A turkey lays an egg


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

Our own favorite America’s Cup skipper


The challenge for the America’s Cup rules the high seas, or at least the high Bay of San Francisco. Traffic, lodging costs, restaurants and life in the City generally are screwed up to a fare-thee-well as this continues, and will continue through September.

We of the Black Bear Diner Gentlemen’s Coffee, World Dilemma Solutions, Laudable Opinions, If-a-rumor-is-not-heard-by-9:00 a.m.-sharp-we-start-one, and other general BS as may properly come to our attention, have our own favorite skipper, in a shot taken when she was at the helm of an America’s Cup yacht, the one that won in 1987, the Stars & Stripes; she’s seen here putting it into a tight upwind turn, the 110-foot mast heeled over, the “grinders” cranking on the windlasses, a lass thoroughly in charge.

As a matter of fact, she actually took the conn of the vessel a few years ago in San Diego Harbor, where it is made available for day tours by its owners, who I don’t think now include Dennis Connors, its master in 1987. But I could be wrong.

She’s a local lady of my acquaintance since our childhood, and did indeed several years ago crew the return of a Transpacific race yacht back to the Mainland, a journey that many forget must occur after the Transpac races, that eastbound journey into far less hospitable seas than the more publicized westbound race to Hawai’i.

She’s definitely no stranger to Blue Waters. We’ll just know her as the Lady of the Stars & Stripes (by the way, the accompanying photograph is of the Endeavour, a 1932 defender of the America’s Cup.)

And here, we’ll do a little lobbying: The boats currently pitch-poling all over the Bay, fighting with each other like wee kiddies on Jessie Beck Elementary’s playground and going through the owners’ money like shit through a tin horn, don’t have names. They’re known collectively as Emirates, the Kiwi team, and as Luna Rosa, the Italians, but with no names on the transoms. (Actually, no transoms either, but these are sailboats in name only.) What happened to yacht names like Stars & Stripes? Proud names that went into sailing history – Dauntless, Defender, Resolute, Mayflower…? Courageous and Intrepid? (Twice each, twuly…)

Goodyear Tire, shortly after WWI, decreed that its publicity balloons, slow and stately, emulated blue-water sailing ships, and so would be named for America’s Cup defenders, and called their first airship Puritan, after an early Cup defender. Ranger, Enterprise, Columbia, America and Stars & Stripes, and a few more, and the ones named in the last paragraph, followed the Puritan into the early 2000s – “Spirit” took over the series of names, “Spirit of….” the three airships based in the United States.

Now, what would Goodyear had done with the names in use today, or rather, not in use? Shameful, I say.

And the final Goodyear blimp note: Years ago, Goodyear was successful in wresting from the FAA a series of consecutive tail numbers for its blimps, through, I think N2A through N12A. Lowest numbers in America, save for one, that one emblazoned the tail of a DC-3 donated to the FAA by Standard Oil.

And recently, the FAA ceded that coveted number to Goodyear, for airship Spirit of America, November-One-Alpha.


Sail on, Lady of the Stars & Stripes – blue waters ahead, fair winds, and a following sea….

Rumors of my passing are exaggerated…


Things have been a bit busy in July, coupled with a relocation of the Old Reno Guy global corporate office. But I’ll be back.

In honor of Hot August Nights, please observe if you will the Old Reno Guy chauffeuring a friend from San Francisco, in the staff limousine, a totally-restored 1966 CJ-5A Jeep, easy to 66restore in that it has no doors, windows, cranks, roof, minimal upholstery and if it becomes soiled it may be thoroughly rinsed off with a garden hose. It has a stock GMC V-6 engine, three-on-the-floor (six counting the transfer case), turn signals and back-up lights which were optional equipment in 1966, I know, because I bought a ‘ 66 in 1966 from Cal-Vada Jeep on West Fourth Street at Chestnut,  oh, OK, Arlington.

