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

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

~ ~ ~

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

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

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

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

Six letters stamped on a blue steel plate



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

          Have a good week, and God bless America!

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




Some old air race family photos

(Click here for GAA bowling photos)

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



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

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

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

a friend asked about Stead AFB – here you are…

Here’s how quickly seven ill-chosen words can germinate into a whole column: Walking Virginia Street in a recent column set in 1950, I alluded to “…the recently-renamed Stead Air Force Base”.  This elicited several inquiries, all reducible to either “Recinchombrenamed from what?” or “We’re new here; tell us about Stead.”

            Let’s start at the beginning: The facility was commissioned in 1942 as the Reno Army Airport, renamed as Reno Air Force Base in 1948 (when most former Army airbases were ceded to the U.S. Air Force), and finally to Stead Air Force Base in 1951.  The Defense Department, in 1949, adopted a policy to name military facilities more after notable people, less after geographic references.

             Accordingly, Reno Air Force Base was renamed, not for Spanish Springs rancher/air race co-founder Bill Stead, as many of you thought; rather, for his brother Croston Stead, who crashed on takeoff into the desert on December 16th, 1948 in an Air Guard Mustang, not too long after the Nevada Air National Guard was commissioned at Reno Air Force Base in April of 1948, flying P-51s.  (Croston’s older brother Bill Stead, a hot-stick, high-time World War II fighter ace, died in an air race in Florida in 1965, flying a midget racer.  Go figure…).  The third Stead brother is Sparks developer L. David Kiley. 

The base’s mission over the years was basic aviation training, later rotary-wing training (OK: helicopters), and airport fire suppression – recall the Kaman-built fire-choppers (“Huskies”) with the weird twin “eggbeater” rotors that frequently flew over downtown.  There were a few uncontrolled auxiliary airports – patch a better word – around our valley, which were associated with Reno AFB in the early years.  I lived in the most northwest corner of Reno in the late 1940s and often hiked to a now-long-gone unnamed satellite Reno AFB strip that was between the present Keystone Avenue and McQueen High School.  Two youngish cadets in a Beech D-18 trainer with Army tail markings gave three of us kids a spin around Peavine Peak in a 20-minute ride neither our parents nor the flight-line officer at Reno AFB ever needed to hear about.  Some things are better left that way for fifty years or so.  Another Reno AFB satellite strip parallels Highway 70 at Beckwourth, in use to this day as the Nervino Airstrip.  (The bygone Sparks Airport strip northeast of Pyramid Way and Green Brae – the 1950s spelling – in Sparks was not a Reno AFB satellite.)

            Stead AFB conducted desert and mountain survival training, for pilots of all branches of the military, other nations, and even for the early astronauts.  Later there was a “SAGE” facility, an acronym for Semi-Automatic-Ground-Environment, or whatever paranoids do all day in a great big ugly four-story building with no windows, something to do with global air defense.                      

            One interesting occurrence that some old-timers may remember was when the Pentagon, in a convincing effort to demonstrate the massive economic impact the airbase had on our community, paid Stead troops one payday in crisp two-dollar bills.  Those bills circulated around for years, many emanating from the Grotto Bar at Fourth and Virginia Streets, the Stead airmen’s hangout.  And apropos of probably nothing, I can report that yours truly drove a big bright-yellow, flat-front 66-passenger Cornbinder school bus to the enlisted men’s housing area at Stead, and that Ty Cobb Jr., son of the late RG-J columnist, drove a like bus to the Stead officers’ housing unit.  Between the two of us we delivered every single high school student who lived from the Reno city limits north past Stead and all the way to Bordertown, to Reno High School – the town’s only high school until Wooster was built 1961.  [And I caught Nancy Howell Spina and Tony Clark’s ire with that: “What was Manogue High, sliced bread?!”  Sorry…].  Believe it or don’t, only 132 kids, excluding truants, lived north of town in the early 1960s, and we drove them 36 miles a day for three school years, and never harmed a hair on their heads nor creased a fender.  Damn, we were good.       

            The Defense Department began phasing out Stead AFB in 1963 – actually selling off some of the original 20,000 acres as early as 1958 – and it was finally fully decommissioned by 1966 and acquired by the City of Reno.  The renamed Reno-Stead Airport once hosted all airline passenger flights into and out of Reno while our downtown airport, at that time hung with the unpopular name of Reno-Cannon Airport, was closed for a major runway resurfacing.  For five weeks the PSA pilots in their DC-9s raced the AirCal Boeing 737 guys around the Reno National Air Race’s 8-mile unlimited-class course pylons at Stead on their way to final approach for runway two-four.

