Feb. 4, 2018 – one year today!

 BaffertHow this began a year ago..

Well, it’s been a year since I got bored waiting for a ball game to come on to Dad’s Philco radio and started writing about what was going on in Reno and around our house at 740 Ralston Street across from Whitaker Park. Now it’s the same thing, but this year it’s a Sylvania radio Dad bought from his friend Mr. Saviers at his store on West Second Street and West Street. Mom said he should wait for “television” to come to Reno but Dad said that would be a couple more years so he bought the Sylvania. The game starts in three hours, between the “Patriots” and the “Eagles,” which I can’t even find in my almanac now.

A lot has happened in the past year; and more has not happened also. There’s some stories I’d like to tell, but since I was only six when I started that “column” and it was only 1946, a lot of stuff hadn’t happened yet and I tried to stay in the time frame. I realized that would just drive me crazy so I started fudging the year up to like 1950. Now, it’s a year later and I’m going to be even less limited by the year – I’ve stories to tell you. We have moved now; to Sunnyside Drive, at one of the most northwest corners of Reno, with only a few homes to the west or the north. My new neighbors are Henry Philcox, Hugh Barnhill, the Foley sisters, Tommy Weichman and some new kids whose dad just bought a lot from my dad on Irving Circle, named by my dad for his uncle Irving. There’s six kids in that family, all close to my age; they’re moving in from Loyalton and their parents Ken and Helen Metzker own a big lumber mill west of Reno. But Henry’s my closest neighbor, and friend.

Not only do we have a new house on the southwest corner of Sunnyside and Peavine, we have a new car – Dad sold another lot on Irving Circle to Mr. Winkel, 1950Catalinawho owns a Pontiac dealership downtown next to the Tower Theater (I’ll have to write about that soon!) It’s a  yellow-and-brown  “hardtop convertible” 1950 Pontiac “Catalina” – the first one, and it looks like a convertible, inside and out, but has a regular roof but no window pillars. It has a lighted hood ornament, in the shape of an Indian, and I suppose that Lees1some year I’ll write that and someone will say “what’s a hood ornament?” and some editor will say “You can’t type ‘Indian’.” My sister’s little playmate Pam Lee sent a picture once of her dad’s drive-in on West Fourth Street, and I think that’s mom’s Catalina in the picture. I blew the picture up real big but still can’t see the plate, but can tell is has four numbers so it could be “3090” (Nevada added the county initial in 1954; I still have “W3090” on my Honda. Yes, with the “59” expiration year!

So I’ll write about a lighted whatever on the hood of the car in the shape of an indigenous person. Maybe I won’t write at all… By the way, what’s a “Honda”?

My Aunt Isabel in Petaluma, (California, where Mom is from) gave me a used Sears1950Sears Typewriter Roebuck typewriter for Christmas because she knows I like to write (someday if I can find my story, and I think I can, I’ll tell you about throwing Aunt Mittie off the Fourth Street Bridge in Petaluma under the props of the Steamer Gold. It was an exciting day for Petaluma).

My sister Marilynn and I didn’t like Mittie…nobody did, so far as that goes…

I’ve been contacted by readers about stories I ought to write. And some I will, others I know of also but since there’s family or feelings still around I stay away from them. As I did in later life. I know all about the man who drowned his wife in the bathtub; it happened two doors away from me. But it’s not a good memory to bring up. And yes, the two boys my age who drowned in the Truckee in 1952. We knew them both, they were brothers, lived a block from us on Seventh Street. They were pulled out of the water by a friend of my dad’s, Dick Rowley, and the other by a man named Bob Williams, who would later shoot up a courtroom in Nov. 1960 before he gave his wife half his business in a divorce. Dad said he should have given it to her… And I’ve been asked about the 14-year-old boy who drowned in Virginia Lake in 1952, June. By the Cochran Ditch outlet on the west side. Yes. True. But no story here

Yeah, there’s lots of stories. I sometimes wish, and probably will all my life that a few other guys would start writing stuff down too before it’s all forgotten!


Back to work. Pardon the outburst.

I met two of my little playmates Debbie Hinman and Karalea Clough yesterday at an old federal office building on Wells Avenue, that later became a place called Posie Butterfield’s and even later, Rapscallion. (But I don’t know about any of that in 1950 yet. And the moniker “Rapscallion” is probably like the Indian on the hood RapsPatioornament or the man with the eastern European surname from Marin County who once told me that I couldn’t write “Paddy Wagon” in a Sunday column because it was upsetting to the Irish. I’m mostly Irish and responded that I didn’t give a shit what he thought. Boyoboy, will Mom be mad that I wrote that! And the Gazoo editor didn’t like it much more. Some day I’ll tell about the “Gazoo”.)

Anyway, back to the point, if there is one, Karalea is a librarian/researcher at the Nevada Historical Society in the basement of the State Building downtown, and Debbie was a switchboard operator with all those cords and plugs in the Reno Telephone building on the river, but recently went to work for Washoe General Hospital in their foundation department. Not bras and girdles, she reassured me, but twisting tails and scaring up $$$$$$$ to run the place with.

Debbie is a leader in Historic Reno Preservation Society, and is working on a “walk,” where she meets a bunch of people somewhere and walks around with them pointing out buildings and who lived there and stuff like that. She’s doing a new one next summer in the Country Club Addition of Reno, you know, almost out of town across from the Washoe Golf Course east to Virginia Lake. It got its name from the country club that was open briefly in 1935 until some rude gambler, possibly the owner, burned it down. Someday, but not yet, there would be tennis courts and an old folks’ home there. But not yet.

RumbleSeatSo, Karalea is going to drive (she has a car and a driver’s license!) and Debbie is going to sit in front next to her and take notes while I’m going to sit in the back seat and describe the neighborhood. The Reno Bus Lines run right down Watt Street; maybe they could pick up the people on the tour! Then we’re going back to that federal office on Wells Avenue for more milk and cookies andBus 109 treats.

I hope her car doesn’t have a rumble seat. THERE’S another word like hood ornament!

This is getting out of hand – it’s too easy to write now that I have my typewriter. Come back and see me occasionally, or come by the federal building on Wells for a sarsaparilla!



Jan. 29, 2018 – the Hancock mansion by Virginia Lake


Well, when I rode my bike from Ralston Street to California Avenue last week and watched the men pull the mansion down Plumas Street to make way for Mr. Ramos’ drug store, which would later become the Cheese Board, I kind of screwed up. The house wasn’t going to Virginia Lake, that was another one. I knew I was in trouble when I rode out again last weekend with my Brownie Hawkeye camera to take some pictures for you. There was no way they could get that big house down any of the hills at Country Club Drive or Mountain View, and it was too big to take along Lakeside Drive. So they left it at the southwest corner of Mt. Rose and Plumas Streets. My little buddies Dee Garrett and Rosie Voyles wrote me, and said it was haunted. (And it’s not the recording studio-turned-law office that’s on that corner now.)