I’ll be back in a few days. Karl

How far we came in a ’64 Studebaker


While reading on the web of the newest Jeep wagon I was flat slapped like a gut-shot cougar by an automobile writer’s prose: “…A bruiser car. Everything about the new 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, with its pugnacious nose, its monster 20-inch wheels with massive P295/45 tires, its snarling 470-horse V8 engine, shouts that here is a big, bad bully of a wagon…

“…This one, with the 6.4-liter V8 ripped from the dragstrip headlines, is meant to say something. It’s aggressive, it has that deep exhaust rumble…” – and then the writer goes on (and on) to compare it with a double-jack, water-back drink in a bar, leaving some doubt about where he drinks or why he goes to a bar in the first place. One steers this beast from the “cockpit,” by the way. God save us…

“…Stomp on the gas pedal on a freeway on ramp (after the requisite check in the rear view mirror) and those 470 horses will emerge loudly from those exhaust tips and ramp you swiftly up the ramp – the car’s zero-to-60 times are regularly under five seconds and it’s said to have a 160 mph top end…”  Somewhere about here I sensed that he might be getting orgasmic at his keyboard and I was tempted to click off this site before it was X-rated. This writer does get close to his cars. He did mention that this particular Jeep, er, Snarling Bruiser was approaching $70,000, which for me would be too much for a Jeep if had twin GE J-47 turbojet engines, a wet bar and a Barca-Lounger seat behind the wheel.

My thoughts returned to the Wagoneer of old, that sprung forth in the early 1960s while I was driving a Jeep “Station Wagon,” a two-door, four-passenger box with a tailgate that was probably the best all-round Jeep that Willys, and later Kaiser, ever built. My neighbor got a “Wagonaire.” A Studebaker. A good-looking car, or wagon. It ought to be; it was designed by Brooks Stevens, the American industrial designer who gave the world a design for some kitchen appliances, the full-dress Harley, dolled-up luxury passenger railcars, the Excalibur automobile (which looks a lot like a pre-war Mercedes, but that’s OK), and last but not least, the Wienermobile. With a sliding back roof the Wagonaire could haul a refrigerator home from Montgomery Wards or a tree from Arlington Nursery, if need be. With a Studebaker engine. Built in Canada. And Kaiser picked up on it, Studebaker exited the auto business after a hundred years of cars, trucks, Army Weasels, Navy Ducks (like the ones on Fisherman’s Wharf) and every other configuration of weird vehicle known to man.

Kaiser called it the Wagoneer. It was built from parts from every automotive body, brake, engine, transmission, electronics, hubcap and rear-view mirror company in the Detroit Yellow Pages, not unlike the seven blind men building the elephant. And it sold like hotcakes, some say more in the northern Nevada area than anywhere in the world. And with such dubious reliability that owners would put “lunching” on placards on their windshields if they pulled off the road to picnic, knowing that other Wagoneer owners would think that they’d surely broken down.

And they kept selling, constantly being improved and made increasingly luxurious. The last one rolled off the assembly line in 1991. 

Not a bad run, at that – from a 6-cylinder Wagonaire in 1964 to the last V-8 Wagoneer in 1991, to the Grand Cherokee of today with massive 20-inch wheels and a snarling 470 horsepower that’ll knock your, well, you know, right into your watch-pocket if it gets away from you on the on-ramp.

How is it in the snow? Or hauling home a tree from Arlington Gardens, like the Wagonaire of old? We don’t know. But it’s fast. And this guy can sure as hell write.

Getting back to work


No particular post tonight, just seeing if this still works. The photo’s a teaser, a few of the 17 guys in the picture that I’m going to turn into a little game for locals, to see 17 old friends and their cars a hoot and a holler outside of town. I’m now trying to get names of all 17, almost have all of them; only one remains with us, sadly the others have passed away. Come back in a day or two and I should have it posted.

A Star is Born


“Why,” several e-mailers have asked over the years, mostly in reference to the old Blue Plate Special, “don’t you ever write about personalized plates…?”

            I’ve revered the late RG-J columnist Ty Cobb from a time dating back to my early 1950s Reno Rec youth baseball days (before Little League), and it’s been  a bit early to invade that popular milieu in his Cobbwebs columns. 

            Today we’ll read of a personalized plate that has prompted some calls and comments over the years.  It was attached fore and aft to a late model Cadillac parked at Longs Drug in the Village Center a while back, so I laid in wait for the owner. 

I first saw this plate in the early 1970s on a red Caddy, and often through the years on a number of intervening Cads, always red.  I thought back then “How in the world did he get that plate?”  Over the years occasional column mentions of blue license plates have sparked inquiries about this unique one from some of the readers.

