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FLASHBACK AND THE TIME MACHINE

Twenty years of military service followed by twenty-three as an insurance agent is ideal preparation for a third career as a Mobile Disk Jockey. The first career prepares one for loud sounds, big crowds. hostile environments and little
monetary reward. The second career teaches one how to survive a life of
rejection through the use of defensive verbal skills and self-defacing humor.

Why a third career? Because I did not want to introduce myself as
“Retired.” And, although my billfold seemed to have enough cash in it, there was a vacant place for business cards.

In reality, I did not intentionally select a third career. It selected me.

In 1995, a local chapter of Rainbow Girls, a Masonic youth group.
asked me if I knew someone who could provide vintage rock music for a fundraiser. They approached me because the lady serving as their Grand Advisor had noted that I had a penchant for whistling tunes when the world provided no other melodic harmony. Therefore, the young ladies assumed I knew something about music.

They were right. I knew I liked it along with dancing, singing and the partying that seem to go so well with it.

“Hey!” I semi-confidently assured them, “I can do this myself.”

Armed with a one-hundred-watt home stereo system, fifty plus years of
musical memories and a handful of Time Life CD’s, I began an avocation which the Internal Revenue Service later recognized as a vocation.

Once I realized this was going to be a serious venture, I invested in a Roland sound board, two Gemini compact disc players, four Celestion three- way speakers and 400 watts of amplification.

This was an era of many unsuccessful “garage rock bands” so pre-owned equipment was readily available. Also available was the endless selection of questionably purloined CD’s I rescued from various shops in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district.

I must also confess that regular visits to Radio Shack, a Tandy computer and my son’s hand created DOS music database assisted in enhancing my DJ image.

Somewhere on the Internet I found the thumbnail course for Mobile D.J.s.

  1. Don’t play the music too loud.
  2. Don’t talk too much.
  3. Don’t play unfamiliar music
  4. Don’t rely on requests.
  5. Don’t buy equipment you can’t lift.
  6. If it has a beat and no melody it’s poetry, not music.
  7. Sometimes it rains.
  8. Electrical capacity is unpredictable.
  9. Don McLean’s American Pie provides a nine-minute toilet break.
  10. You will need suitable transportation. (Wow! I ignored the rest.)

 

There may have been more, but item 10 gave me an opportunity I had always wanted, justification for the classic ride I had dreamed of.

56 Ford

1956 FORD F-100 PANEL TRUCK – “FLASHBACK”

            Flashback was discovered during Reno’s “Hot August Night’s 1996 festival. The fully modified rig was decked out with power everything, including supercharged V-8, air conditioning, air suspension and custom interior. All my D.J. equipment stowed nicely behind the two reclining bucket seats.  The elegant Ferrari testa-rosa paint converted the once delivery truck into an instant business magnet for a yet maturing gentleman mobile disc jockey.

My objective was to provide music in various geriatric venues and charity events. I licensed the venture as “Flashback and the Time Machine. As a card-carrying member of AARP, Lions International, the Elk Lodge, VFW, DAV, American Legion Freemasons and a Shriner along with a few other social and community service bodies, I had a ready-made clientele.

One of my several stepfathers advised that the trick to have a successful business is to provide a service no one else wants to provide. Well, that was easy.  Very few disc jockeys want to work at providing music for geezers or charity fundraisers. Success was immediate.

My original plan had me furnishing familiar favorites from the late 1930”s through the 1970’s, but reality extended the top end into the early 90’s. “You call we haul, from Glen Miller to Grand Master Flash and Nine Inch Nails.”

As might be expected my clientele, for the most part, were from the 45+ age group.  I played a lot of 50th birthdays and golden anniversaries.  I regularly played weddings, but only three in which it was the bride and groom’s first marriage.  Hey!  This is Reno.

My venture suggests if you want to go to other people’s parties, eat their food, drink their booze, listen to the music you love and be the center of attention, become a mobile disc jockey.  Admittedly, at weddings the brides thought they should be the center of attention.  It took me a while to work that out.

Without getting into specific gigs let me point out that a mobile music service in “The Biggest Little City in the World” is, in many ways, unique.  Reno is a 24-hour tourist driven town which hosts and encourages public and personal parties and celebratory events just about every weekend.