                          photo 2301 Lakeside Drive © Karl Breckenridge 1975

So, I have to admit that – but – since we’re out by Virginia Lake anyway I’ll tell you about another house that was built eight years ago, in 1941. It was finished the same year that Virginia Lake first filled to its rim. I stopped at the house at the corner of Audubon and Lakeside Drive, at the bottom of the hill down Country Club Drive. There was a nice man standing by this big house, and I got talking to him.

It turns out that his name was Luke Hancock. He was pretty rich, Dad said, and had formed the Hancock Oil Company and sold it years ago to the Pure Oil Company. He came to Reno before World War II and spent some time at the Country Club on Plumas Street before it burned. He told me that he stood on a barren bluff overlooking a big hole in the ground a mile around watching WPS crews planting trees by the dirt road ringing what would soon be Virginia Lake. 

He had planned to move to the Holmby Hills of Los Angeles County, but immediately came to like Reno more. He had his architect in San Francisco change the house he was going to build in LA, to suit this site. Although his five children were mostly out of the house in 1940, he built this big six-thousand square-foot house anyway.

Luke invited me in to see his house. Even though I was only eight, a lot of things stuck out in my mind – a mansion with a grand staircase winding up to three huge bedrooms. (The little oval Arabesque window in the master bath fascinated all those who strolled around the lake until the home was totally remodeled in the early 1980s.) It had a big kitchen on the west side of the house with an adjoining “butler’s pantry” with all the dishes and stuff. Those rooms opened up to a breakfast room with a curved wall on the south end of the house. From there, was a huge dining room. And the walls of both rooms had what he called “fresco” art. He said that he had hired an artist to come from France to do the fresco walls – a dark woodgrain with some hanging plants in the dining room, and a bright scene of a bayou in Louisiana from a photo he had taken, of a shadowy bayou with sunlight radiating through Magnolia trees with Spanish moss hanging from them. The artist came to America in 1940 and did this house and a few others in Los Angeles for an architect named Paul Revere Williams.  Pretty cool.

The living room had a big window that looked out over Virginia Lake, where the trees were now five or six years old and looked pretty nice. It was a large room with an egg-and-dart coving around the ceiling and what Luke called “parkay” hardwood floors. I looked the word up later last night and it’s parquet but that doesn’t look right. A big front door opened to the front porch, and a driveway that went from the bottom of the hill to the front, around the side of the house and out to the street. I asked Luke why the peephole in the door was so low; he told me that it’s because he and Mrs. Hancock were both quite short, and they designed the house with the peephole, the basins and the counters and the clothes hanging rods in the closets, all low so they could use the easier.

We went down to the basement, which was a real treat – the big southeast room was just a fun room with all kinds of stuff in it, but what was really neat was the collection of dolls – Mrs. Hancock collected dolls and had over a hundred dolls from all over the world, from Europe and China also, and had a lady seamstress almost full-time to make clothes for the dolls, which were from a foot to three-feet tall. The room would have been pretty weird to be in at night! (I learned later that when Mrs. Hancock passed away, and she outlived Luke, that a collector would buy her dolls for almost a million dollars. Some of them were pretty rare…)

We went up two flights of stairs to the bedrooms – three rooms, all good sized bedrooms each with its own bathroom and tub and shower. There was a sitting room up there too, and two rooms had private balconies out over the lake.

The coolest room in the house was the library, which was on the main floor. Luke had a lot of pictures, and books, and maps, and many of them on display. A huge fireplace comparable in Reno only to the fireplace in the adjacent living room.  Beveled- glass, beam trusses resting on ornamental iron corbels to the cathedral ceiling. The walls were rich, brown wood like walnut or oak, with a lot of brass fixtures and lamps and a ladder on wheels to roll around and reach books on the upper shelves. Luke reached around a cabinet and got a crank, a long handle with a loop on one end. He said, “Watch this!” and hooked the crank around a concealed hook on one of the top bookshelves. He turned the crank, and the glass ceiling, which was kind of a green cut-glass with flowers and stuff in it, started to open. First an open hole in the center, then opening further like the iris in your eye, opening larger with each turn, until finally the sun started to beam into the room through the roof. Pretty neat. And I can write that he and Mrs. Hancock passed away and the house sat for a long time, until only this seven-year-old kid even knew it was there! No lie – I showed in the early 1970s this sunroof, to a couple of grownups, who didn’t know anything about  it. But this is 1949 and I don’t know anything about that now either.

Luke and I went out into the yard, into a garden house with a whole lot of stuff stored in it. He touched a button, just for a second, but it was long enough to start a generator that he had in the little shed. It was built by Koehler, now Kohler, and ran on propane. It had enough power to light the minimum of lights in the house, to operate the elevator (which would be dismantled I 1974), to run a couple refrigerators and the bomb-shelter which was built in 1952.

Having made friends with Luke, I returned to the house several times until he passed away. In 1952 he converted one of the three bays in the garage to a bomb-shelter, during the height of the Cold War. It had several beds, a water supply tank that was constantly being re-circulated to keep it fresh, a forced-air filtration system, a propane heat source, basins and a tiny shower and lots of books and stuff to read. He stocked it with food, which still had the labels of Washoe Market and Sewell’s Market on them. And a classic Zenith Transoceanic long/short wave/AM battery-or-AC radio – state of the radio art in 1951 and for many years to follow.  The door was double – one looking for all the world like a jail-door with bars, the other a heavy, metal airtight door. Luke said they built this way because when the Russian bombers were enroute, the jail door would be closed to keep panic-struck neighbors from crowding into your shelter and eating all your goodies, but would allow the concussion from an atomic blast to blow over the shelter and not collapse it. After the blast had occurred, the air-tight door would then be closed to keep the death rays out.

Hey, I’m seven years old. It all makes sense to me….

Anyway, that was my meeting with Luke B. Hancock at his Mediterranean-villa home at the southwest corner of Virginia Lake – the home and the lake each in its infancy (pretty neat writing for a seven-year-old, huh?!) I went back many times until it sold out of the family (they had five children!) in 1974. It sold, by the way for $205,000…

And I got in a lot of trouble for taking the aerial picture with my Brownie Hawkeye and awakening half of 89509 as I buzzed over too low on a Sunday morning. I say this because it’s copyrighted, I suppose, but this 2018 internet posting is the first time it’s ever been published so if you steal it, give  attribution, please (the year is 1975).

So that’s my bike ride for today; it’s a long haul back to 740 Ralston Street but come back later and we’ll have another adventure!!!


