Parabolic vs. ellipsoidal – converting an e-mail into a suppository; either square, hex, or round…

RHS2009

I just ran a column about Reno High School and mentioned its famous dome, which the architect himself, (Monk Ferris), called parabolic in a 1951 newspaper article. A parabola. Then, this arrives in the e-mail this morning, from a friend I’ve known since 1950 at Central Jr. High. I’ve been writing a column for 28 years, but it’s bullshit like this that will bring the curtain down on the whole shebang someday:

Hi Karl,

The “dome” at RHS is not parabolic. It is roughly ellipsoidal – or rather roughly the upper half of an ellipsoid, which is the three-dimensional analog of an ellipse. Both an ellipse and an ellipsoid have two foci, and rays emanating from one focus are reflected to the other focus. This phenomenon is responsible for some “whispering galleries” and “whispering domes”. One of the attractions in the physics lab at CalTech was a small water tank in the shape of the bottom half of an ellipsoid. When it was filled with water, poking a finger into the water at one focus made a little column of water shoot up at the other focus.

 I haven’t set foot in RHS since 1959, but my recollection is that the dome is too shallow to be a true ellipsoid, and therefore incapable of transmitting whispers.

 Eric

click to read the offending column

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Happy Bill Howard, The Nugget’s Flagpole Sitter

Howard

(click the pic for the recipes) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© RGJ, a long time ago

 

The Famous Flaming Swan Dive at Lawton’s, 1931

 Swan_DiveFollowing several weeks of inclusion in my columns of some bygone swimming holes in Reno, the time is upon us to speak of some events which brought short-lived fame to a couple of Reno youths, at one of the local plunges that we studied, the one at Lawton’s Resort west of Reno.

          Our source for this narrative is unimpeachable, and he will be identified at the conclusion of this tale. The story he told follows now, and we here turn back the calendar to 1931. In that year, two years following the Great Depression, my father, Karl the Elder, was graduated from Reno High School. He then, and together with his close friend of equal age who grew up in Tonopah and whose name was Jack Douglass, sought employment here in Reno.     They were successful in securing positions as busboys at the popular Lawton’s, who served high-end dinners around poolside during summer evenings.

          Jack and Karl worked diligently during those warm summer nights attending to the tables and the swells who patronized Lawton’s restaurant. And, my source reports, that as youthful busboys will do on warm summer nights with soft live music in the background and being called upon to bus cocktail glasses as well as dinner plates and silver, drained the last sip out of the glasses until as the evening hours grew later, they remained albeit quite functional at their task yet were, in a word, pleasantly toasted.

          All the while they were working, on Friday and Saturday evenings from early June on, they looked over their shoulders at the magnificent diving tower adjacent to the poolside deck where the dinner tables were placed. A beautiful edifice it was, Mission Revival style, with diving platforms set one meter, three meters, and ten meters – almost 40 feet, above the still water in the pool. Karl – Dad – was a recreational diver of some note, known to be quite adept off the boards of Reno and the rocks surrounding nearby Lake Tahoe. They worked, bussed, sipped, and looked at that tower. All during June and July of 1931.

          Early in August, according to my source, they showed up to work in their crisp white shirts and duck trousers, but with a bag containing something in hand. They bussed and sipped and their courage grew with each departing party of diners who hadn’t quite finished their cocktails. During a lull in their duties, they adjudged the time to be perspicacious. They scrambled to the top of the stairs, to the vaunted 10-meter tower. Karl – Dad – whipped off his shirt, shoes and white ducks, down to a bathing suit that he was already wearing. Jack pulled from the brown paper bag a glass bottle of – white gas. A product that we’d call kerosene today. A gallon of white gas. My God, what were they doing?

          Jack raised the bottle and as if it had been rehearsed, he dumped a gallon of white gas on Karl, from the shoulders down. And as the last drop of the liquid emptied from the bottle, he took a wooden match and struck it to several places on his friend, who immediately caught fire and emitting an unearthly jungle scream, dove from the platform in what the source described as a perfect swan dive, to the pool below garnering the surprise and admiration of the many diners poolside, who scarcely believed what they had witnessed.