My career as a mobile disc jockey lasted from the winter of 1996 until the spring of 2004. During that same time period technology in the form of ipods, cell phone music apps, flash drives and download streaming evolved.

Today, Bluetooth gives everybody a DJ potential anywhere and anytime.

The modern technology was in fact a blessing.  My four speakers weighed 80 pounds each.  The CD case weighed 50. At age 70, I, with help from my wife Connie, had reached a point where the lifting exceeded the capacity to lift.  (See rule #5 above.)

Our final DJ exposure was at the Carson City Lions Club crab feed situated at Carson’s Fuji park which had once been the site of the Ormsby County Poor Farm.

The date was Saturday, April 3, 2004. Predictably the night our music died ended to Donna Summer’s “Last Dance.”

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Out of the gate…

Red 52ORMSBY COUNTY – 1945 -1953
MID-CENTURY CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS

Let’s begin with an apology. I commence this testament as I enter my 83rd year as both a participant and a spectator. When I verbalize my personal recollections to grandchildren and great grandchildren their eyes immediately glaze, or a text message demands their attention. My immediate offspring are somewhat more attentive, but suggest that I record my memoirs in print to be read at a more convenient time by God knows whom. As a designated “codger” I realize that time is indeed of the essence.

Therefore, come with me, if you will, to a memory land where once existed a 153-square mile Nevada community which was legislatively extinguished April Fools’ Day, 1969. Our time capsule visit will allow us to recall a small community having many of the same challenges that yet distress today’s governmental bodies.

The chronological slice of history we will be examining existed sandwiched between the end of World War II and the Korean War truce., 1945-1953. The place was then named Ormsby County, Nevada, which accommodated the state’s capital Carson City, the Stewart Indian School and the Carson Indian Colony. The county’s population hovered somewhere around three thousand residents.

In those times, the title of mayor was for the most part honorary. The harmony of the county was orchestrated by Sheriff Lester Smith and Chief of Police Howard Hoffman. Vail Pittman and Charles Russell were the state’s governors and much of the county’s political superstructure was determined by Nevada’s Legislature.

The county doctor was Dr. Thom. The nearest hospital was 30 miles away in Reno, however there were a couple of local medical practitioners who visited patients when requested. Cash, interest free time payments and barter were acceptable payment modes for professional services. Those with infectious childhood diseases were quarantined to their residences. Polio was serious threat; today’s vaccine had not yet been created. Childhood diabetes was often fatal.

Most legal activity revolved around Nevada’s unique “quickie divorce” activity. Lawyers were not allowed to advertise in those times. (In 1977, a U.S. Supreme Court decision granted lawyers access to advertising media thereby creating today’s litigation neurosis.) Television had not been introduced and Reno’s KOH was the only decipherable radio station during daylight hours. FM radio did not exist but AM stations from as far as Texas came in loud and strong after sundown.

Carson City’s back streets were mostly unpaved and without stop signs. There were no stop lights anywhere. Carson’s only High School and Carson’s only Grade School were a block apart off King Street. They were separated by the Tahoe Brewery and St. Theresa’s Catholic Church. A kitchen in the Grade School provided hot lunch for both schools for 25 cents. Otherwise students brought brown bag lunches from their residence. The school district had one surplus navy grey school bus left over from WW II. The Stewart Indian School had a then modern yellow school bus.

Mr. Bowen ran the Carson movie theatre, which had 10 cents a bag mechanical popcorn machine as its only concession. The Senator and Tommy’s Victory Club were the largest casinos and the Arlington was the most elegant hotel. Burger’s pool hall was a hangout for males of every age. Cash Mercantile was our “department” store and George Meyers owned the hardware store and was chief of the volunteer fire department. Dick Waters owned the classy resort known as Carson Hot Springs. Until 1950, The Virginia Truckee Railroad cut through the town’s streets connecting Reno with the Minden Creamery in Douglas County.

We had no fast food or drive in restaurants, but The Dutch Mill, Pine Cone and E-Jim’s were teen age friendly.

The local economy was based on multiple branches of government employment and the traditional business entities found in just about all small communities. U.S. 395 and the Virginia Truckee provided a speed limit free passage northward to Reno where existed a Sears-Roebuck Store. The Sears Catalog was the Amazon.com of postwar America.