Jan. 21, 2018 – Ridin’ the ol’ Schwinn around the village ~ clearing the Ramos Drug site in 1951


BaffertWell, we’re coming up on the first anniversary of me writing down about my adventures from 740 Ralston Street – I started on Super Bowl Sunday in 2017 and here it is almost a year later; I’m seven years old now, a year older and wiser; my little sister Marilynn is out of the bassinet into the playpen. The little red-haired girl still lives next door, now she has a baby brother who will grow up to be a dentist. Dad has his own office now, away from A Street in Sparks to 119 East Liberty Street, across the street from Southside School.

The war’s been over for over a year now, a lot of my friends’ dads are coming home, the merchants’ shelves are starting to get stuff on them, and the Army’s vehicle repair center behind Washoe County Hospital is being dismantled. Quonset huts are going all over town, we have one at Mary S. Doten and there’s a barracks at the corner of Tenth and Ralston Street a couple blocks from my house, by my buddy Don Hartman’s house.

housemovingI’m riding my bike further away from the house than I’m supposed to, all the way down to California Avenue where dad is going to build a new office, I’ll write about that someday. But today, and it’s actually 1951, there’s a lot of activity on California Avenue where Humboldt Street comes in, by Powell’s Drug Store that the Lee family built for their car-leasing company upstairs. A crew of men has pulled away all the foundation and rubble under an old white two-story house, pretty fancy place at that. The men are from the Bevilaqua family, who moves houses all over Reno. Dad says it’s not unusual for someone to sell the lot where a house is, and take the house to a new place in town or Sparks.

LevyMansionThe old house they’ve got up on timbers now was a Reno mansion, which looks a lot like Mrs. Levy’s house down the street at Granite Street, which would later become a bookstore named Sundance or something, but I don’t know about that yet. Anyway this big house is up on blocks and the Bevilaquas are putting wheels under the timbers. I heard a guy say that tomorrow they’re going to tow the house out by that new lake south of town, Virginia Lake. Boyoboy, I’m going to get skinned tonight but I’m coming back down tomorrow and watch them move it if I haven’t been grounded.

Aha! I told Mom I was at the Christian Science Reading Room on First Street all Truck6x6afternoon, so I’m a free kid still. Down the hill I go to the river, to the new Chestnut Street bridge and across the Truckee, up the hill on Belmont to California Avenue. Then down toward town where all the men are back. A great big truck is sitting pointing down Humboldt Street, with an iron towbar hooked to the house. They’re getting ready to move the house!

I learned that the place is being moved because a pharmacist named Mr. Ramos, who has a drug store at Second and Virginia Streets downtown, is building a new drug store on the site of the house. He’s going to live upstairs in the drug store. The land next door to the east, to Hill Street, was going to be leased to Texaco for a service station operated by a friend of dad’s named Jess Brooks. His daughter Patsy is a real looker but I’m too young to look. (That, however, will pass.)

They start up the big truck. Both of Reno’s motorcycle cops are on the street and there’s a bunch of guys from the power company and Bell Teleephone on the roof of the house with poles. They will ride on the house while it goes out Plumas Street, and lift the power and phone lines to allow the house to pass under (the brick chimney has been taken off the house). They’ve moved some of the wires and trimmed some trees back, and planked up Plumas Street where the house will pass over the Cochran Ditch. The house is heavy and might collapse the street.

The ugly old truck starts to pull against the drawbar, and make a huge racket and motor_copspumps black smoke from its two exhaust pipes. It shakes and the tires on the two back axles slip a little bit but the truck keeps pulling. All of a sudden the house moves and starts to rise where the wheels under it hit the little uphill grade from the basement, to California Avenue. It keeps pulling, roaring and smoking and eventually all the tires are on the pavement and the truck starts to turn to the left, toward Plumas Street. The motor cops stop the traffic. All the movers and the people who work in the offices cheer, even Mr. Hardy, in the big house next door across the alley, is watching from his front porch of what we now call the Hardy House. And Mom is really going to be mad at me for writing “cops!”

But what else is new. The truck and the house reach Plumas Street and it becomes clear how much the house being moved looks like the Levy Mansion. Granite Street doesn’t line up with Plumas yet. In fact it wouldn’t even be called “Sierra Street” south of the river for a few more years. The truck swung wide to the left then started a right turn, to go south on Plumas. The men on the roof lifted wires and walked to the “back” of the house, holding the wire and letting it fall behind the house as it moved. They were pretty good at it, as there were a lot of houses being moved around Reno and Sparks. But not as big as this one.

SpeedGraphicI rode my bike along behind it. A few other guys rode along too, and a photographer from the Nevada State Journal with one of those big black Press Graphic cameras. There would be a picture of it in that paper in the morning.

We traveled south on Plumas Street, and passed slowly by Billinghurst Junior High School. In a couple of months the new Reno High School would open at the bottom of the California Avenue hill and a lot of kids will go there. We passed by my friends Ty and Bill Cobb’s house at Martin Street, across from Billinghurst.

We got to Mt. Rose Street, beyond the planks over the Cochran Ditch where all the men were worried about the weight, but the planks held. Mt. Rose was the south city limits of Reno and there wasn’t much beyond there – just a few houses. Somebody said that Plumb Lane, with a “b” on the end of Plumb because it wasn’t named after a Plum but a family, was going to be extended eastward from Arlington to South Virginia, and then all the way to Hubbard Field, our airport.

HA! I thought. I may not live long enough to see Plumb Lane go all the way to Hubbard Field!

It’s getting close to my bedtime and I know Mom and Dad are going to make me turnSlim the light off, so I’m going to quit writing tonight. Within the next week I’ll tell you about getting the house all the way out Plumas Street where it was going to be placed, and we’ll poke around Virginia Lake a little – it’s a fun place.

So – I’ll leave you here – the house has been moved as far as Plumas and Mt. Rose Street and it will stay there all night. Come back in a while and we’ll pedal back to watch them put the house in it’s new home by Virginia Lake!

See ya…

Christmas at Keystone Square and Shoppers Square, c. 1970

SlimFollowing a couple of “Walking” columns, I received an interesting email: “I’ve lived here for thirty years and I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”   I have a flash for this writer: There are people who’ve lived here twice as long who don’t know what I’m talking about either, and I occasionally include myself.

            So to appease him (her?); we’ll only go back thirty years this morning to 1970 – there’s only ten shopping days until Christmas, the Pinto’s warmed up in the driveway so we’ll drive to a couple of shopping areas.  Park Lane Center, the granddaddy of local shopping has been open for four years now but we’ll start elsewhere and wind up there next week.

