Are 17 school districts preferable to one?

cropped-cropped-kfb-bow-tieThe backstory to this is that, for our recent 60-year reunion of the Reno High School Class of 1959, I was tapped as the standby Master of Ceremonies should the first man become unavailable, which was an early possibility. Happily, John Doyle, who was the de facto Voice of the Class for the 60 preceding years, was there so my services were not required. I did, however, prepare a few thoughts in case I was called upon. Not to let them go to waste, I’m posting them here. The theme was, that our class was pivotal in a couple of respects. This week we’ll look at one; another time, we’ll read of early Kindergartens in Reno. The lights at Hidden Valley now dim and here’s what I would have said. Sort of:

RHS2009There were in Washoe County no fewer than 17 separate school districts until May 2, 1955. Reno and Sparks were of course the two bigger districts; north of town were the Bonham, Copperfield, Sutcliff and Spanish Springs. To the west, Verdi and Laughton, (later Lawton); to the south and east of Sparks were Glendale and Wadsworth and the tribal district of Natchez. To the south, Home Gardens, Galena, Brown, Huffaker and Franktown. The seventeenth was “Consolidated,” which I think was administrative, homebound, and what we now call special needs. In some enumerations Brown shows as Consolidated #2. And, I think the Babcock Memorial Kindergarten might have taken on a “district” status. Dunno. The new single county district occupied their vacated schoolhouse on West Sixth Street as its headquarters until 1962. It was green. It was the original greenhouse; where the current nickname came from, I have no idea…

So — what we had in the county were 17 sets of payrolls, buildings, school boards and officers, teachers, inventories to purchase and maintain, applications to the State Board of Education for funds — in effect 17 little businesses, separate yet all pulling in the same direction.

And from the standpoint of readin’ writin’ and ‘rithmetic, inconsistencies abounded. The smaller schools, which constituted the majority of the 17, were one-room school houses, where “grades” tended to lose their identity to age groupings – grades one and two meeting for a couple hours while grades three through eight studied and read, no doubt the older students assisting the younger ones. As the day progressed the teachers would group the older grades by set, through the end of the day, following the curriculum set by that district. And it must have worked, for there were in Reno and Sparks a heck of a lot of locally-educated men and women.

But following WWII, people started to move around, gentrifying the inner towns. A family with a child in Bonham might relocate to nearby Sparks, or another from Galena move into Huffaker. And there find that their curriculums didn’t jibe, and there were duplications of study, or worse, omissions. Another situation that existed after WWII, and we entering Mary S. Doten in 1946 noticed immediately, that a family who lived, say, around Milk Ranch might send their children to a family member or friend in a more urban district for the five-day school week, to then go back to the ranch Friday after school. Thus, many of our school playmates were gone, for weekend birthday parties and outings.

So, by legislative fiat, the 1955 Nevada State Legislature created the Washoe County School District – all assets, debts, real property, school supplies and personnel became the property of this grand new district, which as we’ve seen will make the whole county system operate more smoothly. Yeah…

I included this legislative act as pivotal mostly to our class, because we all came on that bright September morning of 1955, from our former intermediate schools Central, B. D. Billinghurst and Northside – to the great Brickpile on Booth Street, Reno High School – then four years old.

When we arrived and all met in the gymnasium, we discovered that the operation was running as smoothly as corrugated rat shit – no one apparently in charge had a clue what was happening nor where we were going next. But, having matriculated for eight prior years we attributed the cacophony to the first-day-of-school jitters, that would all go away

What we didn’t realize was, that the jitters were in reality the first-day-of-school-in-a-brand-new-school district, with teachers and staff unused to the new system – new rules – new people and faces, not infrequently a new hierarchy, with a once-seniority-blessed teacher now subservient to a person of lesser tenure, a result of the new district. Such beefs were many.

But – we didn’t know any of that – we assumed this fusterkluck was the way of life in our new environment. So life went on and some stability eventually fell upon Reno High School. But – the members of the Class of 1959 were the newbies, and we noticed it more than any, older or following us in later years.

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The old Reno School District #10 had one rule in particular whch lent itself to this evening’s speech that  I was crafting: That requirement, which I understand dated back to the turn of the 20th century, mandated that a male teacher, prior to taking over a classroom in the Reno District, spend a period of time which I could not determine, teaching in the remote districts in Nevada – let’s say in the Cow Counties. I did learn that this practice was adopted from one which was almost nationwide, a practice that guaranteed that male teachers would occupy classrooms in the various states’ rural areas.

And a strong argument to the system was that these gentlemen, having spent some time, usually a couple of school years, would bring back to their eventual urban postings a knowledge of their respective states – in Nevada, the agriculture, the livestock, the railroads, the mining, and so forth. And it worked.

Here, my words would have taken a new turn…I frankly used the preceding words and fact as a basis for what I wanted to convey all along to my classmates. I described a column reader of many years past, and quoted information she mailed me probably 20 years ago.

This reader wrote me periodically on lightweight vellum paper, using a fabric-Typewriterribbon typewriter – two or three sheets with impeccable grammar and composition, nary an error in the text. I endeared myself to her by responding with two or three sheets of vellum, using my Underwood Standard. She got a kick out of that.