O.K. enough of the demographic coloring of the times. Let’s examine the social challenges of the era and the then acceptable methodology for managing the issues.

Keep in mind that, at that time the philosophy of eugenics, related to what was then perceived as the “general good,” rather than perceived “individual civil rights,” was considered acceptable. In the late 1950’s ethical and moral values along with academic, political and judicial re posturing introduced efforts to level the demographic opportunities of all Americans.

However, I must risk offending today’s reader by again reminding them this was also a time before the Supreme Court determined it was acceptable for trial lawyers to solicit business, before free speech was constrained by “politically correctness,” and before the majority of this nation’s national and state legislative bodies were for the most part attorneys with the capacity of both making laws and practicing law.

Ormsby County’s Mid 20th Century Challenges and solutions:

1. The Homeless (Adults – Children)
2. Crime
3. Mental Health
4. Fiscal Management
Moralistic Guidelines of Mid 20th Century Ormsby County, Nevada

“The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11)

“Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.” (Psalms 82:3)

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. (8th Amendment, U.S. Constitution)

“And if thy right eye offends thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for: thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” (Matthew 5:29)

POOR AND HOMELESS ADULTS

THE ORMSBY COUNTY POOR FARM
Highways U.S.50 and U.S 395 share the roadway for about three miles as you travel south from Carson City. At that point, they split with U.S. 50 heading generally westward toward Lake Tahoe and U.S. 395 proceeding south toward Minden and Gardnerville, Nevada. Sandwiched between today’s branching highways from the early 1860’s until 1965, this was the location of Ormsby County’s Poor Farm.

For over 100 years it housed, fed and provided relief and limited economic stability for the county’s poor and homeless adults. Today virtually all signs of the various facilities are gone. The grounds that once provided for those who had nowhere else to go have been re-designated as Fuji Park, a recreation and entertainment area managed by the consolidated municipality that replaced Ormsby County.

A great deal of the institution’s financial requirements was provided through the selectively assigned labor capabilities of the residents. Yesterday’s culture did not consider compelling those who could do so to work in exchange for room, board and a small allowance. Involuntary servitude was not then considered an issue.

As a child and an avid brook trout fisherman I regularly pedaled south from Carson City to Clear Creek running from the high Sierras through the Poor Farm. It delivered clear fresh water in unlimited quantity and provided for a small fish hatchery tended by residents. In addition to fingerling fish stock the properties also generated income with a huge truck garden, a small dairy, firewood harvested from the adjacent forest and the sale of milk weaned lambs and calves and pigs.

Foot pedaled sewing machines, hand stitching, and knitting also generated income. Some residents represented themselves as an “on call” work force for Ormsby County residents needing laborers.

I also recall the clustered residential cottages somewhat similar to the trailer size “tiny houses” being marketed today. The main building in which provided a common kitchen had gravity fed plumbing. The cottages required hand carried water as well as chamber pots. On occasion, I had opportunity to visit one of the several out houses where I assume the chamber pots were emptied. The property also had water well or gravity fed hand operated water pumps. I am not aware of how they managed water flow in midwinter. Clear Creek carried water from the Sierras through the Poor Farm property. Cast iron wood stoves provided heat.

I recall a rather large matronly lady named Minnie Waterhouse as the person in charge. She had a leashed pet chihuahua as her constant traveling companion. I still remember the sidewise gait of the tiny dog, one bulging eye looking forward while the other determined where Big Minni’s next footstep would land.

Needless to say, Poor Farm residents had to be mentally and physically fit enough to contribute toward their relief and to comply with the protocols and disciplines of the county facility.

Ormsby County’s population was small enough that itinerant vagrants, nomads and ne’er-do-wells were easily identified by local peace officers and escorted to the county line or, on occasion, given a “floater” bus ticket to a conceivably more tolerant location.

Alternative options in included incarceration or execution at local Nevada State Prison, or, if deemed appropriate, institutionalized at the State Mental Hospital thirty miles north.

Thus: In what is now interpreted as draconian fashion and court orders, did Ormsby County, Nevada, master and contain the poor and homeless along with her criminal and deranged adult challenges. Residents of that period seemed content with the existing system.

