NevadaGram #90 – Fallon is Fun City, Sidetrip to Washington DC, a Glimpse of Pyramid Lake

For a long time I’ve wanted to write an article titled “Fallon for Lovers” but I never had the gumption to go there with romance in mind. But even though the idea has slid down toward the bottom of my To Do List, it has never quite fallen off altogether.

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Photo by Max Winthrop

Fallon’s downtown.

So when I heard that the high-flying, low-slung Sacramento bar band Alkali Flats was booked into the Overland Hotel I realized this was our opportunity to get serious about having fun in Fallon.

Oh, we’ve had fun in Fallon before. When my daughter Rachel was little we happened into town when the kids from Oats School were having a parade in the costumes they’d made in class. They made such a splendid and cheerful display that for years afterward whenever a visit to Fallon was in the works Rachel would jump up and down with excitement. “Oh goody goody goody! We’re going to Fallon!” That 4th grade teacher would get into the Fallon Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

Photo by Max Winthrop

We saw this parade 30 years ago and still remember it fondly.


So would Don Bowman who was locally famous for promoting the Fallon Stampede and riding a saddle-broke steer — he probably induced more smiles than anyone in the history of Churchill County. And Squaw Tom Sanders, the wonderful story-teller who lived in and around Fallon, preserved some of Fallon’s earlier flavor in his home-cooked tales. Fallon’s literary heritage also includes poetry by Richard Brautigan, who spent a few weeks on the staff of the Fallon Eagle-Standard in the 1960’s.

Photo by Max Winthrop

Don Bowman.

Fallon’s Churchill County Museum has been a leading attraction for a generation now. It has expanded to include an annex housing artifacts including a 1912 steam roller, and The Woodliff Novelty Store, built about 1911 and containing the post office boxes from Hazen in use from 1904 to 1977. The museum store stocks more than 300 book titles relating to Nevada history, children’s books and toys, cookbooks, jewelry, and beautifully made Native American horsehair baskets and crafts. Furthermore, groups of 12 or more can schedule a 60-minute guided walking tour of historic downtown Fallon. Contact the museum: 775-423-3677

photo courtesy Michael Sykes

Photo of the Black Rock Desert from Dooby Road by Michael Sykes.

And there’s the Oats Park Art Center, an early 20th century school recently redesigned and rebuilt to contain a gallery, the 350-seat Barkley Theatre and an activity center for the Churchill Arts Council. There weren’t any theatrical performances scheduled duing our visit, but the exhibit of Michael Sykes’ photography (he runs the book store in Cedarville, up in Roop County) was a treat. There are pieces by Nevada artists from the permanent collection on exhibit also. A reception is scheduled for March 20 from 5 to 7 pm, and I’m planning to be there.

Another of Fallon’s great attractions is the corn maze created each year at Lattin Farms, where other events — Goat Days, anyone? — offer enjoyable activities throughout the year.

And Fallon is famous for its rodeos, its June-through-August Farmer’s Market and for the Hearts O’ Gold Canteloupe Festival held each Fall. All of them are popular and fun.

photo by Max Winthrop

The Overland Hotel’s dining room is decorated in classical Nevada fashion.

But are they enough to entice lovers to a romantic getaway in Fallon? Maybe not. Bliss-seeking visitors might want more; food and drink for example, and after-dark sparkle. Ask a local where to find a good martini in an intimate setting and you can watch the light go out of his eyes like the water drying up in Lake Lahontan.

Fortunately there is the Overland Hotel on

Photo by Max Winthrop

Andy Lentz was fiddling with Alkali Flats.

Center Street a block east of Maine. This century-old brick landmark is a Nevada treasure, serving

“Basque-style” dinners from 5 pm Wednesdays through Sundays and offering a full bar. The phrase “Basque Style” derives from the boarding houses and hotels that catered to Basque sheepherders taking time off from their bands of sheep in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

They served lots of hearty food at big tables, with big bottles of wine within easy reach. At the Overland you choose an entree and then enjoy the food parade. You can add side orders of tongue, sweetbreads or Rocky Mountain oysters if you want to try the sheepherder lifestyle, and

photo by Max Winthrop

Fallon: Fun City, with a smile on every face.

there are home-made desserts too. Robin’s lamb chops were the best she’s ever had.

