My Term Paper “WHAT I LIKE ABOUT RENO HIGH SCHOOL” – with a comment added from Dee Garrett following its publication…

CarmineGhiaby Carmine Ghia  Sept. 1957

I am writing this under diress pressure for Mrs. Lehners’ English class so I’m supposed to use good gramar and spelling but I’d rather just write down a bunch of stuff I like about Reno High School without all the fal-de-ral and let her correct it if it’s that big a deal to her.

    Miss Stern let me borrow this typewriter. Mr. Marean told us in his Physics class that someday there would be a typewriter that puts letters up on a “screen” like a television’s with a typewriter hooked to it that you didn’t even have to touch. That’s pretty hard to believe! In Mr. Daniels’ journalism class we’re learning to use a “Speed Graphic” camera, a great big thing with film on slides that slip into the back of the camera. We go across the hall to a darkroom and develop the film for the Red & Blue school paper. If it weren’t for one cute girl in my Journalism class I’d Marideeprobably cut it more often and go skiing. Then we take it down to a printer on West Fourth Street by Central Jr. High who re-types what we write on some kind of machine called a Mergenthaler then prints the newspaper. An older guy in our class named Cal Pettingil Petengill Pettengill said that someday we’d all be “alumni” of Reno High and the alumni would put out a newsletter on a “computer,” whatever that is, in about 20 minutes without the typesetter, print it and mail it out for 44¢ a copy which is about eight times what a stamp costs now. I’d like to work on the newspaper if I could learn how to type and spel and use that camera. 

    They’re adding a new building for auto shop and stuff along Foster Drive so theyNewUnderwood can move all the shops out of the basement under the cafeteria. Mr. Morgan and Mr. Cline are in charge of that. The cafeteria is a nice place to eat and has good cinnamon rolls. It’s a good thing we have one because there’s nothing for blocks around the school, maybe Tony’s Dellickatesen Delikatsesenn Delicatessen downtown on First Street, Ramos Drug on California Avenue or Hale’s at Fourth and Vine. Or the Penguin on South Virginia but that’s a pretty tough walk during a lunch hour/ That’s about it. We hear that someday they’re putting up a bridge over the Truckee from Keystone Avenue but no one can figure out how to connect it to California and Booth Streets. So they’ll probably never build it and we’ll walk over the old Booth Street bridge to Hale’s Drugs or that new place they’re building on Vine, the Silver ‘n Gold, or something like that.

I like the music teacher at Reno High, Mr. Tellaisha and his wife Ruby. They built a great pep band for basketball games and assemblies/ Our buddy Rob Johnson is the best drummer in Reno and Paul Smith plays a cool cornet. Assemblies are fun, each class gets to put on one a year and this year we’re doing “South Pacific.” One of our teachers said that there was a lot of language and meaning in that play that Rogers & Hammerstein wouldn’t be able to write fifty years later. But we had fun and sang “Nothing like a Dame” in spite of Mr. Finch telling us to sing “…like a girl.” What does he know? There’s a play opening on Broadway called “The Music Man” that the school will get to put on in a few years with a lot of “Barbershop” singing, whatever that is. Lauren House would probably like it, he’s a pretty good base baretonne altow tenor. We had an assembly the other day with a man named Pete Echevarria, who was the first guy in charge of the new Gaming Control Board and he was really funny. The Huskiettes marched in one assembly; they won’t date dumb guys like me but go for the jocks. We’ll see what they look like in 50 years. Ha!

    The school has a club called “Huskie Haven,” once an old fire station downtown on Center Street with pool and ping pong tables and stuff to read and movies, but StateBuilding2they closed it a few years ago. Now the Huskie Haven, which we all pay a couple dollars for on our Student Activity cards each year, has dances at the California Building and the State Building downtown, and skating nights at Idlewild Park with music and a weenie roast (the fire department floods the ice during the day so it’ll be smooth by dark). They’ve held a few ski days. They get a lot of good records for music at the dances, last Friday night the new Chordettes and Buddy Holly songs. Buddy Holly flies in a little airplane called American Pie to a lot of shows, which sounds pretty dangerous to me.

    Mrs. Lehners probably won’t like my sentences chopped up like this but I’ve got to get this turned in by second period next Friday. I don’t understand the “Sessions” baloney; at Mary S. Doten we just stayed in one room and at Central we had “Home Rooms,” now we have “Sessions” with numbers and the only people I get to meet are the people with names close to mine, Ghia, so all I know are people with last names beginning in F, G, or H. To make it sillier, we have Sessions officers, so we have a president of a group that meets 12 minutes a day.