POOR, HOMELESS AND DELINQUENT CHILDREN

Less than one mile west of the Nevada State Prison on Carson City’s Fifth Street was the Nevada State Orphans/Children’s Home. This large two-story structure was built from sandstone mined at the State Prison quarry and included a full basement.

The acreage adjacent to the property was supported by agricultural and livestock associated endeavors supporting the nutritional and economic funding pertaining to the institution. Residents of the facility were assigned chores related to these functions and the domestic requirements related to household requirements. They attended Carson grade School and Carson High School as did all Ormsby County’s children.

For well detailed facts and photos related to the facility I would recommend reading Bonnie Boice Nishikawa’s Nevada State Orphans/Children’s Home, (My Life as a “Home” Kid), Published in 2016 -ISBN:978-0-9960968-2-9. Her presentation and documentation are outstanding.

Male juveniles, when determined “delinquent” by county civil authorities were sent to the state facility for delinquent boys located in Elko, Nevada. Female delinquents were sent to the state facility for girls located in Caliente, Nevada.

Early history related to these “Juvenile Justice” systems has been pretty much white-washed by modern historians. Today’s re-structured and re-defined version of these two facilities are no longer gender specific and would appear discipline restrictive by litigation neurosis and politically correct dogma. (Remember I am a codger recalling the way it was then and not how it should have been by today’s standards.

CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS

In 1946, The Eagle Valley Children’s Home for children with profound or severe intellectual disability was founded bit northeast of Carson City. The facility yet exists and is for the most part privately funded.

THE OSHKOSH INCIDENT

1949_Oshkosh_W-825

The winter of 1948-1949 was the worst in the Western United States since 1889. In Northern Nevada, millions of sheep and cattle were stranded in deep snowdrifts without feed, sometimes accompanied by herders and their horses and mules. Ranch houses were snowed in as well. The U.S. Air Force deployed its pilots and cargo planes, C82 “Flying Boxcars” for a project called “Operation Haylift” to drop 525 tons of alfalfa in the first seven days, feeding a million sheep and 100,000 head of cattle in Northern Nevada and Utah. Similar missions were flown in Colorado, Nebraska, and North Dakota.     (Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center · Special Collections, University of Nevada)

I was 14 when this piece of Nevada history was lived.  Nevertheless, at the time, I had the capacity to watch, listen and speculate the nature of the forthcoming remembrance.  Some 20+ years later, while warming a bar stool in Carson City’s Old Globe Saloon, I had the serendipitous good fortune to relive the event with one member of the original cast.

His first name was Elroy.  He had long retired from the Nevada’s Department of Motor Vehicles which had, in its more stable period been re-christened as the Highway Department.  His last name is now on a brass marker in Carson City’s Lone Mountain Cemetery.

Nevada’s state capital, Carson City, sits 30 miles south of Reno, which was the Silver State’s largest and most populated city at the time.  Reno also hosted the airfield runway and railroad station by which prospective divorcees arrived to establish the six-week residency requirement for their “quickie” divorce.

I was a Carson High School freshman living with mother and her third husband.  (One annulment and two divorces)

Mom was a typist in the highway department’s vehicle registration office and Ed Beatty, my current stepfather  was a heavy equipment driver also employed by the highway department.

The 1950 census would record that Carson City’s population represented 3,000 of Nevada’s total of 158,000 folks. (The state is now well over 3,000,000.)

I hesitate to guess how that era’s never-ending flood of six-week residents effected Nevada’s census count, but I can with confidence assure that the vast majority of aspiring divorcees were female.

In those days the Virginia-Truckee railroad and US Highway 395 connected Reno and Carson City. Pretty much side by side north-south passages that followed the eastern edge of the Sierra-Nevada Mountain Range.

Except for the remnants of old Washoe City and Franktown  there were virtually no residential or commercial developments between Reno and Carson City.

Travelers chugged or wheeled through pasture lands dotted with occasional ranch structures and pine forests.  Washoe Lake offered an expansive view during the middle of the journey.

Mining, gambling and divorcee accommodations supported Nevada’s economy from the great depression until after World War ll.  With the somewhat serendipitous mixture of the three the state would give birth to the Hospitality destination that now dominates the Silver State’s economy.