So we were happy even before the music began, and then we got happier.

A reviewer in the Auburn paper described the Poplollys’ music: “Think Johnny Cash and June Carter locked in edgy but playful combat onstage at a honkytonk somewhere in Texas in the 1960s during a never-ending road trip.

photo by Max Winthrop

The Poplollys shared the bill with Alkali Flats.

Or the Maddox Brothers & Rose — dubbed America’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band and known now as rockabilly pioneers — gathering around one microphone to harmonize in a Central Valley radio station studio in 1938.”

Now you can add “harmonizing in the midst of an appreciative audience of Fallon’s 21st century cafe society.”

We had breakfast the next morning at Jerry’s on the asphalt strip on the west side of town. We watched in wonder over our bacon and eggs as a an exceptionally large man fought his way out of his too-small car and waddle into the restaurant. On the way home Robin gazed at me adoringly and said, “Oh my darling, I had the best lamb chop of my life and saw the fattest man of my life both in the same weekend.” We’re going back to Fallon again soon, and this time we’ll look for that martini.

Photo by Carol Foldvary-Anderson

Pyramid Lake at a winter sunset: The skies in all of Nevada are amazing. But none as the last one you see that puts you in that state of AH and wonderment that there is something else about this world that we live in that is so unexplainable and breathtaking as no words can describe. — C.F-A., Pyramid Lake

Ohmygosh look at this. It’s a collection of “travelblogs” by Howard Goldbaum, a journalism professor at UNR. There’s more here than Nevada, but the Nevada stuff — especially the Journey in Geological Time — is super.

Last October I attended a heart-warming ceremony at the old Knights of Columbus Hall in Tonopah.

An imposing mansion built in 1907 for George Bartlett, a Tonopah attorney and Nevada congressman during the first Tonopah boom, the 8,000 square foot house had served as the KC Hall for two generations. The increasing decrepitude of both the house and its tenants led to its closure and near-abandonment a few years ago.

Given the decline that Tonopah has experienced over the past several years, hopes were dim that the deterioration of the old house could be reversed.

Photo by Max Winthrop

The Bartlett House.

Enter a newly-arrived builder who purchased the structure, researched its history, and announced plans to restore it to its original glory and operate it as a bed & breakfast. The October event was the official beginning of the effort which he announced would be completed in 18 months. Several local people recounted their experiences in the old house, as residents and as neighbors. Bob Perchetti recalled how he and his boyhood friends had hauled their sleds up KC Hill and risked their lives speeding down to Main Street, where, if conditions were right, they could make a sharp left turn and glide all the way down to where the El Marques restaurant is today. In particular he remembered Jim Wolfe veering off course at full speed and crashing through the piano teacher’s big front window.

Photo by Deborah Perchetti

Minnie Perchetti has seen good times and bad in Tonopah over her years here.

His mother Minnie Perchetti broke a bottle of champagne on a rock wall near the great front door to the cheers of the happy optimists assembled. A couple of months later the entrepreneurial benefactor was in jail and the house was in worse shape than ever. Can Tonopah ever catch a break?

A Detour to Washington D.C.

Photo by Robin Cobbey

There are traces of Nevada all around the Capitol Mall, including some of the names on the Viet Nam Wall.

