Submitted by Karl Breckenridge
A week ago I ran right here in This is Reno a letter that I wrote when I was a little kid to my great-aunt in Iowa, and didn’t get chastised too badly, so here we are a week later and I found another. Here we go from 740 Ralston Street:
I went with Dad to the new hardware store on East Fourth Street and wrote about it. I got a little wordy so I cut off the news at 1,100 words and promised to finish it later in the week. Well, here goes:
The topic was hardware stores as they exist this year, 1948. I wrote about Commercial Hardware and Reno Mercantile but there are a few others that need attention also. So, again I hop on my bike and ride down the Ralston Street hill, going now straight through town down Virginia Street to Builders & Farmers Hardware. And no, Mrs. Angus, second-grade teacher at Mary S. Doten Elementary, I checked the phone book and there’s no possessive apostrophe in their name. HA!
That store is in the 1200 block of South Virginia Street, across the street from where Mr. Games opened his new “supermarket” [yeah, it’s an antique mall now]. It’s one of Reno’s best hardware stores on the main floor, but Dad’s friends Mr. Karrasch and Mr. Ackerman let a few of their friends put a model train layout in the basement of the store after WWII. The train layout got bigger and bigger until it now takes up the whole basement and there’s no room for stock. But the train layout is a real humdinger (Dad’s word) and a lot of men come in to see it on the weekends.
Some even bring their own train locomotives and railcars. The “scale” of the trains is huge – bigger than our little Lionels and American Flyer trains we have at home. Some say it’s an “O” scale but it’s actually bigger – the track is O guage but the model trains are bigger than O. But if I’m going to write about Builders & Farmers Hardware I need to write about its basement and the trains.
(In the same breath I have to mention our neighbor Dr. Stanley Palmer, who was the Dean of Engineering at the University of Nevada who had a huge train in his basement across University Terrace from the Whitaker Park tennis courts. He had a huge train in his basement also, and both basements smelled like electrical ozone when the trains were running!)
OK, that’s one hardware store I wanted to write about. Now I’ll pedal my way over to another store near the Food King Market and across Wells Avenue from the new post office on the corner of Ryland and Wells. It was Bogart Brothers Sunday Hardware at 215 South Wells. Originally, a small building and then later, they built a much larger building more to the west.
Carl Bogart and his brother Larry ran the place. It was a great store because it had its own parking lot and a lot of men liked it for that reason. Carl was very friendly but Larry was a crab, so I tried to deal with Carl. Carl became the mayor of the City of Reno in the early 1970s. Larry, who cares? (I’ll probably have to scratch that out. I was going to remark about Tawnee Bogart, the drop-dead gorgeous rage of our second-grade class but I KNOW I’d have to scrub that inclusion.)
Bogart Bros., as their sign read, was typical of so many small hardware stores after the war. There wasn’t a great selection of stuff – stuff was pretty much one size, or one color, and if that’s what you needed, the part you bought there would almost always fit. A duplex outlet cover would always fit. But there was a trend forming, to bring out items with a choice of material, or color, or size. The day was coming when there might be two, or four kinds of duplex outlets, or light switches with a paddle or a mercury action, or a nut with SAE or Whitworth or metric sizes and hardware store owners had to carry them all to be competitive. I found this out when my friend got a bicycle made in England and our wrenches didn’t fit. It was hard on small merchants. But I’m only 7; what do I know?
Onward I rode this morning, to another popular hardware store. This was a long ride for I had to go all the way to Sparks and way out 8th Street, which I hear the City of Sparks is going to rename “Pyramid Way,” because that’s where it goes and everybody calls it that anyway.
This hardware store only opened a few years ago during WWII. A guy named Carl Shelly, who I would know until he passed away many years later, was a heck of a historian about Sparks and the railroad, and was one of the Washoe County Commissioners who was instrumental in gaining federal funding for Virginia Lake, back when there were only three commissioners.
Carl opened his hardware store in an old balloon-roof hanger on the Green Brae airfield (I took a picture of the store with my Brownie Hawkeye camera of the store and the roofs of the hangers still visible. I dropped the film off at Hale’s Drugs on my bike ride home; if they come out I’ll send them to This is Reno to put in this story). This was a busy little airfield, when there were quite a few airfields in the area, like the one they called “Vista” down by Kleppe’s pond and the Hillside airstrip up in northwest Reno by where someday they’d build a school and call it Clayton.
But it’s 1948; I’m only 7 and don’t know anything about the Archie Clayton Middle School yet. If this isolation period goes on long enough I may dig out a story of a bike ride that Hank Philcox and I took out to that airport by Clayton.
Carl Shelly carried almost everything it took to open a house and set up housekeeping, and was the go-to hardware store when Dad’s friend Mr. Probasco was building houses like crazy at the east end of Sparks. And Mat Gibbons, who changed her name from Matilda because no one would buy a house from a lady, was selling Probasco homes like hotcakes to returning veterans under the G.I. Bill.
Carl Shelly was a good man. He and his friend Tom Swart, who also grew up in Sparks, were instrumental in getting the Nevada Historical Society going again after the war, and in forming the Sparks Heritage Museum. Someone ought to write about them someday. (! OK)
I’m going to fast forward (that’s a funny expression; what the hell is a “fast forward” in 1948? Why did I even write that? And why did I write “hell”? Mom will be really mad when she sees that.) to 1963, which is far beyond what the 6-year-old-kid ever wrote about, because I want to include a couple really nice men in this compendium (pretty big word for a 7-year-old, huh?) of hardware stores.
Their names are Gene Parvin and Bill Spiersch. They opened a hardware store in Keystone Square when the whole town was seemingly moving toward Reno’s northwest. They held sway there for many years and were wonderful merchants and friends, and even did some residential landscape design and installation. They opened a branch location briefly in the Village Shopping Center by Reno High School, but scaled it back. Their store was P&S Hardware, a dandy. Gene died in an auto wreck in the Sonoma Wine Country; Bill is still very much with us and still a wonderful friend to many.
And that said, yrs. Truly will revert to age 7 and pedal on back up the hill to 740 Ralston Street. My neighbor friends Don Hartman or Hank Philcox are waiting to see where we’ll ride next; c’mon back in a week or two – the days grow longer and we can all take off on another adventure!
Back now to 2020 as the 6-year-old-kid is sent to his room for a myriad of offenses, and we in the valley are having another day of social-distancing with maybe a record warm temperature as you read this, I say to all, c’mon back Thursday – enjoy a diversion from the day’s news, and as always, be safe, huh?
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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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