          Jack was already back at his labor before his absence had been noticed, and in the confusion and adulation, Karl, who had employed the confusion to leave the pool and return to his clothing, which Jack had scurried down 10 meters of stairs to place by the tower’s access door.

          And the buzz started around Reno – did you see the flaming swan dive last night at Lawton’s?, the fine folks all bandied around the town.

          That was on a Friday night, early in August as my source told me. Saturday night would be no different. All at dinner,LawtonsTower the diners, the wait staff (who had only guessed what might have happened, it all took place so fast then returned to normal so quickly), the others around the pool, were all atwitter about the flaming swan dive.

          And just when all poolside least expected it, for no one foresaw it happening again, the night sky was rent by a Tarzan-like howl and all looked to the sky to see a human form falling in a perfect layout swan dive, arms outstretched, legs ending in pointed arches, the shape of all of it masked in a blueish-orange flame that disappeared smoothly into the still body of water.

          Yikes! It happened again, and as it was the night before, no one saw Jack exit the tower’s access door, nor Karl rise to the water’s surface, climb out, duck into the tower and return in his crisp white uniform.

          Now the town was really buzzing. Two nights in a row. Would it happen again next week? “Let’s go out and have dinner, and see,” quite a few said.

          And it did happen again, according to my source, who looking back I’m not sure that he wasn’t party to this hijinks.

          The following Friday, which might have been the second weekend in August, and then Saturday, the flaming specter would come flying out of the high platform in mid-evening. And, speculated the source, witnesses were one-by-one starting to catch on – two busboys would disappear, one would beat the other one back to their duties a half-minute ahead of the other, one looked like his hair was still damp – little signals that this was unraveling.

          Speculation was also rife that the Laughton family who owned the resort (and finally grew tired of correcting all who spelled it Lawton’s and acceded to the popular spelling) were on the horns of a dilemma. The flaming mystery death-diver, the justification of death unclear, as no one had died, was good for business and making Laughton’s, or Lawton’s, a household word in the valley and causing diners to flock the two miles out the Lincoln Highway to see it happen. However the down-side remained among the grownups that if these shenanigans continued unabated, with the assumption that they were being conducted by youthful busboys (who of course denied any involvement), that a diner was going to get conked on the head by a falling busboy or that a busboy was going to wind up alive and medium-well.

          As all good things must, the Famous Flying Flaming Death-Dive came to its end, on what most remember as the third weekend of its world premiere, most say a Saturday (I cited one source to be named soon, but as I was still a bit incredulous about it I spoke to others of his vintage and they substantially confirmed that it was mostly true, where there’s smoke, there’s fire, so to speak.) The consensus was, or is, that the management of Lawton’s raised hell with all possible divers on a Friday night but not quite enough, and the Flaming Swan Dive again occurred to the great applause of the diners. Alas on Saturday, good sense overtook the raising hell and threatening, and someone simply locked the door to the tower, effectively bringing down the curtain on this chapter of early entertainment in Reno, improving the quality of table-bussing at Lawton’s, and preserving the local supply of white gas. And I would presume that Karl the Elder and Jack covertly raised a toast to each other with a couple of leftover cocktails.

          My source for this information I’ll now reveal, was a classmate of my dad’s, who most of us knew and thought the world of, Ralph Menante, yes, the Goodyear tire guy. My dad, Karl the Elder, died in 1971, curiously in a swimming pool, not of self-immolation but rather by high-voltage. Ralph lived on for many years, and recalled this tale to me in the years to follow. I followed up with others who knew him, and yup, it’s (mostly) true. Dad and Jack Douglass (and my uncle John) shipped out a couple years later as oilers on an American President Lines steamer and from accounts of that trip one wonders how we still have an embassy in their ports of call, China, the Phillipines, Guam and the Hawai’ian Islands. Jack would later be regarded as one of the more popular and successful men in the gaming community, with ownership interests in the Comstock and Cal-Neva. He mentions my dad liberally in his book Tap Dancing on Ice, published in 1997 by the University of Nevada Oral History Program.

