Dec. 13 – 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 Rabbi Frankel 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 Ginsburg 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!!!!

(* I stole the passage from editor Francis P. Church who wrote that in “Yes Virginia There is a Santa Claus” in the Sept. 21, 1897 edition of the New York Sun)

 

 

 

Reno’s Music Men (and a couple ladies…)

JohnnyFeverThe Gazoo was conducting its fifth annual roundup of local musicians. In some haste I called Lauren House (right), this column’s director of music and cultural affairs, who in my opinion happens to be one of the longest-tenured and the best musician and tenor voice in Reno, cutting his musical molars in the basement of the storied Emporium of Music on Sierra Street when Ike was still in the White House. “What Lauren Houseare we to do?” I asked him. “They want all this stuff from a bunch of local music guys who don’t have email, think Dick Tracy invented the cell phone and don’t know a CD from an IUD.” I left out that most of them are deceased as well. But their stories need to be documented. My mind went to he who may be the best musician that ever hit Reno from faraway New York, whose name was Joe Battaglia (left, below). Joe romanced and wed a local lady, Orene Budge, after World War II, moving then to Reno. He was involved in most of the musical groups in Reno, the church choirs, a solo tenor with the Reno Municipal Band and performed in more annual presentations of the Messiah than one could reasonably Handel. Joe organized many chorus groups, notably the Men of Renown, a group of 16 local men with great pipes. Lauren battagliareminded me his comedic stock-in trade was entering a downtown restaurant costumed as a waiter carrying a silver covered entrée dish while a singer was performing, crashing to the floor with his tray and disrupting the entire room, then joining the singer onstage with a beautiful rendition in his powerful tenor voice. Such was Joe. We’ll send in a CD with a video of this fine and popular man. OK, there’s one entry in the “Best of” contest. We now traverse from the Golden Hotel and Joe Battaglia across the Truckee to Newt Crumley’s Holiday Hotel after it opened in 1957, where a fixture in the music scene was cueing up his five-man house orchestra – his name was Charles Gould, the conductor of the Satin Strings, who performed nightly at the Holiday in the Shore Room or its cozy little lounge. Few Reno homes didn’t have a copy of his albums, (round, black things with a holes in the middle that a machine would spin 33 times a minute) and bring to life Gould’s soft renditions of some of the best music then being written, primarily from Broadway, Cole Porter or Duke Ellington. One could nudge Gould and his men along with a few pictures of dead presidents and they might appear at your child’s wedding reception at Hidden Valley or the 20 Century Club or the Shore Room. And if you could score Battaglia to join the Satin Strings, you were in high cotton, musically speaking. A well-established Texas lounge singer came to Reno by way of Ravazzathe Venetian Room at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, in what I recall as 1952. He announced during a show at the Riverside Hotel’s showroom that he’d like to become a Nevadan and buy a few cows and wear snap-button shirts and sing with a drawl. Word got out that he was a’lookin’ for a spread outside Reno, and Carl Ravazza, with his wife Marcie bought a chunk of the Rhodes ranch by the Geiger Grade and made Reno their home. He continued to sing and made quite a few albums. Not at all a country singer, he’s known best for his song “Vieni Su,” which is still heard around retro showrooms. A nice man, sang at most of the rooms in Reno and the west coast, and was for a time an entertainment consultant, if not director, at John Ascuaga’s Nugget – Carl and John became friends. I don’t know that he ever twanged any cowboy stuff but he made a lot of friends locally, was a hell of a golfer, and passed away in 1968. Lauren and I need to send the RGJ CharlesGouldone of his vinyl albums. Tony Pecetti and his sqeezebox at the El Patio Lounge – got a column here once – “Swing and Sweat, with Tony Pecett!”) 

Many in the education field had a great impact on local music and young budding musicians. Leading that pack might be a man I know only from reputation who must have been a mighty man with a tune – his name was Theodore Post, who ran the University of Nevada’s music program for many years. And did a little composing along the way – he wrote the melody for Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s “Sweet Promised Land of Nevada.” That’s a sure winner in the paper’s “best of” segment. Anybody remember John and Ruby Tellaisha? John was the bandmaster and music teacher at Reno High when high school marching bands were in their Meredith Willson heyday and considered a rock star by those of us who played in his bands. Ruby, as did many other local musicians, played the organ at many churches in Reno. Glen Terry, at Northside andPacetti Wooster, a great guy. Roland Kneller at Central Junior High. Looking at the word counter I realize that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew on one column, but I’ll keep gnawing away for a paragraph or two. Now, of three ladies who sang a cappella and beautifully at weddings, bar mitzvahs, fashion shows, private parties, afternoon teas at the 20 Century Club, goat ropings and Christmas parties when we could still write “Christmas.” Their names were Virginia Sawdon, Elizabeth Crouch and Betty Ohrmann, accompanied by Betty McLean tickling the ivories. They sang only infrequently and were generally considered a plum to book for a really swell party. We have to include the man who played the Harolds Club calliope as well as the Kingston Trio who honed their skills in the 1950s at the Holiday Hotel before KingstonTriogoing big-time. Frank and Jan Savage, and Bob Braman for sure; Tennessee Ernie Ford in his salad days on Cactus Tom’s KOH radio show. Bob Herz, an attorney with a phenomenal voice for a special friend’s wedding or retirement. Ted Puffer, who brought legitimate opera to Reno. Ron Williams at the university. And others. Friends who deserve an entire column in the near future: the Lenz family, the first name in local music. Nettie Oliverio and Jody Rice. Gilmour, Liberati, Pat Conway, the Great Creatore, W.C. Handy, Lauren House, and John Phillip Sousa, who all came to town on the very same historic day. To use a musical term, stay “tuned!”