            Just kidding…

  • • •

Where the China Clippers lived

ClipperCoveOK, pressed for time on a gray day, lousy for taking a few pictures I’m after, I go to the archives for this one taken a couple years ago over Yerba Buena Island in the San Francisco Bay. Note the new bridge coming from Oakland; it’s quite a bit further along now with one tall tower supporting the whole span. The storied Pan American Clippers of the 1930s moored in the bay we see here, known as Clipper Cove. Pan Am built the island to the left – Treasure Island – starting in the early 1930s, planned as the future San Francisco airport. The curved building on the lower corner of the artificial island was built for the 1939 World Exposition, the statuary in front of it created by Oakland’s Sargent Claude Johnson, a decade before he would create the Harolds Club mural from a Theodore McFall painting.The two major building east – (above) – that curved building were hangars and maintenance centers for the Clipper aircraft. The planes lacked landing gear; a ramp from Clipper Cove (near the present yacht harbor in this view) enabled them to be beached on a dolly and taken to the hangers.

BoeingClipperThe airport on Treasure Island never materialized – the island was used by the Navy for many years after its construction, and was turned over to San Francisco in 1996. A major rebuild of the island is in progress, with upgrades to the existing infrastructure and planned creation of many new residences, leaving many wondering how in the world access, which is limited in either direction off the Bay Bridge, will be affected.

And most importantly, my grandson Andy plays Little League (catcher) at a park on the east side of the island, with an absolutely grand view over the right field fence at the skyline of the Oakland hills!

Cruisin’ in our 1941 Chevy (with a 2018 link to another column at the end)

1941 ChevyAn old friend offered me a yellowed copy of a Nevada State Journal – “Nevada’s Only Morning and Sunday Newspaper,” according to the masthead. Since there’s some readers in town engaged in the current Hot August Nights nuttiness that drives sane people to live in the past, and since there’s readers who would actually pay good money today for a car with a flathead-6 engine, no heater, vacuum window wipers that died going up the California Avenue hill, a carb that needed choking before it would start and steered like a John Deere baler, then it follows that they might also enjoy reading some of what was happening in town when that same car was built, and retracing their car’s old path. The paper was interesting to me because it went to press the day I was born in Santa Barbara, six Sundays before Pearl Harbor. I left Cottage Hospital in a ’41 Chevy coupe. I remember it well.

  • • •

Perspective established, here we are seated now in our brand-new ’41 Chevy, a slick little car like a hundred others that will be in town seventy years later on a Saturday morning at a Show ‘n Shine or a Poker Run to Tahoe. There’s no drive-in theaters in Reno or Sparks yet, but a good choice of flicks, with the Sparks Theater; in Reno the Majestic that defied attempts at demolition 40 years later. Or the Wigwam near where many of us remember the Crest, and the Granada, the Reno, and the Tower –“Reno’s newest and smartest show house,” according to the ad. I didn’t know that; I did know that kids my age went to the Tower in droves on Saturdays for a morning of movies for 14¢ and an Old Home Milk bottle top. But I’ve written about that before, so we’ll keep driving.

Our date might want to stop by Hilp’s Drug Stores for a jar of Marie Earle’s Essential Cream for two bucks, this week only, on North Virginia Street in Reno (phone 6104) or 938 B Street in Sparks (333, free delivery.) Whatever essential cream is, it sounds important, a chick thing. Hilp’s was a great old store… R. Herz Jewelers was a block south of Hilp’s in Reno, Credit Available, wedding rings $7.50 to $300, “You can pay by the week or month.” They must know what they’re doing, they were “Established 1885”and still at it in 1940, [closing in 2007]. A little low on gas in the Chevy? Among other service stations in this paper, try Krieger’s, 14¢ a gallon, which is interesting, but the real item is the address, 111 West First Street – a service station near where the downtown parking garage is today at Sierra. Want a ride out into the country? Head out past the County Hospital on the Mill Street Road to the Reno Riding Stables, “also renting horses for the upcoming deer hunting season.” (The hospital would later be Washoe Med, finally Renown.)