          And that’s the way it was, two miles west of Reno, in 1931.

© Karl Breckenridge 2015

Ronald Reagan, the broadcaster…

Spencer_1THIS MORNING, (MAR. 8 SUNDAY) IN THE GAZOO I HAD A LITTLE FUN WITH MY BUDDIES GARY BULLIS, GARY MACHABEE AND TY COBB, ONE SEGMENT DEVOTED TO COBB’S CALLING PLAY-BY-PLAY AS A YOUTH IN RENO ON FM STATION KNEV. I HAD THIS PIECE BUT SPACE DIDN’T PERMIT ITS INCLUSION SO HERE YOU ARE. IT’S PROBABLY COPYRIGHTED SOMEWHERE BUT I DON’T SEE IT SO I’LL PRETEND NOT TO LOOK! ENJOY

PS: That’s Ty Cobb with President Reagan

In the 1930s, Reagan was a sports broadcaster in Davenport, Iowa, and later at Des Moines station WHO. From the studio there, he recreated Chicago Cubs baseball games with “play-by-play” based on teletype reports.

////////

Here’s something you should know about the early days of radio in baseball. There was a lot of resistance to it. Baseball owners thought that if games were broadcast on radio no one would actually come out to the ballpark to see the game. To give you an idea of how ambivalent baseball owners were about radio back then the broadcasters were not actually at the ballpark. Rather they would call the game from a remote location and rely on a ticker tape for the play by play. Color commentary was left to the imagination. Reagan was certainly no exception. He called Cubs games on WHO radio in Des Moines, Iowa.

Suffice it to say, the ticker tape didn’t always work as it should and Reagan had to rely on his wit as was the case one afternoon when the Cubs were playing the archrival St. Louis Cardinals who had Dizzy Dean pitching and a unusually long at bat by Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges. Well, I’ll let Reagan tell the story as he told it during a White House Luncheon for Members of the Baseball Hall of Fame on March 27, 1981:

What isn’t in the record book is Billy Jurges staying at the plate, I think, the longest of any ballplayer in the history of the game. I was doing the games by telegraphic report, and the fellow on the other side of the window wa a little slit underneath, the headphones on, getting the dot-and-dash Morse code from the ballpark, would type out the play. And the paper would come through to me – it would say,”S1C.” Well, you’re not going to sell any Wheaties yelling “S1C!” (Laughter) So, I’d say, “And so-and-so comes out of the wind-up, here’s the pitch, and it’s called a strike, breaking over the outside corner to so-and-so, who’d rather have a ball someplace else and so forth and backed out there.”

Well, I saw him start to type, and I started-Dizzy Dean was on the mound – and I started the ball on the way to the plate — or him in the wind-up and he, Curly, the fellow on the other side, was shaking his head, and I thought he just – maybe it was a miraculous play or something. But when the slip came through it said, “The wire’s gone dead.” Well, I had the ball on the way to the plate. (Laughter) And I figured out real quick, I could say we’ll tell them what had happened and then play transcribed music. But in those days there were at least seven or eight other fellows that were doing the same ball game. I didn’t want to lose the audience.

So, I thought real quick. “There’s one thing that doesn’t get in the score book,” so I had Billy foul one off. And I looked at Curly, and Curly went just like this; so I had him foul another one. And I had foul one back third base and described the fight between the two kids that were trying to get the ball. (Laughter) Then I had him foul one that just missed being a home run, about a foot and a half. And I did set a world record for successive fouls or for someone standing there, except that no one keeps records of that kind. And I was beginning to sweat, when Curly sat up straight and started typing, and he was nodding his head, “Yes.” And the slip came through the window, and I could hardly talk for laughing, because it said, “Jurges popped out on the first ball pitch.” (Laughter)

The Beret

Beret
Karl Breckenridge is taking the holiday weekend off. This piece appeared in the 1931 Reno High School yearbook, the ReWaNe (REno/WAshoe/NEvada). No attribution given to the student author, who might have penned it on a solitary night at the Santa Fe Hotel. Some reader might claim it as their work – they’d be close to 90 years old now. Karl thought you might enjoy it:
“Introduced into this country about five years ago, the beret has become the sensation of the hour and the inveterate choice of the hoi polloi. Tennis players have affected berets ever since Jean Boratra, better known as the “Bounding Basque,” made such an outstanding success with his pancake-shaped top-piece. Golfers took it up close on the heels of the tennis fans. And nine-nine and forty-four hundredths per cent of the miniature golfers – or should I say tiddely-winks experts – have adopted the beret as their badge.
“There is something uplifting and comforting about the fit of a felt beret on the old cranium. No matter how old or how battered it is, you feel qualified to strut with the best of the crowd when you wear it. It gives an inexplicable feeling of confidence and self-esteem, which is puzzling, since there are so many other numbskulls wearing “critters” who must be in about the same mental frame.
“A beret is one of the least distinguished pieces of head-gear ever created. Designed originally for sports, it goes to school, to five o’clock tea, to prize fights, to dances, to weddings and funerals, and even to church. Every stenographer boasts of a half-dozen in her wardrobe; the screen stars have a beret for e very costume – everyone from the gray-haired dowager to the year-old tot sports one.
“There are as many ways of wearing a beret as there are of tying knots n a piece of string. Straight up from the eyebrows, it resembles a French chef’s cap, from which it may have been derived. Placed squarely on a mop of shoulder-length hair, it brings visions of the inverted-bowl and pruning shears haircut popular in our youth, before we were old enough to object. Placed on the back of the head with hair bushing out at front and sides, a clever impersonation of an Airedale dog is achieved. Worn forward over one or both eyes, it gives that natty, natural aspect, ad infinitum.
“As to there being anything sissyish in a man’s wearing a beret, we would advise you to say nothing about it if you think so. People have been run out of town for less, and besides, we know a football player who wears one.
“The beret is ideal for yachting and speeding in a roadster. It sticks like a leech in the teeth of the strongest gale. It is the mainstay of the rumble seat rider as well as his protection from the elements. There doubtless would be many more bald pates in this country if the beret had not happened along, just in time to offset the evil effects of hatless rumble seat riding. In B. B. (Before Berets), if a man rode hatless in a rumble seat he was certain of losing at least half his hair combing knows out of it afterwards. Now he doesn’t even lose his dandruff.
“White berets are considered conspicuous until they have acquired a generous coat of grime. From then on, the object seems to be to get an agent-in-the-dirt effect punctuated by swipes of lipstick and chocolate, with an occasional gleaming white place in a fold. Other colors, particularly tans, are considered bourgeois. Trying to age a tan beret is like trying to sunburn an Australian bushman.
“Only initiates wash berets; the dirtier they are, the better they feel. Seasoned veteran say that to wash a beret is net to the sin of washing a sweatshirt, which, according to old theater tradition, brings bad luck to the wearer.”

2001 copyright by somebody, God knows who…

Bud Beasley

casey

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day; The score stood 4-to-2 with but one inning more to play…

A cub sportswriter penned a ballad during his lunch hour one spring day, dropped it on his editor’s desk – “Use it if you want it” – and forgot about it. Two weeks later, on June 3rd, 1888, the saga ran full-page in the San Francisco Examiner and twenty-four-year-old Ernest L. Thayer’s Casey at the Bat entered the great pantheon of our national pastime, winning him an inclusion in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

But it would be a half-century later that a true ballplayer would bring Thayer’s work to life, from memory and at the drop of a hat, in ballparks, team buses, Little League award barbecues, school classrooms and wherever else the Boys of Summer gathered (that not politically incorrect, but a collective for the girls and boys gathering for T-ball at Swope School through to AT&T Park because they love the game) – when Bud Beasley paused at Thayer’s words, But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said:, a delighted crowd of kids of all age and gender boomed out, Strike two!, for fifty years.