    We’re decorating the gym tomorrow for the Sophomore Dance tomorrow night, and after the Senior Ball decorating fiasco last year, the girls were told to bring their dungarees and their father’s Oxferd Oxford shirts if they wanted to change after school to work in the gym. The Senior girls came to school in their dungarees and ratty shirts and were sent home before school to get into skirts or dresses. Mr. Finch said this is a school, and no student from Reno High is going to be seen in dungarees with torn-out knees, belly buttons and straps showing under sleeveless blouses, short tight skirts, red-and-blue hair, nose rings, tattoos, and boys with “Bite Me” on their t-shirts. When we walk across to the new Village Shopping Center being built across Foster Drive, we’re going to look GOOD!

    That’s some of what I like about Reno High, and the ribbon in Miss Stern’s typewriter has almost run out. If this were 50 years later I could write, “send me an ‘e-mail’ with your favorite things about Reno High, and if we have an “alumni” newsletter going by then – maybe we’ll call it the Huskies Trails – something like that, kind of catchy, you could put your favorite memories in the newsletter along with mine.

But heck, who knows now what an “e-mail” is in 1957?

© Karl Breckenridge website  2001  – Carmine mentioned a Reno High newsletter coming someday; here’s a link to the Reno High School Alumni Association

This missive arrived by that mysterious “email” later Thursday morning – thanks, Dee Garrett…

“Good Morning Karl:

 Just finished reading your latest  “ O’l Reno Guy” & What I like about Reno High School”., Great stories and being in the class of 1953 I can relate to all of the names your mentioned.

 With coffee cup in hand I pondered about  what I liked about Reno High and here is what I came up with.

1.    Dr. Effie Mona Mack & her Nevada History class. It gave me the bug to learn more and visit as much of the state as possible. She was amazing.

2.    David Finch..Human Relations Class. I am sure he taught us more in that class than we ever learned at home or from older friends.

3.    Ms. Anderson, World History.. This retired Army Captain knew her stuff. Made me want to travel and see many sights & places and I have.

4.    Mr. Finch, as Principal for standing up for the guys that painted the Carson City “ C” in red & blue.

5.    Jerry Fenwick for selling the guys the paint to do the dirty deed.

      That is about it.. I did work a few hours every day during my Reno High days for Thomas Wilson Advertising and that kept me from chasing girls.”

 Merry Christmas to you

 Dee C. Garrett

Reno High Class of 1953

 

 

 

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May 26 • Making new friends, for life..

..how the story began

karlatwhitakerWell, we’ve lived in Reno almost two months now and I’ve started school at Mary S. Doten School down the hill from our house at 740 Ralston Street. My baby sister is almost out of her bassinet, and the little red-haired girl from next door has a new baby brother a few days ago. I don’t know this in 1946 but he’d go on to be a dentist in later life. But I’ll write about them later.

I was playing in Whitaker Park across the street from our house and a car drove up and a guy in a suit got out. He had a great big camera and asked if he could take my picture. I said, “Sure!” and he did, up against a tree on University Terrace with the Eichbush mansion in the background. He asked me where I lived and I pointed across Ralston Street to the first house  down from the corner. He said he’d bring me a picture, and then got back into his car.

A few days later there was a knock on our door just after Dad got home from work in Sparks. Dad went to the door. The man with the camera was standing there with an envelope. He started to give dad the envelope then both men let out a holler: “Bud!” “Karl!” They talked for a half an hour and Dad got him a beer and they kept talking. Dad finally  introduced “Bud” to Mom: “This is my childhood friend, Bud Loomis!” Dad said. “We were buddies before the war…” They talked and talked what seemed like all night.

It turned out that “Bud,” whose real name was E. Frandsen Loomis, graduated from Reno High like my dad did in 1931. Then he went to some school called “Stanford” and became a lawyer. He was a great fan of China, and went to China to be an advocate for American companies doing business in China.

But China got mad at the outside world, and in some year, maybe 1937, closed its borders to Westerners like Bud and threw them all out of China. Bud came home to Reno and brought a whole lot of Chinese stuff with him, Dad thought maybe “bootlegged,” whatever that meant. Bud’s love for China continued. He and his new wife Cebe took the old carriage house for the Reid mansion on Court Street and turned it into a Chinese house and they lived there. It was right across the Truckee River from some land that Bud’s grandfather Andrew Frandsen, a sheep raiser, owned. There were and still are some steps from the Court Street mansion criss-crossing the hill down to the carriage house.