Have a great week and God bless America. 

This appeared as a ©  column  a while ago in the RGJ…

Thanksgiving Day…

cropped-slim Well, I’m in the doghouse again; Dad says I can’t go out and play ‘til I replace that stupid story of the turkeys and the airplanes that’s on the website now for the 20th time. So while my buddies are all across the street in Whitaker Park playing, I’m slaved to this little Remington of my grandmother’s on the front porch of 740 Ralston Street. And my baby sister Marilyn is in her bassinet crying. As usual. How is a six-year-old kid to get anything done?

For some reason all I can think of is winter stuff – ‘cuz winter’s coming. And stuff I’dTypewriter like to write a story about next year. Or some I’ve already written of. People say I should come up with an “index” of what I’ve written, which sounds like a lot of work. There’s a search box where somebody can type in a name or a “keyword” and then scroll to a bunch of stories and find one they like. Or like many people do, just email me (this is 1948!) and I’ll send them a “link” to a story if there is one. Or I’ll write one. But an index? Why turn fun into hard work??

Finch copyOne story I’m trying to get written is of a man named David Finch, who became the principal of Reno High School after it moved out by Idlewild Park from right down the street from my house (if this column’s going to get written I have to suspend time and talk about stuff that hasn’t happened yet.) Finch is like that and I’ll get to him. He was a bit weird but deserves a lot better than he ever got out of Reno. I’ll get there, promise. And on a day like today I think a lot about some other stuff – like the train that got stuck in a snowbank up on Donner Summit for four days and how they got the people off it. That was 1952 but I’ve already written about it. But probably will again. I s’pose I RHS2009ought to start writing down what I’ve already written about before I get 340 columns and can’t remember. One like that is another snow story, in 1948 when the Army Air Corps sent a bunch of C-119s from southern California and ranchers sent hay to airports in Reno, Douglas County, and other little airports in Nevada and all the way east to Denver, really, and the hay was put on the airplanes by all kind of guys like my dad who then flew with the airplanes and kicked the haybales off the 119s’ back doors, to feed the cattle and sheep that were starving with all their normal food buried under snow. That’s a good story; I’ve got some pictures and will have to publish (or re-publish!) it soon in 2020.

50010 iconic cityof sf locoI’ve always written often about trains – they’re kind of part of our Reno history. One column I wrote made a lot of people scratch their head because I wrote that no “Malleys” – named for Swiss engineer Anatole Mallet – went through Reno and Sparks after 1929 because they were so complicated and maintenance-hungry. But the big ‘ol cab-forwards were called Malleys until they quit running. And the other thing that irritated my readers was that the last steam locomotives to go through town IN REVENUE SERVICE was about this time of year in 1949 – next year. I dug that out of the Mighty SP’s records in the Bancroft Library just to silence a detractor who doubted what I wrote. The ones we saw after October 1949 were in helper service. And we never write just “SP” – it’s always the “Mighty SP.” You wanna be my editor and put up with crap like that weekly for 32 years?

Another train story that I can’t find now is of the “Merci Train” – little European SinatraIIboxcars, 51 of them, that were sent after an postwar aid airlift to France and Germany, in gratitude for the life-sustaining effort by Americans. The French boxcars were sent to each state and the D of C, with  gifts to Americans from the French people, many peasants who put clothing and dolls and toys in the cars. The contents of the cars were soon stolen, natch, but the Nevada car was displayed on a flatcar on Commercial Row before being taken to the RR museum in Carson City, where it fell MerciTraininto disrepair. I had lunch every Tuesday at the Liberty Belle with Richard C. Datin, who became the director of the railroad museum, where he kicked ass and took names to get the little boxcar restored. You can see it now on display. But this is only 1948, so I don’t know that yet.

I do know that mom’s going to be steamed when she reads me typing the “A-word” ManoguePowersin that last graf. And I should include that Richard C. Datin, also a Hollywood modelmaker, created the starship Enterprise for the Star Trek TV series.