There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place; there was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face.

RG-J columnist Guy Clifton penned a superb bio of Bud and I won’t even attempt to embellish it, but Bud was our kind of guy – our teacher, mentor and coach for 38 years of us strong at Reno High School, and in later life deeply involved in many youth organizations, a stalwart of the RHS Alumni Association, a bastion of influence for the Good Old Days club, and a fireball to the very end.

We’ve got to include at least one Beas anecdote: On the ropes while pitching at Sacramento’s Solons Park in a Pacific Coast League game in the 1930s, Bud returned a dinged-up ball to the catcher for another. He got it, but a couple batters later the new ball left the park on a pop foul. The catcher sent out the ball Bud had previously squawked about, so he returned it yet again to the catcher for a better one.

That ball eventually left the field of play, and the catcher threw out a replacement, guess what, the same bum ball Bud had refused twice before. Bud pointed to a fan high in the bleachers above first base and threw the offending ball to the lucky guy for a souvenir. The ump sternly summoned Bud to home plate to render an admonishment, and Bud recalled that he, the umpire, the catcher, and the batter all struggled to keep a straight face for the benefit of the crowd and the dignity of baseball. Such became our sport whenever he was in the vicinity.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt; Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.

On Bud’s ninetieth birthday he visited Bud Beasley Elementary School – a gathering crammed with tykes agog over seeing the real Bud Beasley, right here in their multipurpose room. I think he spoke to every one of them individually. Inevitably a teacher toward the back said, “Mr. Beasley, how ‘bout Casey?” and Bud, sensing that it was coming, as it had been in a thousand gatherings before, grinned and answered the call: The outlook wasn’t brilliant…

If not ten thousand eyes, then at least four hundred, grew wide as the smallish man, already in his later innings, wove the tale of Casey in the animated, vibrant way that Thayer could have only dreamt that anyone would deliver it 112 years after he so casually wrote it. And I noted not just a few adult eyes growing a little misty and that wasn’t from the chill December air.

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout; But there is no joy in Mudville – Mighty Casey has struck out.

There should be great joy in all the Mudvilles of baseball this World Series week, for we had the pleasure of Bud’s knowledge, wisdom and humor, on and off the diamond, for 93 years. We all know that Mighty Casey fanned in the ninth stranding Flynn and Blake in 1888, but last Saturday morning Bud Beasley was ruled Safe, at Home.

Have a good week; tag up on the infield flies and God bless America.

[Bud died July 17th, 2004]

© RGJ 2004

The Wells Avenue Trench

tunnel

On a bright afternoon soon after World War II, two playmates whose names are Eddie Pine and Jim Miller left the brand-new Veterans Memorial School on Vassar and Locust to walk to their homes, across South Wells Avenue from each other on the corner of Claremont Street.  Crossing Wells was difficult, even then, because the new underpass connecting Wells to Highway 40 – East Fourth Street – made it easy for a lot of cars to use the street to get to southern Reno.  It would be easier for Eddie and Jim, and the hordes of other kids that lived on the east and west side of South Wells, to get together if they had a tunnel between their houses.

            So Jim and Eddie began to dig, in Jim’s front yard.  They spent an afternoon digging, moving not a great deal of earth with only the one shovel that they had, taking turns.  But they made a small dent in the task.  The tunnel was underway.

            Jim’s dad, Walter, came home from his job managing the downtown Sprouse-Reitz department store, and assessed the new hole in his front yard.  The boys explained their endeavor and then dove for cover, expecting the worst.

            “You boys need another shovel?  Maybe a pickaxe?” Walter offered.  The boys concurred that more equipment would be good.  While they were digging the following afternoon, Walter came home and brought them another couple of shovels and picks.

            The dig continued; a few more of the Wells Avenue Gang – now comfortable that they weren’t going to wind up in the soup for digging up the Millers’ yard – joined in.  Walter brought a few more shovels.