LearBuildingAbout that time Bud’s mother, whose name was Anna Frandsen Loomis but we all called her “Dosh” later after the war, gave the land to her church and hired a Negro architect from Los Angeles to design a church. My family attended that church after the war, it was called the Christian Science Church, but my dad seldom went. I met the architect whose name was Paul Revere Williams when he visited the church in 1951 but this is only 1946 so I can write about that yet. Back to Mr. Frandsen:

Mr. Frandsen and his wife Cebe had all this Chinese stuff with nowhere to display it because the floods kept sweeping it out of their house. So they got some land from the Chinese people in Reno, for whom Bud acted as attorney, on the Truckee further east on Lake Street. He and Cebe would in a few years build a motel they’d call the “River House” with Chinese architecture and some artwork from China in every room. And they’d build a bar at the west end and call it the “Bundox,” a word he learned in China that meant “a remote place.” Bud and Cebe had more fun running the Bundox than he did being a lawyer so he almost got out of business.

Bud and Cebe had children, Drew (Andrew) and Del, who were about my age and we became good friends (they later had two younger sons). Del and Drew have both passed away, Drew killed in a theft of his automobile, but that was long after 1946 so I can’t write about it yet. Their cousins – Bud’s sister Mary Alice Blakely married Bill Blakely, another friend of Dad’s – were Jim, Janet and David Blakely who would also be my lifelong friends. His other sister Inez married Scoop Johnson an insurance man, and their kids also played with us.

But, this is about Bud and Cebe, and Bud’s mother Dosh. She built an apartment house further west on Riverside Drive, that Mr. Williams designed. And she ran the Frandsen Apartments on West Fourth Street that her dad built (he also built the Dania House, that later became the Reno Little Theater on Sierra Street.)

Anyway, they were my new friends, and Dad’s old friends, and became some of the closest friends of the family for many, many years. Dosh would take me in her 1951 Cadillac to get my driver’s license but that was long after 1946 as I write this.

And it’s all because of that picture that Mr. Loomis took of me, without even knowing who I was! Pretty neat, huh?

Come back once in a while and we’ll read some more about growing up in Reno. And the Blakely family and the Sala family and a lot of other stuff. But now I’ve got to walk down the hill to school. See ya.

A turkey lays an egg…and a link to the 1950 Thanksgiving flood…

cometThe non-sensical piece that follows has run innumerable times, usually proximate to Thanksgiving, in the Gazoo when I wrote those columns, on my website when I had it years ago, and a couple times in the SF Chronicle when I sent it in (I didn’t really write it; I merely stole it from someone who told it in a joke and turned it into a news story.) It may be true, or not. The photo is a vintage British airliner, a Comet made by the forerunners of the Airbus consortium. A friend asked me over the weekend, are we going to read that stupid turkey story again? Yes you are; here it is. Maybe the next post will be of some substance. Or not. Happy Thanksgiving to All!

~ ~ ~

Early in the maturation of jet airliners, British aircraft engineers, addressing the dilemma of strengthening pilots’ windscreens against bird-strikes at low altitude, think a Canadian honker vs. a FedEx Airbus getting together over Peckham Lane after takeoff. They knew the United States had much experience with this matter and contacted some Southern California aeronautical engineers, who supplied plans for a rudimentary catapult that hurled a standard, store-bought turkey at a test windshield at a calculated velocity for analysis.

            The British guys fashioned a catapult, and soon after sent the Yanks photos of a test cockpit with the windshield shattered, the pilot’s headrest in smithereens, a gaping hole in the bulkhead behind the pilot’s head and the flight engineer’s console behind that bulkhead totally demolished. Other photos depicted another huge hole aft of the console in the next bulkhead separating it from the crew lavatory, which was also trashed.

            A few weeks later, the Brits received a telegram from the Americans: “Next time, thaw the turkey.”

Here’s the story of a flood in Reno, Thanksgiving 1950

On the campaign trail with Judge Bill Beemer

BeemerFollowing several pathetic attempts by ersatz acquaintances to get the names of some mayoral candidate hopefuls into this column, for whatever benefit that might be, I feel that the time is upon us to speak of the greatest campaign publicity stunt ever orchestrated in our valley.

