Hear ye, hear ye – this site is going dark for a week or two and will not be changed – see y’all later in January!

SlimWere we all to tune the ol’ Philco tabletop radio to KOH AM-630 sixty years ago this Christmas morning, we’d probably hear the mellifluous voice of Cactus Tom, who ruled the early morning airwaves in early postwar Reno.  Tom Cafferty worked as a Reno casino card dealer in the mid-1930s, but broke into broadcasting a few years later at WGN in Chicago. After World War II, he managed an advertising agency in Los Angeles and played bit parts in Western movies and worked as a disc jockey. He became the morning disc jockey at Reno’s KOH in the 1950s, and began appearing also on KOLO-TV in 1961.

 Cactus Tom, while at KOH in their magnificent old Queen Anne house-turned-studio on the site of the present Greyhound station by the Truckee, recited the following poem annually, thereby giving birth to a local Christmas tradition. To the best of my research, it’s not copyright-protected other than by its appearance in this RGJ edition. But if we save it or pass it around to our friends let’s give a little attribution, to Tom, and to Nicholas D. Jackson, a popular, enduring and nocturnal habitué of Reno’s late-night downtown watering holes, where, legend has it, he wrote the verse on a cocktail napkin and offered it to Tom:

“Twas the night before Christmas, an’ ol’ Smokey Joe lay a’shiverin’ deep in his sack.     

While a coyote wailed, kinda mournful and low, an’ the wind drifted snow ‘round his shack,

An’ the moon played Roulette with the cold starry sky; til the clouds piled like chips on the black.

An’ Ol’ Smokey Joe kept a wonderin’ why Fate had placed him alone in this shack.

 

“Then Ol’ Smokey Joe, with a questioning look felt around for his boots on the floor,      

And from one took a sock which he hung on a hook attached to the worn cabin door.

Then shiverin’ a bit he walked back to his bed, and he slipped to his knees for a prayer,

An’ the kerosene lamp that hung overhead etched a silvery halo there.

 

“Then Ol’ Smokey Joe reached up for the light that hung on a nail overhead,

An’ he glanced to see if this stocking hung right, and then nestled deep in his bed.

And just before he fell sound asleep, he heard the noise of hooves on the flat,

An’ he knew that the cattle would soon bed down in the sheltered lee of his shack.

 

“The night wore on and a little grey mouse sneaked down from the eaves for a look,

A timid l’il soul without a home – ‘til he spotted the sock on the hook.

A tiny ol’ hole he chewed in the heel, a window where he could watch Joe;

Then he spent the whole night a‘packin’ in straw, and at dawn fell asleep in the toe.

 

“And a cow gave birth to a calf that night between the shack and a drift;

And it nuzzled the calf to the cabin door, Ol’ Smokey Joe’s Christmas gift.

Next mornin’ the sun came a’streamin’ through, lit the cabin’s every nook,

Smokey Joe waked up, kinda cautious-like, and’ gave that ol’ sock a look.

 

“Then a smile lit up his worn, kind face, he gave out with a mirthful squeal,

Threw a crust of bread to the little grey mouse, who peeked through the hole in the heel.

With the mouse tucked away in the crook of his arm, he opened the cabin door;

His heart started dancing and he felt a warmth like he’d never quite felt before.

 

“For there starin’ at him on his wobbly ol’ legs stood a calf, kinda shakey and worn;

Just waitin’ for Joe and a pail of hot milk, an’ a spot by the stove to keep warm.

And that night with the mouse sound asleep in the sock, and the calf cuddled up in the grate,

Ol’ Joe knew the answer of why he lived there, with the grey mouse, the calf, and Fate.”

  • • •

 Robert Service, in his epic Cremation of Sam McGee, couldn’t have written that yarn any better. Reno history is silent on the fate of poet and raconteur Nicholas D. Jackson; Tom Cafferty passed away on Dec. 11, 1993 in Reno.

