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Day 18 – Judge Bruce Thompson

By ThisIsReno
Published: Last Updated on

Submitted by Karl Breckenridge | Feature Image: Ty O’Neil

One of the finer jurists in America hailed from right here in Reno, the son of a University of Nevada president and the brother of an equally regarded State justice. He was not only a wonderful federal judge, he was a great guy to be around – his son Jeff and I were best of friends in school so I came to know Bruce Thompson pretty well on an almost-daily basis. And yes, the federal building downtown on Virginia Street bears his name and yes, he’s local attorney Harold Thompson’s dad.

The Thompson family was into horses, and owned a small spread on the edge of civilized two-lane unpaved Plumb Lane, just east of Hunter Lake Drive. They built that miniranch, I’d guess about 1950 when one had to pack a lantern and a lunch to journey that far west of Reno proper.

One afternoon, maybe 1952, Bruce – then a young attorney, rode his horse to our house – not an unusual occurrence in early 1950s Reno – one would see horses outside of popular bars and restaurants. Some of the outlying schools, like Brown and Huffaker, had small corrals to accommodate the steeds of students during school hours. And it wasn’t a long ride to our house, like the Cartwright boys who rode weekly on TV from Lake Tahoe to Virginia City for lunch and back. We lived north of where the pavement ended on Peavine Row, which you now know as Keystone Avenue (Keystone stopped south of the railroad tracks back then).

So, Bruce and Karl Senior had not a few beers and laughs on the patio on this pleasant afternoon until my mother as usual threw the damper on the festivities. “Riding While Intoxicated” wasn’t a crime on the books yet, but mom insisted on driving Bruce to his house. “Hell, the horse knows the way,” was tried but failed. So, into mom’s ’50 Pontiac they climbed. Why my dad joined them, who knows, but the three of them started toward the Thompson ranch. Minus the horse…

“Karl Jr. can follow us on the horse,” one of the inebriates said.

Karl Jr., having been bucked off or bitten by one of the smelly unpredictable steeds of Dad’s friends often enough to engender a dislike for horses in general and this one in particular, balked. To no avail.  “Bring the horse.” “Yessir.”

The mount in question was a palomino and I’ll risk an upbraiding these 65+ years later from a few This is Reno readers by opining that palominos, while tall, beautiful and strong, surely the darling of every parade horse rider, are not the brightest animal on the equestrian scale, and I’ve always held had a mean nature to any non-owner. Bruce’s beast was no different – tall, like 17 hands tall, beautiful, dumb and mean – not unlike the heroine of a Beach Boys tune.

He was bridled but unsaddled, so being a little ten-year old I led him to a fence where I could mount atop him. Then all hell broke loose – he took off in four directions and began sun fishing like a bareback rodeo pony. But I hung on. Then he took off toward a low fence separating our property from the Rosasco’s chicken ranch. Or chicken farm (it’s still there; now an eye-doctor place north of University Terrace).

We both then stared toward the fence. It became apparent that I was no longer in charge, if ever I was anyway, and that the horse was going to jump the low fence – maybe 40 inches high. I gave him all the head he wanted and we jumped. Three hooves cleared the fence. The fourth one didn’t and the whole shebang went down.

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

The biggest losers in the ensuing crash were a score of chickens who met their maker beneath the horse, now lying on its side but scrambling to regain its footing. I crawled clear, tossing an occasional Rhode Island Red from my path to safety. The horse found its legs and several – like a half-dozen, chickens were running around in circles, mortally wounded.

Could this scenario have become more heinous, you ask? Yes.

Mrs. Rosasco, an elderly lady born in Italy and still not thoroughly adept at our mother tongue, commenced to berate me in several languages I don’t speak (she was the grandmother of Pam Dunn and Jan Savage). To my rescue came Mr. Rosasco, a nice man who put the wounded chickens out of their misery with his penknife, gave me a hoist once again back onto the horse and opened a gate for me to allow the steed to leave properly.

Some chatter in Italian ensued between them, the gist of which was that I/we would compensate the Rosascos for 21 late chickens. I then rode the nag down to Vine Street thence to the Truckee’s shores, to the Booth Street Bridge and opened his throttle to a gentle canter passing the new high school which would open in a couple of weeks.

Ya gotta have a little fun if ya gotta ride a horse…

I made it safely to the Thompson ranch, and yeah, Mr. Thompson, I’m leaving the bridle on the horse. I told the fun twosome that they owed Mr. Rosasco 21 bucks for the late chickens which they happily agreed to remit, once he bagged them up and delivered them to our home. Which he did.

To wrap up this yarn, Dad took the ungodly mass of feathers in the sack, which might have constituted all 21 of the departed fowl, to a tamale factory – Bello’s Tamales – then an immaculate little brick Italianate home-slash-tamale factory across West Second Street from the present Brickie’s Tavern. We then dined well and often and for free, sort of, on the finest tamales in the land.

And Bruce became Mr. Thompson, then Judge Thompson in 1978 and left this mortal coil in 1992. In my humble opinion his work as successor trustee of the Fleischmann Foundation until it sundowned, and with the Harrah Trust as appointed by Mr. Harrah, are two of the larger bullet points to his life.

And someday, if this isolation coops me and thee up long enough, you’ll read in This is Reno of Bruce’s brother Gordon, once a Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court – who rivaled brother Bruce in the High Humor department. I’ve a tale of Gordo also, concerning him, my pickup truck and Johnny’s Little Italy shortly following their 1971 move from downtown. I think the Statute of Limitations has run on accounts of that night…

That’s about it for this morning – y’all come back tomorrow and we’ll do it all again. Be safe, huh?

Submitted opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article here.

Karl Breckenridge

Karl Breckenridge was slowly going nuts. So he decided to help out This is Reno by writing a daily out-of-his-mind column for the duration of the coronavirus shutdown. Now that it’s over he’s back to his usual antics, drinking coffee with the boys at the Bear and, well, we’re not sure what else. But he loved sharing his daily musings with you, so he’s back, albeit a little less often, to keep on sharing. Karl grew up in the valley and has stories from the area going back to 1945. He’s been writing for 32 years locally. 

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