She conveyed that she grew up in Rochester, a little mining community in Pershing County. Her father was a miner; her mother managed the mine company’s employee store. I quote one letter as best as I can remember it (I still have it somewhere):

“One new school year we had a new teacher. We learned that he had graduated last year from Stanford. Someone said that he was on the boxing team. He was quite proper, wore a suit and tie every day and his hair was neatly trimmed. He was friendly but a little stand-offish. He came to dinner often and was very entertaining but never took a drop of whiskey or wine with my parents, and left and walked home soon after dessert. And a few days later we’d always receive a thank-you card in the mail.”

This reader, whose name I never sought permission to use, passed away many years ago. Her family notified me, on, a fabric-ribbon typewriter using vellum paper. I was often asked why I wrote columns in the Gazoo for 31 years for free. Readers like these are the answer…

Finch copyThis post has grown long. Come back in a couple weeks and we’ll learn who the mysterious, well-coifed teacher in Rochester, Nevada was…

 

Added Nov. 7: OK – confession time – this is a two-parter; part II will feature David Finch. MEANT TO INCLUDE THAT I’LL TRY TO WORK IN SOME FINCH ANECDOTES IF THE SENDER RELEASES THEM FOR PUBLICATION IN THEIR TRANSMISSION TO

kfbreckenridge@live.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Harolds Club’s banana cream pie

JohnnyFever“I’m looking for the recipe for Harolds Club’s  banana cake!” emailed my old friend and faithful reader Misha Miller (pictured right).

Misha’s not alone in wishing for this treat of yore when Harolds Club opened a Mishabakery, first for its own restaurants and eventually leading to a take-out bakery business rivaling mighty Rauhut’s Bakery, as the place to go when you wanted to paraphrase Hallmark Cards by serving the very best  – at home or business parties. The distinctive pink box they packaged their cakes, cupcakes, pies and other bakery items in told all that the host had let it all out for the occasion.

Harolds Club ruled.

About 20 years ago – and I’m damned if I can find my file about it now, imagine that – a reader pleaded for the recipe for the banana cream cake, banana nut cake, banana cake – your choice of appellations. I was able to locate the head bakery chef for Harolds, then retired, and communicate with him through his daughter, who was fluent in his native Italian. We all talked.

LogoHe chuckled. I was not the first, he said. But – there was a huge problem with utilizing Harolds’ process for baking the banana cakes, which he recalled as their hottest-selling effort – in the house, in private home parties, office parties, and even following its sale to other local restaurants – Eugene’s at the south end of Reno and Les Lerude’s Wigwam Cafe a block west of Harolds are two I remember.  

OK- the time is propitious – I keep getting alarms when I type Harolds Club, wanting me to insert a possessive apostrophe. I thought I fixed that in my spellcheck, but I’ll now honor Reno adman Tom Wilson and leave the little squiggle out, as it has been since 1951.

Moving right along – he went on to explain that the basic ingredient of the cakes that the bakery used was a mix they bought through a food broker, that came in a cakefive-gallon tin. And contained neither bananas nor nuts. To that mixture he added on a daily basis, a couple dozen eggs, a few gallons of milk and a bunch of other stuff, put it into a huge mixing machine and then ladled the resulting concoction  into 24 baking tins, each about 22 inches by 22 inches, four inches deep, which then went into an oven that made the street lights go dim when he turned it on, and baked the tins for a period of time that he couldn’t remember which was OK by me.

When they were done, they were sent for icing and decorating to the clients’ wishes – Happy Birthday, Happy Wedding, Happy Divorce, Happy Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Happy Retirement, Happy Baby Shower or whatever else the buyer was happy about.  Ten went across the alley the night that Harrah’s opened the hotel tower and Harolds turned off their floodlights forever, but I’ve already written about that.

Now – let’s address Misha’s question: How do we make a reasonable household-sized cake, like Harolds Banana Cream Cake?

We don’t…

sliceThe best in the biz have attempted to scale down the recipe to a single, small cake, he recalled, and wound up with a dish of viscous glop or a burned-out, charred, Vulcanized inedible hunk rivaling a moon rock. The stuff that comes in the five-gallon tins does not do well when reduced to a household cake tin. If you can find any to buy, which you can’t.

Ergo, a word I once promised never to again scribe, our chief bakery chef who started with the Roaring Camp in 1948 and knows whereof he speaks, recommends doing what he does in retirement: He goes  to Raley’s and buys a package of Betty Crocker banana cake mix, follows the instructions to the letter, and never lets on how he got the dessert!

 

Guest columnist Red Kittell writes of roadkill and bygone Carson City..

Kittell Aug 2013Once upon a time, in Nevada’s Ormsby County-renamed-Carson City, wards of the Silver State regularly feasted on government-provided roadkill.

During the immediate post-World War II period all Nevada’s transportation-related matters were managed by the State Highway Department and overseen by a gentleman I remember as “Dutch” Burning.  He was my Mom’s boss.