            We like the Keystone area, as do so many people who moved into that booming area when Sproul Contractors started building homes in the first one-third of the 1960s.  A mini-town sprang up with its own banks, cleaners, service stations, even its own disk jockey on KOLO radio – live from the El Cortez Hotel – Pete Carrothers, who romanced the so-called “Sproul” (northwest Reno) trade on the air, asserting that he woke up next to every woman in northwest Reno (leaving out the “if she had her radio tuned to 920 AM.  Lucky them.)  The hot spot became the Keystone Center, built by Al Caton, the owner of Keystone Fuel/Reno Press Brick, committing land formerly occupied by the brickyard’s quarry.  It had a movie theater, and the hot spot we’ll hit this morning, Uncle Happy’s Toy Store, the best in the West.  Sir Loin’s Steak House was a favorite, operated by a couple of young guys named Nat Caraseli and Bill Paganetti, who later opened a little coffee shop called the Peppermill in 1971.  We might go back there for lunch, there or the Chocolate Pit, later to become the Coffee Grinder that fed a generation of local folks.

            Across Keystone was the greatest drug store in Reno, the big Keystone Owl Rexall Drug, Jim Henderson and Frank Desmond, your genial pill-pushers.  Jim has passed away; Frank is an occasional contributor to this column, both good friends to many.  Many remember Jim doing TV commercials occasionally with two guys he met playing golf at Hidden Valley, whose names were Dan Rowan and Dick Martin.  While it was occasionally difficult to ascertain what product they were selling on TV, if any, they were having fun, and we at home enjoyed their own localized Laugh-In. We’ll stop in there this morning on our shopping spree and pick up some gift wrap and stocking stuffers. 

            Traveling down Keystone Avenue, we can go over the fairly-new Keystone Bridge, through an intersection that pits motorists from Booth Street, Keystone and California Avenues together to the amazement of all when it opened.  In the venerable Village Shopping Center by Reno High School were a number of old friends, like Safeway, Sprouse Reitz sundries, the Village Drug — a great complement to the Keystone Owl Rexall.  The Mirabelli family had a record store there, later to move to Park Lane.  A fabric shop that was there seemingly forever finally closed; the present shoe repair shop was probably an original tenant.  P&S Hardware had a branch at the Village; [the late gentlemen] Gene Parvin and Bill Spiersch making it easy for the burst of homeowner/fixit guys springing up in southwest Reno’s new homes.  A Pioneer Citizens Bank branch.  We can’t forget the Chinese Village restaurant, which had a number of names in years to follow, notably a Dick Graves chicken store, and would finally become the original Truckee River Bar & Grill.  A lot of good grub has gone through that corner in fifty-plus years. 

            The Village is a Reno fixture.

  • • •

We’re still stumped with a few gifts so let’s keep moving; as I said, next weekend we’ll poke around Park Lane a little in a column that’s kind of an encore.  Many people enjoyed that Park Lane column that’s run several times in the past seven years, but we Gazoo columnists don’t get the big bucks for resubmitting old retreaded columns.  (Plus, I can’t find it on my computer’s disk.)  [I still can’t.] 

            But now, it’s approaching noon on a December 1970 Saturday so we’ll park at Shoppers Square on Plumb Lane (I wish that Security Bank on the corner had an ATM – I could use a little cash.)  Like Park Lane across the street, Shoppers Square was open then between the stores; the roof came later.  (What’s with shopping center owners covering their malls?  We Nevadans are a hardy lot.)

            Silver State Camera held forth in the Square, probably the largest camera store in Reno at the time.  I got an Instamatic there; still have it.  But nowhere to buy film for it anymore.  Hobby Towne was head-to-head in competition with Park Lane’s hobby store, both good places to shop.  There was a Spudnut shop, nothing like the original on West Fourth Street, not quite as crowded as Krispy Kreme would be thirty years later.

            You can call it Savon, you can call it Osco, but you doesn’t has ta call it Skagg’s, the Square’s big anchor’s earliest incarnation [now CVS].  And my favorite store, two great merchants Hal Codding and Jerry Wetzel, who moved their ski-oriented sporting goods store Codding & Wetzel from Pine Street downtown (I wrote about it in conjunction with the Olympic A-Frame.)  Both owners were fixtures in local skiing and the 1960 Squaw Olympics; Jerry would die a few years later in a skiing accident, while Hal brightened our town for many years to follow.     The hour draws late.  Nod at Santa in the plaza, but don’t call him “George” and confuse the kid on his lap who thinks he’s really Santa.  Maybe he is. (George Randolph, the Square’s perennial elf and Hartford Insurance retiree)   Let’s walk across Virginia to the Central Park lounge in the Continental Lodge for a hot-buttered-rum. 

            Cheers to five shopping days, and God Bless America!

I was asked when I used the picture seen above six_singersof the six-year-old-kid+70 last week, in the top hat, Dr. Seuss scarf and Underwood Standard typewriter, who that individual might be. His name is Slim Dickens; he’s the ninth and illegitimate son of Charles Dickens. He’s been on my staff for many years, researching and lecturing, and during Christmas traditionally leads the Reno Chamber Orchestra in Bach’s enduring “Shepherd on the Rocks with a Twist.”


© RGJ Dec. 2002


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






Thomas Edison called the linotype the “eighth wonder of the world.”

The days grow shorter, the crisp of late autumn hangs over our early mornings; HAN, RTO, Artown and the rodeo are in the past, and the kids are back in school – (do modern schools have the permeating, almost pleasant odor of fresh wax and polish on the hardwood floors we returned to after summer vacations?)  I’ve learned that no one reads this column anyway on Labor Day or the Fourth of July weekends, so right now I’m having a little fun with my solitude, kidding on the keys, just the RG-J’s linotype operator and I. At the left is a linotype, for the younger readers. That’s how we set type and  printed stuff ‘til the 1960s…

            Many notes collected over the summer went into an “unsung treasures” file, most subtitled “bricks and stones” – buildings we’d pay an arm and leg to replicate today for our new office or home.  Reading this column any further creates the implied promise that you’ll go out and visit them on your own.   Study the workmanship on,

            …The Belmont Apartments at California and Arlington (once “Belmont BelmontApartmentsStreet”).  The old industrial buildings and hotels on East Fourth Street.  Incredibly complex masonry on so many homes in the Academy Heights area by the University – hobbit doors, columns, variegated colors of brick – Imperial Way, Codel, The Strand, Citadel, Seminary, College – park on any of those old streets and just take a fall walk.  And if you’re that far north, go a block or two west to “little Italy,” generally Washington, Ralston and Bell Streets north of Whitaker Park and check out the rococo interlocking of multicolored bricks and wood, the arches and fenestration (OK, OK: windows, sills, and lintels.) 

