A Record column!

BaffertI’m re-posting this by request for a good friend and longtime reader; it appeared in the Gazoo April 17, 2017  © RGJ

The casual reader may recall that a week ago I sent out a plea for some info about a popular Reno lady named Nikki. This was in response to a reader’s query about a lady so named who made the grandest ravioli in the land for dinner parties and gatherings.

My plea was answered by a childhood friend, with coöperation from another old friend and veteran reader, Jackie Manoukian. The info about Nikki, two “k”s, came from another Niki, one “k”, Niki Schraub. She fleshed out the story of Nikki the ravioli lady.

 Niki writes, “Nicoletta (Nikki) Pistone was my grandmother…her kitchen was about 6′ x 6′ and she was able to produce tons of gourmet food for special occasions here in Reno, (including her fantastic ravioli). I felt so fortunate that she was in my life…unfortunately, she took her gourmet cooking for granted…kept her two granddaughters [Niki and Dale] out of the kitchen…she was the reason I got even a halfway decent education …but I never learned to cook….”

“I only remember my grandmother, Nicoletta, living next door to us on Stewart Street. Oh, also, my fraternal grandmother was Maude Pennell Record and she did live up near sorority row on Sierra Street…..” And that Sierra Street reference validates my fuzzy memory of last week that upper Sierra Street played a role in this mystery.

RecordNow, a new door opens; one that I’ve wanted to journey through for many years, usually while driving along East Fourth Street. The key word here is “Record,” and the journey starts with a popular Reno couple – Niki and Dale’s parents – Ann and Dick Record, who passed away in 1984 and 1986, respectively. Dick was the owner of Record Supply Company, which supplied not phonograph records as I once read somewhere, but in fact plumbing and building supplies. I would speculate that darn few homes and buildings in Reno and Sparks built in the latter half of the 20th century didn’t have a part or piece that started at Record Supply. And Dick and Ann gave back mightily to the community.

Record Supply had an entrance on a little stub street running south off East Fourth Street, more of a railroad easement than a street. Years ago I could never find its appellation “East Street” in any records, but rather the name of the easement that ran northward from East Fourth Street by the bygone Orvis Ring Elementary School to and past the University of Nevada. The street south of Fourth Street became known, rightly or colloquially, as “Record Street.” That name got hammered into use, complete with street signs so marked. And thereafter became the name of the railroad right-of-way weaving up to the campus. The street may now be a named city street.

I’ve always been a bit miffed that the Record family, for all they did for this town, is now frequently remembered in conjunction with the “Record Street homeless center.” The northern tip of “Record Street” became the site of the once-Record Street Café, now Bibo’s, a trendy little building built like a Mack truck that was in a past incarnation the shop for Geister Hardwood Flooring, and originally the locomotive maintenance shop of the NCO and later Western Pacific Railway. But seeing the name of the family on that pleasant little café somewhat assuaged my disappointment in hearing the name only in conjunction with its more southerly use.

Targeting now the readership more of my increasing vintage, I’ll thank Niki for contacting me. I remember her only vaguely, but recall her as being as attractive as her younger raven-haired sister Dale. Dale was one of the mature senior girls who put the pep in the step and glide in the stride of a bunch of gawky freshman boys entering Reno High School, making the high school experience somewhat palatable. (I include in this bevy of beauties our teacher Miss Menu, in her rookie year of teaching English!) “Miss Menu” now hails as “Joanne Kimball,” and stays in touch with the column, always grammatically perfectly. Dale Record-Johnstone, we regret, passed away in 2014; her daughter Shelby Lively resides in Reno. Niki Schraub’s son Richard also resides in Reno.

Switching gears now but still writing of popular teachers, I’m pleased to report that our teacher and later administrator John Gonda, who like Miss Menu was another teacher we had in their rookie year (1951 for John) was named earlier in the week to the Sparks High School Athletic Hall of Fame. I thank John’s son Jeff – born when John taught us at Central Jr. High – for bringing this to my attention!

It’s been a tough week for the classmates of Mr. Gonda’s class of 1951. Here we say, thanks for reading; so long, Ma Bell, and God bless America.

contact Breck at kfbreckenridge@live.com

 

 

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Happy New Year to all!