Mom worked in Carson City as one of the five employees running the state’s vehicle registration office.  Most of the several state departments were housed in the State Capital Building. There was no DMV nor Department of Transportation. The state’s population hovered around 150,000.  About 2,500 of us resided in Ormsby County. The state’s legislative complex now stands where our home used to be.

Just about every family had at least one member working as a state or county employee.  My family had two.  One was my Mom, the other was my stepfather Elmer Sturgeon, who had, before marrying my Mom, gone broke selling Kaiser and Frazer automobiles.

Elmer’s now full-time job was to patrol nearby highways with two objectives: He was to identify and report maintenance hazards, and to remove and “appropriately” dispose of large carcass roadkill.

The tools of his occupation were a red Dodge pickup truck which the state prison 48-dodgeshops had outfitted with a ten-foot bed.  A large silver Nevada state seal was decaled on each door. The deck of the truck had a slide- out feature and a manually operated drag winch mounted behind the reinforced bed’s front panel.  The deck also housed a large toolbox containing among other things a chain, both a hatchet and an axe along with two meat cutting bow saws.  Elmer’s contribution to the working tools and “appropriate disposal” mandate were gloves a shovel and two half-sticks of dynamite.

In spite of the state’s restriction related to passengers in the truck, Elmer regularly took me and select others along with him both for our company and heavy lifting.

The frugal nature of Ormsby County’s post-great-depression economy dictated that the slightly aged rewards of Elmer’s efforts would daily be delivered to the kitchens of three grateful government agencies.  The three designated beneficiaries were:

  1. The Nevada State Prison then located at the far end of Carson City’s East 5th Street.
  2. The Nevada State Orphan’s Home, then housed in a massive stone building located on 5thStreet, between the prison and Carson’s Main Street.
  3. The Ormsby County Poor Farm, then located where Fuji Park. south of Carson City, now exists. This facility provided for the care, feeding and domicile of Ormsby County’s poor and distressed.

Those voluntary residing at the Poor Farm, to a great extent, self-funded the project with proceeds from a dairy, the Clear Creek fish hatchery, a massive truck garden, and wood harvested from the adjacent Sierra.  Along with marketing weaned bummer lambs, they also voluntarily hired themselves out as casual laborers.  The farm successfully operated for over 100 years, closing down in 1965.

Elmer’s Poor Farm deliveries were the only one where we could actually see how excited the recipients were.  As I recall the large common kitchen and dining area were managed by a well-nourished lady named Minni Waterhouse.  I never saw her without her companion Chihuahua attached to a five- foot leash skillfully dodging Mimi’s feet.

It goes without saying a portion of Elmer’s labors often came home with him.  He marinated everything in a big earthenware crock that had a wooden lid.  I’ve never forgiven myself for not recording what the chemistry of that pot was.

All of the above was the status quo when was I enlisted just in time to greet the truce in Korea.  It was gone and apparently forgotten when I returned home from Vietnam a couple of decades later.

During that time Mom’s letters advised me that Minni Waterhouse had eventually crushed her Chihuahua and that the invention of aerosol cans exploding in the 55-gallon incinerators behind Ormsby County’s homes had resulted in the incinerators being outlawed.

Red’s my ol’ Black Bear Diner 50-year kaffee klatch buddy, a retired State Farm Insurance agent, a Viet Nam veteran with a sleeve-ful of Air Force Master Sergeant’s stripes and a Purple Heart to show for it,  a one-time wedding disc jockey who can still do he Hand Jive, a 33rd degree Mason who wrote a best-selling book about the craft, and a host of other diversions – one named Connie – who is hopefully going to start writing here of his youth in Carson City. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Oct. 20, 1941 ~ The birth of the six-year-old kid

740Ralston

Have you always lived in Reno? Where did you live before the Ralston Street house in the column? What brought you to Reno? What did your parents do in Reno?

Such are some of the questions put to me during the 30+ years of writing in the Gazoo, and chronicling the six-year-old kid for the past 2-1/2 years.

Fair questions all…

Let’s now turn the clock back to 1931, when a Reno boy named Karl D. Breckenridge was graduated from Reno High School on West Street. He kicked around the west coast for a few years, moved to San Francisco, took a job with Standard Oil Company, was transferred to Petaluma, a little farming town north of San Francisco. There, while residing at Mrs. Carpenter’s boarding house, met the daughter of another habitué who dined nightly at the boarding house. Her name was Florence Hall. He married her.

They moved with Standard Oil around California, finally settling in Santa Barbara to start their family. On October 19th, 1941, Karl took Floie in their brand-new 1941 Chevrolet at breakneck speed from their stucco home on Santa Barbara’s Yanonali Street across the little beach town to Cottage Hospital on Bath Street, hard in the shadow of the Mother Mission, whereupon Karl Finian/Frisbee/Fearless/Footloose – your choice – Breckenridge arrived into the world precisely at oh-eight-hundred on the morn of October 20, 1941. Reports in the Santa Barbara News-Press that Quasimodo, sequestered in the Mission Santa Barbara, sounded the mission bells are dubious, but certainly possible and appropriate.

