And it was the time of characters, before the invasion of California’s equity refugees, fleeing the taxes and traffic to fill in the empty spaces beyond and between the old towns and valleys with citizens and quarter-acre housing. South of Carson City (the smallest state capital in America at the time), a mystic herbalist Christian named Al Wofson was typing the manuscript of his book on natural medicines, “God is My Doctor” and planning his sea voyage to the Pacific Islands to bring the gospel to the benighted heathen.
Across the valley at a dry camp sawmill, “Slim the Dog Man” raised husky sled dogs on a 500-foot cable in the sagebrush. He wore a hard hat with “Bull of the Woods” painted across the front and drove a post-war Studebaker pickup. He had been famous for rescuing the stranded S.P. passenger train on Donner Pass in the ‘50s, but now he had to use the side door at the Gardnerville Basque dinner house for lack of bathing out on his dusty claim.
Sparks and Reno were two different towns, with the Biggest Little City dedicated to partying as an industry while Sparks was the rail yards and a working class downtown with stores and shops, before it became “Victorian Square.” If you wanted to tune in on the local political and business gossip, lunch at Casale’s Halfway Club in the still largely empty fields among the E. Fourth Street motels was the spot with lawyers, politicians and city dads from both towns enjoying the hand-made ravioli.
Back toward downtown the combination of the Mizpah Hotel, Greyhound bus station and a back alley horse parlor with Kosher pastrami sandwiches made E. Second Street a low-roller’s delight. Bruno Menicuchi had a sleazy little saloon with the poorest B-girls in town, and the alley between his place and the Mizpah had been roofed over and the tiniest soul food joint in the west, Kia’s Squeeze In, fed after shift rib aficionados into the wee hours. Bruno was on the City Council at the time, helping shape Reno as we know it today.
In the day, Nevada celebrated its odd self-selection of characters. People who were a little too much for other locales were welcomed here, whether the Eastern gamblers going legit in Vegas or the Hollywood film actors with Washoe ranches. The state tourism office once paid “Bad Water Bill” and
“Pappy,” two local photo figures, to tour the nation’s sports and boat shows with a false front saloon porch to sit on giving away the Territorial Enterprise special edition.
Today, Nevada is rapidly catching the diseases of civilization. County managers, camera surveillance on the street, little night life outside the casinos and damn few of the odd folk that used to be our pride and joy.
Time was when folks who were too strange back home, were welcomed in the high West as part of the legend.
“Travus T. Hipp” is a 40-year veteran radio commentator with six stations in California carrying his daily version of the news and opinions. “The Poor Hippy’s Paul Harvey,” Travus is a member of the Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame, but unemployable in the Silver State due to his eclectic political views. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.