            Shortly after WWII, an energetic and popular young local boy by the name of William R. Beemer decided that he’d rather be Justice of the Peace of the Reno Township than the insurance magnate that he was struggling to become. Accordingly, he cobbled together an aggregation of sterling 30-somethings as a campaign committee, my father Karl the Elder its chairman, and they convened. With wisdom that can only be acquired by spending an evening at Brickie’s Tavern on West Second Street, this august committee decided that ordering clear plastic magnifying glasses, their lenses about the size of a silver dollar and their handles embossed with “Beemer for J.P” would be the way to go to get their candidate’s name out to the waiting electorate (embossing “Bill Beemer for Justice of the Peace” would have been prohibitively expensive.)

            The magnifying glasses arrived a fortnight later, and relying upon further wisdom attained in yet another evening at Brickie’s, it was agreed that the offspring of committee members could transport the little glasses to the local schools, to be then taken home to the voting parents. I was delegated to take a shoebox full of glasses to Mary S. Doten elementary school on West Fifth Street, a Spanish Quartette edifice built in 1911 to serve as proof positive that 5,000 Reno kids could endure lead-based paint, asbestos and the school cafeteria’s bill of fare until its destruction in 1971 (it was a twin to the present Mount Rose elementary on Arlington Avenue.)  Magnifying glasses were also dispatched to Reno’s other four elementaries, to Billinghurst and Northside junior highs and mighty Reno High School on the Lincoln Highway.

            Even the median students in the slow learners classes quickly deduced that if the magnifying glass were to be held two inches from any sunlit surface, a bright pinpoint light would appear, followed by a wisp of smoke, and with dexterity and practice one could fricassee an ant, write a name in a school handrail or lunchbox, or get the attention of the annoying little red-haired girl right through the shoulder of her smoldering blouse. This scientific experiment was being replicated at all of the Reno schools by the hour of the afternoon recess after the glasses’ arrival and distribution.

            The Reno School District’s board – the Washoe County district would not be created until a decade later – from their lofty head-shed in the classic old Babcock Building on West Sixth Street, spread the word, “Confiscate those God damned magnifying glasses, pronto!” Good luck on that, Superintendent; upon learning that that seizure was imminent they all went into the back pockets of our 501s. For a while. But to the unbridled joy of the Brickie’s Tavern campaign committee, the local papers – the morning Journal and the afternoon Gazette – both carried headline accounts of this upstart young insurance executive who with malice aforethought was attempting to systematically reduce the Reno District’s real estate assets to rubble with these devious little magnifying glasses. Substantiating the mantra that bad publicity is better than no publicity at all, William R. Beemer blew the doors off his opposition and marched triumphantly into the J.P. chambers where he would serve for four professional yet hilarious decades.

  • • •

Justice of the Peace Bill Beemer was – at the time of his passing in 2001 – one of the most knowledgeable authorities of the lore of our valley that ever passed through it, his wisdom usually conveyed in an atmosphere of side-splitting humor. The Judge used one long-standing remark to close the many memorial services that he officiated. He would remind us in his clarion voice that there is no expression of a lasting goodbye for death in the Paiute language; the closest expression that existed for that sentiment was “…see you next time,” a pleasant euphemism for a farewell to a departed friend. He’d then recite that expression in the Paiute tongue. Those of us who had attended the many services that he officiated knew that that closing was part of the liturgy, and we anticipated its arrival as the final, posthumous compliment to a friend – the Judge bestowing that farewell upon them in the patois of the Paiute tribe.

            Having heard Beemer eulogize too many friends, always concluding with the Paiute farewell, I took the bull by the horns one night at a conservatively-libated Sigma Nu Christmas dinner. “I’d like to work your Paiute farewell into a column someday. Say it slowly in phonetic English so I can write it down.” (The Paiute language has no written form.)

            He paused. The assembled brotherhood waited. I extracted a pen and found a napkin to record it for posterity.

            Bill stared at the floor, then at the ceiling, as if it were Heaven. A hush fell. He then spoke softly: 

            “I have no idea.  I’ve never done it the same way twice.”

            Such was the humor of our friend, Judge Beemer. 

            See you next time, Bill. Have a good week, and God bless America…

text and Beemer photo © 2015 RGJ

 

The Beret

Beret
Karl Breckenridge is taking the holiday weekend off. This piece appeared in the 1931 Reno High School yearbook, the ReWaNe (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 close to 90 years old now. Karl thought you might enjoy it:
“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.
“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 leech 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…

Mike’s return – 2005

mt_rose_pic_web

A new/old face appeared at the Eight-Ayem Black Bear Diner Gentlemen’s Laudable Opinions & Solutions Koffee Klatsch early this week.  Mike Sommers had returned to Reno for the Reno High all-school reunion next Sunday – his first trip “home” of any duration since leaving for a 35-year teaching career in Garrison Keillor country.  He had already covered more ground and seen more old friends than I see in a year, and his insights into our valley were thought provoking.  Always looking for a column idea, I put his questions in quotation marks and our responses in open text.