So, the world has now Dr. Karl Bland Breckenridge, D. D., late of Bath, Maine; the proud papa and Standard Oil  product truck driver/salesman Karl Dobbins Breckenridge and bundle-of-joy Karl Finian Breckenridge. When Karl Dobbins went to his reward in 1971, some dipwad from First National Bank of Nevada cancelled Karl Finian’s credit card and suspended his bank account, so there shall be no further Karls in this alphabetical series.

Life remained blissful on Yanonali Street, but the prospect of global conflict gripped the world. All West Coast eyes were on Europe, until that Day Which Will Remain in Infamy in December, when Karl F. was about seven weeks old.

America, if it wasn’t already, was now formally at war. Karl Dobbins gave Standard Oil his notice and enlisted in the Navy. The little family left Yanonali Street for an Irish aunt’s commodious home on Waller Street along San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park “Panhandle,” and awaited the Navy’s call to duty.

But, the Navy never  called, but rather inducted Karl Dobbins and immediately contributed him to Henry Kaiser, to help ‘ol Hank build Liberty Ships at the Kaiser Shipyard across the SF Bay in Richmond. This was due to Karl Dobbins’ extensive experience in electrical engineering, about which Karl D. later said that it was a God-damn miracle that all the Yankee Liberty ships didn’t go up in smoke, as he had no – zip – nada electrical expertise but being Kaiser’s superintendent of electrical installation beat carrying an M-1 rifle around and being shot at…

So, off we went to Richmond – actually to El Cerrito, adjoining Richmond. We bought a house – a tiny one, two bedroom, on Panhandle Boulevard, a street later renamed to the more politically-correct “Carlson Boulevard.” I still tacitly chuckle about that when driving past it on the freeway.

For the next four years, Dad wired Liberty Ships, and I’d join him on Saturday mornings when there was a “launch” and family members were welcomed – an awesome sight for a kid of my age to see the ships slide down the ways to the cheers of the families, the workmen and Rosie-the-Riveters  and often the family of the person for whom the ship was named.

And Dad would give me a little two-inch painted ship with the hull number of the ship just-launched on its sides. It was made of lead and had been placed into the “shipyard” when that hull was laid and then moved around a ping-pong table-sized replica of the shipyard as the hull was towed to many areas during its construction.  I had a lot of those little ships and gave them to a maritime Bay-area warship museum for display many years ago.

The down side of the shipyard years was the birth of my brother when I was two years old.  John never thrived, nor did the family ever speak of him after he passed away a year later. I think it was the hyaline membrane syndrome that the Kennedy baby died of in the early 1960s, but I don’t know that nor did my folks ever  talk about it. But my earliest memories as a two-year-old included him.

The war was coming to an end! Henry J. Kaiser was scaling back the Liberty ship construction, and turning his attention with brother Edgar to cars – the Henry J. minicar and the full-size Kaiser. He took, by train – on the Mighty S.P.’s City of San Francisco yet – about 30 shipyard workers who he wanted as “key people” for his new venture, to Ypsilanti, Michigan, where the cars would be designed and built. I recall my Mom with my newborn sister Marilynn still in a bassinet, at the SP station in nearby Emeryville to see Dad off on the train to Detroit.

Home they came a few days later, with some pretty long faces. Kaiser had foolishly taken them to familiarize themselves with Ypsilanti in the coldest month of the year where daytime temps of zero-to-10° below are commonplace. The 30-or-so guys save for a few passed on Ypsilanti. Dad opined that one could “freeze their ass off” there. Saving me from being moved to southern Michigan where I could grow up, minus my oh, you know.  Others built the cars for a couple years – good cars but against tough, established marques like Chevrolet and Ford, with a short production run. Too bad….

And Dad, soon to be furlouged by Kaiser as production had already stopped and the shipyard was being readied for a civilian occupancy, was effectively out of work. On the upside, he was also discharged from the Navy. So – over Donner hill in the ’41 Chevy we rolled

Dad bought a little house built in 1908 on Ralston Street from a Mrs. Shermerhorne, who had conducted a ladies hairdressing parlor during the war. My baby sister was ensconced in the sunny west parlor, and Dad and his high school buddy Ben Maffi got the converted coal-furnace working. Dad got a job selling houses with C. H. Skipper and we befriended our next-door neighbors John and Chetty Sala. Dad built a sandbox for their cute little red-headed daughter Michelle and I and my sister; a month or so later their son Mike – now a local dentist – would be born.

And 73 years ago in September 1945, Tom Cook’s mother Ellen stopped on the Ralston Street hill by Whitaker Park and picked me up in their family sedan; Tom, Cecelia Molini, Bobby Ginocchio and his cousin Sharon Cassidy, and Jimmy Doll were already in the car. Next stop, Mary S. Doten School’s kindergarten.  What a ride it’s been!

In months to come we’ll read of the shift from the private Babcock Memorial Kindergarten to that first Reno public school kindergarten that Mrs. Cook took us to. And of the shift from the 18 school districts in Washoe County to the single train-wreck district that we currently have. And of some other neat stuff.

C’mon back when you can…!

  

 

This hero of an old RGJ column – Don Young – is being inducted into the Sparks High School Hall of Fame this weekend!!!!