            Downtown now, and remember you made a promise to go: The Triune Building at Pine and Center, named by attorney Clel Georgetta for the Triune Ranch he grew up on in eastern Nevada – great brickwork – across from the Pioneer DimondDodgeTheater (can you implode a round building…?)  Check out the former Skaggs-Safeway market at Fifth and North Virginia, SE corner, and the old National Dollar Store/Parker’s downtown.  Under a half-century of bad paint jobs lies a wonderfully designed classic auto dealership at 500 South Virginia Street (left), reminiscent of many on San Francisco’s Van Ness Avenue auto row.  It was for many years the Dick Dimond Dodge and the Cyrillic or Hebrew letters on some of the blocks continue to elude me, and others I’ve asked.  Were it to be sandblasted back to its postwar red brick it could be one of the prettiest buildings in downtown Reno, and here you never even noticed it.

            In the Saturday morning treasures, rock division, are the old guardrails along the University Terrace curve by the Lambda Chi house, and the big stone mansion at the southwest corner of Keystone Avenue and Kings Row, built a hundred years ago by Chinese laborers – note the vents to free evil spirits on the roof crown – great rockwork, no spirits.  Right house, wrong lot: The Steinheimer, Hill, later Redfield house on Mt. Rose Street.  Picture that baby removed to the long-vacant bluff in the 800 block of Marsh Avenue overlooking Reno High and the Village Center, with extensive landscaping and a big matching rock-and-wrought iron fence along the Stremmel Homestreet.  [2017: it didn’t happen – a spaceship landed there…] Now that would be a showplace.  But – the granddaddy of rock, the sovereign of stone, is on Hillcrest, a block south of West Plumb Lane and a half-block west of South Virginia.  A drum roll please: the Alamo Lodge.  And remember, you’re on your honor to go there, and tell me if you’ve ever seen finer stone masonry in the world, including the lighthouse with its stained-glass lens and the little wishing well in the front yard.  And it’s unbelievable how few residents ever see it, and, sadly, that it can’t be relocated.  In the same architectural vein, check out the El Borracho lounge a few blocks to the north on South Virginia Street.  [And since much of that block has been cleaned up, one can actually see the Alamo looking past the Mark Twain Motel from South Virginia Street]

            While they’re not ornate masonry, we must be happy as connoisseurs of old structures that the ornate original entrances of sprawling Washoe Med and ditto St. Mary’s hospitals have both been mercifully preserved in spite of a dozen expansions of each facility.  Well done, trustees.  And we just have to include the former Mary Ann Nichols School on Pyramid Way’s 400-block, and the Robert Mitchell School on Prater, for their cool brickwork.

            Now – while you’re committed to a mandatory, self-guided tour of neat stuff to see, we’ll depart brick and stone for Lincoln logs – piles of them, we call it the Silver State Motel on West Fourth Street, built when the Lincoln Highway (40) ran in front of it [2017 – new gonzo].  Fifty years from now some drive-by-columnist will play the game I played five [17!] years ago with the El Reno Apartments (left) – how many were there? – When were they built? – Where are they now?  So, my counsel to some seven-year old who likes to write would be, go out and count them so you’ll be prepared when I retire [past perfect tense. At least for now..].  Soon they’ll likely be dismantled and rebuilt, maybe all over town like the El Reno apartments have been.  There was lots of history in that little “auto court,” as it was called.  And I can’t omit that my classmate, Pat Reynolds Ferraro Klos, the grand diva of the Historical Reno Preservation Association, grew up with her family in the Silver State Motel; her late parents, Rod and Peg owned them for many years.  [Sorry, young writers – they were demolished – no salvage – in 2004]

            A few more treasures, seldom visited: Oxbow Park and the Dickerson mansion, on Dickerson Road, where else; another is the University Farm, one of the last places around to take the little ones to see herds of sheep and cattle.  They’ve a great butcher shop there, known only to a few, and your child could take a little lamb to school (between two slices of bread)  [Several readers complained about “herds” of sheep. When writing a column, one economizes on words.  How ‘bout a “flock”, or a “band”?  Better?]

            Final unsung treasure for the weekend: train whistles (never horns.)  In a LawtonsToweryear or two we’ll miss them.  Does anyone else wish that they’d just left Lawton’s Resort alone?  A great swimmin’ hole, far better than what’s there west of town on the river now.  And while speaking of the river, one squawk: Kayakers must have better lobbyists that the Virginia Lake joggers and walkers – the Truckee is being turned to a rehearsal stage for World War III to accommodate kayaks, yet we can’t get more than one working drinking fountain at Virginia Lake

Go forth in safety and good cheer for the next three days; watch out for self-expressionists rejoining society from Burning Man, have your hat blocked at Peerless Cleaners, sign up for the Historic Preservation fall tours, floss, know where your children are, buy a home through a Realtor, and God bless America!

text © RGJ Labor Day, 2002

photo credit Dick Dimond Dodge, Jerry Fenwick; linotype machine, web; Lawton’s diving tower UNR Special Collections, others by author



You’re doing WHAT to the Liberty Belle?

Liberty BelleI’ve a fond recollection of a ’52 Chevy full of Reno High hotshots returning from an afternoon of skiing at Sky Tavern.  Far south of where U.S. 395 became South Virginia Street on the east side of the two-lane road was, well, a little red barn.  We needed nourishment…

            “Let’s stop here,” said one.  “Wasn’t this the Li’l Red Barn?” another asked.  “Yup,” said yet another.  (That watering hole had become the “Liberty Belle” a month or so earlier, on Nov. 20, 1958.)  We entered, ordered, and met Frank and Marshall Fey, whose grandfather had invented the Liberty Bell slot machine, that Bell with no “e”, and they had just moved from San Mateo, Cal. to open their new saloon.  We formed a friendship that has lasted for 48 years [2017 note: Let’s make that 59 years; sadly, Frank passed away a couple years ago].

BelleBackbar            I scribe this on a Tuesday [2006]for you to read on a Saturday, not knowing for sure whether or when we will satiate ourselves at the Belle again.  I do know that there will follow scores of other patrons’ pleasant recollections and a ton of ink about it in the next few months, and thus I’m moved to offer a few thoughts to the assembled Gazoo readers.

            By some measure I write of many old Reno establishments that have all converged over time under one roof – that roof itself supporting some of the eight horse-drawn wagons that the Feys acquired from Roy Stagg’s Roaring Camp, a downtown 1940s tourist draw in the now-vacant triangle bounded by Lake, East First and Second Streets.  Two heavy ore wagons near the building later arrived, one from Death Valley and the other from Mina.

          One hundred years minus 30 days ago, the city of San Francisco was ravaged by an earthquake and fire – from that maelstrom to Reno came the heavy bronze doors from Market Street’s Palace Hotel.  Marshall once quipped that it cost them $250 for the doors and two grand to adapt the Belle’s front entrance to utilize them.  We’ve all opened them a few times.  Underfoot, wooden planks form the decking of the entrance, not just any planks but wood taken from the entrance to the Federated Church on Virginia Street at Fifth when the church was razed to make room for parking at the new Sewell’s market in 1948.