It was inevitable that the bucolic nature of Washoe Valley’s ranches and the habitation requirements of displaced marriage partners would redefine Nevada’s definition of “ranch.”

The construction of more bunk houses and employment of more “buckaroos” provided a pretty-much secluded, yet fantasy filled environment for well-heeled and ex subsidized “temporary citizens.”

Now, back to the winter of 1948-49.

Television had not yet been introduced to Nevada. Carson City had no radio station.  Reno’s KOH, could be received during daylight hours.  Nighttime radio brought sporadic broadcasting from as far away a Clint, Texas, wherever that is.  We had no telephone but had access to our neighbor’s shared party line.  The storm came at night, unexpected and unannounced.

Most of Carson City’s streets were unpaved with washboard surfaces.  Few houses had garages. Residents having a car usually parked their vehicles at roadside.  The commercial part of the city had sidewalks.  Few residential streets had them.

The magnitude of the snowfall paralyzed vehicles wherever they happened to be.  Four-wheel drive was then not an option on passenger cars. We awoke to a silent sunless world of huge falling snowflakes. The wind would come later.

Mom had fired up the coal oil (now named kerosene) heater situated in the living room. I had filled the two-gallon tank the night before.  It was comforting to know a 55-gallon barrel of fuel was just outside the back door.

Our cooking stove was wood or coal burning and shared its heat with an attached water heater.  We had city water and power backed up by kerosene lamps along with an endless supply of candles.  Electrical power outages were common regardless of weather conditions.  We also had a radio that worked with regular power or dry cell batteries.

Protocol of the times dictated that we remain sheltered until the storm lifted, and conditions stabilized.  Almost no one was expected to show up for work or school.

Stepfather Ed Beatty was an exception.  He was a state heavy equipment operator and had storm related responsibilities.  He took off from the house well bundled and on foot.  His destination was the nearby state motor pool.  The whole town was about one square mile.

About an hour after Ed Beatty left, our telephone endowed neighbor trudged over to inform my Mom that Ed  had called to report he and another state employee named Elwood would be clearing snow on US 395 between Carson and Reno.

I had visited the state motor pool area several times and Ed Beatty had let me sit at the controls of the motor pool’s only snowplow.  It was huge and had “OSHKOSH,” printed above the massive radiator. It dwarfed the dump truck snowplows Ormsby County used to clear Carson City’s streets. (Ormsby County no longer exists, but that’s another story.)

The storm was still raging when nightfall occurred in the snow saturated sky.  The upside was that the radio static eventually became understandable words.  The reporter advised that Carson City was isolated.  All roads were closed including US 395 which Ed Beatty and Elwood were attempting to keep open.

The reporter went on to say that power and phone lines were down throughout Washoe Valley. He further advised that the only access into or out of Reno was US Highway 40 from Fernley, some 40 miles to the East of Reno.

Needless to say, Mom was concerned, but nevertheless optimistic regarding the Oshkosh operators.  They doubtlessly had warm clothes and provisions aboard. Our heater had been left burning on low all night, both to provide interior comfort and limit the threat of snow weight on the corrugated metal roof.

The next morning the storm was worse. The great white flakes had been continuous with strong wind eddies forming impassable snowdrifts. We woke to the Nevada sky gradually transitioning from grey leaden to its traditional deep blue. The coal oil stove had burned all its fuel.

My first morning chore was to refill the heater tank.

Both our front and back doors opened inward. Predictably, snow had drifted more than halfway up each door. During the winter months a square blade shovel hung on a nail to the right of the inside of the back-door’s frame. This wasn’t our first bad winter.

There was nothing to do now but get comfortable and wait it out.  Nevada snow, often referred to as Sierra cement, having fallen in nation’s driest state, usually self-packs down to a manageable state within 48 hours.

That night the radio reported that United States Air Force cargo planes were dropping hay bales wherever they spotted distressed livestock.  The report included road conditions and the fact that a national Guard tracked vehicle had discovered the state’s Oshkosh snow plow abandoned on US 395,  about halfway between Reno and Carson City.  Now mom was concerned.