Here’s a good story that needs to be told: Atop Peavine Mountain (Peak) there’s a Bell Telephone relay station. Some kids we go to school with live there with their families, who stay there all the time and bring the kids down the grade for a  couple of days at a time. They are snowed in right now, can’t get down or up the hill; the phone company doesn’t have Tucker Sno-Cats for another year so the kids have been snowed in for a week. So a bunch of us collected warm clothing, books, fun-food and other stuff to be airlifted to them by a new-fangled “helicopter” from Reno Air Base. And speaking of which, they’re going to rename it “Stead” air base soon. And the City of Reno is going to build a new fire station across Ralston Street from the Jack & Jill Day Care Center that we understand some fraternity – Sigmanoo – bought. Why is this news? Because the Fire Department is going to try to staff it with airmen stationed at Reno/Stead air base. That’s why.

SHMlafranceAnd we don’t know this yet, but in the first big fire after the new fire house – Station 4 – opened (which was the Granada Theater fire, then two weeks later the old YMCA exploded!) the fire chief had to tell the men of Station 4 that English, and not Italian, was the preferred language on the fire department’s radio…. (Often I wrote something unpopular with editors, like that, and of the revelation that Sierra Pacific Power, in league with Southwest Gas in 1964, wantonly destroyed the antiquity-act-protected structure at the entrance to the Sutro Tunnel. The present gates are but a lame effort to restore them. Did they go to jail as you or I would have for wrecking it? Noooo…)

Anyway, there’s a lot left to write about in this burg. I kind of like being the “six-year-old-kid” but having the capability of moving time around. On a downer note, HankPhilcoxthat allows me to mention a lass who attained fame, fortune and notoriety by mowing down a couple dozen fellow citizens on Virginia Street on Thanksgiving Evening, 1980. As an aside I’ll mention as I do occasionally that I don’t run stories of unpleasant stuff, like a full story of the above, I get, monthly, a directive, “You gotta write the story of the lady on Nixon Avenue who awoke with weasels tearing at her flesh and shot her six kids and the cleaning lady……” or some other unpleasant Reno story. I probably know the stories, more accurately, in that case I have the police report and newspaper accounts and have already written the stories for my doomsday trove of such stuff, but prefer to write happy stuff. There’s enough of the other, hashed and re-hashed, in the paper – it was sensational the first time and embarrasses the writer pounding it over and over on slow news days – just let them die. (And it was three kids; the cleaning lady found them. And not on Nixon Avenue.)

Plus I’m only six years old – what do I care?

Stay tuned, return occasionally; this is 1.048 words to the last comma so I’m outta here, Dad; gonna go across Ralston to Whitaker Park and play with Don Hartman, Henry Philcox (above, in the shades), Mike Fischer, the Molini kids, Marilyn Burkham and Trina Ryan. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

 

Horsley on the Fun Train…!

FunTrainGordon Horsley, pictured at the right below, is a Reno guy, pure and simple, all over the place all the time, Reno High Alum Association, Harrah Auto Museum trustee, great taste in columnists. And drives a classic Dodge with an old Harrah license plate. He took the time to send this:
Boy you really hit home on the Sunday column.  I could write a book report on my ties with this one but I promise not to.
Some highlights….
Don “BoomBoom” Burke I first met when he ran the Reno Chamber office in S.F. and got the fun train started.
Jud Allen, (who hired Don),  his widow Glenda and my wife are the best of friends.
When the RSCVA was formed Roy Powers brought Don to Reno to be a sales manager for him
.
As time went by Don later came to work for me at the Kings Castle as a sales manager and was my best man when I Horsleymarried my wife in Virginia City.  His wife Carol and my wife were business partners in Convention Activities, a convention services company that my wife and I took over and ran for 30 years.  Don’s widow Carol is still living in Reno and another of my wife’s best pals.
The fun train is still in operation run by Key Tours out of Walnut Creek but not anything like what you wrote about.  TheyNouk charter buses from us now and then to get the people from the train station to the various properties.
Boy what a event when you got Don Burke and Don Manoukian [at left] in the same room or on a golf course.  One a 49er and the other a Raider.  It was a cherished  part of my life I will never forget.
As always Karl….many thanks for the memories..
Gordon
This column is a re-run by request of a friend; Gordon passed away a few months ago…

Happy Bill Howard, The Nugget’s Flagpole Sitter

Howard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

teext © RGJ, a long time ago

photo Bill Howard © JA Nugget/Custom Publishing Group

 

July 9th – of a Saint and of Berta

RHS2009One may think that the school district is screwed up today, but I’ll tell a tale here about a stroke of genius that was rendered in 1958. I was then a senior at Reno High, taking a class called “Civics” from a teacher who was principally a coach, but the district said that to be a coach one had to teach some creampuff subject as well. He was teaching Civics – the study of government, past and present, right here in the US of A.

