An Introspective Glance At Being A Nevadan
By Johnny Gunn
As we near a milestone in Nevada’s rich and sometimes lusty history, it’s an opportunity for me to offer some introspection and maybe just a bit of circumspection, in case I let my mind wander off target. I’m well aware that I’m getting way ahead of the calendar, but that’s life. On October 31, 2014, Nevada will celebrate its being a state for 150 years The governor has named a commission that is supposed to help us celebrate this auspicious date, but I wonder just how many have taken the time to actually celebrate what we have, this grand Silver State, filled with so many twists and turns.
For instance on May 25, 2014. I will celebrate being a citizen of Nevada for fifty years, while at the same time celebrate being one half as old as the state. The old saying comes to mind here, if I knew I was going to live this long, I sure as hell would have taken better care of myself. During these fifty years Nevada has grown and grown and grown. Our rural lifestyle has been taken from many of us, replaced with a mini-California.
In 1964, it was loudly proclaimed that Nevada had more head of cattle than people, and the members of Nevada’s legislature wore more western hats than Homburgs, more western boots than shoes, and bolo ties were rich in silver and turquoise. It was also the year we lost the silver dollar, the cartwheel. Gold sold for $37 a troy ounce.
Nevada has grown in population but is not more prosperous now than it was fifty years ago. The cities affected by Interstate projects have suffered, some dramatically, and it’s still a long drive on a two lane road from Reno to Las Vegas, but with fewer stops along the way to chat with friends and knock the dust out of your teeth (Think cold beer). In 1964 distance was often measured in six-packs, every pick up had a rifle rack, and it only took a couple of road trips to make life long friends along the highways and byways.
Politics were just as rough and tumble but without the personalization that has come about recently. It was issues and ideas that dominated political debate and discussion, not the hate and vitriol that we see today. Reno had two daily newspapers, blazingly active gambling casinos, with hotels popping up like asparagus in the spring, and you didn’t vie for a buck tag, you simply picked one up.
Paydays on the ranches brought the buckaroos to town, and gamblers from California found themselves standing next to a real cowboy, not one dreamed up by Hollywood. Horses often were moved in the back of pick up, which is a sight I haven’t seen in too many years. Horses often weren’t trailer broke, they were trained to jump in the back of a pick up and hold on tight. Same way we taught our kids.
I’ve been one lucky young son, being able to live in some pretty exotic places over my three quarters of a century. I was born in Santa Cruz, went to high school on Guam, served my country for a time in Puerto Rico, and have spent half a century as a citizen of the Silver State. In Nevada, I’ve had homes in Virginia City, Gold Hill, Jacks Valley, Carson City, Middlegate, Manhattan, Silver Peak and Reno. It just isn’t time to settle down, quite yet.
I’ve done mustanging, won races on top of crazy camels, worked underground in more than half a dozen mines, worked on the air for some of the finest broadcasting companies in the state, published my own weekly newspaper, and milked goats that have given me some of the sweetest milk, cheese, butter, and ice cream available. Nevada has been kind to this young son.
When I met my lovely bride, Patty, she had just moved to Reno from Orange County. Talk about change of scenery. She loves road trips just as much as I, and we have been on so many over the years, but on some of our first excursions together, she commented, “Do you know everybody in this state?” It seems that way sometimes, but on reflection, it was simply a case of arriving in a town and looking for a cold beer, and of course, knowing the bartender or owner. You apparently don’t do it that way in Orange County.
One of Patty’s favorite places is Bruno’s in Gerlach. On our first time there, we had left our little rancho in Cold Springs, driven north to Alturas, then over the pass to Cedarville, and south to Gerlach. We went into the bar, got that first beer, and told the bartender we wanted to rent a room.
He said, “Sure, take such and such number,” and handed me the key. A guy behind me said, “Hey, that’s my room.” Seems the maid thought he had left, cleaned the room and made it available to rent. Bartender, not flinching, said, “OK, fine, then take such and such room,” and handed me another key.
We got our stuff out of the truck and walked into the new room only to find it too was an occupied room. The bartender never once got flustered as he handed me a third room key. This one turned out to be empty, and Patty wedged a chair against the door when we finally hit the bed that night. “Just in case,” she said.
We can’t go east without a stop at the Wig Wam in Fernley, Highway 50 means stops at Middlegate and Eureka. Right next to the Eureka Opera House is a little saloon, yes, Virginia, it’s a Clamper Bar, and one New Year’s Eve we got involved in a karaoke party, and it only takes a couple to get me up singing (squalling) through numbers no one remembers.
Road trips today usually mean too much time on an Interstate, going too fast to enjoy the broad and fascinating land called Nevada. The old two lane roads, 50, 95, 93, 6, 241, are far more interesting, and lead to wonderful places. We spent two nights in Pioche a couple of years ago and I had told Patty about the colorful history of the town, with gangsters and robberies and murders on an almost daily menu. When we arrived, we found the local casino closed. It had been robbed of some $20,000 the day before.
The café there is one of the best in Nevada. We had rib eye steaks that you could cut with a fork and dripped in flavor. They came from a local ranch and were USDA Prime. You can’t get that anywhere anymore. We ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner there for two days. The hotel rooms sit just above the saloon with a rickety old staircase leading to the upped floor. Just like in the movies, only as real as real can be.
Well, it seems, I did get off target a bit here. There is a tendency today to shunt aside what is so special about Nevada in favor of what you would find just about anywhere else in the country. Chain this and chain that. No more Liberty Belle Saloon. No more Kiah’s Squeeze In. No more Harold’s Club. And the characters. No more Gordon Lane. No more Tiny Carlson. No more Grant Sawyer. No more Bill Raggio. And, one of my favorite politicians of all time, Jim Slattery simply can’t be replaced in the 21st Century.
I’m afraid this Silver Lady has grown up, and I’m not sure she will dance and sing as she has for 150 years, but I am sure that I’m proud to have become a Nevadan. I’m a year early, and I don’t give a damn. Happy birthday, old girl.