YoungLittleWalThe phone in the old Sparks fire station on C Street at 12th rang. A young fireman named Don Young picked it up: “Come quick, it’s horrible, there’s a big fire in our garage and the whole house is going to go up!”
“Yes, ma’am, stay calm, we’re on the way. How do we get there?” said Don. From the harried woman, “Don’t you still have the big red trucks …?”
We’ll, it could have happened that way. Or not. Don’s a good friend, a retired Sparks Fire Department chief, who’s been reading this column for many years and has been a go-to guy for information about Sparks, fire stuff and otherwise. He’s a Sparks High Railroader, capital “R”, the son of a railroader (little “r”) and a railroader himself in his earlier days. His family moved in to tiny Sparks from Carlin during World War II. After graduating from Sparks High in 1952 he went up the hill to the University and studied music, and fondly remembers music professor Dr. Felton Hickman, a legend on the Hill for many years after the war. Don was a hornblower extraordinaire who later would join the Reno Municipal Band when it was under the hand of another legend, “Tink” Tinkham. We’ve read in this column of the Muni band performing in the summer each July at Virginia Lake and the following August on the Quad at the University. Don
was there.

At least, he was there unless he was rolling a locomotive for the Mighty S.P. to Carlin and back. Or traveling and camping with his bride Maddy, an activity they still enjoy. Or playing horn in the Nevada National Guard band, which — yes, there was one in the early years of the 1950s. He also competed with the Guard’s pistol marksmanship team, all over the West Coast.
But the fire service beckoned. As a dyed-in-the-wool son of Sparks, he connected with the Sparks Fire Department, small by today’s standards in 1957 when he went aboard. (He became fire chief in 1976.) We’ve read of the Sparks department’s stories in this page in years past; of SFD’s chief Frank Hobson, who died fighting a fire in downtown Reno in 1948, the Lake Street fire, probably Reno’s worst in the 20th century. Or Sparks’ chief Fred Steiner, who died in the line of duty responding to a fire in 1953. We’ve read of Sparks’ assistance in the Sierra Street fire in Don  Young’s rookie year 1957, and of Sparks Fire Department’s apparatus sitting in several Reno firehouses’ bays onthe chilly evening of Jan. 21, 1985 when the Galaxy airliner crashed on South Virginia Street

Don’s recollection of the maturation of Sparks and Reno, in the 1960s and ‘70s is xsfdfascinating. Lunching in the Little Wal (which entailed actually getting a
Sparks guy out of Sparks for lunch, which I can’t do with Joe Mayer or Geno Martini), Don spoke of the early ambulance service, or lack thereof, in our valley. In the years prior to REMSA, local ambulance service was provided by the men of the Sparks Fire Department, working not for the City of Sparks but on an off-duty basis, providing service to residents with apparatus domiciled in Sparks firehouses. Ambulance service would be the grist of a column some Sunday, when, prior to the Sparks involvement and the eventual formation of REMSA, one could call an ambulance and have one, or two,
sometimes three — or quite often, none — show up. Sparks brought some organization to that dilemma.

Sparks’ men and apparatus were frequent visitors into areas of Reno outside of the downtown corridor, and particularly the far northern and southern areas of Reno — say, south of early Moana Lane and north of what we now call McCarran Boulevard. While Reno Fire ably covered the inner core of the town, a reciprocal agreement would bring Sparks Fire into the outlying areas. Notable in these logs is the story of Sparks extinguishing a nasty fire in the Big Hat Restaurant in 1953. This Moana-at-South Virginia building would last another 50 years as the Big Hat, Two Guys from Italy and La Vecchia, and finally becoming the right-turn lane of Moana just a few years ago. Logs of Sparks, Reno and later the Washoe County short-lived department, prior to Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, contain almost daily occurrences of this reciprocity.

A point of pride evident in yakking with Don last week, and echoed in a book that he gave me – autographed! – is the attention to community service to Sparks and its residents that has been a byword of the department’s existence since 1905 – fundraising for the needy, the best-in-the-West annual pancake feed in October for Fire Prevention Month. The department takes care of its own in a strong sense. It had a “babies ride free” program for mothers in labor when the department operated their municipal ambulance, and I reminded Don that in his rookie years, Sparks Fire would flood Kleppe’s Pond so the Railroaders could go ice-skating during the winter (Reno Fire did this for us, on Idlewild’s and Lake Park’s ponds.) And the bronze
firefighter on the bench behind the Sparks Heritage Museum on Pyramid Way is
one of the few in the nation. Another point of pride for Don is the truth that Sparks has historically promoted from within when choosing a new chief.

