The new cars models are out and a bunch of us from Whitaker and Peavine are going to ride our bikes down and see them! The salesmen in the showrooms aren’t too nuts about a bunch of rag-tag kids coming in and leaving their bikes in their doorway but how else are we going to know how the new cars work? And someday we may buy a car, so HA!
I s’pose we rode to see the Studebakers first, since they were at Western Distributing on the northeast corner of Sierra and the Lincoln Highway. They sold American Flyer trains and hardware too. Studebaker had been around since they first made covered wagons for the pilgrims. And they made a lot of wartime stuff, like Weasels and Ducks. Their cars were pretty neat, and they sold a lot of pickups too. I didn’t know it in 1950, but in a few years they’d build the Avanti, which could have been America’s Corvette if they knew what they were doing.
Just to the west a couple blocks, across Chestnut Street where the high school would this year become “Central Junior High School,” was Oden Motors, that sold a bunch of foreign cars, like Jag and MG and Austin, later the Austin Healey, and Mercedes Benz. Those Mercedes were a little over $3,500 a car, the most expensive car in Reno! And the Jaguar XK-120 was one of the prettiest cars ever made. Mercedes would later move to the northeast corner of Virginia and Liberty Streets.
Richardson-Lovelock Ford was to the east, on what I guess was now called “Center Street,” but not too long ago was “University Street” and some maps and Yellow Page ads still show University. Ford was a big seller, had some pretty neat cars, but I mostly wanted a pickup truck like my Uncle Vic’s, which was an “F-1”. But I’d probably never get one, because I’m only nine years old and those pickups cost over six hundred dollars, more than the Ford cars.
We rode down Virginia Street past the courthouse, where there were a bunch of car dealers. Scott Motors sold Cadillacs and Buicks and at one time sold the Durant, a high-end General Motors car. My dad bought a 1950 Buick from Mr. Scott. He was a pretty neat guy; he had a Lockheed Electra like that lady pilot who got lost flying around the world. His son was my age and would later run the dealership. But I didn’t know that in 1950. Buicks had a touch that would continue I’ll bet until at least 2018 – they had “portholes” on the sides of their hoods, three was for Special, Super, and Century; four was for Roadmaster, their big expensive model. They all had big engines, bigger than other GM cars. And the Cadillacs in the same showroom, on the west side of Virginia where Ryland dead-ends into it, were no doubt the ritziest car on the road. Some had air conditioning, and a gadget to dim your headlights when a car was in front of you. Dad said it didn’t work.
The Pontiac dealership was a block to the east, on Center and Ryland. Mr. Winkel owned that. Dad got a 1950 Pontiac “Catalina,” a two-door coupe that GM introduced that year that was designed to look like a convertible. Chevrolet had the “Bel-Air” version, and Oldsmobile the “88” model – all hardtops. Our Catalina (second from the left, light-colored car) was in a picture of Lee’s Drive-In on Sierra and Fourth Street that I found by accident researching drive-ins. But that was a lot later, I was a really old man then, about 50. Marsh Johnson’s Chevrolet was north on Virginia across Court Street from the courthouse. Mr. Johnson would later build a shopping “mall,” they called them later, called “Park Lane” a couple miles south of town.
Waldren Oldsmobile was just south of Scott Motor’s Buick. Mr. Waldren would be one of the first to move off “auto row” on Virginia Street, staying on Virginia Street but building a whole new building just south of what would later be “Plumb Lane” by Mr. Johnson’s shopping mall. In later years there would be no Oldsmobiles (nor Pontiacs!) and the Oldsmobile dealer would become a fish/sushi place. Yecch…raw fish……
We parked our bikes and toured the Dick Dimond Dodge dealership at South Virginia and Moran Streets and looked at those cars. Their dealership’s building was really pretty, said by some to be designed by a man named Frederic Delongchamps. I got in trouble once for writing that it looked just like an auto dealership on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco designed by prominent SF architect Willis Polk so I won’t write that again. I got a picture of it from my buddy Jerry Fenwick – someday I’ll write about Jerry’s parents’ art shop downtown. The Dodge and the other MOPAR cars had a “Fluid Drive” – kind of an automatic transmission that you had to shift, but the clutch was automatic. Dad had a 1948 Dodge and like most Chrysler products the back-up light, which had to be turned on and off manually, was always on.