Here’s an intriguing establishment: the Carlisle Bar & Service Station, corner of Wells and Second Street, and another, Dougherty’s, South Virginia and Mt. Rose Streets, featuring a bar, dancing, and Richfield Oil Products. Buying gas was once fun, apparently, beating the hell out of sitting in line at Costco. Lyons & Maffi Signal gas advertises its address at 1111 California Avenue and Granite Street; hearken back to past columns speaking of Sierra Street once being known as Granite. [The address is really 111, not as typoed at 1111. These old typos are what make nostalgia columnists crazy…and, the astute reader will note that that this is on the site of the Levy Mansion, detailed in another chapter.]

Ramos Drug was a favorite, first on the corner of Second and Virginia Streets, after 1952 at midblock between Hill and Flint Streets on California Avenue. Genial Bill Ramos was a great friend to many, and the interior of his drug stores looked like a soda fountain background for a Hot August Nights poster. In this particular newspaper the Ramos ad is for “the Bracer, the First Step Toward That Well-Dressed ‘Executive’ Look, to trim the waistline, pull in the stomach muscles, and eliminate the ‘bay-window’ for the vital, up-and-coming look.” (In my experience, the muscles aren’t the problem.) Two bucks for a Bracer, for the very few readers whom that might benefit, this week only at Ramos’. Cheaper than going to the gym.

Heading for the barn in this ride in our Chevy, we find a foreboding ad from John Whitmire Motors on South Virginia Street: a full half-page layout, depicting an Oldsmobile (with HydraMatic!), with a license plate lettered New 4-42 in the artwork. Why foreboding? Two reasons: Many years later, Olds would introduce a muscle car called a “4-4-2” – four-on-the-floor, four-barrel carburetor, and dual exhaust. That 4-4-2 thing was surely a coincidence that had nothing to do with the 1941 ad. But ponder this: The ad’s text reveals that the 4-42 plate was to indicate New for 1942.

Remember, this paper came out six Sundays before Pearl Harbor. Oldsmobile never made a ’42 model….

            [And it gets weirder: As I assemble this book, the last Olds ever are coming off the assembly line.]

© RGJ 1999

Here’s another old HAN piece, link added August 2018



An update and newer photo of the Black Maria in the old Reno Rodeo parades

the restored Black Mariah


John: Here I am with the Black Mariah in 1980 in front of the Eldorado. I was the vice-president of the Reno Jaycees and the new winner of the Nevada Jaycee-of-the-Year award. We worked tirelessly all year putting the jail back together and getting the Mariah back in shape for this and many other events. The Reno Rodeo was our most fun event though. We gave out Reno Jaycee Rodeo garters for a $1 or more donation to get out of our fun jail. Everyone wanted to have their picture taken next to the Mariah or while they were in the jail. Our Kangaroo Court enlisted the help of anyone who wanted to enjoy the chance to be part of this fun event every year. We had as many as five thousand garters sold as a get out of jail donations to help many Reno/Sparks charities each year. During the Reno Rodeo Parade, we threw candy and pins to the crowds along Virginia Street and won Parade Honors annually for our contribution to the festivities. We even towed the Jail one year and had crowd volunteers jump in to be part of the parade, after which we gave them a garter for participating.

Responding to my request to reprint the photo: Yes, of course. The jail was in total disrepair and we bought the supplies to bring it back in 1979. We took it downtown that year with the help of my truck and parked it on Virginia Street in front of the Horseshoe Casino and then the next year began to move it to more events. I left the Jaycees in 1981 after six full years of service and a friend told me they had problems with getting a permit for the jail so they put it away in someone’s backyard. The Mariah had engine problems and was tough to keep cool after just a half hour on the Rodeo Parade route so we had lots of water which we added constantly to try to keep it running throughout the day. I think one of the guys tried to get it back in shape a few years later but it cost too much to bring back and so it was parked.

Check out John’s column for other interesting facts about Northern Nevada… http://visitreno.com/evanoff/index.php

My column about all this is at http://www.rgj.com/story/life/2015/06/19/breckenridge-black-mariah-kangaroo-kourt/28980431/


An ol’ buddy’s memories of the NCO’s Reno depot

WP2One of the joys of writing a column in the Gazoo is the mail we get, some extremely well-written like letters from Jean Myles and John Metzker, which are well-worth putting out for all to see. This is one such, from an old friend Des(mond) Powers, who grew up in Reno and now resides in San Rafael, a practicing CPA. I received this over the weekend, and it brought back a lot of memories, for me and maybe you all. Enjoy, and thanks, Des!