Soon a couple exited Longs; a nice-looking couple who could pair in any TV commercial as the all-American, picture-of-health grandparents, and they fortunately also had a great sense of humor when this total stranger/drive-by columnist told them that the time was here and now, to speak of their license plate for a hundred thousand-or-so waiting readers.  We talked for a half an hour.

            A little background is required here: Before World War II Nevada plates used just numbers, and shortly before the war they received a county prefix, in our local case a “W.”  Fast forward to the late 1960s when the connoisseur of all things automotive, William Fisk Harrah, wanted something a little more unique than “W23743” or whatever on the tail end of his hopped-up Chrysler 300.  He dispatched his minions out into the hinterland with orders to bring the casino every plate in Washoe County from W1 to W100, car and truck alike (trucks wore “WT” back then), and use any asset in Harrah’s arsenal to convince the plate’ owners to cough them up.  There were a whole lot of Nevadans winding up with everything from trips to the club’s Idaho Middle Fork Lodge retreat to showroom tickets for life to a date with Olivia Newton John in a chauffeured Harrah Rolls Phantom V, and acquire almost all the double digit “W” plates for his execs and truck fleet, Harrah did.

            One such plate was W7, whose owner resisted early efforts by club delegates.  “Do you like to hunt?” they asked.  “Why sure,” the owner said, “but what I really want is one special plate.”  “We can get it,” the suits promised.  “We otter just hop in the club’s Twin Otter and fly up to Idaho and get acquainted.  We’ll get you an Idaho elk tag, pack horses and a guide and have a little barbecue for a couple of days while we chat.  Bring a friend.”  And so they did, successfully.  Harrah’s mounted the trophy head, skinned the beast and tanned it, and processed the beef when they got home.  “Now, what plate was it you wanted?”

            “A star, a simple, five-pointed star, smack in the middle of the plate,” said Swede Olsen, aka W7, and as a matter fact, as W76, for Swede owned the Union 76 service station at the Village Center almost since the center was built in the mid-1950s.  “We can do it,” said the Harrah people, secretly wondering how in the hell they could sell that symbol to the Nevada DMV, but Harrah’s had clout then.  The craftsmen at the gated community in Carson City that make license plates lacked a star in their font of dies, so they sent it to their branch office at San Quentin to be struck – a star centered in the field of blue, the ’69 stamp on the upper left corner (those plates were issued January of 1967 and validated with a sticker in 1968; 1969 was the expiration year.) 

            The new plates were returned to Carson City, and Swede and his wife LaRue (retired from Sierra Pacific Power Company) journeyed there to pick up their star plates in trade for W7.  It’s been on four or five Caddies since, all red.  The Olsens have pizzazz.

            I asked if it drew any inordinate attention from the fuzz.  Once on their way to Portland, Swede recalled, they were yanked over by one of Oregon’s Finest, piqued about Swede’s mile or two (or 15) over the speed limit.  The officer gave him the usual admonitions and checked his license, but as the moment drew closer to putting pen to paper on a ticket he seemed to have second thoughts, something disarming about a sharp, well-spoken driver and his attractive wife in a new clean Caddy with a weird license plate that didn’t fit into any highway patrol computer.  Who was this guy?  He let the roadside visit end with a pleasant “Now you all be careful and keep it down a bit.  My wife and I were married in Reno so I want you to enjoy Oregon.”  Swede and the trooper were both relieved.  (Spend five minutes with Swede and you’d learn he’d have just paid the ticket like the rest of us would.)  “What happens if you get rear-ended and the plate gets mashed?” I asked.  I’m sworn to secrecy, but an extra might have fallen out of the press that day in San Quentin, just might have.

            That started the era that personalized plates started to proliferate, owing largely to, you guessed it, Bill Harrah, who eventually came up with almost all the low numbers save for one – I still smile when I see another Caddy streaking across Washoe Valley to John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks, then parking in the Nugget’s executive lot – “John” on the parking space, W6 on the car.  Perfeck. 

Mr. Harrah was eventually able get the low numbers, yet longed to put “CLANG” on the auto collection’s cable car, “SAMMY” on Mr. Davis’ son’s Duesenberg or a lone “H” on his personal Ferrari Boxer (red, natch).  He successfully lobbied the Nevada legislature for personalized plates, grist for a future column unto itself.  Ty Cobb deciphered them for us in grand style, but it was Swede and LaRue who got the Star of the Show. 