Dad and my uncle John and their friend Wayne Spencer were once in San Francisco, and while my mom and aunt and sister and all took off downtown to the City of Paris and Gump’s and Maiden Lane, my dad and John and Wayne had a few in some dive bar and got pretty well toasted, and Dad went up the street and bought a Chrysler convertible with wood sides. The next day he had to go back to the dealership on Van Ness Avenue and beg and plead to call off the purchase. It was almost a two thousand dollar car anyway so he probably wouldn’t have been able to buy it. But we sure had fun, and was sorry to see him back out. Mom was, well, I’ll write of that another time. Above, is the Chrysler New Yorker
We didn’t have to ride our bikes too far from Dodge to see the new Lincolns and Mercurys – just across Virginia Street. The Mercury (at left) was kind of a ho-hum car, not too much different than a Ford, (who owned Lincoln and Mercury), and the one in the picture has “suicide doors” (like the Lincoln below) – the rear side door hinged in back, so that if the car gets in a wreck the front and back doors jam and no one can get out. But the Lincoln was a great, big luxurious barge, the choice of many rich people and government officials, and the Continental (below) was about the only specialized, souped-up car made in America. It had a V-12 engine – the biggest of the other cars had a V-8. And most had just a straight-line six cylinder engine. The Reno Motors showroom, which I didn’t know then, would later become the casino for the Ponderosa Hotel, and even later a place called a “men’s club” where ladies would parade around naked. Yecch – sounds like an air conditioning and heating problem that needs repair to me but what do I know? I’m only nine years old.
Ya know, this is getting too long. Dad says the most I should write is four sheets of binder paper or people won’t get through it. There’s more to be written – the foreign cars, the trucks, and the attempts at “compact” cars like the Henry J (left) and the Crosley – let’s get together another time and we’ll ride off to more early Reno auto dealerships…see ya all soon, right back here…
Photo credit Jerry Fenwick for the Osen Motors Dealership building – the rest, God only knows..
Well, I haven’t written for a while, been pretty busy at Mary S. Doten School, but we have a weekend free so we’re hopping in the car to go see Grandma in Petaluma. Petaluma’s a little farm town right next to Napa and we’ll go through Napa to get there. Mom was born in Petaluma; her mother – my Grandma – came with a whole bunch of sisters and brothers from Ireland to be school teachers in the Valley of the Moon, but a few moved from Asti to Petaluma and Napa so I have relatives all over Sonoma County!
I should tell you that Dad just came home with a new car, a 1948 Dodge sedan, gray. He keeps leaving the back-up light turned on and killed the battery a couple times. Our neighbor John Sala gave it a “jump.” We’re loading up the new Dodge to go to Grandma’s in Petaluma. My little sister Marilynn is old enough now to ride in a car seat hung over the front seat of the car. It will take about seven or eight hours to get to Petaluma; one of these mornings I’ll write about the Giant Orange and the stuff along Highway 40.
We’re off now – and I’ll fast forward the trip, took over seven hours this time, we stopped along the way a couple of times. When we got to Stornetta’s Dairy on the Napa Highway we knew we were close! (I heard that the dairy would be lost to a fire [pictured left] many years later, and it was as popular with the residents as were the California Missions and the wineries…) I wish I could write you more about that big fire, but this is 1949 and it wouldn’t happen for many more years so I don’t know anything about it.
We pass through Napa after turning off the old picturesque Highway 12. Napa is a tiny little town, like so many along our way. It’s got one main street and everything on the street caters to agricultural stuff – a John Deere dealer with big green and yellow tractors sitting outside. Boot and clothing stores, hand tools. Many signs are in another language, Dad says Spanish but Mom, who grew up 12 miles away, said they leaned toward the Portuguese language, as the town of Napa was heavily-Portuguese occupied. She said her hometown, Petaluma, was mostly Italian and Irish. There were many other little towns along the way between a place on the main highway called the Nut Tree that opened in 1920, and Petaluma to the north toward the Redwood Highway – Highway 101.
We got through Napa and saw many grapevines along the way – acres of wooden frames with the vines hanging from them. There were big propellers every once in a while, and a lot of little pots. Dad says the pots burned kerosene and the big fans blew the heat over the vines to keep them from freezing. We went into Petaluma by a beautiful old brick building that looked like the Southern Pacific engine house in Sparks next to the roundhouse that was being torn down. The big building was the bag mill, where the bags for the crops and grain that supported all these little towns, were woven. The building was a real beauty.
Petaluma is a nice little town, much like Napa, with almost no one except for the full-time residents living there. Petalumans raised chickens and was known as the egg-capital of the west coast. McNear’s Mill processed the grain from all over the valley, and shipped it every morning aboard the Steamer Gold, from the end of the Petaluma River. Napans raised grapes, mostly for dining but also finding their way into the wine industry. People had been drinking wine for years but I guess never put much interest into grapes and wine – wine was red, and blush. A smattering (like that word? I’m not supposed to use it according to my teachers…) of men from San Francisco and Europe were starting to take more interest in grapes and wine, and were slowly moving to Napa. There were already some beautiful old buildings there operated by the few “vintners,” a hoity-toity word for grape growers. But I don’t recall wine as being that big a deal. But they sure had some pretty buildings and ranches – it would be a shame if a fire ever came along and burned them – they’ve been there since before WWI, some of them.
And I should write you that one of the big industries was making kegs – wooden barrels – out of oak wood for the wine to age in. This industry was really taking off! One guy even had an orchard for cork trees, because corks were necessary for bottling wine and most of them in 1949 came from Portugal. Hence, the Portuguese influence in Napa.
And speaking of wine, when we arrived in Petaluma, Dad sat on the front porch of Grandma’s house on Harris Street, which was an old railroad house that was moved across town and my mother came home from the hospital to it in 1916. Grandma joined Dad on the porch with a bottle of red wine that Dad picked up down Western Street at Volpi’s, and they laughed and giggled as usual while Mom freshened up.
Later that night, we loaded up in the Dodge, and with my great-aunts Isabel and Marge and Iola and uncle Vic and Earl and a few other relatives, in a couple other cars, and we all took off for dinner at the Green Mill Inn, which was a pretty popular roadhouse in Cotati. We went through Sebastopol, Calistoga and a few other old towns, all with some beautiful homes and businesses dating back to the turn of the century, and even to California’s statehood. Sonoma, for sure; Rutherford – we passed through them all.
And we’d do it many times again in the years to follow – Dad and Grandma on the porch with a jug of red, Mom freshening up, all the old ladies sitting around Aunt Kate’s Bosendorfer upright piano that had come ‘Round the Horn from Galway, all singing the old songs they’d learned as children. Or, they’d have more red, all together, and commandeer the Green Mill Inn’s piano and sing of the Emerald Isle. Good times, in the Sonoma Valley. Possibly the prettiest part of California, I’d probably get an argument to that from Santa Barbarans, where I was born ten years before. In 1955 Frank Loesser would even write a Broadway musical about it, “The Most Happy Fella” (in the whole Napa Valley..)!
But beautiful country, old buildings, tree-canopied streets, some picturesque old rock wineries and quaint downtowns – Napa, Sonoma, Petaluma, Calistoga, Sebastopol, Stornetta’s Dairy, the bag mill, McNear’s grain elevator – I hoped that nothing would ever come along to alter it…..
C’mon back in a while, we’ll ride Highway 40 or walk the Truckee’s banks – I never know ‘til I start writing
POSTSCRIPT: I WAS REMINDED THAT MY “LITTLE SISTER MARILYNN” REFERRED TO AS “NOW OLD ENOUGH TO RIDE IN THE CAR SEAT,” RETURNED TO NAPA AFTER COLLEGE AND, WITH HUSBAND ERIC, TAUGHT IN THE NAPA COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT FOR OVER 30 YEARS!
Napa schoolhouse photo credit AP
Photo Stornetta’s Dairy courtesy Joe Fazio
Just testing to see if I can still make this computer work – the photo was taken at the Hollywood Bowl last night. On the stage is the LA Philharmonic, playing John Williams’ score from the movie (Williams, now 83, introduced conductor David Newman on a videotaped segment). My overall review is that when Elliott rode his bike across the moon in that iconic shot from the movie with E.T. in his basket, causing 17,000 children of all ages to applaud and cheer, that for all the problems on this rock, life is really pretty damn good!
Off to San Francisco for the weekend? Let’s see; reservations on Lombard Street for a couple of nights, done; a call ahead to see if the kids are available for a visit, check; pick a couple of joints for dinner in the Marina and the Buena Vista for eggs Benedict, easy; gas up the pickup, or the ragtop? – let’s see what the weather is the morning we leave. No sweat – we’ve done it all before; let’s not complicate our weekend.
But instead of a couple, let’s plan a trip four hundred close friends from the Beltway, this one a little further in advance. We’re off to Geneva, the one in Switzerland, and instead of the kids we’re meeting the heads of state of a half-dozen world powers so we better bring an interpreter or a half dozen. We’ll start five months in advance and make reservations for our group in five Geneva hotels – reserving rooms on a onesy-twosy basis is burdensome so we won’t mess around – let’s just book the whole Maison de Saussere, the Fleur de Eau and three more for a week or so. Better get a hundred rooms a little early ‘cause we’re sending some guys over to make sure the accommodations are up to snuff and to scope out the traffic. And, White House chefs to check out the bill of fare in the restaurants we’ll be eating at. We don’t want to get POTUS or FLOTUS heading for the Tums when they get back to their rooms. POTUS, of course, is the President of the United States; FLOTUS the First Lady O-T-U-S, but you figured that out (we’ll have a couple of American doctors with their own instruments unit and extensive medications aboard, just in case the food or a health issue gets too gnarly.)
A word about where my mind was when I strung all this together on a dismal evening: My old childhood buddy, later Sigma Nu frat brother Ty Cobb the Younger has been speaking around our village about his life and times as a National Security Council advisor to President Ronald Reagan, and writes a fine column of his own in the Gazoo every now and then. At breakfast at the Gold-n-Silver last week I told him that I abhor anything political, but getting President Reagan to a world leaders’ Summit conference, of which Ty went to four, now there would be a fine column through a Homefinder’s eyes. Ty loaned me the weighty three-volume White House planning document for a November 1985 Summit, in which his name appears liberally – T. Cobb – and I can even tell you from the documents, if asked, where he rode in Marine One helicopter from the White House to Andrews AFB (right next to C. Powell). That’s how intricate the trip planning for these sojourns was and probably remains. In one volume, the American delegation leaving a formal dinner at a Swiss mansion with other heads of state is assigned, from POTUS on down to the Official Photographer, which of the three elevators in this palace they will be riding in, and who will board and disembark the elevators first and last. Leave nothing to chance, as John Ascuaga counsels us.
Bags fly free
The planning document volumes are made available in advance to the participants of the trip – White House staff, the military branches involved, the State Department, Secret Service, press – and contain an incredibly intricate, virtually minute-by-minute itinerary of the four-day trip. A facility at Andrews AFB was clearly indicated, with an arrival time at some God-awful hour of the morning. That many folks have a lot of luggage and it appears that unless one lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue most schlepped their own bags, with instructions to leave them open – they were inspected before loading (T. Cobb always opted for carry-on). From that point their walking route to which airplane – AF One or the several support planes – was mapped. According to Ty, the most salient issue for the whole trip for most was not some vast life-changing worldwide issue being debated by the heads of state of the world powers at the Summit, but who got to get there on Air Force One. Ty flew aboard it on many occasions to several Summits, a thrill he likens only to driving the Vagabond Touring Association’s ’34 Ford school bus, uninvited, into Kezar Stadium during an East-West Shrine Game in his college days. I recall that Saturday also. Gingerly…
The limousines arrive in a C-5B
The volumes held drawings of the eleven venues and hotels for the Summit, both of their interiors floor-by-floor and topographic drawings of their exteriors and driveways, including vegetation that could block a photographer’s view or conceal an assassin. Walking routes the delegation will take within a ballroom or disembarking Air Force One at Cointrin Airport in Geneva – who leaves by the front steps or through the aft door – are clearly delineated. Where the limousines and vans (hauled in by a C-5B prior to the delegation’s arrival) will be parked by Air Force One and the support planes and who will ride in each, where the honor guard meeting the President and First Lady would stand; the locations available to photographers, and the route the motorcade would use to depart the airfield are clear, and according to Ty that’s the way it had to be, period. Some of the documents weren’t classified; it’s a pretty safe bet that other, tighter Secret Service maps showed routes to a designated hospital and other security protocol. Interestingly, one sticking point that had to be worked out was whether Secret Service agents could carry their firearms in neutral Switzerland. I don’t know the eventual outcome of that negotiation and wouldn’t ask. And, the planning volumes indicated Air Force One by its tail number 26000, the Boeing 707 in use then – parked alongside the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Cal. now is 27000, the last 707 used as Air Force One.