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

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

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

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

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

Of Buffalo and the Perils of Historical Research…

cropped-kfb-bow-tieThis eve following Christmas I’m pleased to welcome old friend Debbie Hinman to the website, demonstrating one of her many skills, e.g. writing a column. Debbie is the editor of the Historical Reno Preservation Society’s Footprints newsletter, and one of the better researchers and writers in our valley – some can write, others can research but a person that can do both is rare indeed.

ArtistMeeting

The column, rich in the history of Reno and Idlewild Park, belongs in Footprints but she elected to let me have it for the Ol’ Reno Guy. I asked her for her photograph but she declined, so I dug up an old one I had of her addressing a joint meeting of the Nevada Historical Society and the State of Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. While there are several other people in the photo, I’ll just say that it was a warm, sultry afternoon and Debbie came dressed for the occasion so I needn’t ID her in the shot.

Debbie writes now, the first of what I hope will be the first column of many in the future!

While historical research is for the most part very intriguing and well, just plain fun, there is always that chance that you will discover something you never wanted to know.  This happened to me recently at the Nevada Historical Society library.

I was scrolling through microfilm, engrossed in a story about testing amphibious Buffalojeeps at Virginia Lake, when my eye caught a fuzzy photo of a couple of jocular-looking fellows armed with rifles hamming for the camera.  And what was that in the background?  I zoomed in to try and get a better look.  There appeared to be two buffalo standing behind them, in some sort of enclosure.  Then I noted a reference to Reno’s Idlewild Park.  Now several years ago, I did a bit of research on Idlewild for a Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation project.  I had heard there was a zoo at the park in the early days and fascinated, I began collecting articles on the various animals contained there.  

As background, the zoo began in the very early days of Idlewild Park, circa 1924.  The first residents were birds and the initial plan was to include only “non-meat eaters.”  By December of that year, the bird population included four large bald eagles and a desert raven.  But the donation of a wildcat kitten and a fox by a local trapper began to change the face of the zoo.  By September of 1925, there were also elk, antelope, deer and—buffalo.  In 1927 there were enough buffalo at the park that Mayor Roberts negotiated a trade with the Sacramento Zoo: one buffalo calf for two monkeys, two swans, three raccoons (raccoons, really?  All they had to do was check the storm drains in the Old Southwest) and an assortment of other birds.  At any rate, by early 1931, the zoo population had soared to 167 assorted creatures. 

The denizens of the zoo were always fodder for appealing newspaper stories and the buffalo were no exception.  A very heartfelt obituary for Chief Shaggy Buffalo was printed in 1925.  “Chief Shaggy,” whose real name was Bos Bison, was apparently a children’s favorite.  Park officials believed he was poisoned but had yet to identify the assassin.  The obituary stated that Chief Shaggy, who left a widow and two sons, Nickel, 5, and Jitney, 6 months, would be sorely missed.  Saddened, I continued following the buffalo throughout the years, finding a second obituary for “Old King,” who at fifteen and fifteen hundred pounds, passed on to the Great Beyond in 1936.  I was more philosophical about this passing; King after all had a long, cushy life being fed and watered in attractive surroundings, adored by his local fans.

Reverting to the 1945 photo of the armed men and buffalo that caught my attention, I read the caption and was properly horrified.  True, these men were not actually shooting at the buffalo (which in a penned area in a park would be a true fish-in-a-barrel situation), but the buffalo were slated to be slaughtered for — a barbecue hosted by the Lions Club, likely attended by the very same children who visited them regularly at the zoo!  They didn’t go peacefully, however.  Reported the Reno Evening Gazette:  “Vigorously displaying his resentment at losing two of his herd, the 1800-pound bull at the park felled one of the ‘hunters,’ Paul Mathews, and the park employee escaped only by crawling to a water hole in the corral.  Pitchforks, lassoes and considerable footwork on the part of the wranglers were required before two 800-pound heifer calves were finally loaded in a truck for their last ride to the Nevada Packing Company.”  A suggestion was made to include the troublemaking herd leader in the barbecue but it was argued that his meat would be too tough.

True, the barbecue was for a good cause, to thank locals for buying war bonds and perhaps the buffalo herd needed to be thinned for space considerations, but barbecuing and feasting on zoo animals just outside their former sanctuary still sticks in my craw.  I’m just glad Chief Shaggy and King didn’t live to see that day.

Thanks, Debbie – send reader comments or recollections to kfbreckenridge@live.com , and include your permission to publish them!