            “When did the MGM become the Hilton?”  Right after it quit being Bally’s – come back next year and it’ll be a big condominium [Grand Sierra Resort]. “I saw where they’re tearing down the Sparks Theater this week – we used to go there to meet all the Sparks High chicks – how can they do that?”  Right, like the Majestic and the Granada theaters – no more. “I miss a chili-cheese omelet at Landrum’s.”  Take your car title there for a loan, seven stools to serve you.  “And the Turf Club with the trumpeter on the roof?  Where do you go for pastrami sandwiches?”  The building got trenched.  Try the Coney Island for a great pastrami. (Our trench, or Trench, capitalized occasionally lately, blew Mike’s mind. [That’s not the half of it; try telling an intelligent person from somewhere else about STAR bonds! We didn’t even go there…] “What’s wrong with train whistles and a car getting pushed sideways a block occasionally?  We grew up with that.”

 “I haven’t heard any Air Guard 101s.  Are they overseas?”  The Guard parked the Voodoos for RF-4s in 1976, sent those to the boneyard in Arizona ten years ago and have herded C-130s around since.  And they may go away now. [We didn’t mean to the Middle East.] “I came in from Stead and saw a great big jailhouse on, what, Parr Boulevard?  Don’t they still have a jail on the top floor of the police station on East Second Street?”  Nope, we’ve got more bad guys now than we did 40 years ago. Funny how we all remember that penthouse on East Second Street.

The Kietzke roundabout  and Da Del Monte Lane      . 

            “I went to see our ol’buddy [so-and-so] in his law office, out somewhere on the end of Kietzke Lane in a complex I didn’t even know where I was.  Wasn’t the conventional wisdom that attorneys all had to be walking-distance from the court house?”  That happened like Topsy – one day it seems most of the bigger firms had bailed downtown for the newer buildings with decent parking.  “I went by Moana Lane and South Virginia and got lost – no Sierra Pacific building.”  Progress – now they’re out south of DeLucci Lane by Home Depot. And they’re not Sierra Pacific anymore, either.  “There’s a Home Depot that far south?  Nawww…”  That ain’t the half of it – there’s a new one even further out south by Damonte Ranch.  “I meant to ask about that – wasn’t Mimi’s Hideaway on Del Monte Lane?  What happened to that?”  Changed it to “Neil Road”; too much confusion with “Damonte” two off-ramps south.  “Why didn’t the Highway Department just use another name for Damonte from the git-go?”  Welcome back to 2005 Reno, Mike. If you like that, you’ll love Zolezzi Lane now; too bad the Texans building Arrowcreek didn’t. Most of our town, you see, is for sale (we didn’t know about the modern firehouse getting yanked down for a ballpark yet. That would come later…)

Where’s the roundhouse?

          “I was out in Sparks, coming back from a mini-city called Wingfield Springs.  That old pit you could see from the freeway is beautiful.”  Hats off to the City of Sparks – they did the Sparks Marina right, as Sparks does most else that they tackle, thank City Manager Shaun Carey.  “And that beautiful old S.P locomotive shop – can’t they try to save that?”  Whoever they is, they is trying.  Last we heard the City of Sparks and Q&D Construction – you remember our old classmate, Norm Dianda, the “D” of Q&D? – were working on a joint venture with Union Pacific Railroad if everyone can get their plates clean enough to pursue it.  (“Q” was the late Babe Quadrio.) [Dunno about that one in the present economy. Hope springs eternal.}

            “Weinstock’s at Park Lane?”  Refer back to the Sparks, Majestic and Granada theater yak – pretty classy-looking theater on the old Weinstock site [becoming known as seagull gulch].  Yecch.   “Answer Man, on Peckham Lane, best hardware store in Reno.  How can the town do without it?”  Refer to Home Depot and Lowe’s.  “Is that bowling stadium downtown really all a bowling alley?”  You’re kidding, right?”  Nope. And at some times it’s actually full of bowlers, with spare time on their hands.  Think about it. But we don’t know; we can’t roll there. We’re just residents.