            The hole grew – two, then three feet deep, from the size of a card table to a four-by-eight blanket.  A rope ladder was fashioned to get down into the pit.  Still more kids showed up each day to help, bringing their own shovels.

            As the hole reached five feet in depth, a bucket-brigade type of excavation system was devised.  Walter brought some buckets.  Kids were making a pilgrimage from Veterans School to Wells Avenue.  Grownups were starting to stop by and watch.  Even the girls in the student body were chipping in; digging, hoisting the buckets, barrowing the dirt to the growing tailing pile alongside the Millers’ home.  The hole was approaching eight feet deep, now getting a little soggy during the day, easing the afternoon’s dig.

            Walter came home one day and noted that the hole was close to the requisite depth, and soon the direction of the excavation would turn toward the sidewalk, then under the street to Eddie’s yard.  The neighborhood excitement was almost overwhelming, and the whole education structure at Veterans Memorial was going to pot while this project moved ahead.

            But, Walter said, could you guys just level the floor of the hole a little bit in this direction for a few feet before starting toward the street and the Pines’ house?  And so they did.

The time was approaching to start the stope under the street.  They perfected the floor of their cavern, by now over eight feet deep, the work product of scores of their classmates.  And all the while, the neighbors to the site and the teachers at Veterans Memorial, acutely aware of the excavation, scratched their heads in wonderment about what was going on on the corner of South Wells Avenue and Claremont Street, and why wasn’t Walter Miller coming unglued?

            Eddie and Jim decided that the hole was deep enough.  The tunnel would begin.

• • •

Virtually the entire student body of Veterans Memorial School marched from the school on the afternoon that the hole would start becoming a tunnel, picks and shovels over their shoulders, boys, girls – researcher Ghia was unable to confirm that they were whistling “Hi ho, Hi ho…” but it could have happened that way – this yarn is basically founded on fact.

            They approached Jim’s house, ready to go to work and turn the bore toward Eddie’s yard.  Then they looked down into their excavation.

            Resting on the floor of the pit was a tank – a brand-new, black furnace oil tank, about four feet around, and five feet long.   It’s probably still there.

• • •

The kids got a good laugh out of it, for they all knew deep down that a tunnel was out of the question, but didn’t know how to call off the project.  And we’re told that Walter made it right for the whole neighborhood.  He’s since passed away, but is remembered as a pretty good guy by the Wells Avenue Gang…

God bless those who dug, Walter, and America.

 

Mumbles rides again

Simplex

 

Following our score of column visits to a bygone downtown Reno, one denizen was destined to accept his place in posterity.  This column was inspired by a voicemail from Realtor John Utter: “John Gascue and I were talking over lunch about a weirdo newspaper delivery guy who used to work in downtown Reno – call me and I’ll tell you more.” My initial thought was that this topic defines the luncheon fare of two aging Sigma Alpha Epsilon alums that have sold one too many buildings or spent one too many years as principal of Reno High School.  I called Utter: “I know who you mean without hearing any more. His name was Peanut Butter Joe, the old guy on the Simplex.”  (We later agreed he was probably younger then than we are now.)  Peanut Butter Joe, he was, owing to PBJ’s daily nutrition regimen in the form of 13 beers (Acme) and a jar of Skippy’s peanut butter (crunchy) at Harolds Club’s second floor bar as the guest of no less than Pappy Smith himself.

            “Oh, no,” John spoke.  “His name was clearly ‘Mumbles.’” That appellation was born out of Mumbles’ tendency to ride his cycle about the village mumbling incoherent epithets – unprintable on this website – at passersby who would get in his bike’s path, and, uh, expectorate at all of the town’s six taxicabs.  “And he rode a Vespa, not a Simplex.” 