Karl, I just finished reading your column on the former NCO (and WP) depot on Fourth Street. It is great to see that the building has been renovated. The restaurant, distillery and brewery in the building are bringing new life to that part of Fourth Street. Included in the history of the depot, which you may know, during its days as Western Pacific’s Reno terminal where it connected with the SP, each weekday, for many, many, years, the WP ran the Reno Local from Portola to Reno in the morning with the return to Portola each late afternoon. The Reno Local left the WP main at Reno Junction, just down from Beckwourth Pass, in Long Valley, which was (is) the WP’s summit over the Sierra. Beckwourth is about 2,000 feet lower than Donner Pass. I know there is a reason why the builders of the Transcontinental Railroad did not route the line over the lower elevation at Beckwourth, but I don’t recall why. Most likely politics, and money “issues,” but I can’t remember. Reno Junction is not far from Hallelujah Junction where, as you know, CA 70 connects with 395.

Remember that old air strip at Hallelujah, [Nervino – still active!] right next to the bar and gas station? When the Union Pacific bought the WP in 1983 the Reno Local continued to run each day, and occasionally ran two sections a day. After the UP purchased the SP in 1996, the Reno Local’s demise was inevitable and the early morning crew-calls in Portola eventually ended. Occasionally, when a slide in the Feather River Canyon closed the Western Pacific’s line for a few days, the westbound California Zephyr would be re-routed from the WP main at Reno Junction and run over the former NCO to downtown Reno where it would connect with the SP main and head west over Donner. In my recollection, that happened at least a couple of times in the mid- to late 1960s. The Feather River Canyon has always been notorious for slides.

As you recall, the WP was allowed to end operation of the California Zephyr in March 1970. I was born in Oroville and our family moved to Reno in early 1962. I rode the Zephyr several times between Portola and Oroville between the early 1960s and March 1970. I still miss the Silver Lady. I have great memories of riding that train through the Feather River Canyon westbound and eastbound. I went to Manogue (the second campus at the top of Valley Road) and would, whenever I could, watch the Reno Local go by on its way downtown in the morning and return in the evening. I am a rail fan and every chance I got I would get alongside the tracks and watch it roll by. Right next to Manogue was a de-railer switch. Each day, before switching at the Montgomery Ward’s warehouse, Albers & Deming Feed’s warehouse, and other industries along Valley Road, the train would run down to the switch and a crewman would throw it. I spoke with the train crew once in awhile and one day I asked the trainman why they threw the switch each day. He said it was to prevent a runaway car from rolling into downtown Reno. That made a lot of sense. I got a ride in the engine a couple of times. The first was when I was a freshman. The second was when I was a senior. I played football at Manogue. Each year, just after school started, Manogue would have its annual “Clean-Up Day.” This particular September 1970 Clean Up Day, early in my senior year, was a Friday and that night was our first game at Hawthorne. We football players wore our game jerseys to school the day of each Friday night game, or the day before if we played on Saturday for our home games. Manogue’s football field did not have lights.

Being good football players, and concerned about conserving our energy for the game that night, we occasionally picked up a weed or errant food wrapper and threw it into the trash can. Other than that we did not do much for Clean-Up Day. While walking along the tracks right next to school with a teammate of mine, while our non-football playing classmates worked diligently on cleaning up the campus, the WP Reno Local came down the tracks after their morning switching at the businesses north of the school campus. The train slowed to a stop while the trainman got off and threw the de-railer switch back to its “normal” position and the train was ready to roll to downtown Reno. We talked with the engineer as he waited for the switch to be thrown. Just as the train began to inch forward he said to my teammate and me, “Hey, are you guys going downtown?” I took that as an invitation for a ride and said to my friend, “Come on!!” We jumped up on the step of the engine and hurried into the cab so no one would see us, although my friend did see a teammate of ours and waved to him. It was a nice ride downtown to the WP (former NCO) Depot and it was neat talking to the engineer and the brakeman in the cab. Well, all good things come to an end and we had to walk back to Manogue. We walked up the tracks to campus, with our away football jerseys on, and when we got back Clean-Up Day was still in full stride. We resumed our occasional participation in Clean-Up Day by picking up a few more twigs, small weeds and food wrappers and put them in the trash can. Nothing was ever said to us by anyone in authority, so we concluded that we “got away” with our little adventure.

That night, by the way, we beat Hawthorne 46 – 0. Chris Ault was our head coach. We went on to an undefeated and, in those days, untied season and were AA State Football Champions. It was good to save our energy and just pick up a few twigs and food wrappers on Clean-Up Day. The results of our season certainly provide an indication of the benefits of conserving our energy on Bishop Manogue’s 1970 Clean-Up Day!

