found 
the article on Reno homes with a reference to Tony Pecetti’s home on 
Wonder Street. I have attached a scan of a 1942 postcard for ‘Tony’s El 
Patio Ballroom.’

TonyPecetti

“There are some notes on the back that the ballroom was located on Commercial Row & Chestnut Street [Arlington Avenue] and that Tony was a part-owner of the “El Rancho Drive-In Theater” at the Sparks “Y”. As you can note the appearance of Ina-Ray Hutton was filled in in purple ink and has smeared over time or going through the USPS as it was sent to a Rural Route in Lodi, California.
   “Keep up your good work and if it meets with your approval, I will 
periodically scan some of my late 1890s and early 1900s photos for you 
to view and share if you so desire .. oh, a few of the snapshots I’ll 
need help on exact locations.”

   Sincerely,
   R. Bud Holland
   Tacoma, Washington

Here’s another piece about Tony Pecetti

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

Happy New Year to all!

LittleKarlOur editorial staff last evening, New Years Eve, played hooky from our bounden duty to readers of updating this site, and instead streamed a classic: “Smokey and the Bandit” – the Bandit, Snowman, Fred the Basset, the Frog, Beaufort P. Justus, still ranking up there with Butch and Sundance and with Igor and Frawnkensteen for the three greatest shit-kickin’, no-brainer, New Years Eve flicks ever made!

Thanks for coming back and viewing – as in the past 12 years, the site in 2019 will be no cropped-cropped-kfb-bow-tiedifferent – poorly-written and -edited notes about God-knows-what, arriving on your screen with little or no forethought nor schedule – this year with hopefully a bit more reader participation, wherein I’m downplaying the “comments” feature of the site in favor of including my email address below and inviting everything from a short squib about a past column to your submission of a complete new column, that I can post for all to see. Don’ worry about the gramer or speling – I’ll fix that for you. Photos are welcome and encouraged with releases and accreditation, and no downer stuff – this remains an upbeat, non-political place to visit and relax.

On that score, I encourage newer readers to utilize the WordPress “search” function in the box below. Type in a keyword and then click the box and scroll down. You may just find what you’re seeking. If not, email me and I’ll try to help. There are over 420 posts on the site and I don’t know myself what’s posted here! But if it’s somewhere we’ll find it, or maybe just write a new one for all to enjoy.

Now – it’s the kickoff day to a great year, the sun’s out – let’s make a dandy!

KarlBreckenridge490@gmail.com (a new address for column/website traffic; don’t panic, the old live.com address still works. Usually.)

“Shepherd on the Rocks with a Twist” headlines the men of the Black Bear Diner’s epic Christmas extravaganza…!

six_singers
Once again, the men of the Black Bear Diner, in their ongoing effort to elevate the level of culture in the Truckee Meadows, are hosting a concert at the diner (their names are Carbon, Wassenberg, Kittell, diner owners O’Looney and Mavrides, the Reid brothers, Duhart, Felesina, Breckenstein, Cloud, Mastos, Lauren House with his incredible tenor voice and Hinxpeeps with his double-bell euphonium), and with any luck at all they may feel the electric thrill that Professor Harold Hill once enjoyed when Gilmour, Liberati, the Great Creatore, Pat Conway, W. C. Handy and John Phillip SOUSA all came to town on the same historic day, with Lida Rose Quackenbush, the only female bassoon player west of River City in tow.
The doors will open at 7 A.M. with the concert beginning an hour later. Parking is available west of the diner, admission is a dollar in advance, and free at the door.
The program shall be:
  • Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice,
          an opera in one unnatural act
  • Fanfare for the Common Cold in Ab Minor*
  • Birthday Ode to “Big Daddy” Bach
  • The Abduction of Figaro, a simply grand opera
  • 1712 Overture (often mistaken for a later work)
  • Toot Suite for calliope, five hands
  • Suite No. 2 for Cello, All by Its Lonesome
  • Perviertimento for Bagpipes, Bicycle and Balloons
  • Shepherd on the Rocks with a Twist
  • Oedipus Tex, and Other Choral Calamities
  • Music for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion

An element of the concert will be a brief discussion of two Lo Phatmusical events, VanVinikowmoderated by Reno’s own Van Vinikow, Supreme Being of the String Beings, [pictured left] whose string-based ensembles have been enjoyed by many local people for many years. Also on hand will be Wenxiu Wlodarzyk [at right], the director of music history at Manhattan’s prestigious Julliard School, discussing another element of contemporary music.

 Mr. Vinikow will speak of the creation of a musical key, cited above in the popular “Fanfare” and its origin in our own nearby Comstock Lode. The backstory is that Mssrs. SteinwayMackay, Fair, Flood and O’Brien were hosting a fête on the lower stopes of a mine in their lode for which they were lowering a Steinway concert grand piano, purchased only recently at Sherman Clay in San Francisco and brought up Geiger Grade by a team of Clydesdales, into the mine shaft. The cable supporting the piano broke and the piano landed on an unfortunate employee of the mine. Thus the key of Ab Minor came to be known, the key of A flat miner.

Mr. Wlodarzyk will reveal that a recent contest was adjudicated at Julliard, whose rules were that contestants, working in groups, were to write, record and publish the most annoying, repetitive song ever written; a tune which would make people wince in pain when its first few bars were heard, and moreover, a song that would emulate a song three- to five-hundred years old.

TwelveDaysThe names of the student contestants who triumphed were wisely withheld, but the winner, using the term loosely, was held out unanimously to be a groaner titled “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” about which one of its lyricists was heard to exclaim, “Let’s submit this bullshit and see if anyone will ever believe it!”

Regrettably, some took the song seriously and it has achieved a certain amount of notice.

This concert, of course, is also pure B.S. and should not be placed in your “things to do” folder…just funnin’ around

photo credit six singers Richard Termine for The New York Times. some text from The Music Man, other stuff from Peter Shickele

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: