September 24 • Vine Street

karlatwhitaker…how this yarn began

Well, we went to the football game yesterday at the University of Nevada, and Nevada won the game, playing a team from the Chico State University. We’ve walked from our house on Ralston by Whitaker Park a couple times now – Nevada has won a couple of home games already this year. Dad says it’s because they’re in a good conference where all the teams are about even.

Today is Sunday and I’ve talked Mom out of going to church down where Ralston Street dead-ends into the Truckee River. Dad’s childhood buddy Bud Loomis’ mother was pretty much the founder of that church, and her family owned the land that it sits on. I’m getting on my new bike and riding down Vine Street because Grandma Gladys gave me a silver dollar. I’m going to get an ice cream cone at the Hale’s Drug store down on the Lincoln Highway.

Vine Street is about the last street west in Reno, with just a bunch of fields on the other side. Mr. Weichman and Mr. Probasco are starting to build some homes along Eighth Street, which most people now call University Terrace. And Mr. Novelly is also building on some new streets that he named after himself, Novelly Street and Raymond Drive. So I ride west along Whitaker Park and down the steep hill west of Washington Street. At the bottom of the hill is Vine Street, which goes south to the Truckee and north to a big ranch owned by Dr. Raphael Herman. He came up from Los Angeles and named Rafael it for himself.

I ride toward the Truckee River, where there are mostly just houses where some of my friends live like Bob Broili and the Burr kids and Dr. Reno’s kids. He’s not from here but came here after he graduated from the doctor school. His wife’s name was Rhoda – she was a good friend of my mom’s and was really mad at me when I said that her last name was Hogg before she married Dr. Reno. I paid for that until mom died in 2004. But it was worth it.

I should have mentioned that at the bottom of the Washington Street hill there wasglobe_gas_pump a service station and a little market called the Quality Market, but everybody called it “Quilici’s.” It had a gas pump outside that the men pumped by hand until they could see the level of gas on a big round glass dome. When they got it up to the number of gallons they wanted to buy, they would call Mr. Quilici and he’d come out and see for himself how much gas was in the dome, and they’d pay him. Then the men would put the hose into their cars, open the valve and let the gasoline drain into the cars. It was fun to watch. My mom didn’t shop there because she didn’t speak much Italian and that’s about all anybody spoke in that store (most of the patrons came down the hill from Little Italy).

The other market that I rode past on Vine Street was at the corner of Sixth Street. It was a hot little after-school place for the kids who went to Mary S. Doten elementary school like me or the older kids who went to Reno High a little further east on Fifth Street. It was called the Santa Claus Market because it was the only market that stayed open on Christmas Day! It was made of river rock and painted silver. I wish Dad or somebody had taken a picture of it but I never found one.

Pedaling now further south on Vine Street, I get to Hale’s Drug Store in a brick building on the northwest corner of West Fourth – the Lincoln Highway. Dad’s friend Mr. Locke opened that Hale’s Drug in a little two-story building that was owned by Chester and Lincoln Piazzo who had a sporting goods store downtown where they charged all the kids about double what Mr. York and Mr. Burke charged for a jock strap at Mt. Rose Sporting goods or Reno Sporting Goods on Plaza and Virginia, but that’s where the schools made us buy our stuff.

Hale’s had one of the most popular lunch counters in Reno. In a couple years Dad’s friend Mr. Ramos would move his drug store from downtown across from Dad’s office on California Avenue, but right now this was THE place to go. I ordered my ice-cream cone. And got a lot of change back for the silver dollar (Dad calls them “Cartwheels”) that Grandma Gladys gave me.

SP_locoI walked down the short block to the train tracks, and sat on the curb. Sure enough, an SP train came in with one of those new-fangled “diesel-electric” locomotives pulling it.  I read later in a guy’s weekly newspaper column that the last steam engine in scheduled service went through Reno in October of 1949, so I was lucky to remember seeing (and hearing!) them.

There’s one more street beyond Vine to the west, called Keystone, but it’s a short little street that only goes from the south side of the SP tracks down to the Truckee River, where it dead-ends into Riverside Drive by McKinley Park School. There’s been talk of extending it north of the tracks to connect with Peavine Row, but Dad says that’s about ten years away. Right now the only businesses west of Vine are Mr. Caton’s Reno Press Brick factory and Keystone Fuel, and the Union Ice plant. Bob & Ray’s Chevron station is across from Hale’s Drug. In a few years the Piazzo brothers will build Plaza Shopping Center on the northeast corner of Fourth Street and Vine, and Mr. Parker will build the Gold ‘n Silver restaurant on the southeast corner. To the east and west of Vine Street are mostly auto courts, which they’re starting to call “motels,” and some of the nicest apartment houses in Reno.

So, it’s a happenin’ little corner. But I’d better walk back to Hale’s Drug Store and start the ride up the hill to home – it’s Sunday, so we’re going to the Toscano Hotel downtown on Lake Street with the next-door-neighbors, the Salas! Their little red-haired daughter Michelle is a hot little number. They just had a newborn son, named him “Mike.”

C’mon back in a week or two and well ride from 740 Ralston to somewhere else!!!



A new hat for the Ol’ Reno Guy…

birdcage traffic signalEffective on the first, which is to say the first chance I get, I am going to start a new venture. I have been invited by a San Francisco friend to submit somewhat regular posts to a Facebook website of and by San Franciscans – about, San Francisco, and my memories and experiences in that enchanted city. He/they want a Herb Caen-type, three-dot column; I reminded him that I don’t live in the City, nor did I grow up there, nor do I have a great number of resources to rely upon as I do for Reno and Sparks. He said do it anyway.

And so I will. I have no idea where it will land, but I have a wealth of San Francisco stuff in my noggin, and a lot of photographs, and two sons and their families who live there, and friends I can call if I get stuck. And I will.

But, in the near term, such a column will evolve, and I’m going to put it onto this website. Unless I can figure out how to make a companion website through WordPress. But, as a forewarning, that’s where we’re going. I’ll still post the meanderings of the little six-year-old kid remembering Reno from his Ralston Avenue home. And I’ll post old websites, taken mostly from old newspaper columns – after 29 years in that paper which name escapes me, I’ve a trove of stuff and stories yet to be told.

I’m not quite there yet, so I won’t trouble y’all with that web page’s name, but as the site matures, I’ll clue readers in – if you’re in Facebook you may request membership in the group, which is not a difficult thing to accomplish. If you’re not on  Facebook, it’ll be posted here way you may read it


And that’s the way it is, September 18, 2017. Come back once in a while. God only knows what will appear on this site…! 


Up Ship!

BalloonRace“Up Ship” – the launch command of the ground crew of a lighter-than-air balloon, time-honored from the days of Jules Verne as the aeronauts drop a pennant with a braided rope to sample the wind.  The modern Goodyear blimps continue that tradition, dropping a line with the American flag from their tails.  We’ll hear it a lot at this weekend as the colorful envelopes fill and open, then rise over Rancho San Rafael.

            The early balloon races in Reno started with less-auspicious beginnings as an event to fill the early hours of the Reno Air Races, offering spectators a little diversion while the racers were prepping for the main event.  They drew a lot of attention – the propane burners slowly filling the gasbags, that gradually blossomed open and disappeared with their wicker baskets and champagne-swilling aeronauts into the distance in a sort of hare-and-hound race, mostly for fun.  The envelopes were less colorful yet more traditional in shape – the logo gasbag shapes, starting with Mr. Peanut and a champagne bottle setting the pace for those.  On that first windless morning they didn’t go far, and posed a hazard to the later air racers by blocking course safety escape routes and cluttering up the course with ground support trucks.  I’ve tried to pinpoint the year from old air race programs with little luck, but I’d guess this all started about 1973, reader help appreciated.

            The next year they were back, in greater numbers and a little more organization, with a few VIP passengers and some sponsored balloons.  And problems similar to the year before with the congestion.  But the event was catching on and few enjoyed them more than the volunteer workers at the air races – the balloons a pleasant diversion from the noisy race planes.  And pilots.

            I’m shaky on the year now, but believe it was the third year at Stead that the air race trustees, and I detect the fine hand of Roy Powers in this stunt – “We’ll have a Reno Air Race Zip Code, with a commemorative postmark on one-ounce-max letters, put a shoebox full in each balloon, and put these races on the map!”  The U.S. Postal Service went along with that, and official airmail lifted off with each aeronaut.

            Unlike the past years, the wind was freaky at launch time, coming from the east, west, north, and south and maybe straight down.  Hot air balloons with U.S. Mail aboard drifted from hell to breakfast and the post office minions went postal, their mail, their charge, their duty through rain, sleet, dark of night and Washoe Zephyrs, spread from O’Brien Middle School’s parking lot to the Black Rock Desert.  Red, white and blue right-hand-drive mail trucks drove all over the racecourse.  Well, not really, but from the squawk on our walkie-talkies that wouldn’t have surprised us.

            The event matured, from its early beginnings as a schedule-filler for the air races to a stand-alone weekend, and what a hand the early organizers are due for turning it into one of our valley’s major annual shows.  And, for proving that the near-silent rustle of a balloon cleaving the air with the occasional whoosh of the burner, can hold its own with the popularity of Hot August Night’s big-block Chevys, the air race’s V-12 Packard Merlins and Street Vibrations’ Twin-V Harleys.  Up ship, aeronauts; we’re glad to see you back again.

            And, for the trivia that one can only find in this paper on Saturday mornings, the U.S.-based Goodyear blimps have been traditionally named for racing yachts that have successfully defended the America’s Cup, so decreed the late Frank Seiberling, Goodyear’s 19th century founder, a yachtsman himself, now retired.  (Get it?)  And, we all know that just as Bill Harrah went to the four corners of the Nevada to get low auto license plate numbers for his fleet, the Goodyear big wheels garnered the lowest tail numbers in American aviation, from N1A through November Eleven Alpha.

            You won’t find stuff like that in the Life section of this paper!

text © Karl Breckenridge  2006

It’s the Real Thing

Coke truckNary a codger my age, nor a codgerette, if that spell-checks, didn’t lurk around the high south window of the handsome brick building at Center Street’s intersection with South Virginia, watching the parade of green-hued clear bottles down the conveyor line.  They marched like sparkling soldiers in lockstep from west to east, our left to our right, being squirted four-at-a-time full of Coca-Cola, to then disappear from view just as another machine capped them – poetry in motion.

            But, the precision parade of these African kola nut-shaped little vessels wasn’t what we gathered there for.  Periodically one bottle would get screwed up in the cadence and take down the three soldiers adjoining it and the whole parade would come to a halt.  And that, readers, made our wait worthwhile, for the white-coated old bottler minding the parade would pull those bottles from the line, glance out the window at us – outwardly feigning great disdain for our barefaced supplication – and give a gruff nod to the door on Center Street.  Inwardly we knew he was grinning wide at the opportunity to give us a free bottle of Coke and hie us on our way.

            And – we’d look at the bottom of bottle to see what city it was originally bottled in – any kids’ worthwhile Coke bottle collection had a number of bottles with big east coast cities’ imprints on them, having migrated west along the Lincoln Highway.

shoshoneplant            That big sunlit south window, with the gleaming stainless steel conveyor and piping – the bottles changing from glistening clarity to jet black as they were filled – was a focal point of any drive around Reno until the plant moved out onto Vassar Street in 1972.  And, in the convoluted logic that frequently drives this column I’ll mention here that what triggered all this is that the subsequent occupant of the bottling plant, Restaurant Equipment and Supply – RESCO, if you will – just vacated the building, to move out to the old McMahan’s Furniture on East Plumb Lane.

            Les and Stanley Farr bought two businesses in 1924 – the Shoshone Soda Works and Diamond Springs Drinking Water Supply Company.  They built a brick building in 1927 on South Virginia Street for the soda operation, hand-bottling a number of regional brands of carbonated beverages. Les’ son Curtis became the sales manager.  In William D. Rowley’s book “Reno: Hub of the Washoe County” a Mean Joegreat old picture by Lauren Wood appears, depicting the original Shoshone building, looking kind of lonely ‘way out on South Virginia Street – but recognizable as part of the existing structure.  In 1930, long before Coke Taught The World To Sing and Mean Joe Greene tossed the kid his Steeler football jersey in one of most popular TV commercials ever made, Coca-Cola franchised the Farrs to bottle Coca-Cola in the northern Nevada market.  They sold the Diamond Springs water operation to another company in 1944.

            They added on to that old building in 1939, and again in 1941, the latter addition incorporating the showcased bottling line on the south wall.  That high window in later years was bricked over, its silhouette still discernable.  (There was a little more room on the corner in those days with a little wedge-shaped park; Center Street, then two-way would later become one-way north and a turn lane took out part of the sidewalk.)

            The Farrs, to their credit, maintained their building beautifully – landscaping, the stainless-and-glass gallery to the south, and on the Virginia Street parking lot a fleet of immaculately maintained yellow-and white, with red trim, cab-over-engine – (OK, ladies: flat-fronted) – delivery trucks with racks for the wooden bottle containers, hauling Coke from Susanville to Lake Tahoe.  (How’d you like to have one of those delivery trucks restored in time for Hot August Nights – what a showstopper that would be on a cruise.)

            Research – ahh, that ugly word – brought a few tickles.  The Farrs, coöperating to  plug the local debut of “Grapes of Wrath” at the Granada (where admission, according to an ad in a March, 1940 edition of the Nevada State Journal, was 10 cents or 25 cents, regular or loge) offered a free Coke with admission.  Henry Fonda and a Coke, what a deal.

            Leslie Farr passed away in 1977, four years after his son Curtis’ death in 1974.  They created a beautiful building for our local landscape, putting a great deal more pizzazz into it than the minimum necessary to do their job.  Those ol’ bricks have served RESCO well for over 30 years, and we wish that company 30 more good years on East Plumb Lane.

            And – the old bottling plant remains a highly visible building with a lot of potential.*  Hopefully some user will come along to rescue and  restore it, maybe even un-bricking some of the windows to light up a slick little mini-mall or the lobby of a community theater…

           *Postscript: In 2017, we call it Junkee’s!


text © RGJ 2006

Junkee’s facia photo courtesy Junkee’s website 



September 1  • Labor Day!

BaffertHow all this began…


Boyoboy – it’s been a busy summer with a lot going on, now the whole family is off in the ’41 Chevy for the Elks’ annual picnic at a place at nearby Lake Tahoe called Fourth Creek. It’s almost by the bottom of the Mt. Rose Road, by a beach across from a place where Hyatt hotel will be built 50 years later. Today in 1948 there’s nothing for many miles in either direction – west to the state line and “Crystal Bay,” or east all the way down to where Highway 50 hits the lake. Nothing.

The picnic is fun with swimming and lots of food. The lake is really pretty. We go 1941_chevvyhome toward dinner time down the little two-lane road that will close when the first snow hits at Thanksgiving, and be closed all winter. It’s hard to believe on this sunny afternoon that a rainstorm would occur in a few years so quick that a couple would drown when their car was swept off the highway on the other side of the mountain, by the Boy Scout campground in Galena. Flash flood. Scary.

School will be starting for me next Tuesday – all the schools start the Tuesday after Labor Day every year. Last weekend Dad went to Mary S. Doten School down the hill from our house with a whole bunch of other dads for a work day. The school’s principal Rita Cannan ran that show, what a tyrant she could be, a little tiny woman telling all these big guys how to rake and stuff. And she really got on them when they crossed Fifth Street to Beetschen’s Cottage Grocery and got a load of Sierra Beer. Wowee, what a ruckus. But, it was being played out all over town, with dads helping get the five elementary schools, B. D. Billinghurst way out on Plumas Street and Northside, in the middle of downtown Reno. And Reno High School, over a couple blocks from our house on Fifth and West Street ready for us next week.

Mr. Minetto, the janitor at Mary S. Doten always had the shiniest hardwood floors of any of the Spanish Quartette schools every year. I’ll never smell floor wax again without thinking of him!

Our family went to the last fireworks show at Mackay Stadium last Friday night. I think we hit most of the Friday night fireworks this summer put on by Harold’s Club. I’m told that in another year a friend of Dad’s named Tom Wilson who writes Harold’s Club’s ads would get rid of the apostrophe in their name forever. I think that’s what that little comma is called anyway. We also walked over to the final Reno Municipal Band night at the Quadrangle at the University. The band was at the “Quad” all August; in July it’s at the park in Virginia Lake, which only opened about eight years ago. It’s a fun show.  Mr. Tinkham, “Tink” Dad calls him, always plays John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars & Stripes Forever” march at the end, and leads all the kids on a march around the Quad. I heard, but don’t know now ‘cuz I’m only a little guy, that my classmate Glenn Little would take over the band in the 1980s and lead all the kids around Wingfield Park. But I don’t know that yet. Oh, and there was always watermelon at the Quad and the park for us! Pretty cool…

And I might add that starting on Tuesday if you’re at the University and not in your senior year, you better not walk on the Quad or you’ll be “laked” – thrown into Manzanita Lake. The first time you’ll walk on the Quad is to get your diploma at graduation!

Reno was in the national news over Labor Day weekend because there was a “strike” by the restaurant workers downtown on Labor Day, when none of them came to work on this busy weekend. The men who live in Reno weren’t about to put up “with that crap,” as Mr. Sala called it in the newspaper, so a bunch of businessmen – and some of our mothers – went to the restaurants and worked, cooked, cleaned tables, brought food to the tourists, and made the people from out-of-town comfortable. That might be the last time I ever knew my dad to cook anything. And it all worked. The restaurant workers came back to work in September and life went on. And after Dad cooked they said Grace after dinner.

HOGReno also made the news when the motorcycle club from Sacramento and Oakland came back to town. A whole bunch of guys – “Badass Dudes” Dad called them and Mom really hollered at him for using that word – all converged (pretty big word for a kid, huh!) at the park in Wingfield with their black leather jackets with stuff on the back, no helmets and with sleeping bags and set up housekeeping. They all rode Harley Davidson motorcycles. Many of them were leftovers from the Army after the war ended a few years ago. They made a lot of noise with their motorcycles’ motors, and swore and drank and scared everybody. But what was funny for us kids was that all they really wanted to do was have fun. We rode our bicycles to the park and they were pretty good guys (they didn’t smell too good!) but they showed us how their motorcycles worked and were pretty fun. The police came and screamed and shouted and raised hell but really should have just left them alone. They came back for four or five years, and camped in the park. Someday I’ll write about the Gypsies who came to Idlewild, same thing – just leave them alone and all would be fine, but no, we just couldn’t do that… (And Mom said that I can’t write “hell” anymore as long as I live at 740 Ralston Street.) Mom was counting nickles, dimes, and quarters on the kitchen table when she suddenly got very angry and started shouting and crying for no reason. Dad said to me, “She’s going through the change.”

Anyway the summer is coming to an end. The Reno Recreation Department hires mostly college kids, and a few high school kids, to run the park programs like across Ralston Street from my house at Whitaker Park, the tennis program with Mr. Fairman and free tennis lessons at Wingfield, and the Reno swimming pool in Idlewild and Deer Park in Sparks. With all the kids starting at the schools and the University, there’s no one left to work so they’re all closing!

Been a good summer had a lot  of fun, learning to write better. Come back once in a while maybe I’ll write another story about Reno after the war. Lots left to write about. See ya….



Downtown Reno’s Nevada State Building

StateBuilding2I can hear y’all saying, “The Nevada State Building? We always called it just the State Building.’

And so you did, and so we still remember some pretty great times in that old workhorse in Powning Park, where the Pioneer Center is now. The tall two-story building was the DeLongchamps-designed Swiss army knife of public buildings. It came to be when the 1925 State Legislature decreed that the “Nevada Building,” its original name, should be built; its short-term justification was to house displays and exhibits for the upcoming 1927 Transcontinental Highway Exposition to be held in Reno. The longer-term usage was “for the permanent storage of state artifacts, records and photographs by the Nevada Historical Society.” Construction followed, and its cornerstone was laid on June 26, 1926.
The building was the hub of local social, cultural, civic and just-plain-fun lifestyle headquarters in downtown Reno, when there wasn’t much happening outside the downtown corridor. It had a broad, welcoming front porch a half-flight up, a configuration that would rightfully drive the Americans with Disabilities Act crazy in 2014. Entering the building you’d find a number of public businesses on either side of the open foyer, and the Nevada Historical Society, for which the building was ostensibly built, toward the rear of the main hall. On a lower level was the Nevada National Guard in a daylight basement opening toward Center Street.
The Washoe County Library under the hand of longtime librarian Darrell Cain occupied the ground floor with its own entrance from Center Street. It was a
nice library, airy and open and well-operated with a lot of senior and youth functions. I remember a Saturday morning reading program that was a close
competitor to the 14-cent movies in the Tower Theater a block to the south. No satellite locations then, no bookmobiles, but a dandy nevertheless!
The National Guard operated out of the lower level, and kept their fleet on Center Street, right “behind” the building. There were Jeeps, six-by-sixes, a low-boy and two Dodge Power Wagon ambulances like the ones on “M*A*S*H.” An occasional Studebaker amphibian and a half-track. The Guard eventually moved to the fairgrounds and eventually to Plumb Lane.

It was the scene of many USO functions and socials during the war. The second floor was a fan-shaped hall; the apex of the fan was the stage, a first=class
affair with professional theater lighting and curtain flys. It for years was the best theater in the state; the mid-20th-century equal of the later Pioneer Theater.
But it was used far beyond serious theater — there were probably two Huskie Haven dances a month on Friday nights — Huskie Haven, the social club of Reno High, then the only public high school in Reno (Note the spelling, no “Y”!). The university used the hall for their stage and choral productions. Private groups, such as Joe Battaglia’s Men of Renown, and that ain’t the hospital, sang there. There were more Messiahs performed there more often than the place could Handel. Warren Miller ski movies, yearly. The university’s Mackay Day and Winter Carnival shows, count on ’em. Dances galore. The place cooked everyweekend with something — what a place!
Some of the occupants over the years were the Nevada Historical Society, the Washoe County Library, the Washoe County Justice Court, the Reno Constable, the county coroner and the VFW. And the State Highway Department’s Reno office, the Nevada National Guard, the Boy Scouts, the Reno Chamber of Commerce, the opera society, Huskie Haven after it moved out of the old fire station on Center Street and the driver’s license division of the Department of Motor Vehicles and the draft board. A number of state and federal agricultural offices and the BLM. And a host of short-term occupancies such as the Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley. And almost weekly were the University fraternity, sorority and Reno High dances and sock hops, and kids walking to the historical society from schools all over town.

Christmas of 1952 featured an unmanned TV camera in the lobby from newly-on-the-air KZTV, so kids could wish their friend “Merry Christmas” on TV!

A bunch of guys the other morning reminded me of the Merci train car on display in MerciTrainold Powning Park in 1949. The little boxcar was one of the 49 sent to
the United States by France, as a show of gratitude for the American charity to the starving French people after WWII. All the cars had gifts from the French — simple ones; a doll from a French 10-year-old to a like American girl — to each state in the Union and the District of Columbia — put together by Les Societe des Quarante Hommes et Huit Chevaux — “40 men and 8 horses” — the capacity of the WWI boxcars. The cool thing about the location of the State Building — was that we could walk there from any urban school in Reno. And did, frequently.
But dark clouds were growing over the Nevada State Building. In the early 1960s the civic mood was in favor of a convention center and the County Fair
and Recreation Board, later RSCVA, started to acquire land out south. The Centennial Coliseum was completed and to mollify the downtown gaming
interests the Pioneer Theater was approved. Its design was originally conceived by engineer Buckminster Fuller for covering radar antennae in Arctic climes, with acoustics to match, and would be painted gold. On April 19, 1965, the State Building’s ownership was transferred to Washoe County. The Nevada Historical Society was kicked out and moved up Virginia Street to the former St. Albert’s Church. And in early 1966, Nevada’s State Building in Reno, serving us proudly for almost exactly 40 years, one of the busiest buildings ever built and probably one of the most successfully conceived buildings in the state, was razed.

I miss it. Have a good week and God bless America!

© RGJ once upon a time..

August 5 – A hot time in the new town!

KF_headshotThe little kid’s first post

I thought Richmond had had some hot Bay Area summers until we moved to Reno last month…boyoboy, this town can get warm! I had been warm for a week already, and last night at three in the morning our neighbor, that grouchy old bastard Dr. Somebody from the University of Nevada was banging on our front door. Fortunately Dad was up playing his bagpipes so he was able to meet him at the door.

Dad went to Sears Roebuck on Sierra Street and bought a “swamp cooler” for our new house on Ralston Street, actually an old house built in 1902, new to us. I don’t QQQswamp coolerknow why they call it a swamp cooler and Dad didn’t either. But he and our next-door neighbor Mr. Sala went down the hill and came home with the thing, they said it cost almost forty dollars. It’s a big metal box with slots all over the sides that has some straw pads behind them, a fan to pull air into it, blow the air over the pads, which are soaked with water. Dad went to Mr. Horgan’s hardware store on Commercial Row and got a valve and some tubing to hook to the hose bibb out in front, to get water to flood the straw pads.

They put the output side into the little bedroom in the front of the house where my baby sister Meri’s bassinet was, that was Mrs. Shermerhorn’s beauty shop before Dad bought the house. They plugged in the contraption, let the water get the pads wet, and turned on the fan.

Air, first warm, then cool, and finally almost cold, came into the room, and within an hour the whole house was cool and comfortable. Mom thought it was too cold and beefed. Imagine that…

It was 100 degrees outside but nice inside. Dad said that most houses in Reno and Sparks, if they had “air conditioning” at all, had swamp coolers. Some had some permanently installed on the roof. They were a good way to cool a house. Some commercial buildings, not very many, had all-electric units with no water, but they were really expensive to buy and run. Mr. Sala, who ran the buildings and grounds at the University of Nevada down University Terrace, said that in a few years most buildings and even houses would have electric air conditioners.

AwningMost houses in Reno after the war had big eaves on them, to keep the sun out more. And Reno was a town of trees, big ones, that made for a lot of shade. And most buildings and many houses had awnings, heavy cotton, often quite colorful and striped, that stretched on a steel frame that could be cranked up or down depending on the time of day. They were almost a staple (pretty big word for a little kid, huh!) on most homes and buildings. A friend of Dad’s named Mr. Quimby made almost all of them and did quite well. He had a big white house on Mt. Rose Street, the south city limits of Reno, on the southwest corner of Nixon Avenue dead-end. By the “Mapes Mansion,” Dad said Mr. Quimby’s house was much nicer, that the Mapes Mansion was a piece of crap. But Dad knew Mr. Mapes. And Mom got mad when he used that word. I’ll probably come back and erase it or she’ll be furious.

My new school at the bottom of the Ralston hill, Mary S. Doten, was one of four that were almost the same, that actually had air conditioning. It was a system that went back to the 19th century, where air that had been trapped in the basement for quite DotenPostcarda while and cooled was blown up into the classrooms. Those “Four Sister,” or “Spanish Quartette” if you read Mr. Van Tilburg Clark’s book “City of Trembling Leaves,” were known as the four most comfortable buildings in Reno!

Our cars didn’t have any air conditioning then, except for some really expensive ones. Many drivers did, however, get a little baby swamp cooler for cars, that one rolled up a window to QQQairconditionerhold on the passenger side, filled with water and plugged in to the cigar lighter, which all cars had. They worked really well. Our family would take a 1952 Buick across the nation and back in the summer of 1953 with a swamp cooler, which would get the Buick so cold we had to turn it offQQQwaterbag once in a while even across the hot Midwest states. Almost everybody had one of them.

The best air conditioners on anything with tires were on Greyhound buses, that had their own little diesel engines to run them independent of the buses’ main diesels. I’m putting the lady readers to sleep…

Dad took me to the coldest place in Reno that summer, actually in Sparks, a little railroad town to Reno’s east. There, two railroads, the Mighty Southern Pacific and the Union Pacific formed a company called the Pacific Fruit Express and had made Icehousea building to make and store ice for the trains hauling produce – mostly from California to the east coast, but a little known fact Mr. Swart told Dad, was that trains hauling strawberries from the East Coast to California had superiority even over passenger trains, who had to go to a siding to let the strawberry train pass! Pretty neat, huh?

The railroads built a building out of concrete on the south side of the trainyard that we’ll tour someday. It had some gigantic refrigerator units to cool water in big 46-gallon tubs to make ice, then they’d store the big ice cubes in another part of the building. A train with produce from California would be spotted by the icehouse, and the cubes spread out on some long planks, where men, lots of men, many U of N students, off-duty firemen and townsfolk worked part time to slide the cubes to the hoppers on top of the cars and be dropped in to keep the stuff inside cold.

When the plant was running making ice it was Sierra Pacific’s largest customer. It had four wells to supply it with water. It was built in 1920, and worked until 1958; of course I don’t know that now because I’m only a little kid. Dad took me in with Mr.Swart and I froze my little butt off when it was 100 outside!karlatwhitaker


Anyway, Reno was really hot that summer but I still enjoy living here. Come back in a while and we’ll get on our bikes and ride somewhere again!

Mount Rose School artwork © Roy Powers, used courtesy of Jackie Powers


July 21 – Northwest Reno is growing… 

karlatwhitakerThe six-year-old kid’s first post…

Been a long time since I could get to my notepad and write of more of what it’s like in my new town. One big news break is that Dad and Uncle John got me a bike – actually, they found a used bike and spray painted it blue in a friend of Dad’s auto painting shops, and they used some blue paint that the customer was getting his car painted.

They made the brake work, by pedaling backward, and went to Monkey Wards downtown on Sierra Street and bought some new hand grips with “Schwinn” spelled out on the rubber, and a new seat and some tires.

Pretty neat. I learned soon that after the war steel was still hard to get and bike factories weren’t back in production yet, so like most of my friends I had a used bike with some new parts. It’s a little bike, but I’m a little guy, and now I can get around all over town quick.

The afternoon that I got it I rode it on University Terrace from our house on Ralston Street, and crossed Washington Street. There’s a big hill there, and after only one block on my new bike I fell off of it and took a chunk out of my knee that would leave a scar the rest of my life! I got back on my bike and kept riding along University Terrace, beyond Vine Street. That was almost the end of Reno north of the railroad tracks. Most of the houses that I rode past had been built recently, just after the war, and didn’t have any grass or trees yet. They were fairly small with a garage for one car but not much else.

I rode past Sunnyside Drive, which hadn’t been paved yet where it met University Terrace. A lot of friends of mine’s fathers would soon start building a house for a family named Kotter. Reverend Vernon Kotter was the pastor of the Lutheran Church and these men had just finished building a church on California Avenue at Belmont Street so the church could move out of the Masonic building downtown. Now they were building his house on the northeast corner of University Terrace and Sunnyside. I got to know his kids; his daughter Marilyn was in my class at Mary S. Doten School. She was really funny. And her dad was a good guy – he’d become the resident pastor of Reno High School in years to come, and come out and bless our ball teams and stuff.

A street called Canal Street turned to the left off University Terrace. A lightning storm had just started a fire that burned the house at that corner pretty bad and there were some men there trying to fix it. Riding all the way to Peavine Row I could see where the flood came, as I heard it did every summer for about 10 years, from the wash on Peavine Peak. The water came down every summer and flooded the neighborhood about six inches deep, finally getting into the Orr Ditch down the street. The street would later be paved, and even later get the name “Keystone.” Keystone Street back then didn’t come north of the railroad tracks, and in time would be cut in to meet Peavine. I’ll have to tell you someday about our swimming hole at the brickyard “pit” between the end of Seventh Street and Highway 40. We’ll go back to that.

Some friends of mine lived at the south end of Peavine where it stopped at the Orr Ditch. Their names were Cairns, and on a Thanksgiving Day both brothers drowned in the Truckee River. A man out on Idlewild Drive found them both. It was a real shocker but we sucked it up and went back to school on Monday. I heard that someday there would be a crowd of “grief counselors” at school to make us feel better. But we remembered the Cairns brothers without counseling.

CableBackhoeThere were some old barns on the west side of Peavine, and one day they were bulldozed by Mr. Games’ dozers and trucks. A new market went up there, a big one. The Gastanaga family built it, and in years to come would enlarge it. It was one of the new “supermarkets” being built in Reno, like my dad’s friends the Sewell brothers were building a supermarket down by the high school on Sierra Street by Fifth.  Across University Terrace to the north, was the Rosasco chicken ranch, in a house that in years to come would be rebuilt as an eye-doctor’s office. Imagine that; an eye doctor thinking he could make a living anywhere but downtown Reno! What will happen next, I ask.

The Rosasco ranch owners had some cute granddaughters whose names were Pam and Jan, about my age. Pam was fun and her sister was quite a singer, I think she married a guy named Frank Savage and sang all over town. Remind me and someday I’ll write the story of how I was riding Mr. Thompson’s horse and trampled about 20 chickens and Mrs. Rosasco read me the riot act in Italian. Mr. Thompson was a neat guy, a childhood friend of my dad’s, and was an attorney or something and got a building named for him years later downtown. But he sure had a big palomino horse in 1952.  A mean SOB too.

1950GMCdumpMy dad’s friend Mr. Novelly was building a lot of houses west of Peavine Row, on a street that he named for himself, Novelly Drive. His first name was Ray, for Raymond Drive. They sold a lot of houses. He built a lot of houses, bigger ones, on the top of the Peavine Row intersection with Sunnyside. My dad sold him some land for the Metzker family and sold the City of Reno some land for a street, named Irving after my mother’s maiden name Irving. They were pretty nice houses.

Mr. Games, whose first name I think was Earl, did all the digging of foundations for the houses on Irving and Novelly, and later on Whitaker Drive when Mr. Weichmann and Mr. Probasco opened that street and Keegan Circle up and paved it. Mr. Games’ brother ran the shovel that was already 30 years old then, and could dig a foundation for a house with a full basement, a hole for the furnace oil tank and the trench for the sewer and water lines to the streets, in about a day. He was good. I heard Dad say that natural gas was coming to that part of town soon but back then they all had oil heat.

smudgepotIt was always exciting to see Mr. Games’ trailer with the shovel on it, drive up to a vacant lot, because we knew a new house was going to be built. We used to steal, or at least move around, the little smudge-pots that the men would light every night to mark an open trench where a car might fall into it. We quit doing that the night that a  police car drove into a big open hole that he didn’t see in the dark. We were too scared to come out of our rooms for several days and play…

I should add before I go to bed, that in the summer of 1960 when the big fire took out the power lines between here and California and Reno was without power for three days, that somebody got a whole bunch of those smudge-pots out of a building they were stored in when they quit using them, and they filled them up and lined out an approach path to guide airplanes into Reno’s airport when the landing lights were out of business.

Ha! The old ways still work. I’m going to bed – that bike ride wore me out! – come back in a week or two and we’ll yak some more.

contact the six-year-old kid at

If you want to read about that big 1960 forest fire above Truckee, click here

Added Sunday morning: My little lifetime buddy Hank Philcox, who grew up a couple doors from me after my family moved to Sunnyside Drive, wrote me a letter on binder paper, I’m including it here: “Your description of the history of our neighborhood brought back many memories. You mentioned the Cairnes brothers…. Steve was in my class. He and his brother Jay were trying to wade across a swollen Truckee River with another classmate, Dee Rytting, when they lost their footing and were swept away by the current. I was actually in Idlwild Park when they pulled Steve from the water, and I didn’t recognize him when they asked me if I knew him. Still feel bad about that. Steve and I used to go shooting our BB guns together in the farm field at the corner of 7th and Keystone, which is where his family lived.

I also remember the floods that continued to come down the wash which is where Elmcrest and Novelly Drives were placed. One time I was playing Ping Pong with Tom Weichmann when we saw cars floating down Elmcrest. We jumped on our bikes to the water and a six-foot wall of water hit the house at the east end of Elmcrest. Funny part was the flash flood washed out a pig farm upstream and there were pigs washing down the street and when the waters passed, they were running all over the neighborhoods clear down to Vine Street.”

Thanks, Hank…KB


July 4  • The Fourth of July!

White Hats 1

The first post….

This is a fine how-do-you-do? Dad took off with Mr. Blakely and Mr. Corica to work at the Reno Rodeo, which is always on the Fourth of July. And I’m home with my baby sister and my mother on Ralston Street. But not for long! I’m takin’ off down the hill to see what’s going on downtown this holiday weekend with all the people in town for the rodeo! HA!

LoudspeakerTruckSo Dad, while you’re opening beer cans for the Jaycees at the rodeo grounds in the heat and the dust, I’m off. Walking down Ralston Street I can really see a lot of cars, more than usual, on West Fourth Street. Most of the better motels built after the war are either east or west of town. I got to stay In one a couple weeks ago when my Aunt Isabel came to Reno from Petaluma, down by the San Francisco Bay where Mom grew up. She stayed at a motel with a swimming pool and that was the first pool I ever swam in. I’ve swum in the Russian River by Guerneville but the pool is pretty neat too.

Coke truckI walk toward downtown and get to Virginia Street, where the rodeo parade is starting to march. There’s a big truck down by the railroad tracks with a loudspeaker on the roof. Some of the gasoline companies, and the Auto Club, or Three A or whatever dad calls it, have these trucks and send them around the country to rodeos and parades and stuff where somebody wants to talk to a bunch of people. I cross the highway at Virginia Street, the busiest intersection in Nevada. I better go home before I catch hell for sneaking off.

Many have accused me of dogging it this Fourth of July weekend because I haven’t written anything new. C’mon, I’m only a little guy and it’s a holiday and it’s hotter than a bride’s breath so I’ll post soon, soon, soon….beside, I’m trying to listen to a New York Giants baseball game on the radio – everybody says that some day it will be on a “television” set right in our living room but today it’s on KOH, live from Detroit. Hard to write and watch at the same time.

Harolds Club BuickI was asked what’s around the bend on these little walks we’re taking. Well, I can tell you – I want to get Dad to take me down to Harold’s Club – note that as I write this  in the 1940s it’s still using an apostrophe in the name. In a few years it will go away. If we can walk down on a Saturday morning between 10 o’clock and noon, Mr. Smith closes the second floor of the casino so that kids can go in. I want to see the “Roaring Camp” stuff that Mr. Smith bought from Mr. Stagg and all the old guns and saddles the blue Buick station wagon with the steer horns and stuff. There’s supposed to be a bar with silver dollars in the bar. I’ll tell you all about that soon.

Another story is going to be about learning to swim in Reno. I’ve received a lot of letters from readers at our home on Ralston Street, asking me to write about old swimming places like Reno Hot Springs and Lawton’s west of Reno (pictured), Idlewild Pool in Reno (the new one, not the big pond on the west side of the park that was the first LawtonsTowercommunity pool). And Baker’s Stables a long way south of Reno and Deer Park in Sparks, that only opened right after the war. And I also have some notes about the people who gave us swimming lessons, like Marcie Herz, Rick Burgess at that new pool at the Riverside Hotel and some of our friends like Billy Berrum who show us about swimming at Moana Springs. Billy’s a good guy, only a little bit older than me, maybe ten years old. (And in a few years Mrs. Conrad would slap me for writing “older than me” when it should be “older than I” but I’m too young to get hung up on grammar.

Dad still goes down to Sparks a lot in his business, and one day got me in to the railroad’s locomotive shop. I got to climb up onto a cab-forward steam engine. They30070 cab forward were working the shaking tank in the shop and I got to see (and feel!) that. And they’re starting to tear down the roundhouse at the south end of 8th Street in Sparks, (later they’d call it Pyramid Way). Writing is funny, in Reno it’s written “Eighth Street” which is up by the University but in Sparks it’s written “8th Street”. I’ll never make a very good writer.

Dad’s friend says that we should take a good look at the old steam locomotives because pretty soon they’ll all be those boring streamliners. I didn’t know it then but the last steam engine that would roll through Reno and Sparks on a revenue basis would be pretty soon – late October of 1949. After that we only saw them in the winter pushing plows or pulling heavy trains over Donner Summit. I’ll try to find a picture of one for you.

We got out to the new airport a while ago and Dad drove right out onto the runway so we could watch the Nevada Air Guard land a couple of P-51 “Mustangs” – little fighter planes. And we watched a United Air Lines DC-3 take off for San Francisco. And we went up into the “control tower” on the second floor of the United terminal and hangar. That was pretty cool and I’ll try to write it down.

Brandon Crawford just got a home run in Detroit. Thank God that the horrible “replay” hasn’t been invented yet. But then TV hasn’t either.

C-119We had a little excitement in Reno and western Nevada last winter – it got really snowy and the cows and sheep couldn’t get to their pastures to the Army Air Corps brought in a bunch of huge freighter airplanes that had doors in the back, and all the men of Reno and Sparks met out at the airport to load hay into the planes to drop to the livestock. We’ll read about that. Dad got to go on a couple of their flights.

Yeah, Idlewild Park, for sure. I’ll write about the zoo at the park, and our class going to the Old Home Dairy across the street from the park, where we get a lot theCalifornia Building milk around Reno. And the fishing derby. Virginia Lake has a new park too. We’ve gone to some Reno band concerts out there in July, in August they’ll all move to the “Quad” at the University where we can walk from our house. Dad and Mom know some people who play for that band. And we get watermelon during the show and get to march to a Sousa march around the Quad with Mr. Tinkham the bandleader. And the grownups – can’t sing worth a darn but they end with “Home Means Nevada.”

Got to go to the neighbors’ for some hot dogs. Fireworks tonight at Mackay Stadium, Joe Battaglia and the Men of Renown will do the National Anthem as usual. Sorry to bail on you  early but the game’s tied at 3-3 and the barbecue’s starting.

Be safe out there, come back once in a while….


June 26 • Remembering some early Reno sawbones…


How this all began…

Some of you have emailed me that I haven’t written a story for a while. That’s probably mostly due to me breaking my left leg on May 10 and being unable to walk around my new town from our house at 740 Ralston Street. I’m grateful to Dr. Peter Althausen for fixing my feemer, the big bone in your leg. He works for the Reno Orthopedic Clinic and in a while I’ll tell you a little bit about them. And I’m also grateful to Dr. Wlodarczyk for writing a column for me last week and helping meMadScientist get my head out of my ass insofar as chronology of my stories. I’m going to start taking his advice. Some of you mentioned that Dr. Wlodarczyk’s photo resembled another person who was in a movie 40 years later; that movie was probably “Young Frankenstein.”

I’m a lot better now and am walking around on a walker and supposed to be getting a cane soon instead. But I learned a lot about post-war Reno’s medical stuff in the past few weeks. One doctor I came to know is named Frank Russell. He has a little office in Sparks, a hoot and a holler east of Reno (hoot and holler – I love that expression of my Uncle John’s!) Frank is what I guess grownups call an old-fashioned family doctor, and does a lot of work for the Southern Pacific Railroad. His wife Fran is also his nurse. He takes care of everything, and his advice is most often “If it’s wet put something dry on it; if it’s dry, put something wet on it…” He’s a pretty cool guy. I didn’t know it after the war as I write this, but in years to follow I’d have two sons and Dr. Frank would deliver them both (actually and grammatically, which I try to be to keep Mrs. Conrad from rapping my fingers with her switch, a doctor delivers the mother, not the sons, but that’s a battle I’d learn to lose for the rest of my life!).

My leg was for the purpose of this story  set by two doctors at St. Mary’s Hospital down the street from our new house on Ralston Street. One doctor was Dr. Jack Palmer, a pediatrician. But he does it all: General Practice. He’s a neat guy and dad says he’s a pretty good golfer. His kids, Grace, Jayne and Pete would become my lifelong friends.

The other doctor who worked on my leg (with Dr. Althausen,  who in reality did the whole thing many years after the other doctors had passed away) in this tale was Dr. Wesley Hall who had a little office near St. Mary’s Hospital, across Elm Street from Dr. Palmer’s.  Most doctors in Reno practiced alone, and had little houses for offices. Dr. Hall was a wonderful man, whose wife E’lise would live on until 2017. He Smoking Report Anniversarywas from the south and came to Reno after the war. The coolest thing I remember about Dr. Hall was that one morning my dad saw in the Nevada State Journal a picture of a couple of famous people who I didn’t know, but dad and mom did. The man in the picture was a singer, I think. But I remember my dad saying, “That’s Wes!) It turns out that Mr. Dondero, a friend of Dad’s in the Jaycees, took the picture for Time magazine at the Riverside Hotel in 1951. The magazine and the newspaper ran the picture, no one noticing that Dr. Hall was visible over the singer’s right shoulder, in a national magazine! And that photo has run once a year since then, and I always notice Dr. Hall. Pretty neat.

St. Mary’s Hospital was just down the street from our house and was the lead hospital in town. It started as a school, St. Mary’s Academy run by the Dominican Sisters. When the University of Nevada moved in from Elko fewer ladies went to St. Mary’s Academy and Bishop Whitaker School but to Nevada University instead, and there was a big health scare in the 1910s and the school quit being a school and became a small hospital, run by the nuns, called Sisters’ Hospital. In a few years it became St. Mary’s Hospital.

The other hospital was a long way out on Mill Street and started as a part of the county’s poor farm, then became Washoe Hospital. It came close to closing in 1949, but a guy who knew how to run hospitals moved to Reno and dad sold him a house. His name was Clyde Fox, and he started a club for Reno’s ladies to join and raise money to keep the hospital from having to close. Mr. Fox and all those ladies started a really neat thing called Tombola Days in the park across Mill Street. They had lots of games and booths and music and in later years a guy from Sparks brought two elephants named Bertha and Tina and gave us kids rides. And the fire department set up its new hook-and-ladder and let us climb up the ladder. Tombola Days went for many years; soon I’ll tell you more about it.

But the good news was that Mr. Fox saved the little hospital, which became the Washoe County Hospital and later Washoe Medical Center and then some name after that I was too young to know. And the ambulances would go to either hospital. They were run by off-duty firemen from Sparks in an old Navy ambulance but it worked!

As I wrote above, most of the doctors had their own little offices, and then started going into larger buildings with three or four of them together. One was behind my dad’s office on California Avenue (he’d moved by then from A Street in Sparks). Three of his friends who were “orthopods” according to dad bought an old barracks from the Army that had been on East Second Street by Washoe General Hospital, and moved it to the northwest corner of Marsh Avenue and Humboldt Street [it’s still there]. Their names were Jim Herz, an old Sigma Nu; Jack Sargent, and Bill Teipner. They called it the Reno Orthopedic Clinic. They were great guys, all; fine historians, Herz the curator of an incredibly-complete photographic history, and Teipner, a golfer with “million-dollar hands as a surgeon, and a four-bit backswing as a golfer.” Teipner performed the first hip-replacement surgery in Nevada.

And 50 years later, a member of their nascent clinic – Pete Althausen, one of the foremost hip surgeons in the world now, would give me a new femur/hip bone. Pretty neat, huh? And the little clinic has a hundred employees in four locations now. (Of course, I didn’t know all this then….)

Many of these one-room doctors found their ways into our lives – Dr. T. C. Harper on West Second Street did the employment physicals for almost every business in Reno and Sparks. He aforementioned Frank Russell was the Mighty S.P. Railroad’s doc. Dr. Roland Stahr was a good guy; had an office at the dead south end of Sierra Street (originally Granite!) that got hit by cars a half-dozen times until Sierra Street was swooped around to join with Plumas Street south of California Avenue.  Doc Stahr was a good guy.

To wrap this up and go out and play in Whitaker Park where I see my buddies gathering, I’ll mention a doctor I remember – he lived four doors from our house – whose name I’ll skip out of deference to his family who might read this, a doctor who I’m told three times a year I should write a column about. I haven’t in print, but will make brief mention on a website. I don’t need to be told much about it. We came home from Lake Tahoe one 1954 summer Sunday to a host of cop cars and vans in front of the doctor’s sumptuous house in Northwest Reno. Seems that his wife was found in a bathtub, a possible drowning victim. Whoops; a number of her bones in the neck were broken. Murdered. This sort of thing didn’t happen in 1954 Reno, and traffic up our lazy street was incessant for a week.

The doctor went to the state prison. But lo; in college, possibly 10 years later, I’m pumping gasoline for Standard Stations in Kings Beach.  A man in a fine car comes in; I fuel it up and he hands me a Chevron credit card. I glanced at it – yikes – I’d just pumped that doctor’s car full of Supreme.

Ten years later. Enough – come back in while, we’ll stroll the old streets once more….