As always, I really enjoy your columns. Thanks. Des Powers

A Diamond in the desert

YellowjacketThere are a handful of yarns that I’ve long wanted to write or that readers have suggested over the years, and the maritime tale of Reno’s Diamond Boat ’n Sport was always high on that list. Earlier this week I finally connected with Dave and Brad Jamieson for three hours of yakking about Yellow Jackets, Eagles and falcons. Yellow Jackets were the hottest outboard on the water in the 1950s, every kid in high school salivated over owning a Cushman Eagle motorcycle, and falcons were, well, the raptors that Dave raises but that’s another column in itself.

Diamond Boat was a mid-1950s outgrowth of the Jamieson family’s Diamond Springs Water Company on Martin Street. That family, who moved to Reno from Loyalton after the war, was Dave’s dad Robert Jamieson, with Dave and his brother Robert Jr., who passed away 10 years ago, and Robert Jr.’s son Brad, who was a national champion water skier. Several readers who suggested this column topic recall seeing Brad barefoot-skiing on the seven-acre lake on Telegraph Street that you’ll read of in a paragraph to follow. I should mention Nate Hurst and D. T. Bate as having pivotal roles in the early Diamond endeavors.

The company originally flourished in the building many readers now know as the House of Black-and-White on Martin Street. I’ll remind you that private power boats big enough to do much else than troll for steelheads weren’t on the common scene in 1955 – if you had a boat with an outboard you probably built it from a Popular Mechanix kit, the motor was hand-cranked and steered from a tiller at the transom, and if you had water skis at all you probably made them from spare parts or found them in a Bay Area store. But the Jamiesons changed that – under one roof you could buy a boat, motor and trailer, ready to launch with a windshield, cable-operated steering wheel and maybe even electric start. (The first such unit financed in Reno, by Security Bank of Nevada, went out the door for $1,500; a 30-horsepower Johnson on a 14-foot fiberglass Lido.) Their staff grew; Al Godoy was the service manager; Marie Sorensen was their long-time secretary. Marie came to Reno to help her husband Owen open the Spudnut Shop, another column-in-progress, and Kenny Taber, our Reno High-classmate-turned-dentist who can still hop up an electric toothbrush to 340 horsepower, was an outboard mechanic.

          Yellowjacket dataplateDiamond Boat’s product line grew, from boats, where they became one of industry-dominant Glastron’s biggest dealers, to embryonic ATVs and snowmobiles, to motor scooters – the aforementioned Cushmans, from high school-hotshots’ Eagles to the City of Reno’s meter-molly trikes, Valco aluminum boats, and Travette pickup camper shells, those also in their infancy. Dave recalls a competitor at a late-1950s trade show, turning down a shot at carrying the new Honda line: “A Japanese bike will never catch on in America.” (Nor will the Beach Boys write a mega-hit song about them a couple years later…)

          While all this was going on the family eyed a former gravel pit on Telegraph Street near Mill, chock-full of water and just crying out for boats to kick up a wake. They met with its owner Marshall Matley and struck a deal, and in early 1965 moved from Martin Street to the new site, its only neighbors the phone company and Solari Paint to the distant south, and GRAID (CQ all caps) Equipment and Capriotti-Lemon Construction across two-lane Mill Street.

          It was a good move, with abundant outdoor space and the capability to board a family right into a boat for a demo ride at full speed (briefly!), or tune up a balky motor in an actual lake. The family had operated the west beach at Donner Lake for a decade to accomplish this, giving up that contract with the lake’s owner in 1971. A scare came in the mid-1970s when the nearby gravel pit that we now call the MGM, or Grand Sierra Lake was partially drained with pumps. The resultant lowered water table dropped Lake Diamond also and set the Jamiesons scrambling for an alternate supply until the aquifer stabilized.

          The Jamison family had a good voyage, took care of the Reno boating folks and made a lot of friends with their quality of merchandising. They sold the business, lock, stock and barrel in 1979 and their successors kept it going for a time. I don’t know for sure, but only surmise that the property taxes on a seven-acre lake in what was once a cow pasture-turned-industrial epicenter adjoining an airport of a growing city doomed the land for such use.

          Plus, I suspect it had lost the Jamieson “touch.” Have a good week; enjoy the extra hour of the day if you haven’t already, and God bless America.


© Reno Gazette Journal Nov. 2007





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