“Did anything funny or weird ever happen on your 14-year reign over the department?” Our lunch went off in a dozen directions then; one of the beststories was of the new firehouse on Victorian Way, which we both still called B Street. The snorkel truck operator stopped midway out the door for something, forgot that the new door closed automatically after 60 seconds, resumed the trip out the door and took the door with him when it closed on the snorkel’s boom. Not, he added, while enroute to a fire…
Don retired in 1990 following a career of watching great change in Sparks, the firefighting profession and our valley. He’s remained active in the community, and to wrap this up while still including a personalized license plate squib in the text, I’ll simply say if you see a couple of young folks — Don and Maddy — in a late-model Jeep Cherokee with plate “XSFD” (that is, ex-Sparks Fire Department) on both bumpers, give ‘em a toot; tell them you read about them hereThanks for reading, and God bless America!
(Formal photo: Jeff Spicer … Little Waldorf photo: Breck)

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a race!

rontruck2“We can’t see the home pylon flags!” was the universal gripe of race pilots at the afternoon FAA safety meetings, notwithstanding the reality that the flags at home pylon, like the ceremonial checkered flag at Indy, really figure little in the conduct of the races. But – all that changed one sweltering afternoon three decades ago when a home pylon timer with an extremely aerodynamic fuselage stripped down to a signal-red halter-top.

            The crackle on the pilots’ VHF radios was universal: “Check out the timers’ table,” one would tell another following him. And they did. Better yet, we ground-pounders could hear them. Through a negotiation best left unchronicled I secured the by-then-famous garment and took my place at the mandatory pilots’ meeting, a red flag half the size of a ping-pong table in one hand and a bare seven-foot flagpole in the other, the empty halter-top stapled to it. “Which of these two fabrics is easier for you gentlemen to see at 250 knots?” I queried the assembled group, and knowing their gooses were cooked the beefs about my “near-invisible” flags fell from the fare of matters to beef about.

            The early days of racing were austere – our communications were a major beneficiary of the electronic age starting in the mid-1960s. Believe it if you will, but for several years we had no walkie-talkies – a hand-held portable radio? Imagine that. Radio giant Motorola, from their Sacramento office, later provided four of them, assigned like gold to the key players in conducting the race. Four walkie-talkies – four – heavy and bulky, barely able to go a full race day without a recharge. I’d guess the number in use today exceeds a hundred, all the size of a pack of smokes. Off-duty Nevada Bell linemen in the early years did yeoman service laying miles of cable between the pylons and race HQ – days of prep-then-removal, the task now supplanted by portable radio sets. The first VHF radio – plane-to-ground – had an interesting story behind it. ‘Twas a small green metal box with an antenna and a microphone on a coiled cord; my job each year was to borrow it from the fledgling DRI on the university campus for the races, and it’s all we had. The transceiver was actually owned by Harrah’s boat and plane division, who acquired it to use in the Harrah Ford Tri-Motor airplane. That plane was restored to its 1930s condition, and William Fisk Harrah would not allow a post-war radio to be installed in the dash panel – (not authentic!) Thus, Harrah’s crew acquired the little green box for use when the plane was barnstorming around the nation, and loaned it to DRI in the interim periods, who then loaned it to us. The FAA finally said enough is enough; get a modern radio set in that Tri-Motor that we can hear in our towers. (And while you’re at it, put some nav lights on the Tri-Motor!)

            The unseen group of heroes at the air races are the pylon crews, who leaveair-race-home-pylon-crew civilization at 6 ayem each morning for seven days and exist on what they can make do with several miles out in the desert, entreated to 10 hours of boredom interrupted occasionally by 12 minutes of mayhem while their pylon’s race is in progress, assuring that each plane goes on the outside of the pylon.

            There’s a core group of these folks, and the majority of them out in the boondocks today have it down to a science, for some are original-race volunteers and have learned what to pack and how to live off the desert all day. They’re famous for their barbecues, and they host mini-parties. The kindly group at Outer-4 (Unlimiteds) who come down from Alaska en-masse each year will invite the group from Middle-5 (T-6s) for a sitting of (Grumman) Bearcat Stew, or Inner-5s (biplanes and midgets) visit Outer 7 for their famous (Bob) Hoover Tennessee Waltz chicken. Tables are set, usually with tablecloths and decent silverware; one for a while actually had silver and crystal. Alcoholic beverages stay behind the “fence” – the spectator area – for later. Most pylons have Honda generators feeding TV sets for football games, with a little friendly wagering going on among the pylon crews.

            Unnerving to many race pilots as they passed low overhead was a roughly-oval 40-foot piece of Astroturf, placed on a surface lovingly leveled by one pylon crew, with a regulation golf cup and a flag pin placed in the cup, to host the first Inner-3 Invitational, attended by Outer-3 and 4, and Middle 2 and 4. And you think we were just wasting our time out there?  Naahh.

            The volunteers – who come for all over the nation, and now some the children of the original race volunteers – are the backbone of the Air Races. (Dale Tucker, the flagman since I retired in 1994, first came to the home pylon about 1972 wrapped inside a checkered flag, to conceal him through the FAA gate security. Now he’s six-foot-five.) Try following Bob Williamson’s pit crew – most of who have been together for 35 years – towing the Unlimited racers in and out of the pits. These guys go home bone tired every night, then come back and do it all over again for seven days straight. Or – follow the footsteps of any ground-pounder in the flight line or pylon crews – the dust, desert sun, noise and smoke from the demonstration planes, (usually just lightweight oil sprayed into the plane engine’s exhaust stack) – goes home with them, most in their ears, after every race day.