            Inside the Belle and over the bar hang two chandeliers and three round glassSMFey globes – those hung for 80 years downtown at the Wine House until that venerable saloon was razed to make room for Harolds Club’s addition in 1960.  Dust them carefully; they’re pushing 125 years old.  From the Golden Hotel, following the 1962 fire came the life-size cocktail waitress-slot machines in the south dining room. 

            The back bar’s been around for a while also.  The rosewood and birch classic started life in the Owl Club downtown at the turn of the last century – some speculate that it came ‘round the horn from Europe but I can’t prove that – and following the repeal of prohibition was relocated to the Pastime Club on Sierra Street at Douglas Alley.  The Feys got it in 1964 and my recollection is that it was unveiled during Nevada’s Centennial celebration, after the ceiling was raised two feet to accommodate it.  Somewhat noteworthy was Walt Tripp’s early frustration in locating a letter font in mirror image to make engraved signs with, enabling a patron at the bar to read in the mirror “Winchester Model 94” or whatever above the rifles displayed over the bar.  Walt’s son Warren, now the honcho of Tripp Plastics, reports that the Liberty Belle’s signs were the only use that mirror image font ever saw.

            The list goes on – ephemera from Becker’s Bar on North Virginia, later the site of Southworth’s Cigar Store, antique street lamps from downtown Reno in the parking lot, and a gas lamp brought down from Virginia City.  Here’s a note to fit somewhere in this yarn: Behind the original bar in the years before that back bar was installed, were hooks to hang beer mugs from.  Frequent customers had their own time card on a rack by the front door, and after they “clocked in” on an antique time clock 16 times they were accorded their own personalized steins to display behind the bar.

            In 1967 the south dining room of the building was added and served for a couple of years – at least during the summers – as the Bella Union Theater.  Some of my own greatest memories of Liberty Belle visits were to the Bella Union.  There was little in Reno in the late 1960s to compare with a warm summer night at that theater – a production of “The Drunkard” with local talent, using that term judiciously.  “He tied her to the railroad tracks” the narrator would announce as the villain twirled his moustache, the audience gasped and Barney Barnard of Hatton’s Mens Wear rumbled an ominous chord on the piano (Hal Goodwin of Kentile Floors played the banjo).  The show ended in an “olio” – a grainy black and white movie with song lyrics, follow the bouncing ball as Barney and Hal played and all sang.  Two nights a week at the Liberty Belle, repeated on another two later in the week at the Bucket of Blood in Virginia City, all summer long, and life was good.

            I’ve got more notes but no space, so I’m probably not done as yet.  I thank Geno Oliver, who spent three decades behind the Liberty Belle’s plank, for passing on this morning’s column hed which was uttered by an anonymous customer last week. [And made its way onto the covers of thousands of my books!]



            We’ll end this visit to the Belle as we always do, with a chocolate sundae in aAlice shiny bowl served up by a pretty lady named Alice in a black skirt, a crisp black blouse and a perpetual smile [and in 2017, we still see Alice at Simon’s on Lakeside Drive! She’s pictured to the right…>>>>]  Thanks Marshall, Frank and Jeff Fey, Jeff Courson, Alice, Geno and all hands for what seems like a lifetime of pleasant memories, ale and prime rib – collectively you’re still a municipal treasure.

            Have a good week, and God bless America.

Text © RGJ March 2006

[Note: The Belle closed forever the Friday before this column ran, on St. Patrick’s Day, 2006. We were there for lunch…]

Liberty Belle artwork by Roy Powers, used here courtesy of Jackie Powers – Ad featuring Fey brothers ©  from Sierra Magazine          1961- photo of Alice, from KB file



Of Hobos, Tigers and Leprechauns

leprachaunladyThe local gentry were all atwitter when, on the southwest corner of South Virginia and Gentry Way arose a rough-hewn timber building with a rusty corrugated iron penstock ten feet in diameter beneath a wooden water tower, framing the entrance to a building that appeared to be a hundred years old and belonging better in Norden on Donner Summit or along the Carson & Colorado line below Mt. Whitney. Entering through that giant iron duct was a dining room, and another and another – timber walls and ceiling, industrial lanterns over the tables, strap iron hinges, brake levers, glowing red and green switch lights and brass-faced gauges. Servers in what approximated railroad garb, engineers’ hats and men in conductor livery. Sort of dark, a neat place for a burger and beer.

            “What the heck are they building?” asked the townsfolk. “It looks like a crash pad for hobos. Like a Hobo Junction!” And that’s exactly what it was – Hobo Junction – a new watering hole on South Virginia, joining Marie Callender’s a block to the south and Posey Butterfield’s – to later become the Rapscallion in 1977  – on Wells Avenue. On September 8th of 1974 the Junction’s doors were opened and it immediately joined the ranks of places to dine or hang out after work. A nice meeting room to the north received a lot of use from many groups seeking a new place with some personality, and the Hobo had it. (The sobriquet “hobo,” by the way, might be derived from Hoboken, New Jersey, said by some to be traditional home for these gentlemen of the ribbons of steel.)

            But one night the train departed Virginia and  Gentry and went chugging off into the night, a six-wheel driver pulling a hundred coaches from end to end, and the Hobo’s heavy timber door was padlocked. My recollection is that it was sort of abrupt and a few Toastmasters’ and Rotary Clubs were left scrambling for a place to meet. But fear not, for more men descended on the Hobo’s shell, stripped the water tank, yanked off the pipe that framed the doorway and generally took the rugged building into the 20th Century. Repainted, re-signed and looking pretty good.

            Some newer doors swung open in 1979, and we congregated in a brighter main room, with the trappings of early railroading gonzo and replaced by what one might find in a post-war aircraft hangar – old wooden propellers on the walls, maps, runway beacons, oil cans with products plainly for aircraft engines, ashtrays (remember them?) crafted from aircraft engine pistons, and pictures, pictures, pictures – of cool old airplanes.

            We went from a train station to a hangar. And why a hangar, you ask? Well, it’s really simple – a bunch of retired Flying Tiger pilots – the combat pilots, not the cargo guys that came later – were sitting around LAX as the story goes and said, “Why, shucks, we could open a restaurant, how tough could that be?” And they did open, starting in about 1962, a number of joints that grew to 40 in their heyday, serving seafood as their specialty. What did these retired Tiger pilots name them? Well, “Hungry Tiger,” of course. And I’m not sure that they said “shucks” but this is a family column.

            And the fine diners of Reno welcomed the Hungry Tiger, as they did the Hobo Junction. The place thrived, as I recall more for lunch and dinner than breakfast. But it was a good restaurant, flying high on our list.