This will be our last chance to visit before the prancing and pawing of each little hoof on our rooftop – I wish you all my best, and send thanks for your wonderful letters and calls over the year – those cherished presents that arrive weekly and won’t fit under my tree. And, we’ll amend our usual closing slightly and defer to Tiny Tim Cratchett, who said it best: “God bless us, everyone!”

 e-mail naughty or nice to kfbreckenridge@live.com

this © column last appeared in the RGJ in December 2015

ADDED AFTER ORIGINAL PUBLICATION: CACTUS TOM’S OBIT © RGJ 1993

 CactusTomI

CactusTomII

 

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Dec. 10 – still hoppin’ down the Santa trail…

SlimIt’s cold on Ralston Street up by the park this morning, but no snow in sight (kind of like to see the street with enough snow to bring the town’s kids and sleds and toboggans, but not today…)

I need to make a confession to those watching me write this on binder paper with a Ticonderoga #2 pencil, that I possess an ability to look into the future, assemble tea leaves, and own a Ouija board and a crystal ball. If I didn’t have this secret power, I could never be just a six-year-old kid who just moved to town from Richmond after the war, and tear apart the veil that covers the future to see and view the supernal beauty that lies beyond. (I wish I’d have said that first; actually I stole it from a guy who wrote it a hundred years ago!) But if I couldn’t see into the future for a few years, there wouldn’t be a Christmas story today.

I’ve a whole lot of notes still in my jeans. One’s about the rabbi of the Synagogue across West Street from old Reno High School. He was a pretty cool guy, and for FordPoliceCarmany years he would, on Christmas Day, show up at the new police station on Second Street and tell Reno’s police chief to go home and enjoy his family on Christmas Day. Then he’d wear a chief’s shirt and hat and badge and stuff around the police station and bring candy canes and doughnuts to the other cops who were working their holiday. And he’d get in one of Reno’s old Ford police cars and ride around with the cops, stopping every once in a while to cheer up a downtown guy. This was a tradition in Reno for many years, practiced by a number of rabbis and chiefs. One year a guy actually died of natural causes on Christmas day and the rabbi said, “Oy Vey, now what the hell do I do?” (I don’t know if he said ‘Oy Vey’ but my little friend David Ginsberg told me that.

There was a guy named Red Nibert who was a sign painter, out at the end of Mill Street east of Kietzke Lane (Dad said they were going to pave Kietzke someday and make it four lane!). Red worked hard all year painting signs and trucks and stuff but one day he went to a new restaurant out by what was going to become “Plumb Lane” and cross South Virginia, and he painted a bright red and green sleigh and reindeer and a Santa on the restaurant’s window – I think the restaurant was the one at the end of Wells Avenue. The work caught on, and Red painted a couple more windows that year, I think also the big window on the Coca-cola bottling plant where Center Street came out onto South Virginia. Pretty soon they’d make Center one-way so people would quit killing each other at that intersection with Virginia, Mary and Center. Within a few years Red would paint Christmas scenes on over 40 local windows – he could do the whole restaurant in about 10 minutes and move on.

I should tell you about a new friend of mine named Luther, who came to town withLuther his family from Hawthorne when we were little kids. We worked together at the Reno High cafeteria, but he didn’t do too well there. I was supposed to make the cinnamon rolls with him, but all he ever wanted to make were “hamburgers,” he called them. I don’t know what ever became of him. “Ham”burger. Hell, there was no ham in them! (Mom will be made because I wrote “hell.” Sorry, readers…) A drive-by writer used a photo of him in a Santa hat 50 years later and scared the h…, er, the pants off every kid in Reno who saw the Gazoo that morning.

OrnamentA big deal in town came in 1964, which is really long after I started writing this. A big bank put up a building taller than the Mapes Hotel, and that Christmas to everyone’s surprise, a giant Christmas tree that you could see from all over town, was turned on. It was made with a bunch of lights and wires with light sockets by the bank’s maintenance guys, who put up the “tree” on their own. The flagpole, I read in a drive-by writer’s column a few years later, was 42 feet tall above the building, and placed onto the building with a helicopter. That’s a pretty good story, someday I tell it.

Not to be outdone, Harrah’s new hotel tower, which was taller than the bank building, one Christmas put up a “necklace” of golden lights around the top rail of their building, and a tree on their flagpole like the bank’s. So there were TWO Christmas trees downtown!

Downtown Reno was a pretty scene in the winters; the City put up holiday lights above the Truckee, and played Christmas music on the speakers on downtown telephone poles. The best scene in town was from the Holiday Hotel’s Shore Room when the hotel opened in 1957, looking west up the River with all the lights. The City’s Christmas tree was in Wingfield Park, and every year there would be a lighting celebration with over 2,000 people coming downtown to watch. “Tink” SantaFrostyTinkham, and later my classmate Glenn Little, conducted the local musicians and singers from the University, the high schools (Reno and Manogue!) and the casinos in Christmas carols. A guy named Rocco Youse gave the City his huge statues of Frosty and Santa that used to be in front of his house on Fireside Circle. He was moving to a gated community and wouldn’t need them anymore. My friend John Trent reminded me of that…

Store windows were fun to view, with the storekeepers putting their best into Christmas displays. I’ve written of this before, and always forget, and am then reminded that the little mechanical cobbler in the window of Spina’s shoe repair shop on Sierra Street, always got dressed in Christmas clothes and a Santa hat at Christmas time! (There. I wrote it.)