            “The diversion dam – waterfall – downtown next to the bridge on Belmont by Wingfield Park – that was iconic with Reno for so many years.   But the rapids are neat too.  Did a flood do that to the dam?”  Actually, a computer designed the rapids, Belmont is Arlington and Wingfield Park, formally Belle Isle, is Barbara Bennett Park, but the kayak course and the swimming hole it created by serendipity, probably did more for getting folks downtown than did the Men’s Club.  Our city did good.

            “The University campus has grown.”  Understatement of the year.  “The Bruce Thompson Federal Courthouse.  Is that Jeff’s dad?”  Yup, our classmates Jeff, Judy and Harold, kids of Bruce and Ellen.  Got his own courthouse.  “That black thing on Liberty Street – Close Encounters of the Third Kind leftover?”  The Nevada Museum of Art.  Beautiful on the inside, Mike – I gave him a guest pass.  Knowing him, he’s used it.  Ditto the Harrah Auto Museum – he’ll go there also.  “The city hall in the old FNB building on First and Virginia?  Naww…”    Yeaaahhh.  Have fun parking your pickup in the high-rise garage next door.

            Time grew short.  Mike’s insight – of that which we saw over three decades while he saw condensed into a week’s touring – gave us a new view of our valley.  We agreed to meet at one joint that had survived the racking and wresting of change, Mama Stempeck’s Halfway Club, for lunch.  And Inez didn’t let us down.

            Have a dandy week; goodnight from New York, Peter, and God bless America.

Peter Jennings passed away August 7, 2005 

© Reno Gazette-Journal August 2005

MonkeyTail

Monkey

Often, while on my usual relentless quest for some new quotidian facet of bygone life in our valley, an idle conversation can take a subtle turn and lo, a column just begging to be written hits me right between the horns. While I usually try for a little greater depth than the following item affords, sometimes ya just gotta have a little caprice on the keyboard.

            The talk at men’s coffee groups can transcend from informative and cogent, to complete blather, in about seven syllables, and that happened a few years ago at the Continental Lodge, or whatever they call it now, coffee shop.  The intelligent and significant discussion was of the proliferation of bar codes in pricing, and the capability of a merchant to change prices, up or down, by mere keystrokes on a computer. And the follow-on thought was how much easier that was than re-marking everything in the store. So far, that all made sense.

            But then, local historian extraordinaire Red Kittell brought up MONKEYTAIL, and what was slightly frightening was that most at the table knew what monkeytail is. Or was. Once upon a time there was a venerable store in western Nevada named Eagle Thrifty Drug & Market – we know them now as Raley’s. Eagle Thriftys [which was the correct plural spelling that the paper turned into “…ties”] sold everything under the sun, and their basement on the Wells Avenue store [now a Hispanic market] was a hardware/camper/TV and radio/auto mechanic/outdoor furniture freak’s paradise. All of their wares had a price on stick-on labels, with letters below the prices. A few hapless employees divulged to the profane world what those letters stood for, never to be seen ever again (it’s rumored they reside under the produce section on the Eagle Thrifty-turned-Raley’s Peckham Lane store.) In the monkeytail code, the “m” represented “1”; the “o”, “2”; the “n”, “3”, and so forth up to the “l” for zero. We learned over time that if we were looking at a Coleman lantern that was marked $16.99 and the letters under it were “TAE,” that the store had paid Coleman $7.85 wholesale.

            It turned out that many retailers had such a code, and some were dandies; they had to be of 10 letters, none repeating. They started surfacing when bar codes and cash register scanners started ruling the west. Anyway, go out to the garage and find an old broom or a can of paint that came from Eagle Thrifty. Armed with this information, available nowhere else in this newspaper [OK, so I wrote this a while back, like 2001, in the RGJ], you can become privy to what the Gastanaga family that owned the chain made off your transaction these 40 years ago.

Father Bob’s Car, and a 1959 newspaper

ChevGoldenGateJust as 500 Reno and Sparks kids vowed 50 years ago to return to the Tower Theater on the next Saturday morning, with 14 cents and the top of an Old Home Dairy milk bottle as admission, to find out if the swamp creature would really munch on the fair maiden as it was starting to do when the episode came to an end, Homefinders flock to page 8 for little other motivation other than to find out what personalized license plate FRBSKR on the late Monsignor Robert Bowling’s plain-vanilla Chevy Caprice stood for, as promised in a recent column. You read it above: Father Bob’s Kar. Such was the wit of Father Bowling.

You have also read here that columnists who write about architects, churches, banks and railroads should have their heads examined, and I will now add “irrigation ditches” to that list. A literary house of cards built upon ditches just floated downstream due to conflicting information and will be rebuilt.