The event times during the four-day summit? Leave us not forget that Geneva is a bunch of time zones ahead of any of the four in the US of A. and in the final evaluation these ritualistic and formal handshakes between eight world powers weren’t being choreographed just to go on live TV in some morning between “Regis Live” and “General Hospital” – prime time is the operative word for live formal events at a Summit and some of them were some pretty strange hours of the day in Geneva.
The three volumes were a thought-provoking read of the highest level of worldwide statesmanship, and Ty’s first-hand insight brought to light some facets of such a trip one would never think about without his narration. Thanks, Tyrus…
Have a good week; summer’s right around the corner, trust me, and God bless America!
© Reno Gazette Journal Jan. 10, 2006
Here’s a sign on the west reaches of Victorian Way in Sparks, still known by most of my readers as B Street, that’s amused me for many a year. If I owned a motel and was catering to German tourists, I’d probably put sprechen sie deutsch on my sign.
But what do I know about tourism…?
Happy Turkey to All, and to All a Good Night. (Wait, that doesn’t sound right…)
PS if you’re looking for the flood story try this
The 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.”
If you’re after the Thanksgiving flood story, click here
Earlier this week I activated a page on the dreaded Facebook in hopes of getting a few more people aboard this website, and make it worth my while to maintain. Almost immediately I received several e-mails, like four, asking what the little Mission Revival building I used on the Facebook page was, on the water, below a verdant hillside and with a city rising up in the background. OK, not a part of Reno’s heritage, but here goes:
The knee-jerk answer, the building is the San Francisco Fire Department’s Pump Station #2 – or at least it was for a hundred years, before being turned over to the SF Water Department a year or so ago. It’s easy to see; from Aquatic Park at the foot of Hyde Street, a hoot and a holler from the Buena Vista Saloon and its Irish Coffee – just look to the left at the spit of land forming one side of Fort Mason. Take a walk over; it’s not that far.
Shortly after the Great Earthquake of 1906 it was decreed by the citizenry of San Francisco that never again would the town be gutted by fire following an earthquake, for lack of water to douse the flames with. The pumps, which serve in concert with another station downtown, houses, or one time housed, three boilers at the right side of the building as viewed in this picture (a 30-foot masonry smokestack once graced the southeast corner of the roof, to the viewer’s near left.) The boilers’ steam powered an electric motor through a steam turbine, which motor turned a pump, which could raise sea water to the 10-million gallon Twin Peaks reservoirs, at an elevation of almost 800 feet above the bay level, and pump it at the alarming rate of 10,000 gallons a minute. That sea water could then be dropped by gravity down to smaller reservoirs in Ashbury Heights, the Hippies’ domain in the 1970s, or another reservoir on Nob Hill.
The machinery was incredibly beautiful to view – I was fortunate to get inside the building numerous times prior to the Water Department’s acquisition of it – and the 1909-era massive pumps, generators and boilers, with their dramatic “General Electric” brass nameplates, “Schenectady, NY” – and switches and valves reminiscent of Captain Nemo’s bridge on Jules Verne’s Nautilus, were a treasure to behold. And most of that remains, I’m told. Sadly, following 911 the building’s SFFD signage and its very existence and function became clouded in the name of homeland security and I haven’t been able to BS my way back inside (yet!) since 2008.
But I saw its machinery operate, several times – elevating water 800 vertical feet takes some incredible power, and the century-old equipment in this building is amply up to that task. The reservoirs are fresh water, feeding hydrants easily spotted by their larger size, three valve outlets and red, black, or blue caps, delineating the reservoir that serves them. But – in the face of a large fire, like that anticipated after the Loma Prieta earthquake, the plant is fired up (modern diesel-powered generators have replaced the three boilers, creating electricity to run the pump.) Fresh water is preferred, due to the absence of galvanic action to screw up the fire trucks’ plumbing, but in an emergency the system kicks in sea water (San Francisco’s two fireboats can also pump sea water into the pump station or other risers along the Embarcadero.)
It’s a little San Francisco treasure that a thousand people walk past every weekend on their way up the path to the right of the pump station visible in the photograph, to a magnificent view over Fort Mason and the Marina. Pity they can’t see the century-old low-tech being tested and operated daily in the little building at the bottom of the hill…
If you’re after the 1950 Thanksgiving flood piece, click here