            But – as so many restaurants and airmen do, the men of the Flying Tigers came in high, hot, and overshot. The chain started running rough and they feathered a few non-producing engines, Reno’s being one of them, and in 1985 declared a MayDay = Emergency in Progress! – and the Hungry Tiger on South Virginia was parked, chocked and dark. Too bad; like so many others – Houlihan’s and Victoria Station come to mind, great food but doomed to my Faded Menus list by bum management.

            So – the Hobo and the Tiger sat wanting a new operation, and in what I think was 1986 – accounts vary – Tim, Mike and Shaun Wiltshire sprinkled stardust from the Emerald Isle onto the darkened building, and through magic a leprechaun in a green suit appeared in the entry lobby playing the Old Songs on a grand piano, and Famous Murphy’s Oyster Bar & Grill was born. I can’t say enough good about the Murph – great food and salad bar, nice people helping us out, and a downstairs lounge that raised the bar on happy hours in this burg as no other public house has ever done. And it thrived for 20 years, coming as close as any restaurant has ever come in our town to a singular local favorite.

            But as all Irish songs must, it ended on a low key. I don’t know what happened – and wouldn’t ask Mike if I saw him – but the leprechaun at the baby grand joined the loco engineer in the Hobo and the hot stick in the Tiger, and all disappeared down Virginia Street. That great old building with so many memories for all of us, was again dark. Were I a betting man and permitted to scribe an opinion on these pages, I’d say that it was partially doomed by an architectural element that the Wiltshires inherited and had to make the best of – it suffered from an entry door at the top of a long uphill ramp, far removed from the parking lot, and a reception lobby with a half-flight of stairs down to the main dining room to the north or the classy lounge to the south. (It also had an entry, a half-flight up to the parking area.) That arrangement puzzled me from the day the Hobo opened.

            But all that speculation now written, the best I can say, and I think the Gazoo readers join me, is, thanks to the Wiltshires for a score of years of good food, spirits and friendship. And the column now ends with these simple words: Thanks for reading!

Text © RGJ April 2015

Two msgs arrived shortly after this was posted:

From Phyllis Wetsel:   “This was fun to read (again) because there has never been anything (in Reno) to replace what it was like to go there, especially the lounge downstairs.” Thanks, Phyllis!
From another reader:    “Where’s the ‘God bless America’?”  The RGJ was on a rampage when this was published, and didn’t want God, Christmas nor Easter to sully their pages. Ergo, no “God bless America” ’til editor Brett McGinness fixed them.





A Grand day at Ralston Foods

Pilots enroute to Reno’s airport used to call tower, “Piper XXX abeam the checkerboard for landing.” And the tower knew exactly where to find Piper X-ray. This was written when the Ralston checkerboard still adorned the building’s silo on East Greg Street. Its name is different, the checkerboard’s gone, and George Smith, the Guru of Grain is nearing retirement. Here’s the story of that building and its function:

Inside what might be the only building in town where an employee could drown in a 200-gallon drum of clover honey, 150 souls have worked together for 1,000 straight days as of last Wednesday, often 24 hours each day, without incurring an injury grievous enough to necessitate any lost time, let alone killing one another.

            About 1,030 days ago [this is from a 2004 column copyrighted by the RGJ] I started watching the “Accident-Free Day” readerboard on Ralston Foods on East Greg Street grow, day-by-day, to about 270 days.  Then one January morn early in 2001 it fell to “001”.  Rats – someone got hurt and the tally had started over.  That September I called attention to their 260-plus days of safety in this column, fearful that it might carry the “Cover-of-Sports Illustrated” syndrome and trigger an accident.  Since then I’ve frequently noted their progress at the close of the column, often getting an occasional reader call checking on them when I went too long between updates.  Somewhere on a computer disc is the text from a column I can’t find, wherein I speculated that to keep the “Accident-free” count climbing, an employee’s carcass was converted into bran flakes and the evidence resides in 37 supermarkets all over the nation.  “Not so,” responded George Smith, Ralston’s Guru-of-Grain.  “That person was from the HR department, and was loaded on Dave Stix’ trailer, spread out in the pig pen at the Damonte ranch, but the pigs caught on and grazed all the way around him.”  Dave Stix is the south Reno rancher who buys unusable or spilled cereal for his feed lot.  And this tale, is obviously false.  I hope.

            How 150 people could escape injury in any facility, let alone in Ralston Foods for 1,000 days boggles the mind – I know of a 30-person office where the acrylic lens of a light fixture fell and put an employee into the hospital overnight.  When you visit the plant and watch a railcar load of oats get converted into stacked boxes of little doughnuts that look a lot like cheerios, the 1,000 days of safety take on real significance.  Note that I use no capitalized brand names in this column, as Ralston makes cereal for all the grocers, the mighty and small alike.

            A bulk-commodity railcar is rolled into the building – railcars roll silently and your visit could terminate right there as it goes over the top of you.  A stainless steel, food-grade hopper is slid under the car’s outlets – the product is in a sterilized environment from the time it leaves the railcar (and presumably when it was loaded into it.)  The car’s chutes open and compressed air takes it from the hopper to one of the score of silos in the tower on the east end of the building (the tower with the checkerboard until Ralston Purina – pet food – was sold to Ralston Foods in April of 1994 and the building completely revamped in a mega-million overhaul..)   Since the plant’s set up right now for a run of rice crispies or corn pops that might take several days, the oats will remain in the silo, then for a day longer while the plant is cleaned and reset to make cheerio-like cereal.  An independent nationwide inspection contractor familiar with industrial food plants regularly monitors sanitation.  I still have the bump-cap, safety glasses, elastic booties, hair net and earplugs that I wore during my visit, both for my own protection and the preservation of plant cleanliness Struck quite a figure in my booties and hairnet, if I do say so myself.  Wish now that I’d remembered to take the hairnet off before I went into Tom Young’s Great Basin Brewery after the tour – I the only man there with a hairnet.)

            The oat run may start at noon or some wee hour of the morning.  The production line, spread over an acre and several levels of the plant, takes life as the silo is vibrated to start the oats flowing onto a belt.  Computers guide the conveyor belts’ speed, the steam heating the huge cooking vats’ temperatures, and the little jets that extrude cooked oats in circles the size of cheerios onto a baking surface where they cook and harden and are then vibrated off into a conveyor – picture an endless stream of cheerios pouring onto the luggage carousel at the airport.  That much cereal.  If it’s nut-‘n-honey, lower-case, the computer may have released honey from one side and nuts from the other while a mechanical arm stirred it.  There’s been very little human intervention, save for keeping an eye on the many computer stations along the route.  But those humans have been constantly exposed to steam, scalding hot water, huge stainless kettles far beyond red-hot to the touch, conveyor belts grabbing at loose clothing, compressed air escaping, and an occasionally serious racket at some stops along the oats’ journey.