Three days after the storm limited traffic was established on most of Carson’s paved roads.  US 50 and US 395 reconnected Ormsby County to the rest of the world.  The Virginia Truckee railroad once again could puff its way north 30 miles to Reno and south 15 miles to the Minden creamery.  Its track ended at those two extremes.  The spur leading to the early riches of the Comstock Load surrounding Virginia City had been abandoned in the early 1930’s.

Ed Beatty returned home that day to advise that the driveshaft of the perceived invincible Oshkosh snowplow had snapped.  Neither road crews nor law enforcement had mobile radios in those days. The broken drive shaft had whipped against the engine’s huge exhaust pipe disconnecting it from the engine.  The exhaust fumes were venting through the engine firewall and floorboard and the engine noise was defining.   Ed Beatty and Elwood decided they would have to look elsewhere for body heat and creature comfort.

The plow breakdown had occurred right where the main north/south power pole line extended an eastbound branch toward the Flying ME Ranch.  The storm was still raging when they started foot slogging through the waist deep show.  Visibility was difficult with ungoggled eyes, but they managed to navigate their way from pole to pole finally kneeing into a snow buried wood rail fence beyond which the shadowy image of a large building appeared.

A door sign under the front porch overhead identified they had reached the residence of the Ranch Foreman.  Kerosene lamp lights twinkled from within. Brushing the snow off as well as they could, Ed Beatty knocked.

Up until this point I was a first party listener to the radio and party line phone reports of Ed Beatty’s winter storm odyssey.

According to Elroy’s somewhat dated recollection, warmth gushed outward as the door opened.  Before the still panting Ed Beatty or Elroy could say anything their frozen ears strained to hear a softly spoken “Hallelujah!” Followed by, “Damn ladies, it’s a month since Christmas and look what has just been delivered.  Where the hell did you two come from??  Get in here!”

The lamplight was dim, but the brightness of the roaring fireplace drew them across the room without initially examining their surroundings.

As the two men turned from the hearth flames simultaneously voicing the distressful situation that brought them there, they became dumbstruck by the surroundings.

They were in a wide-open high ceiling parlor room that appeared suited for entertaining guests. Amenities consisted of several cocktail tables, well upholstered sitting areas, an upright piano and what appeared to be a well-stocked bar. A staircase led to a balcony. The flame fed lighting limited further observation.

Elroy’s memory was three ladies and one man were in the room.  He remembers Ed Beatty, assuming the man was the foreman, starting to explain their predicament and being told by the fellow that he was a guest and we should address the lady who had answered the door to explain their unexpected presence.

Conversation determined that she was filling in for the foreman who was temporarily attending to the needs of guests in the ranch’s several other buildings. As she was laying out this information a small handful of other lady guests entered the room from the dimness of the stairway.

Elroy ended his twenty + year recollection by recalling that the man, stepping behind the bar, said, “You boys look like you could handle some fortification,” and how he and Ed Beatty were marooned three snowbound days until a Nevada National Guard tracked vehicle reconnected the flying ME Ranch to US 395.

I pried for more details, but Elroy finished his drink and assured me that what he had just told me was pretty much about it. Our conversation did continue, but it related to other nostalgic memories of old Carson City.

______

  Truth being known, shortly after Ed Beatty was rescued from the ordeal at the Flying ME ranch my Mom had filled me in with the third-party information she had been introduced to shortly after Ed Beatty’s return.

Seems that a somewhat inebriated Elwood, while reporting the event to a table of equally boozed up 49’r Club studs, violated one of the primary unwritten rules of manhood…”If your friend cheats on his woman, you take that shit to your grave.”

The 49’r Club was a neighborhood watering hole owned and operated by a couple named Newt and Alice.  It was located on the east side of Carson City’s main drag about 50 yards south of the state capitol grounds.  Alice, who happened to be one of my mom’s best drinking buddies, overheard Elwood’s bar talk and felt obligated to relate the un-redacted version of the two snowbound snowplow operator’s ordeal which certainly was much more colorful, and detailed than Ed Beatty’s version.

As previously mentioned, Ed Beatty was Mom’s third husband in a state which dispensed instant divorces to six-week residents. Mom was a redhead with a quick temper and a backhand that I never did see coming.  She also satisfied Nevada’s residency requirement.

I have always had the ability to sleep through just about anything.

The last time I saw Ed Beatty was after waking up to a loud knocking at the front door. It was Ormsby County Sheriff Lester Smith and Carson City’s Chief of Police, Howard Hoffman. These two, along with a well-armed citizenry, pretty much comprised local law enforcement

I apparently had slept through a somewhat violent discussion between my Mom and Ed Beatty.

After settling the dispute Mom had gone to the party-line neighbor’s house asking them to call the authorities.  She then returned home to await their arrival.

I followed the two law enforcement officers into the kitchen where Mom sat nursing a split lip and what would become a black eye.  Ed was laying face down on the linoleum floor.  The heavy pewter serving platter, on which each Thanksgiving turkey traveled, was flat beside him. The welt on the back of his neck was a vivid red.

Determining that Ed Beatty was still breathing, the two officers loaded him into the back seat of their car.  Carson City had no hospital, but Dr. Thom served as the county physician.  We later found that Dr. Thom had Ed Beatty sent to the medical center in Reno.  We never saw Ed Beatty again.

Two days later I saw Mom drop another wedding into her jewelry box.

I violate no trust with this great storm of 1948-1949 winter reflection.  With my exception, all the players are long gone as are Ormsby County and the V&T Railroad.  The entire block of where the 49”r Club and our nearby residence was has terraformed into the Nevada’s State Legislature’s complex.  The arterial prominence of US 395 between Carson City and Reno has been overshadowed by Interstate 580. Modern asphalt covers the washboard memories of a younger Carson City.

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“…A POEM AS LOVELY AS A TREE…”

Shoe Tree, Middlegate

Less than two hours east of Carson City is Middlegate Junction Nevada.

Imagine what it would be like to stand slowly maturing in one spot for a lifetime of almost eighty years watching the changes taking place in all directions around you.

The quality of such circumstances would depend on three factors, location, location and location. The great cottonwood that would one day be named Shoe Tree lived such a life. Some might suggest that the location of her existence was troublesome and bleak, but the evolution of her species provided an ability to accommodate extreme hardship. Providence had assigned her kind to guide mankind toward water.

Growing from 60 to 100 feet tall and having a broad leafy canopy with the same dimensions, these cousins of willows and poplars have a lifespan comparable to man’s and like mankind they too lose their flexibility and upper foliage as they grow more brittle with age.

Shoe Tree’s life began when Nevada’s population was less than 90,000 residents. The great economic depression of that era had little effect on the Silver State’s primary mining and agriculture interests. Other occupations were incidental to those two, which would soon be augmented by quickie divorces and gambling.

Strong spring winds racing down the eastern slope of the Sierras uplifted the newly pollinated white fuzz covered seeds of the female cottonwoods. Wind eddies deposited most of them in great clumps wherever obstructions blocked passage. Some escaped. Shoe Tree was the product of a wind devil updraft. Her seed along with others were spiraled upward to be caught in the jet stream and carried eastward where providence determined that she be deposited on the north side of America’s first transcontinental artery, the Lincoln Highway, which later became U.S. Highway 50.

Spring rains followed the wind. Some years before, the road building crew had borrowed earth from the sagebrush covered north side of the highway to raise the road bed above the surrounding high desert plateau. Beaten into the mud of the borrow pit by hard driven rain, the isolated cottonwood seed came to life. Water was scarce, but the paved highway runoff from the infrequent rain along with the night-chilled frost of the high desert sustained the young sapling until she could send roots deep toward a more reliable source.

Some years there was little growth. She adjusted her life cycle to whatever sustenance nature provided. In the beginning her world was one of only sound and feeling. By year five she had risen above the surrounding sagebrush and could actually view across the highway. Vehicles passed by with some regularity. When strong rains came she looked forward to their tires splashing water toward the borrow pit.

The warmer months brought both shepherds and buckaroos moving stock around her rapidly thickening trunk. Sometimes these same animals would pass by in big trucks. Her favorite passersby were the freshly bailed hay trucks. In her innocence she envied them because, unlike being bound by a deep root structure, they appeared to be a form of mobile vegetation with a capacity to relocate from place to place.