BudweiserI’m getting pretty tired and Dad says I have to do some work for him around our house. (Mom doesn’t know it, but he bought two tennis rackets from Sears Roebuck’s catalogue store and they’ll be here by Christmas, so we can go play tennis in the courts across the street in Whitaker Park.) So – I promised I’d write about some local Santas in the stores around the town, and I see some stores opening south of town we’d better write about. C’mon back one of these days!!!!

Read the earlier companion post to this

 

 

Six letters stamped on a blue steel plate

 

harrahboarddirectors1959

A local man of our acquaintance once came into possession of six vintage automobiles in various stages of disrepair, through a process that’s ‘way too circuitous to spend valuable column space on this morning. He kept them in the Liberty Garage, a splendid bygone brick building in the shadow of the Toscano Hotel on Lake Street just north of East Second. A friend of ours named Larry Heward, yes the local dentist, was employed part-time when we were in college as the caretaker, duster and tire-pumper for this nascent collection of largely forgettable rolling stock.

          The little collection grew, from six cars to a dozen, then more. Some full-time people came aboard to sand and paint and tune up the growing fleet. They ran out of room at the Liberty Garage. “Bring me more cars!” the collector cried out, and men were sent hither and yon from the great Atlantic Ocean to the broad Pacific’s shore, with an aggregation of strange trucks, lowboys and cash in their jeans to bring some better cars from the tonier villages and some clunkers long-stored in the barns of the plains states. Contemporaneously, the Mighty SP Railroad and Pacific Fruit Express closed a large concrete building in Sparks where once ice was frozen for trains carrying California produce to the waiting nation (this, by the way, was 1958).

          1908thomasThe growing collection of cars (and now trucks and boats and airplanes and streetcars) found a new home in this former PFE icehouse. And more men were coming aboard – the best and the brightest of body metal, upholstery, paint, internal combustion engine guys – assembled to do some serious work on our friend’s automobile collection, now taking its place among the best and largest collection of cars in America. Adjacent were three warehouse buildings owned by John Dermody, and into these single-story buildings went the cars, impeccably restored to better than their factory finish, all lined up in dozens of rows to be enjoyed by all.    

          Our collector friend welcomed people to his collection to view it. In the early 1960s a buck, a business card, or a bar receipt from one of the planks in his casino business, which after all enabled all this to be built, was all he sought for admission. It was a civic asset for all – darn few column readers of a certain age didn’t take their progeny there for a birthday party. The collection in time would grow by some counts to 3,000 cars and include some of the finest cars ever built – the Bugatti Royales, the pre-WWII Mercedes roadster and a couple of boat-tail Duesenbergs. Alongside were the rank-and-file of Detroit production that most of us remember as kids.

          The management of the now-bustling casino in downtown Reno tried to ensure hacoldcollectionthat folks leaving the casino to visit the collection in Sparks actually returned upon viewing it to the Reno casino’s tables, to further their support of the collection that they had viewed and as we said in the day, “Keep Nevada Green.” This effort took the form of buses operated by the casino, the most popular being the replica of a San Francisco cable car. This was an honest copy of such that would make cable car inventor Andrew Hallidie proud, albeit running on rubber tires and powered not by a cable but a big-block Chevy V-8. (And here I’ll predict that I will hear from all of the 14,387 people who drove that cable car, just as I heard from the 9,489 who drove the Zamboni in Blyth Arena at the 1960 Olympics!)

          So – the cable car plied the tracks of East Second Street to the Icehouse, back-and-forth, rain or shine. But a burr had been forming under our collector-friend’s saddle. “I have all these beautiful cars and dozens of fleet trucks and my own Ferrari Boxer (red) and our Phantom V Roll-Royce limos. I’d like to put some license plate beside W78324 on my Boxer and give Sammy a Duesenberg with something beside WRQ784 on his plate.” Or words to that effect.