A test of some consequence was coming ’round the bend soon, and sensing that we’d be asked to name the cabinet offices of the government, I composed in my mind a mnemonic to bring the answers to the forefront. I shared my mnemonic – “St. Dapical the Tenth” – with classmates, and we all aced that element of our test.

It came to light soon that the four-eyed geek with ears that looked like a NYC taxicab with both doors open in the back of the classroom had facilitated most in the room – boys and girls – to score high on that question. I was called on the carpet for this transgression. “What’s the difference how we remember, so long as we remember?” I asked in my defense. “We’re here to learn, Karl, not play word games with the government,” I was informed.

Oh. I offered a counter to his aberrated reasoning, for which I was dispatched to the vice-principal of discipline, another eight-ball in the system that no real employer would give houseroom to. I’d like to think that calling the Civics teacher a “fumducker” somewhere along the way had nothing to do with this decision.

My father, who spent more time than I did at Reno High in my senior year, was again summoned (he had his own parking place in the circle in front of Reno High).  I had to promise to never again screw up a test by sharing a mnemonic like “St. Dapical X” with my friends, and a few other things. And the Civics teacher, as proof of the book “Peter Principle,” postulating that all people rise to the level of their incompetence, would several years later be named the principal of a new high school.

God help the students and staff of that school, and I’ll elucidate “St. Dapical X” at the end of this piece. And I will share one of my father’s more propitious comments, uttered years later – he a man who would take the side of the Devil Incarnate over me in any situation: “Where did the district ever find those two…?”

Berta (2)OK, now let’s go for a more positive person in classroom teaching and management – her name was Roberta Kirchner and when they’re handing out school names, the “Berta Kirchner Elementary School” has a nice ring to it. At the 50-year reunion of the Class of 1959 ten years ago, Mrs. Kirchner was a leader in the informal appellation of our most-favored teachers (John Gonda won for the men teachers). Here’s an example of a class with Mrs. Kirchner:

At the inaugural day of our English class, September 1958 for our senior year 1959, she laid out the curriculum for the ensuing school year: heavy on the classics – “Tale of Two Cities,” “Silas Marner,” “Pride and Prejudice” – more of the same boring stuff we’d endured since junior high. Sensing the moaning and groaning from the assembled Sweathogs, she stopped. For some reason she looked square at me. “Mr. Breckenridge, what would you like to study this year? Mickey and Donald? Batman? Woody?” She left out The Roadrunner and Wile E.

The Sweathogs chuckled. Knowing that once your feet are off the ground it doesn’t matter how high they hang you, I said, “How ’bout some writers that are more modern? The best poet in the land died two weeks ago, why not him? Jack London lived in Glen Ellen and John Steinbeck still lives in Monterey – both two hundred miles from here – how ’bout them? Jane Austen could bore anybody. How ’bout Rudyard Kipling? Every kid in this class oughta have to recite ‘If’ to get out of here…”

“OK, Mr. Breckenridge, I’ll make you a deal: If you can come back in this room Monday (I think this was on a Friday) and recite one of the guy who just died’s poems, I’ll think about it!”

Rats – how did I get in this boat, I thought. For the next 72 hours, I ate, lived and slept with one poem going through my head. I holed up in my bedroom and read it over and over. At school Monday morning I was a Zombie – the poem going through my head endlessly

And Berta played me like a Stradavarius during class when it finally came. No mention of my poem was uttered – she just let me twist in the wind, waiting. With five minutes left in the hour-long class, she said, “Oh, Mr. Breckenridge, do you have a poem for us?”

I stood, looked at the floor, then the ceiling. I began to speak: “A bunch of the boys were whooping it up at the Malemute Saloon; the kid that handles the music bos was playing a jagtime tune…” – the words of the late poet Robert Service and his “Shooting of Dan McGrew” – six minutes of torture.

But it worked; Berta started the next class with the announcement that “We’re abandoning the ‘gasbags’ as Mr. Breckenridge called them last week, for some poets and writers a bit more contemporary ..”

“Gasbags”? I said that…? Well it must have worked. We had a wonderful year, then went our separate ways. Berta retired and took over the ladies golf program and newsletter at Hidden Valley, doing a Yeoman’s job with the administration and burning up the links. Even wrote a book: Twisted Pinon Golf Club – The Red Tees. She passed away in 2008 – a great lady, a friend and a teacher’s teacher.

Oh, almost forgot: St. Dapical the Tenth: ST = State, Treasury. DAP = Defense, Attorney General, Postmaster General. I = Interior. CAL =  Commerce, Agriculture, Labor. X = Health, Education and Welfare. If I ever take such a test again, I’ll have to account for Homeland Security!

Snapshot of Berta, courtesy Paul Kirchner

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

 

 

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…?