Submitted by (Little) Karl Breckenridge
Well, we’ve been in Reno for a while now and have been pretty much camping at 740 Ralston Street. It’s time for a square meal, maybe the first since we left El Cerrito and moved her after the war!
Dad heard of a place out the Lincoln Highway, actually not too far beyond Vine Street, which is about the last street west on West Fourth Street. Beyond that on the highway, are a dozen motels, among the nicest in Reno, all built before WWII. But, there aren’t many places for a family to go for a dinner out, anywhere in Reno in 1946. So we’ll give this one a try; it’s called the El Tavern Motel, but it’s also a truck stop, also one of the few in Reno or Sparks.
We piled into the Chevy, a 1941 coupe that had a back seat; many coupes like this just had a flat deck behind the front seats, they called them “business coupes” and they were pretty much the norm. We rolled down the Ralston Street hill, a stop sign at West Fifth Street, then to West Fourth Street – the Lincoln Highway. Dad did a right turn and we’re off. There were no stoplights in Reno, as we had in El Cerrito and Richmond. The only one I remember on was on Fourth Street, hung on a wire that crossed Fourth and Virginia Streets – the busiest corner in northern Nevada for 20 years after the war. But we just rolled on westward. Dinner sounded good.
I could make several pages of notes about the trip but I’ll save that for another visit – right now we just passed Vine Street and are beyond Reno’s city limits – a big ice plant, for many homes in Reno still had iceboxes. A brick factory. Motel after motel on the right, north side of the two-lane highway.
In the distance on either side of the road, a large number of trucks, big highway jobs with trailers. All stopped. Their drivers are having dinner in the El Tavern Motel’s coffee-shop, a trucker’s favorite. The motel was a typical Reno motel, U-shaped with small units along the inside of the “U” and an office/coffee shop in the center area.
It turned out that my father knew, or knew of, the owner of the coffee shop that was in that motel’s office. His name was Bill Parker, a friendly guy. I learned that he was a hard-rock miner in central Nevada during the years before WWII, his youth, and with the war effort he was able to keep his job as an “essential war effort worker” during the war. He had mined ore, as most youthful miners had done, while he was still working. Most of the ore that he had unearthed was gold and silver, and I hope you’ll remember that for a while. Gold, and silver. Wouldn’t be a bad name for a restaurant, would it?
We enjoyed our dinner at the El Tavern, in a typical coffee shop booth with my sister, now only a few months old, was asleep in a bassinet on the seat bench. It was the first time we had had a meal out since we got to town! My mom was tired, hadn’t shopped nor unpacked the kitchen utensils and dishes. This place had a nice menu, with stuff for kids like me.
Our waitress was a nice older lady, probably 50 or so, and why I’d remember her name 70 years later I don’t know, but it was Mrs. Dietz. She was the only waitress I can remember. The place had all the stuff that a coffee shop is supposed to have, with a juke box and Chism Ice Cream signs in many places and big bright clock. One was really neat: It was a “Model Dairy” sign made out of glass tubing that lit up, “Open” when the coffee shop was open. First time I ever saw a “neon” sign. We’ll walk some more places in the days and weeks to come and see some more of these neon signs.
The truckers – probably about a dozen of them – hung out in the west end of the coffee shop and were pretty nice guys (in later visits to the El Tavern, of which there were many, I got to go up into the cabs of a few trucks!) Their trucks weren’t much by the standards of what trucking would become in the next 70 years, but they were big and tough and smelly and noisy. A trucker showed me the transmission levers – only one on the Chevrolet of my dad’s, but two levers on the big trucks – Marmons, Whites, Diamond Ts – one main one and one “Brownie” – for the Browning secondary transmission. I don’t remember a real sleeper unit, ‘cuz most of these were driven by one guy. But there sure were a lot of them out in front on the highway.
Going out for dinner was a real treat, and almost a novelty in 1946. We went to the El Tavern. We went out South Virginia Street about halfway out of town, to the “Q-ne-Q” which was a real honest stainless-steel diner a block south of Dick Dimond Dodge, where my dad soon bought a Dodge sedan that I’ll tell you about some night. Dimond Dodge was about at the dead end of California Avenue next to the fire house. Another friend of my dad’s, Mr. Maffi, had a Signal Oil service station where we bought gas. His partner was Mr. Lyons.
There weren’t a lot of “family” restaurants in Reno after the war, but plenty of nightclubs downtown we’ll visit here someday. Tony’s El Patio Ballroom where all of our parents went once a month. The families often went to the Toscano Hotel’s restaurant, on Lake Street between Second and Commercial Row, where the grownups would take one little private room and the kids got another, separate.
A couple times I got to have dinner with that little red-headed girl from next door that I’ve mentioned before. Dad in the months to come would go down Second Street a few blocks by the Presto-Log factory and meet his friend Brickie Hansen at his family’s grocery store. Someday I’ll tell you about “Brickie’s”! And, there was a nice place in Sparks, a few miles east of Reno. It was a Chinese place – the Chinese Pagoda. I learned later in life that all the best Chinese restaurants on the West Coast, and maybe everywhere, were in towns where there was a lot of railroading going on 50 years before I was born!
Much is left to write about, downtown, restaurants, automobiles – come back in a few days or a week and we can all wander somewhere else in Reno in 1946. Or come back here tomorrow and we’ll have another This is Reno-style adventure. And ‘til then, be safe, huh?
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Karl Breckenridge is 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. Karl grew up in the valley and has stories from the area going back to 1945. He’s been writing for 32 years locally and loves to yak it up with friends…now sitting six feet apart.
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