          And so he dispatched to Carson City his bevy or attorneys, lobbyists, those high in gaming and other influential persons, to buttonhole the legislators, upon whom our collector’s name did not fall on deaf ears. “How can we enable our friend with casinos and hotels and payrolls in Reno and Stateline, and the license fees generated to our State on his 3,000 cars, trucks, speedboats, the Thunderbird yacht, a Ford Tri-motor and four or five airplanes with tail numbers all ending in -411Hotel, plus an honest-to-god cable car, to put whatever the hell he wants to on all his license plates?” A valid question indeed.

      olds    Thus it came to be in 1971 that the legislators took his request quite seriously and directed the Nevada DMV to buy some letter stamp dies for their license plate factory east of Carson City. Thereafter, any motorist with a car and what I recall to be $25 could order a plate that didn’t contain some thinly-veiled reference to something naughty and shortly receive two such plates for the bow and stern of the vehicle. And thus one of the greatest Gazoo column themes that’s ever hit print was born, that being the late Ty Cobb Sr.’s periodic Cobbwebs columns of cool vanity plates. I’ve been asked why I don’t pick up on this theme of Mr. Cobb’s, at one time the Sports Editor and later Managing Editor of the Nevada State Journal. Ty was my friend and I respect the plate stories as his province, and almost 20 years following his passing I still leave them alone.

          But, I’ll end this yarn the way it started, about rubber-tired cable cars inspiring our friend to champion the cause of personalized plates in Nevada. On that venerable vehicle, at either end of its brilliantly polished and maintained wood and brass chassis, Bill Harrah bolted a blue plate that encapsulated the character of a San Francisco cable car: the simple word, CLANG.

          Have a good week, and God bless America!

I should have included that the picture at the hed of this column of Bill Harrah and 16 of his “Board of Directors” was taken in 1959, at the southwest corner of the intersection of Geiger Grade and Highway 395. One man, Bob Martin, remains with us at this writing in November of 2017…he’s in the approximate middle of the photo, the only man with both his hands visible…

 

 

 

Some old air race family photos

(Click here for GAA bowling photos)

Occasionally I get to put my sons on the website. Here’s a couple that they’ll kill me for posting. Son Ron in my pickup in 1974; he was actually banned at Home Pylon for his age so he took up residence in the pickup, note, food, beverage cooler, binoculars, VHF radio on the roof, lawn chair – what else does a man need? Best seat at the races…In the 1983 home pylon crew shot is son Brent on the left, then next right is Dale Tucker (the present flagman); the three to the right have all passed away. And I hope you like yours truly’s Reno 911 cutoffs (hey, they were in vogue in 1983…!) 

rontruck2

air-race-home-pylon-crew

Reno High’s 1955-1956 G.A.A. bowlers, names added Sept. 12 updated

GAA Girls Bowling 1955-56My lady friends know me well; the best time to get their pictures on the web are during extra-inning Giants games when I’m sitting here bored stiff by the Boys of Summer. This came in on an e-mail from Valerie Estes, Linda Smith Clift, Judy Aoyama Takeda, Joyce Hollenback and Marcia Avansino. Let’s put some names with the mugs, ladies… kfbreckenridge@live.com  the rows are uneven so add a hairstyle, blouse color (light or dark) or something to help me out.

OK, SOME NAMES HAVE BEEN SUPPLIED BY A BEVY OF BEAUTIES WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS. THE HOST OF THIS WEBSITE TAKES NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE NAMES. I JUST POST STUFF, OTHERS SEND THE INFO. THE NAMES, MAYBE, FOLLOW:

bowlnames

A story of Reno resident Mel Vhay

Reed/Sparks High reunion info here

MelVhayMy original hed for this tale was “A story of Reno resident Mel Vhay, who was originally married to architect David Vhay, then married Don Powers following David’s passing, and was the daughter of the Mackay Statue and Mt. Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum.” I saw it in print and decided it was too wordy, even for me. So, you read the above hed. My contemporary  Des Powers sent me an extremely well-written e-mail about Mel Vhay, so I here post it for all to see:

Thanks for the update on the development of your column on the Holiday Hotel’s “Mug Hunt.”  Newt Crumley’s wife, Fran Crumley, and Mel were very good friends.   As you likely know, Mel’s dad was Gutzon BorglumBorglum [pictured to the right], sculptor of Mt. Rushmore and friend of Clarence Mackay.  Hence, the statue that Gutzon sculpted, of his friend Clarence Mackay, that stands on the Quad to this day.