            The Volunteer Corps’ efforts make our Reno Air Races enduring – they have a lot of fun, but the easy jobs are all taken. They were out there this morning when this paper hit your driveway, and will still be there while you’re barbecuing tonight. Give ‘em a big hand – they earn it. Have a good week, and here now, our column* finale added eighteen years ago to the the day: God bless America!

© RGJ

 

An air racing story not yet told…

FearlessNoTextThe poor little guy was bawling his eyes out. What the heck………..?

I wheeled my Jeep toward him, a lone little figure about my son’s age, standing with a well-worn paper sack in his hands, ill-clothed and needing a haircut from a real barber, a lad truly matching one’s perception of an urchin. I stopped next to him and killed the engine.MissAmericaP51

“What’s up, Pardner?”

Through sobs and sniffles, I was able to put together the cause of the lad’s grief. It would seem that he received for Christmas, a model airplane kit for the P-51 Mustang that had raced in Reno every year since the races began ten years ago (I’m pegging this event as being in 1976). In the paper sack was the cover of the model’s cardboard box and the assembly instruction sheet.

He had started last Christmas, now nine months ago, to save his pennies and go toInstruction sheet the Air Races the following September, and have Howie Keefe, the owner and pilot of Miss America, autograph the kit’s lid and the instruction sheet. But, upon trudging from his family’s home to Stead and presenting his meager funds at the ticket table for the air race pits – where the airplanes are tied down – he was informed that he was too young to go into the pit area – an FAA regulation and a RevellP51good, valid one.

He was crushed – nine months of hopes and a dream were instantaneously brought to an end. He walked, alone, back along the fence line separating him from the pits, and broke into tears. His life was pretty bleak to begin with; this visit was his beacon since Christmas, and it was just unceremoniously extinguished. I’ve never seen a kid – or a human – that upset.

Let’s take a few paragraphs and fill in a cast of characters. Howie Keefe owned and flew the P-51 named Miss America, race number One-One. It was totally stock – no clipped wingtips, prop changes nor tail mods – and therefore not terribly competitive at Reno. But it had an easily identifiable and unique color scheme, which rivaled be best of Raymond Leowy, the dean of industrial designers who designed Air Force One. The plane got the attention of Revell Plastics, who paid owner Keefe not a small amount of coin to offer the plane as a plastic model about a foot long. The plane was a beauty, and well known by all.

OK, that said, the owner/pilot was a man named Howie Keefe. I Howie Keefetipped my hat to him as a former WWII Navy pilot with a zillion hours PIC and the respect of all with whom he flew or raced in air races around the country. He was immensely respected, in fact got a call from the NTSB to join the team of investigators of the crash at Stead that killed 11 souls and pilot Jimmy Leeward, who I knew and liked very much.

Yours truly was aboard due to my friendship, away from and prior to air racing, with the likes of Fred Davis, George Vucanovich, Stan Brown, Roy Powers, Jerry Duty and a few others who would form the crux of Reno air racing in its infancy. And my name and often photograph appeared for the next 31 years in 31 air race programs, as “Home Pylon Flagman” and later with “Finish Judge” following. I was in.

I looked at my watch. I had an hour-and-a-half until I needed to be at my post at Home Pylon. Plenty of time until the earliest race. I made a command decision. “Hop in,” I said to the urchin, nodding toward the Jeep’s right, co-pilot seat. He did.

Then I broke a couple, if not more rules – the FAA’s about underage people being beyond the “line” – the fence separating competition from spectators, and the Air Race’s, against bringing unticketed people into the pit. I cruised up to the gate and the look on my visage probably adequately conveyed that the Jeep and all it carried were coming in – leave it alone.

JeepersWe drove through the pits. I noticed Jeremy (which by the way was the kid’s name) entranced with the whole vista. I found an extra Air Race Operations hat and offered it to him.

Soon, Pay Dirt! In a little shade-shelter very near Miss America, was a tall, elegant figure wearing a crisp red, white and blue flight suit. I stopped and said to Jeremy, come with me.

I was cheery to Keefe and his friends: “Hi Howie; I brought a little friend of mine to say hello; he’s got some stuff for you to sign!” Keefe looked at me askance, at Jeremy, at the race official’s insignia on my hat, then said hi. Jeremy pulled the kit’s cover and the instruction sheet out, together with a heavy marking pen he just happened to have in the bag. And believe it or don’t, but Keefe asked Jeremy how to spell his name and signed both articles.

Jeremy’s nine-month quest had come true! But wait, it gets better:

“Howie,” I said, “May I show Jeremy your office in the Mustang?”

Keefe, as I expected he might, said, well why don’t I take him myself?  Jeremy, as one might expect didn’t need a second invitation. They both clambered up the wing – I, by now the ex officio photographer, followed,

Not tall enough to sit on his butt in the cockpit, he scrunched on his knees while Keefe pointed out the “stuff” inside – the throttle, flaps, rudders, joystick, gear, radio, trim knobs. I dutifully clicked shots of Jeremy, Howie, the cockpit, the crowd. My favorite was one with Jeremy and Howie, both with a smile you could see a mile, looking at each other and playing with some control on the panel. A bonding moment, indeed.