Meeting photograph Jerry Felesina family photo

 

A ’56 Chevy with a load a’ love under the hood…

JeepersAt rest in my lonely writer’s garret on a halcyon midsummer day, the Giants at home in their SF yard and coming on the tube soon; a quart of iced tea on my side table, my weekly “Geriatric Nocturnal Abstinence” advice column filed. What could go wrong with that?

My phone rings. I foolishly answer it. That’s what could go wrong with that.

Larry57On the west end of the line is my ol’ childhood buddy Jerry Lenzora, a favorite classmate of mine from Reno High’s vaunted Class of 1959 and one of the funniest guys in our class. He’s a retired outdoor advertising guru, residing for these many years in Ripon, California, a hoot-and-a-holler out of Manteca; a small farming town of ten or twelve thousand souls with a Western Auto store and a bookmobile that comes in from the Stanislaus County Library twice a week.

Jerry is all a-twitter. “I’ve a Hot August Nights human interest story for you that will knock your socks off.” 

THAT’S what could go wrong. I tried telling Lenzora that I no longer write. I’m old, feeble, and my mind can no longer form sentences. I told him the local paper where I moiled once a week for 29 years no longer publishes me, and their readership has gone through the roof since I quit and they’re doing just fine. I strengthened the story by telling him that I’m under an order from the Ninth Circuit Court and thus can’t write anything to be published west of Denver, Colorado. But he kept jabbering. I told him that I had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in both wrists, ankles and one knee. I told him that I’ve written about Hot August Nights until I was blue in the face, that it’s all been written.Chevinterior

I told him the dog stole my laptop (I liked that one). I told him, no, no. No more writing. Call Mike Sion. Call Guy Clifton. Call Erin Breen. But he kept talking. My protests were falling on deaf ears.

THAT’S what could go wrong.

So I listened to his fanciful tale, replete with classic cars and the guys who fix them, pretty girls, a local couple who own a day-care and a garden shop, a newlywed couple, a weirdo V-8 engine that GM once built, of one of the most dreaded diseases in the land, and other stuff pertaining, sort of, to the proposed writing assignment. Beaten down, I acceded to give it a go.

Getting into my Hot August Nights writing mode, as all readers should do prior to reading about it, let’s do the checklist: The family car air conditioning set to “440,” four windows down doing 40 MPH, check. At least two round trips on Virginia Street from Liberty Street northward turning left into Sewell’s parking lot and return to get into the mood, check. Chicks in hip-huggers, guys in 501s, what the hell were “poodle skirts” anyway and who ever had fuzzy dice hanging from their rear view mirrors? Check. Bud Buley, the Reno motorcycle cop we loved to hate, on his Harley Wolfmanin the vicinity. Check. And our tube-set car radios tuned to XEAK, the Mighty 690 AM with the Wolfman [left] spinning stax of wax and Jan and Dean and the Beach Boys. Check. We’re ready, let’s cruise. Or in my case, let’s write something. The Giants can wait, the iced tea will turn to Kirkland Margarita writing fluid in due course, and the sooner I get Lenzora tamed down the sooner peace will return to the Lonely Writer’s Garret.

We’ll start at the beginning, if such it is, by dropping the name of Sparks native HollisLinda (née Franchi) and her husband Pawl Hollis [seen at right]; Linda the owner of Magic Tree Day Care and Pawl the owner of Rail City Nursery, and yes, the host of the radio show on KOH on Saturday mornings (the 1950s’ Big John & Sparky on KOH it’s not, but it’s PatJeneCanyonpleasant anyway…)

We’re admittedly having a bit of fun with this story, but here the text inevitably reins in: In 2000 Linda’s sister Anita (Follett) succumbed to ALS – Lou Gehrig’s Disease. In an effort to perpetuate her sister’s memory Linda endowed the annual use of her cousin Jerry Lenzora’s HAN rod as an auction prize. Newlyweds Patrick and Jené Hickey [seen at left visiting the Grand Canyon] bid on it at an ALS Society dinner earlier this year, and won the ride.

But wait, a discouraging word (cue an ominous diminished chord riff on our piano): Jerry Lenzora turns the starter on the ride which has been nominated as the prime mover for the Hickeys’ 2018 Hot August Nights honeymoon cruising, and black smoke blows six ways from sundown. In a controlled panic, Jerry hauls what’s left of the little red Bel Air into Sam’s shop. Sam has a last name but it’s not finding its way into this text, because Sam is one of the diminishing fraternity of gearheads who make Hot August Nights possible, in fact without the Sams there may not be a Hot August Nights in coming years. I talked to Sam – he’s a fun guy. The Sams know the old hemis, the small-block Chevies, the Ford mills, what cools them, how their Hurst shifters and Holley and Carter carbs work and what keeps the vintage iron rolling. But, mostly-retired they sometimes don’t get quite fully signed up with the powers-that-be and they work a lot for cash, so Sam is henceforth known as Sam.

Sam checks out what’s left of Jerry’s Chevy and renders the opinion that the Chev’s ChevV8a350 cubic-inch engine is, in a word, toast. Jerry, crushed, relates to Sam that the little coupe was destined to be a ride for a couple of newlyweds next month, an honor they had won as the successful bidders in an ALS Society auction, and what will I tell them?

Sam, no stranger to what makes car-guys think, says don’t tell them anything. We’ll make it roll. Jerry foresees a “new” rebuilt 350 going in, costing upwards of four or five large, and a nail-biter to be done in time for the HAN cruise. But Sam is ‘way ahead of him. He finds a 305-cube V-8 Chevy block, yes, 305; an off-breed that GM built mostly for vans and smaller GM cars like Pontiac’s and Oldsmobile’s compacts. “Let’s get these kids cruisin’,” said Sam with a merry twinkle in his eye.

He called our friend Jerry a week later, pointed to the Chevy in the garage bay, and said “Check it out.” The 305 looked like it had been under the hood forever with all the chromed bells and whistles. “Crank it,” said Sam. Jerry turned it over and it barked to life like a 427 – a deep, throaty rumble, which after all is why we like big bores and hemis – the mellow exhaust sound. “Here’s your bill,” Sam said.

Jerry looked at it and a moment later picked himself off the garage’s concrete floor. It was well-under a grand. Jerry, steeled for a five-grand hit, was out the door for a sixth of that.

“Tell those kids to have some fun!” said Sam as Jerry drove off in the Chevy, a  glisten in his eye and Sam thus joining the honor roll of Good Guys for this 2018 ALS ride. In one sense, without his beneficence and celerity, the Hickeys’ newlywed cruise might not be happening in early August.

hollis2And, much the same can be said of Pawl and Linda Hollis who sponsor the cruise for a great cause, for a hideous malady that claimed my cousin’s life and the dad of one of my best friends. Certainly we note Patrick and Jené Hickey’s contribution, and that of my ol’ pal Jerry Lenzora, who went above and beyond to keep the little coupe rolling along this year.

 

So – during Hot August Nights, if you see a handsome young Lenzoranewcouple in a red-and-PatJeneLibrarywhite 1956 Bel Air being squired around with an old guy at the wheel, that’s how their cruise came to be – give ‘em all a high-five!

 

 

 

Photos of the Bel Air © Shannon Kuhn and Jamie Eisinga from Birch & Blossom photography. Photo of Jerry Lenzora, who knows…?

 

An old friend visits Virginia Lake

Thumbs up  A popular lass in my childhood, who was graduated from Reno High a year after I (1960 for her) and whose name was Rosemary Haenel, now Rosemary Haenel Voyles, sent along a summer greeting that’s kind of cool and I asked her if I could put it on the web. Here it is, with a little narrative in her own voice!VoylesVLake

A Four-Year-Old Named Rosemarie at Virginia Lake in 1946 with Mother in the Dark Jacket and Mrs. August Brinkby in the Light Coat

“Hi Karl!  I dragged my photo out and thought you might like it. This view shows no buildings toward the future Peppermill, looking southeast.  My family spent a lot of time feeding the ducks healthy bread in those days at Virginia Lake. The Brinkbys lived two doors down the street on Hill Street toward Liberty St.  Frieda was from somewhere in Germany and August from Denmark.

Happy Summer!

Rosie
Thanks, Rosie; a great shot…to orient the observer, the overflow glory hole to the Cochran Ditch is evident in the right margin of the photo, right where it is today! Thought of this after I posted the picture: Rosie and the lake were both four years old when the shot was taken………

The Six-year-old-kid is packing and moving – won’t post here again ’til mid-June……………. here are the Doctors of Sheep Dip who made it happen:

Snoshu[at left] Rollan Melton and Snoshu Thompson doing an old soft shu

I promised Dr. Lynnae Hornbarger [right] thatHornbarger I’d post the roster of eminent Doctors of Sheep Dip, and here they are…a few more were added in the past couple years; their names are posted following this list:

Doctors of 001

2017

Jessell Miller
Julie Ann Raum
Jeannine Reddicks 
Fred Scruggs
Amber Shivers
Rick Wilson
 
2018
Judianne Scruggs

More S. F. 1906 Earthquake stuff

LottaJPEGWhen last we met, I described meeting a friend who gave us a predawn ride from the SF Marina to Market Street, for the 100-year anniversary of the Great San Francisco Earthquake – the morning was April 18, 2006. What I didn’t really develop was the participation and organization of the San Francisco Fire Department. The event was basically rooted in the fire services of San Francisco and more outlying communities.

Don Young, who I’ve profiled in a 2016 RGJ column, is a retired chief of the Sparksxsfd Fire Department – a man with his wife Maddy that you should know. Soon I’ll dig out the column I wrote about him, and figure out how to convert it from Gazoo-print to WordPress. Watch for that. But right now, Don writes, in response to the piece her of a couple of days ago: “The Sparks Fire Department changed the rules in 1964 to honor the State of Nevada Centennial and the firemen were authorized to sport facial hair and wear uniforms like you have on. [in the photo with Linda at Lotta’s Fountain on Market Street]. My wife and YoungLittleWalothers made the shirts out of heavy red flannel and we also wore jeans as a work uniform. Thanks, Don”

And we thank you Don, known by his license plate as “XSFD” – ex-Sparks Fire Department. You’ll read more of him soon, right here. His official department portrait seen above right was taken by SFD’s Jeff Spicer. Pretty cool.

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Also in the column of a couple days ago, I mentioned the 1908 photograph of Reno and Sparks, taken from an airship, better described as a kite, by the Lawrence Airship Company out of Chicago. I won’t waste space here; you can read more of it in the preceding post. But – I did allude to 17 prints of it being discovered downtown, and my ownership of one of the originals.

LawrenceAirshipPhoto

The backstory there is, that in 1957 there was a major explosion and fire in downtown Reno (I’ll put a link to it at the end of this post). In its aftermath, some workers in the A. Carlisle Company, on the west side of Sierra Street just north of Home Furniture on the First Street corner, were mopping up after the fire. They pulled a large ozalid-process machine for making blueprints and about as big as a big deep freeze, away from a wall and voila! They found behind the printer, 17 original prints of the photo, in pristine condition. My dad scored one of them; it’s hanging to this day in a relative’s law office. There were only 17 known until recent technology and the expiration of a copyright allowed them to be copied – and copied in better detail than the originals. So – there’s more than 17 around town now. Lawrence’s brochures and records indicate a price of $18 per copy, a pretty penny in 1908.

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OK, still writing of fire department stuff vis-à-vis San Francisco and the earthquake, let’s pay proper attention to the American LaFrance Company, who in 2006 had been supplying America, through its several incarnations, with fire trucks. CaptureSan Francisco was a prime customer and LaFrance took it upon themselves to make a statement of gratitude. They sold the City 16 new “triple” engines, but put a little extra into them before they were delivered starting in February of 2006. The engines were painted a “retro” color, darker red and almost a purplish-brown, to emulate the color engines the City used before WWII. But the piece-de-resistance was the gold-leaf treatment – I don’t know whether the engines are more striking by day with the sun dancing off the heavy gold-leaf that covered the engines and station numbers and SFFD ownership, or maybe they were more so at night, with other light sources lighting up the gold. Top that with heavy silver plating on the bumpers, trim and the big bells on the front bumpers with the LaFrance eagle atop them, and those are 16 pretty trucks. They remain in service, immaculately-maintained these 12 years later, and are still head-turners when cruising around the Streets of San Francisco.

Now, we’ll put the SFFD out of service for a while, but return to a tale of a local guy, a Sparks Railroader who ran the Sparks Fire Department. If you’d like to read the post that preceded and inspired this go here and it will open in another window, or if you’d like to know more about one of Reno’s major downtown fires in 1957, click here.

See ya in a week or two; I’m going to get the six-year-old kid off his butt and writing about old Reno!

 

 

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!

MY GOD, IS THAT BILL BILICHICK IN A SUIT AND TIE ON TV?

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!

 

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

 

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