Mel and my dad were married in 1990 until my dad’s passing in 1995.  Our mom passed away in 1988.  While married to my dad, Mel’s name was Mel Borglum Vhay Powers.  Kind of a long one, so she went by Mel Powers during those years.  I was very fond of her and felt very close to Mel during the years I knew her.  Mel was immediately very welcoming to my sisters and me, and to our extended families.  She was a remarkable woman and lived a very interesting and fascinating life.  She told a few stories over the years about how the concept of what became Mt. Rushmore came about, and some stories from the days during her father’s  sculpting of Mt. Rushmore.  She told the story of when she met President Franklin Roosevelt when he came to the dedication of Mt. Rushmore in 1941.  The stories she told still have me absolutely riveted to this day. 

[Here, I’ll interject a thought: Mel and David Vhay’s son Tink lives in Reno with his wife Muffy. I haven’t spoken to Tink but would surmise that he and Muffy were aboard for this also. ed.]

For me, in addition to being my step-mother who I loved, she was a living connection to significant times in American history.  In 1991, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Mt. Rushmore was held at what Mel’s family affectionately refers to as “The Mountain.”  I went to the celebration with Mel, my dad, many of Mel’s family and a few thousand others whose names I don’t recall.  President George H.W. Bush presided at the celebration.  The celebration was in July 1991.  President Bush had already nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court and the President could not hold back including in his official remarks, on the 50th anniversary of Mt. Rushmore, some comments on how important it was to see that Clarence Thomas received approval from the U.S. Senate for his appointment to the United States Supreme Court.  Well, as we know, the rest is history.

The seat I received for the celebration entitled me to a “third-class” view.  Mel and my dad were “down in front” enjoying a “first-class” view right in front of the podium and across the aisle from John Sununu.  Mel took some pictures of the speakers at the lectern on the podium.   I know that he was quite busy with other matters and likely overlooked getting many of the “small things” in his life done on a timely basis.  Anyway, I found a very nice viewing position on the top of the roof of a utility building.  As I got settled in, a young man, dressed in Army attire, who was apparently an ROTC cadet or a 90-day wonder in training, approached me and said, “Sir, you need to move”.  My response was, of course,

“Why?”  His response to my response was, “Because the Secret Service says you have to.”  I continued my protestation by saying, “I’m just sitting here and have already gone through security”.  He said, “Sir, you need to move.”  So I did, most likely with my movements being observed through various types of scopes held by various agents associated with various federal agencies.  I found another place to view the festivities, but it was not as nice as that spot on that roof.

Joining Mel and my dad on the trip was Fran Crumley.  Fran was a delightful lady and always very warm and welcoming to my sisters and me.  I occasionally saw Fran at family events subsequent to the Mt. Rushmore trip and I was always greeted warmly by her.  Fran had a great amount of class and I have remained impressed by her to this day.

MackayStatuePerhaps sometime you could write a column on Gutzon Borglum’s connection to Reno and the Comstock.  Gutzon Borglum, in my view, has yet to be fully recognized for his place in American history.  His connection to Reno and the Comstock’s history, in my recollection, has received only very brief references, if at all, over the years.  His impact on American history lives on to this day.  For example, in a conversation with her, I asked Mel why Teddy Roosevelt is on Mt. Rushmore along with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.  Teddy Roosevelt, while a significant American and a significant American president, to me, was not in the same category, in terms of their impact on American history, as Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, yet he is with them on Mt. Rushmore.  Mel told me that Teddy Roosevelt is on Mt. Rushmore because, in her father’s opinion, he made very significant contributions to America, which he did, but also because Teddy and Gutzon were friends of long standing.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Footnote: Mel (Mary Ellis) Vhay Powers, who resided in Lakeridge Terrace, passed away in September of 2002. 