• • •


Ol’ Reno Guy gets a Sunday off…

Red T-Bird

It’s Sunday; the Giants are beating the Padres in AT&T Park, it’s Earth Day, all is right in the world so we make a light-duty post just to keep the streak alive. We’ve  extolled the virtues of staff photographer Lo Phat. Here is a shot he took over the back fence of the Ol’ Reno Guy global headquarters onto Allen Street, a dead bird under tow from a ’57 Chevy tow truck.

    Actually, the T-Bird and the tow truck are each about four inches long, seen sitting on top of the fence, and now back in their place in the cabinet in the headquarter building. How does he do it, with that old pre-war Speed Graphic?

     Have a good weekend. Go Giants,

Update: Giant won, shutout

The Wreck of the Ol’ 97


The inherent peril in promising the world that you will post something, every day, come hell, high water, sleet, rain, power outage, abduction, waking up with weasels tearing at your flesh, death by fang, cliff, claw, sudden wealth, pestilence, hooch or hot lead, is, that sometimes the bar for the quality of the post can be lowered, or in today’s case, tanked, just to get a post posted daily. Today, Saturday, is such a day, and this is such a post.

We see here a vista that I’m not sure of, somewhere between a Sheep Dip stunt and a Laugh-In segment, a hot Olds 4-4-2 with two drivers and three groupie babes. The guys are Tim Burke holding the helmet, and Larry Horning, who presumably needs no helmet. Larry – Horning-from-Corning – or close to Corning (N.Y.) anyway, came to town in the 1960s to ensure that diners, tavern denizens, picnickers, residents, all the denizens of the valley, would have 7-Up on their tables, bartops, checkout counters and picnic baskets everywhere on this side of the Sierra, and he did a pretty good job of it ’til he retired as a top–exec, no-bull, all-business type, which he remains in retirement. He has also rendered some beautiful music from a great pair of pipes, for Masterworks Chorale and a few  other groups and monthly at the Good Old Days club. The guy can sing, no question about it; he could have gone to the Big Apple instead of Reno, and moved ol’ Blue Eyes aside in the hearts of American lasses in the early 1960s.

(The ladies occupying and glamming up the Olds are, and this is true, are the Barq girls, Barq being a root-beer drink that we see little of in the West who loaned these ladies to whoever took the picture. We’re told.)

Horning would have us believe that this is a publicity stunt conjured up by 7-Up, but as trained professionals, we find this to be a load of horse-hockey and that he and Burke, and the Barq girls had probably in truth stolen the Olds from Waldren Olds’ lot and the NASCAR suits from John Tyson, in some failed attempt to pad their burgeoning expense accounts at the bottling company.

And that’s the story the Ol’ Reno Guy is going with. This has almost nothing to do with the post itself, but it might be known by all that the stalwart members of the Good Old Days club, not prone to hi-jinx, were witness to Mr. Horning relating an anecdote of dubious veracity yesterday at their meeting at the Tamarack, that anecdote bearing upon some shortcomings in the Ol’ Reno Reader’s intelligence, work-ethic, and shoddy use of the English language, speling and grammer.

It is logical to believe that Mr. Horning, having brought himself into the crosshairs of this civic offering of commentary, will from time-to-time again be featured in this website with further accounts of his adventures about our hamlet.

Actually, he told a pretty good joke. And really, he’s a great singer, and a good friend!)

The Little Engine That Could (in Idlewild Park!)

Idlewild2 copyIdlewildTrain


In 1942 the movie Iron Horse opened in the little Colorado mining town of Trinidad, and movie ticket holders were offered a free ride on a miniature train that was operating behind the theater. That short ride was just the beginning of the train’s journey that would eventually take it for thousands of miles, hauling probably a couple of hundred thousand passengers on a ride that’s lasted seventy years and still running this morning, right here in Idlewild Park.

          The engine – a coal-burning, steam replica of a Pacific-class steam locomotive – was fashioned by a Trinidad ironworker to pull the four open passenger cars, each holding four adults or three dozen kids. The lash-up soon caught the eye of John and Joe Cihura, sons of Polish immigrants who followed the rails and coalmines from Pennsylvania to Colorado. They acquired the train equipment and relocated it to Walsenburg, Colorado, and set it up after the war as an attraction behind a little restaurant, selling rides at a dime a pop to the kids in the diner.