Therefore, the column for this Saturday morning will be taken from the text in a newspaper I was researching for ditch info, this a Nevada State Journal [precursor of that paper merging with the Reno Evening Gazette] of a day or two before the Fourth of July of 1959. (The hardest part of newspaper-microfilm research is sticking to the topic while ignoring the news of the day!)

On that day Topic A, aside from the Reno Rodeo in progress and Fred MacMurray winning the Silver Spurs award, was the upcoming bond issue for a convention center somewhere in Reno and a site search team headed up by warehouseman Frank Bender, and a beef already going on over room taxes (repetition herein of “imagine that” and “dayja-voo” could become frequent, as some things never seem to change.) [We did eventually build the Centennial Coliseum, now convention center.] Some old friends and column readers were the flag girls for the rodeo, chicks like LeeAnn Zimmerman, Anne-Louise Cantlon, Georgia Teskey, Karry Devincenzi, Susie Wedge and the Wilson twins, Marilyn and Kay. Cindi Codding, later the bride of Sterling the Butler and Joe Murin, same guy, and later not, won a city parks art contest.

A “freeway” down Third Street, along the railroad tracks? Who the Hell thought of that? Let’s put it somewhere else, maybe north of the University campus, screamed the editorial. Walter Baring introduced a bill to compensate homeowners along a downtown “freeway” route. The Reno city dump closed on June 30 – up on the end of what would later be Sutro Street – and Reno, Sparks and Washoe County officials had their heads together on where to put a replacement facility, great timing to address that issue. Roger Brander was named by the city council as coordinator for the upcoming 1960 Olympics – he died in the East Bay as a passenger on the first aircraft hijacking, three years later on a hijacked airplane, a full column about that somewhere in this tome. The Lancer restaurant opened on the bluff across from present Galena High School (it would burn to the ground on July 30, 1971.)</p><p> In our 1959 newspaper we read that Ted Patrick, a fixture at Nevada Bell and father of our classmates Mimi and Nancy, husband of Billie, passes away, too young. Businessman’s lunch at Newt Crumley’s Holiday Hotel this day was seafood and rice – crab legs, shrimp, lobster and scallops in the Shore Room, a buck ninety-five with a beverage. The Governor’s Mansion got a dishwasher and garbage disposal. The 1959 Hot August Nights are only a month away? Get thee by Lee Bros. for a used ‘56 Ford, $845, or a ‘57 Chevy $1,395 (with a heater). Realtor Mat Gibbons has a starter home for sale in Sparks, $12,000 for three bedrooms, a one car garage and asbestos siding (ouch).

A two-bit union agent named Jimmy Hoffa told a congressional committee that he was “no damned angel,” and look where it got him. Romance of Scarlet Gulch, a corny Comstock melodrama – he ties her to the railroad tracks, as the audience gasps – with an all-Reno amateur cast moves to Piper’s Opera House for the summer; for many summers to follow it played at the Liberty Belle in July, at Piper’s in August – great times, music and laughs. The Bud Connell Trio played Vista Gardens, two miles east of Sparks on Hwy. 40, Bud and the Gardens now long gone. Carl Ravazza played at Harolds seventh-floor Fun Room, Jimmy Durante at the Tahoe Cal-Neva, and Ish Kabibble at the new Harrah’s South Shore (before the showroom was built.) First National Bank, with 19 offices statewide, elevates E.H. (Bud) Fitz to VP-Operations and Harold Gorman to First VP, announced by FNB president Eddie Questa. [Ravazza and his bride Marcie would eventually buy a ranch south of town – now Ravazza Road – and became popular folks in the community. Carl gave up singing Vieni Su to become a Realtor, worked with my dad for 22 years, and never sold a house – which was exactly the way he and Sr. wanted it.]

There were 174 motorcycle license plates issued throughout the state, an out-of-town trucker was taken to the Reno city limits and thrown out of town for fighting at Mac’s Club on South Virginia Street, and Nevada’s entry to the Miss Universe Pageant in Long Beach was 5’-7” tall and 36-23-36 back when ladies had measurements in newspapers. Like to meet her today…

The sports page? A great one in the old Journal – the night before this paper ran, the Cleveland Indian’s legendary pitcher Herb Score fanned 14 Kansas City Athletics (that’s right, Kansas City.) There was an article about the start of a third major league, with interest from Montreal, Toronto, Miami and Buffalo. No league divisions then, just Boston alone at 9½ games out in the American League’s cellar, no All-Star Break in 1959, and the Dodgers and Giants tied up for the National League lead, (and yes, both teams by then were on the west coast.) Locally, a bunch of hotshot young golfers were tuning up for the National Chamber of Commerce Junior Tournament, my contemporaries Skosh Bell, Skip Meeks, Harry Massoth and Rudy Semenza, all mentored by popular pro Pete Marich. Cam Solari was the lead caddy. (Just kidding – Cam, my childhood neighbor, was first alternate to the delegation.) Good guys, all.