Good words from a man not a writer, but a CPA. The letter goes on with some personal information. But Des’ point is well-taken; Borglum, who had local roots, is a person who should MtRushmore30061 Mt Rushmorehold a higher place in local lore. We know of Mt. Rushmore, and of the John Mackay statue on the Quad. Few know that Borglum was tapped by the National Park Service to re-sculpt the hand and arm of Lady Liberty, who was originally sculpted by Bartholde holding the torch in an awkward position, and thus was redone to the present appearance. I’ll work toward more Borglum stories as time marches on. And, I thank Des for a great letter. KB

A friend – LeRoy Goodman – writes about Beebe and Clegg in Virginia City

BeebeRolls
Karl: 
I enjoy your weekly articles about Reno and the surrounding
area. Keep on writing! About Beebe and Clegg, I had the
pleasure of growing up in Virginia City after the War. 
Beebe and Clegg would store their vehicles at my dads
service station/garage (Virginia Garage) and he would
maintain them while they were gone. Beebe always bought a
new Oldsmobile convertible (red!) in Reno every year. Clegg
had a Bentley which they would take to the Bay Area when
they traveled if they did not use the rail car. T-Bone
Towser (the dog/St Bernard) would go everywhere with Beebe
in the Olds. The back seat was for T-Bone only. What a
sight! On Hallowe'en they would have a huge bowl of pennies
that every kid could take a very large soup spoon and see
how many they could get in the spoon. You got to keep the
pennies ( 40 to 60 cents) Also, every kid got a very large
apple to take home. There are many more memories of those
two but I will not bore you right now. LeRoy Goodman

Bore? No way - thanks for writing, LeRoy - KB

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

 

Happy Bill Howard, The Nugget’s Flagpole Sitter

Howard

(click the pic for the recipes) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© RGJ, a long time ago

 

Some old recipes from the Washoe Medical Center Ladies League cookbook ~

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RenoAlsoCooks It’s a book produced by Washoe Medical Center’s Women’s Auxiliary no later than 1959, for Gov. Charles Russell signed the dedication. It’s over 400 pages of handwritten recipes, from local men, and ladies whose first names were all Mrs. (Except for Mrs. Norman Biltz, who used her own name Esther…)

Added Nov. 29. 2017: For more information about the Washoe Medical Center Women’s League, click here Tombola Days

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Thursday day night 12/10, Mrs. Cavilia, who knows her Italian sauce, shares a secret above

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Muriel Kafoury checks in on this Tuesday Dec. 8th, with some Crab Creole – whoops, crab’s a little hard to come by at the moment with the ban on in the SF Bay. But save the recipe. And here we have a Household Hint, and some artwork!

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On this gloomy first Sunday of December we see a recipe for which I have no idea what it is, but have selected it for the neat penmanship and also because the contributor, Mrs. Norman Biltz, violated 1960s convention and signed it with her own name, which was Esther. Should anyone know what it’s for, lemme know. It appears to be for leftover fish

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Saturday afternoon 12/5, good college hoops on the tube, cold outside, need some dessert for the stuff we’ve been cooking, here’s two from Leola MacDonald and Mrs. H. Lownes Jackson whose name I don’t know but she makes a mean dish of ice cream, load up on the brandy if you want

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On this Friday, Dec. 4 I bring you with great pleasure two pecan recipes, not picon like we get at Louis’ or the Santa Fe, but nuts – these are from Cherry Luce and Hazel Herd. Go for it!

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Thursday, Dec. 3, happy to bring you Gov. Charles Russell’s favorite chicken dish, a recipe from his wife. I knew her, sort of, as a child knows an adult; her name was Marjorie, and she was Clark Guild Jr.’s sister, Judge Clark Guild Sr.’s daughter, born in Yerington and a great Nevadan. Here’s her recipe, try it: 

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Wednesday late: Here’s a couple from Sen. Clifton Young’s wife, Loretta, and U of Nevada president Minard Stout’s wife Ruth (?)

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Tuesday night, Dec. 1: This is a humdinger, which appears to be very close to Danish aebel skivers, which take the basic pancake to the closest thing to heaven at breakfast – if you’ve been to Solvang, near Santa Barbara, you’ve probably tried them. Bookmark this one, you’ll like it (it’s from Mrs. Thomas Harvey, known to many as Maxine!)

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Monday night; here’s one for trout from Gilbert Vasserot. This was a specialty dish on the menu of his (with partner Joe Patrucco) Eugene’s Restaurant on South Virginia Street 

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Here’s Gilbert! Gilbert!

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Sunday afternoon, ‘Niners struggling, too cold to go outside much so here’s two more, from Mmes. McDonald (McDonald Carano) and Johnson (Chevrolet)   TOUCHDOWN ‘NINERS!!!

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On Sunday Nov. 29, Here’s a couple, from Walt Tobin and Dr. (Bart) Hood

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Added Saturday, The Ohio State beating Michigan, here’s a recipe from Harold Cafferata. Love his penmanship! And the recipe doesn’t look bad either…

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