          In 1949, they again moved it, this time to Vallejo, and in 1952 negotiated a contract with the City of Vallejo to operate the train – and a few kiddie cars, a merry-go-round and “airplane” rides – in Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo.  Joe and John traveled to Virginia City in their pickup and bought some old ore cart rails that were being salvaged from the mines. The present railbed in Idlewild Park came down from the Comstock, via Vallejo. (For the train nuts, er, aficionados, the rail is set at live-steam gauge of 11-1/2 inches. And the loco is a 4-6-2 class; if you never saw it, it was about six feet long with a great bell, a real two-chime steam whistle, and towed a tender with coal, water and a seat for Joe. End of tech-talk.)

          In 1961, the brothers moved to Reno and began negotiating for a site for their train and some rides, and zeroed in on a kiddie park in Idlewild Park. The Reno Arch Lions and the 20-30 Club shouldered the task of putting the park together, working with everyone’s old buddy the late Duke Lindeman from the City of Reno. (Many old-timers remember the huge lion-head drinking fountain, which was eventually replaced because the smaller tykes were afraid to put their heads inside the lion’s mouth for a gulp!)

• • •

Our town embraced the little park and the train, the pleasant scent of coal and steam wafting around the park near the California building and the real S.P. locomotives across the river blowing their whistles as they passed the park, and Joe, the only engineer the train ever had, returning a toot for the passengers in tow. Rusty Crook frequently brought the kids from his This Is It Ranch for a ride. Disabled citizens, young and old, were always welcomed as guests. Older children who rocked in their cars found themselves booted off the train in mid-ride. (Every now and then, Joe’s daughter Carol recalls, a waif would show up without the price of a ride in his jeans.  Joe would send him out into the park to find 10 scraps of paper or other junk and bring it back in return for a ticket to ride. John and Joe were the long-time ex officio custodians, guardians and champions of Idlewild Park.)

          Change was coming.  The US of A was coming up upon a Bicentennial celebration in 1976. In anticipation of all this gala, Joe and John began rebuilding the coal-black locomotive to replicate the Daylight streamliner locomotive that Southern Pacific was repainting red, white and blue to tour the nation for the Bicentennial as the “Freedom Train.” The miniature Pacific’s boiler was shrouded and the cowcatcher was removed. The loco and cars were repainted. On June 7th of 1976 Joe appeared in a Gazette photo in the paper with the rebuilt engine, and on July 4th, 1976, the new line was inaugurated.

• • •

In 1980, Joe and John sold the operation, lock, stock and barrel, to Aldo Andrietta, and took their fifth-wheeler to Alaska for three months for a well-deserved vacation. Aldo ran the park very capably until about three years ago, when he sold it to a Sacramento-based amusement company that owns several other kiddie rides. The Cihura brothers kept the steam locomotive. Aldo opted for another engine the brothers had built, this one a gasoline/propane powered replica of a 1957 General Motors passenger diesel (a steam powered loco was nifty, but firing it up and bringing it up to steam was a chore that only Joe enjoyed.)

          Joe passed away in 1986, and on Arbor Day of 1987 a sequoia was planted in his honor. The families’ contribution to the children of all ages of our town was feted in a ceremony near the park’s railroad station, led by then-Governor Dick Bryan and Mayor Pete Sferrazza. Joe’s wife Harriet was later memorialized with a Colorado Blue Spruce across the street by the California Building. Bronze plaques mark each tree.

          The Lions Kiddie Park and the Cihura brothers’ train is a long-standing asset of our town, and this would not be a bad morning to take a couple of kids, of any age, out to enjoy it.  As I wrote above, I’d welcome more info about the service clubs that contributed to the Kiddie Park, for a future follow-up column.

 What happened to the old steam engine? I could never find out. I’d like to think it’s still running, maybe up in Tilden Park above Oakland with some other old live steam engines of the same guage.      I am grateful to my old friend and retired State Farm Insurance executive Carol Brown – (Joe Cihura’s daughter) – for her extensive input into the column, and, as always, the resources of the Nevada Historical Society and the RG-J archives.

          (Photo credit, steam engine Carol Brown; GM replica City of Reno)