            The sea of cheerios moves above us, now being separated into chutes of ever-decreasing size until their opening matches the size of a cereal box.  Cardboard flats – supplied by the end-user grocers and preprinted somewhere beside this Sparks plant – are machine-folded into boxes.  Rolled waxed paper is mechanically sized, folded and glued into a sack as the cheerios pour into it, and the whole thing falls into the box which is then glued shut.  And this doesn’t take forever – the boxes fairly fly off the line and are mechanically stacked on pallets, then taken to the west end of the building for shipping.  A dry-bulk railcar of grain has been converted to a boxcar of cheerios, and the plant will retool for corn flakes.  If you’ve escaped the rolling railcar, the mile of conveyor system, the steam kettles, the compressed air transfer system, remember a forklift still might get you right here so don’t drop your guard quite yet.

            Ralston Foods and its predecessor have been outstanding community neighbors and employers in our valley, and in the brevity of this column it’s hard to overstate their diligence and commitment to industrial safety – or maybe writing that 1,000 safe days in a plant as complex and fraught with peril as any on the West Coast, says it all.  I thank Dan Kibbe, the facility’s manager, Steve Smith from Human Resources and the aforementioned George Smith, no relation, for their input and hospitality.  They’re shooting for two grand on the readerboard above the guard shack on East Greg Street, and we wish all 150 employees good luck.

            Now – go eat your morning bowl of cheerios, lower case, with an expanded appreciation of the veritable art forms floating before you.

  • • •

[It was the George, the guru-of-grain, who told me that the chicken crossed the road to see his brother Gregory peck.]


March 24 • Dad’s new office in Sparks

Go to the first tale in this adventure


_BandstandWell, we’ve been here in Reno for a couple weeks; school will be starting soon down the hill at Mary S. Doten. Dad got a job as a real estate man working for an agent named Charles H. Skipper, whose office is in Sparks, a little town just east of Reno. Dad said he thinks it will grow pretty fast with a guy named George Probasco, building houses that the guys getting out of the service will be buying.

Dad took me out to Sparks this Saturday morning. We went out the Lincoln Highway, past a lot of old pre-war businesses and some “auto courts” that I’ll tell you all about one of these times when I’m writing again. But this morning I start our walk at his office, in a little tiny house on A Street. The main drag through Sparks is the Lincoln Highway, but in Sparks it’s called “B Street.” Skipper’s office is on “A Street,” south of the highway and on the south side of a pretty little park called the “Reserve” by the Union Pacific Railroad when they moved to Sparks in 1903. It was reserved for a park for employees of the railroad, and had sat there for 40 years, grassy with nice walkways, early light fixtures and a small eight-sided “Queen Anne” bandbox on the east end of the Reserve  (pictured above). It started at about 12th Street which in time to come would be a casino called the Nugget, and went from there east a long ways, toward what I’d learn in 1955 would be a bunch of great big tanks to hold oil and gas and stuff, starting about 4th Street. Getting myself adjusted, I figured out that 8th Street would become known as “Pyramid Way” because it went to Pyramid Lake.

SP Sparks roundhouseThe railroad’s property was fenced, on a line which started south of dad’s new office on A Street. There were a couple of gates, the big one that most of the employees used was at the foot of 8th Street, Pyramid Way. Just beyond that gate was the railroad’s “roundhouse,” a big building to turn locomotives with. I didn’t know it that morning but in a few years it would be torn down and its bricks used all over Reno and Sparks. There was another big building to the east of the roundhouse, where the railroad worked on its locomotives. During the war, which was just ended, a wing was added to the east of that brick building. There were big locomotives everywhere, with silver fronts and their smokestacks in the back, which was different than what I saw in El Cerrito when we lived there. And you could hear (and smell!) them from blocks away from the railyard.

 I met Mr. Shelly that morning with dad. He was a neat guy who owned a hardware store a little ways up Pyramid Way by the airport. He knew all about the railroads, and told me that there was over 30 miles of side tracks in the Sparks railroad yard. The ground had been built up in 1903  before the railroad laid all that track, with dirt that had been brought in from a little place west of Reno by a street that would later be called Stoker. But this was 1946, so I didn’t know that street’s name then. He told me that when the railroad opened their railyard they brought in over 1,000 tons of coal and made a big pile of it to use in their engines

The engines were built for the snow sheds west of town, with the engineers’ seats in the front and air pumped into the cab, to keep the smoke out when they were in the tunnels on the big mountain west of Reno. Boy, I can’t wait to go up and see those snow sheds and tunnels! I’ll write about it here when I do! The railroad bought a lot of those locomotives. Mr. Shelly told me that at one time over a hundred of them were built by Baldwin Locomotive in Philadelphia and towed to Sparks. He gave dad and I a ride in his pickup to the far end of the railyard, where we went over 14 sets of tracks, I counted ‘em, on Stanford Way to cross the yard. The street was named for Mr. Stanford, one of the railroad’s owners. And it was later closed to cars. One day in the mid-1950s they would start building those tanks, but we didn’t know that then.

FiremanSparks was a fun town to walk around in while dad worked selling houses. I’d go often with him on Saturdays. The Reserve got a lot of use with kids like me during the day and in the evening they’d have band concerts and dances in the little bandbox. There was a library across B Street that took good care of kids. On a sad note I remember a procession one morning with firemen marching slowly alongside Sparks Fire Department’s pumper truck. All its hoses were removed and a casket with a flag over it was in the hose bay. Dad said it was for the Sparks fire chief, who died fighting a fire in Reno at the Greyhound bus station on Lake Street. That was August 1948, and I think everybody in Sparks and many from Reno were on the lawn at the Reserve. That really stuck in my mind for a long time. There’s a memorial statue now for fallen firemen on Pyramid Way.

There were some nice stores on the north side of B Street. One all us kids liked was theAdams Sparks Bootery, where you could stand on a gadget and see your feet and all the bones and stuff inside your shoes, in a weird green color that looked right through your shoes! Another neat store was a friend of dad’s, Mr. Adams, who was the official watch repair guy for the railroad. He took care of all the railroaders, who had to own a certain kind of watch, and have it inspected each year. He had a big board full of pocket watches that he’d loan to the engineers and conductors while their own watch was being tested. I got lucky and got to have one  of those old “loaners” in later life.  

 Well, dad’s calling me now across the park so I’m going to go. We’ll meet again soon – there’s a lot more places to walk in Reno and school will be starting soon and I’ll be off to kindergarten! Maybe I’ll be a better writer then, come back and we’ll see……

 Contact the six-year old at kfbreckenridge@live.com