Time was fleeting. I corralled Jeremy and thanked Keefe profusely. And he actually thanked me for bringing them together. Jeremy and I returned to the Jeep.

I had already broken a couple no-no’s that as an official I should have been busted for, but on the way out to the ramp, I decided that once your heels are off the ground, it doesn’t matter how high they hang you. I steered toward my duty at Home Pylon. Tower cleared me on my handy-talkie to cross the main runway, and Jeremy was put to work at Home.  I sensed that the FAA overseer looked the other way.

Jeremy helped us raise Old Glory on cue, as eight Nevada Air Guard RF-4Cs passed over loud and proud just as the flag reached the top of the pole at the end of the Anthem.. He saw the Blue Angels, (the Thunderbirds?), from the best seat in the house. He saw air races. Some of my firemen buddies took him down to a crash truck. He learned how to cook hamburgers on a grill, the only skill really a requisite for working at Home Pylon. He helped us lower the flag and make a crisp tricorner fold, to fly another day.

Jeremy went to the air races. I took him home to a shabby trailer in Black Springs, to where 35 years before I drove a school bus. My first trip back. Yikes.

He was dead-ass tired – noise, excitement, smoke, seeing Howie – he’d had a day. I told him I’d see him in a couple weeks (I was shooting Kodachrome II back then with a Canon A-1; a bit different than pointing and shooting a digital today!). Roy Powers helped me get 8-by-10 copies of a dozen of the best pictures.

I went back to the trailer with the pictures in a fortnight. He was still on Cloud Nine. A Saturday, I took him to lunch. I wasn’t sure he was getting square meals.

I never saw him again. I sent some cards and letters, with return postage envelopes with my address. Nada. I went to his family’s home – they left, no forwarding address.

I’d like to end this with some Mitch Albom-feel good conclusion, but can’t. Howie Keefe, at 92, banged life’s throttle for the final time in the midsummer of 2013, pulled the stick back and climbed up, up, the long delirious burning blue over Florida where never lark nor ever eagle flew, and touched the face of God. His passing was an immense loss to the air racing and aviation community.

Jeremy? Dunno. He said during the brief tenure of our association that he’d like to join the Navy when he was old enough and work around airplanes. I’d like to think he won his Wings of Gold and is now the wing-king of an F/A-18 Hornet  squadron flying off the Ronald Reagan.

But I doubt it….

I’m just happy to have brought him that day at Stead. I’ve written about Air Racing ad nauseam, or did a few years ago. But Jeremy’s story stayed within me. They’ll be back tearing up the skies over Stead this week. And for reasons unknown, I thought I’d put one last air race tale out.

I’d give anything to get that kid in the Jeep once more….

© Breckenridge 2019

Excerpt of Airman’s Prayer credit to John Gillespie Magee, Jr. “High Flight” 1940

Air Race Home Pylon Crew

Home Pylon Crew, 1984: from left, my younger son Brent; Dale Tucker, now the home pylon flagman with Mickey on his t-shirt; next a fugitive from Reno 911 in his shorts; Dale’s parents Polly and Ed Tucker, (chief timers); chief judge Fred Hallett, the father of Reno Air Race timing and statistics. The latter three have passed away, Dale’s now the head flagman

 

 

So long, Dennis…

imagesDennis had the unique ability to look at the most convoluted of news events, separate the wheat from the chaff, then craft a highly readable, professional and ethical piece about it. His knowledge of our valley was immense. Dennis Myers was a journalist’s journalist and my friend.

 

photo © KTVN

The Lancer Restaurant and its grapes

Lancer

I no sooner post a photo of the Lancer Restaurant on the Mt. Rose highway, than my buddy ol’ Chuk Thomas gives me the authentic recipe for the famous Lancer grapes, the highlight (or at least one highlight) of their menu.

 

The storied restaurant was on the hill across Hwy. 27 from the present Galena High School. (Whoops – Highway 431 – the Mt. Rose Highway)

The image above, one of the few of the Lancer, was shot from an NDF helicopter by Don Stockwell. Both images are c. 1965; the Lancer, which prior to that name was called the Mesa, burned on July 30, 1971. Yeah, I know, it’s “Chuck,” but Chuk is an old Marine nickname. Here’s the recipe, somebody lemme know how it came out!

Bruce Waltz sent in a bit more about the Lancer, thus earning a cold brew at Brickie’s after Labor Day:  “Marvin Goins was the Host/Manager/Head Dude WAIC and eventually ended his career at Joe Conforte’s Cabin In The Sky. Brother Arvin and his wife Winnie were in the kitchen and in charge of the steaks, lobster tail, those grapes and spinach salad.

“Leo and Chris walked the plank and Glenn Rolfson on keys, piano and organ. And Merle Crickhard was in charge of everybody else.”

Thanks, Bruce. And if you’re too young to comprehend “Walking the plank,” you’re on the wrong website!

 

 

LancerGrapes

Lancer exterior photo © Don Stockwell; menu in the public domain