Now and then a human would walk by, but they paid her no attention for her first 35 years. It was the summer of 1968. She had grown strong and tall. She could see for miles in all directions. Her bark was thick. It had been a dry year, so she did not have the thick crown of leaves that reflected availability of more water. Nevertheless, she was healthy and in full glory.

She saw the motorcycle coming from the west before she heard it. She was familiar with the sound and surprised when it pulled to the side of the road right in front of her. People had walked by and road crews had done things nearby, but a vehicle had never stopped so close to her trunk. A young man got off. He was bare headed, dressed in Levi’s and an olive drab tee shirt. Tied over the rear fender was a tightly packed army green barracks bag with a pair of cordura nylon jungle boots tied by their laces to the bag’s carry handle.

One of the boots had somehow dropped below the motorcycle’s rear fender and had been damaged by the rotating rear tire. The young man started to retie them then changed his mind. Walking toward the great tree holding the boots, still tied together by their laces, he whirled them underhanded high into the branches where they fastened themselves securely dangling downward. For twenty-one years the boots rode out the changing seasons. They had been designed for Viet Nam’s jungles, but were equally durable hanging from a tree in Northern Nevada’s high desert. The nylon laces were virtually indestructible.

In 1989 a pickup pulling a travel trailer pulled in front of the tree. One of the trailer tires had gone flat. As the driver changed it his wife and two children, a boy and a girl, moved under the shade of the tree. It had been a good winter and shade was plentiful. The boy sat and then laid back in the dry dirt surrounding the trunk. The tree had choked out much of the foliage at its base. “Mom, look up there. Someone’s boots are hanging on one of the limbs. That is neat!” Mom and sister looked and agreed that it was indeed “neat.”

The daughter, a bit older, went into the trailer and came out with two pair of ragged canvas sneakers. Without asking for permission the kids followed the motorcycle driver’s lead. Mom encouraged them. The boy had to toss his up twice before they attached. When dad finished changing the tire they invited him to inspect their work.

Not to be outdone by his kids, the father emerged from the trailer with a pair of beat up gym shoes and his wife’s Scotch plaid sneakers which had been a gift from him that she never appreciated. His shoes hung up on the first try. He had to retrieve hers from under the tree three times before she hooked up. They drove away happy with what they had accomplished. The tree was happy too. It now had a name and a destiny.

That fall, when the leaves fell away, the five pairs of footwear swaying from the tree branches called for others to join them. In late September of that year a westbound newlywed couple noted the suspended shoes as they drove by. About two miles later they stopped at the “watering hole” situated at the Middlegate Station junction which well over a hundred of years earlier had been a pony express stop.

There, while dining at the bar, they entered into their first disagreement as a married couple. In the spirit of compromise the two returned to the big Cottonwood. Knotting together both sets of their wedding shoes the husband tossed the coupled pair high into the waiting branches. Arms around each other they resumed their journey. As they say, “the rest is history.”

Some travelers deposited once. Others, becoming aware of the tree’s prominence, regularly lofted old footwear onto her branches as they passed the 44-mile point east of Fallon, Nevada.

For years the wind sang through the hundreds, perhaps thousands of shoes. The ground below also accumulated footwear that had fallen from the branches or had been poorly thrown by those unwilling to retrieve them and try again. The fame and popularity grew as travelers saluted and marked their passage while traversing by the shoe tree icon on the side of the loneliest road in America.

It was a welcome sight, respected and valued for its whimsy, which truly reflected the unique spirit of endurance, tenacity and accommodation that distinguishes the Great State of Nevada. Sadly, and apparently without regret the beloved Nevada Shoe Tree was chain sawed to death by malicious vandals December 30, 2010.

On Sunday, February 13, 2011, at 2:30 P.M., an armada of cars, trucks and motorcycles lined both sides of US Highway 50, three miles east of Middlegate Station, Nevada, to bid farewell to the prostrate corpse of the once tall and accommodating Shoe Tree.

As mourners watched and listened, members of Nevada’s Native American priesthood, in ancient tradition, bid a thank you and farewell to the gift that providence had shared with travelers passing by. The eulogy ended in English, “Lonely tree sister may your seeds blossom elsewhere.”

Such prayers are always answered. On February 21, 2018, Roadside America published that Shoe Tree has reestablished herself through a younger sister just west of the original attraction.

Baby need new shoes!