            I concede Utter’s Vespa as to being accurate over my Simplex, having grown up with John and knowing that were Morganna the Kissing Bandit riding a Vespa, Simplex, Ariel Square Four or anything else downtown clad in naught but Santa’s boots and two squirts of Gucci fragrance, John would notice her bike first.  John’s wife Anne Marie’s brother then entered the fray: Tony Lesperance, whose journalistic background came primarily as the head goat-roper for the University of Nevada – (OK, an aggie professor and great guy who ran the University Farm until he retired) – volunteered, “No way.  He was ‘the Bombardier’.  Everyone knew him as that because he always wore a World War II flight suit with a bicycle clip on his pantleg.”  Well, Gascue, Utter and Breckenridge sensed that Lesperance might be a bit shaky, so we brought in a higher authority, this time a big-gun real-deal newspaperman. 

We call in the heavy artillery:

A call was placed to Warren Lerude, who before becoming a Pulitzer Prizewinner, if that’s capitalized, was a circulation director for the Nevada State Journal, the freight that Mumbles or Peanut Butter Joe or the Bombardier delivered on his Vespa.  Or his Simplex.  And, to add further credence, almost overkill, to Warren’s immense credentials, he’s a fellow Sigma Nu alum. “You’re all wrong.  You are obviously speaking of ‘Bicycle Eddie,’ a central cog in the wheel of the 1950s journalistic community, who none of the papers’ staffers in the old building on North Center Street would tangle with for fear of being, uh, you know, on.”

So there you have it, BPS readers [Blue Plate Special, my website where I guess I published this melarkey]. Were you to be downtown Christmas shopping 60 years ago, holiday cheer abounding, Bing Crosby’s pipes crooning White Christmas from the speakers on the roof of the Byington Building, the little animated shoemaker in the window of the Nevada Shoe Factory on Sierra Street bedecked in his annual Santa Claus outfit, the kids skating on the Truckee being chased off by Reno’s Finest, an S.P. cab-forward mallet locomotive laying a haze of smoke along Commercial Row, Vic Charles swinging the Salvation Army bell at his yearly post in the warmth of the Arcade Building, a Marine deuce – OK, big green truck – parked at Second and Virginia to put presents for the needy in, you’d probably run afoul of this legend, in his flight suit and hollering at you, banging on the side of your Nash Metro, cutting off an old lady as he turned his Simplex/Vespa into Douglas Alley. It’s high time that Bicycle Eddie, the Bombardier, Peanut Butter Joe, Mumbles, or the dozen other names that we remember him as, now be enshrined in the great pantheon of the rich heritage of our town that I struggle so diligently in monastic solitude to painstakingly research, a gift for those who will follow us.  And yes, once a year at Christmastime [when I first wrote this column], I am permitted by the Gazoo editor to use run-on sentences that would make my favorite and dear RHS English teacher Roberta Kirchner cringe [Bert passed away – now she revolves in her grave].

• • •

Have a good week, and God bless America.

 

July 11, 2007


 

Bach’s “Shepherd on the Rocks with a Twist” pegged to headline the Reno Master Works Chorale’s Christmas show!

Sextette
We anxiously await the Sierra Nevada Master Works Chorale's Christmas offering next Saturday, Dec. 14th at the Nightingale Hall of the Church Fine Arts Building at the University of Nevada "How Great Our Joy." Our friend Larry Horning will be one of the leads, possibly in the role of the shepherd.

The doors open at 7 p.m. with a showtime of 7:30 p.m. Free parking will be available at the Brian Whalen Garage. General Admission is $20, Senior/Student $15, under 12 free.

This website has been afforded an early preview of the samplings of the music to be offered, including,

Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice,
an opera in one unnatural act
Fanfare for the Common Cold
Birthday Ode to “Big Daddy” Bach
The Abduction of Figaro, a simply grand opera
1712 Overture (often mistaken for a later work)
Toot Suite for calliope five hands
Suite No. 2 for Cello, All by Its Lonesome
Perviertimento for Bagpipes, Bicycle and Balloons
Shepherd on the Rocks with a Twist
Oedipus Tex, and Other Choral Calamities
Music for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion

(The program is subject to change by event night)
photo credit Richard Termine for The New York Times

A turkey lays an egg

Comet

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