And that’s the way it was on the eve of the 1959 Fourth of July – a rather impromptu collection of notes for a Saturday morning. Have a good weekend and a safe short week ahead – let’s see some flags flying this Friday, and God bless America.

• • •

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The Wells Avenue Trench

tunnel

On a bright afternoon soon after World War II, two playmates whose names are Eddie Pine and Jim Miller left the brand-new Veterans Memorial School on Vassar and Locust to walk to their homes, across South Wells Avenue from each other on the corner of Claremont Street.  Crossing Wells was difficult, even then, because the new underpass connecting Wells to Highway 40 – East Fourth Street – made it easy for a lot of cars to use the street to get to southern Reno.  It would be easier for Eddie and Jim, and the hordes of other kids that lived on the east and west side of South Wells, to get together if they had a tunnel between their houses.

            So Jim and Eddie began to dig, in Jim’s front yard.  They spent an afternoon digging, moving not a great deal of earth with only the one shovel that they had, taking turns.  But they made a small dent in the task.  The tunnel was underway.

            Jim’s dad, Walter, came home from his job managing the downtown Sprouse-Reitz department store, and assessed the new hole in his front yard.  The boys explained their endeavor and then dove for cover, expecting the worst.

            “You boys need another shovel?  Maybe a pickaxe?” Walter offered.  The boys concurred that more equipment would be good.  While they were digging the following afternoon, Walter came home and brought them another couple of shovels and picks.

            The dig continued; a few more of the Wells Avenue Gang – now comfortable that they weren’t going to wind up in the soup for digging up the Millers’ yard – joined in.  Walter brought a few more shovels.

            The hole grew – two, then three feet deep, from the size of a card table to a four-by-eight blanket.  A rope ladder was fashioned to get down into the pit.  Still more kids showed up each day to help, bringing their own shovels.

            As the hole reached five feet in depth, a bucket-brigade type of excavation system was devised.  Walter brought some buckets.  Kids were making a pilgrimage from Veterans School to Wells Avenue.  Grownups were starting to stop by and watch.  Even the girls in the student body were chipping in; digging, hoisting the buckets, barrowing the dirt to the growing tailing pile alongside the Millers’ home.  The hole was approaching eight feet deep, now getting a little soggy during the day, easing the afternoon’s dig.

            Walter came home one day and noted that the hole was close to the requisite depth, and soon the direction of the excavation would turn toward the sidewalk, then under the street to Eddie’s yard.  The neighborhood excitement was almost overwhelming, and the whole education structure at Veterans Memorial was going to pot while this project moved ahead.

            But, Walter said, could you guys just level the floor of the hole a little bit in this direction for a few feet before starting toward the street and the Pines’ house?  And so they did.

The time was approaching to start the stope under the street.  They perfected the floor of their cavern, by now over eight feet deep, the work product of scores of their classmates.  And all the while, the neighbors to the site and the teachers at Veterans Memorial, acutely aware of the excavation, scratched their heads in wonderment about what was going on on the corner of South Wells Avenue and Claremont Street, and why wasn’t Walter Miller coming unglued?

            Eddie and Jim decided that the hole was deep enough.  The tunnel would begin.

• • •

Virtually the entire student body of Veterans Memorial School marched from the school on the afternoon that the hole would start becoming a tunnel, picks and shovels over their shoulders, boys, girls – researcher Ghia was unable to confirm that they were whistling “Hi ho, Hi ho…” but it could have happened that way – this yarn is basically founded on fact.

            They approached Jim’s house, ready to go to work and turn the bore toward Eddie’s yard.  Then they looked down into their excavation.

            Resting on the floor of the pit was a tank – a brand-new, black furnace oil tank, about four feet around, and five feet long.   It’s probably still there.

• • •

The kids got a good laugh out of it, for they all knew deep down that a tunnel was out of the question, but didn’t know how to call off the project.  And we’re told that Walter made it right for the whole neighborhood.  He’s since passed away, but is remembered as a pretty good guy by the Wells Avenue Gang…

God bless those who dug, Walter, and America.