If you drive east on US 50 and don’t stop at the Border Inn, you can go all the way across the country (Dodge City Kansas!) to within a few miles of Washington DC. We flew, actually, pleased with the opportunity to drift with son John and his Katie through the presidential and war memorials in the Mall that had been thronged with participants at the Obama inauguration a few days before. I’d have liked to explore the many museums and archives (but not the congressional offices) for traces of Nevada, but we only had one day, and the rest of the party didn’t share my enthusiasm for Nevada minutiae. The impressive FDR Memorial was new to us, quite different from the classical Lincoln Memorial, but just as profound and powerful.
We probably hiked ten miles before settling in at Nathan’s, one of Robin’s old Georgetown favorites still going strong at Wisconsin & M Streets, where John had “the best meal of my life” and which I hereby claim for Nevada by right of discovery.

Photo by Robin Cobbey

It’s impossible to experience this homage to past times in America without feeling reminders of the present.

Thirty years ago the breaks came fast and furious. Frank Scott, who had made serious money in Las Vegas, bought the Mizpah Hotel, the iconic structure at the center of town, and restored it to more than its original glory. He planned to make it a high-end jewel-box getaway for big money gamblers, but no sooner had he completed the renovation than a mining boom struck, and Tonopah was crowded with miners and heavy equipment salesmen. And with military too, as the old Tonopah Air Base, where B-24 bomber crews had trained during WWII, was devoted to developing the stealth fighter. Tonopah was swimming in money.

Then boom turned to bust, and Tonopah has been struggling ever since. The Mizpah has been looted by a succession of owners, and the BelVada across the street, once the toniest office building in the young metropolis and long a warren of low-rent apartments, is now looted and empty too. That’s why this latest disappointment cuts old Tonopah to the bone.

Like many of Tonopah’s leading families, the Bartletts left the city as the first boom faded. They moved to Reno, buying a substantial house on Court Street where the dim lightbulb on the front porch had burned without interruption since the house was built for a railroad executive in 1904. Bartlett gave up politics for a judgeship and was fondly called “Judgie” by the thousands of happy divorcees he liberated during the heyday of the Reno divorce.

Fifty years later two of the Bartlett girls — Dorothy and Monte — were still living there, and the little light bulb over the front porch was still dimly burning — it had still never been turned off. Monte was a poet, and Dorothy was a party girl (well, I imagine that Monte attended a few parties herself). Dorothy had been a social director at the Riverside Hotel when it was a major divorce “boarding house”; her job was to keep the 6-week guests entertained for the duration of their stay. This involved a lot of alcohol, hilarity and late nights, and she was good at it — a true flapper. My friend Ken Webster and I rented an upstairs back room from them as a studio, and each morning Dorothy would drag herself up to the bathroom down the hall to put herself together for the new day. They were in their 70s then, and we liked them both a lot.

So I had a special feeling for their old home in Tonopah and feel especially low as the promise of its restoration fades.

Quick notes from beyond the mountains:

Here’s a new Las Vegas attraction I’m eager to see: The Palazzo, next-door neighbor and sister property of The Venetian, has introduced The Living Garden, and describes it this way: “a unique entertainment experience combining the beauty of nature, classical music and graceful choreography. Featuring three statue-like female performers adorned with elaborate make-up and costumes, the entertainment experience begins with a procession to the base of the cascading waterfall inside The Palazzo, where the elegant transformation from statue to living fountain evolves. They then proceed to the second floor and enter The Shoppes at The Palazzo, where they are greeted by two living vine characters. These stunning, mysterious female vines stand over nine feet tall, as they interact with shoppers and guests, posing for photos, teasing the crowd and moving with acrobatic grace and flexibility.” How in God’s name could you leave town without seeing that? The transition from statue to living fountain alone sounds miraculous, even without the 9-foot female vines! . . .

Photo courtesy Las Vegas News Bureau/Bob Brye

Hawaiian Airlines has inaugurated a new daytime flight to Las Vegas (sometimes called the Ninth Hawaiian Island), prompting our local tourism folks to dispatch a clutch of Elvises to bid the first passengers aloha as they left, and a bevy of showgirls to greet them as they landed.

The 18th Annual Mountain Oyster Fry will be held in Virginia City on March 14. Scrumptious imported New Zealand lamb testicles are prepared according to secret recipes and dispensed at $1 per taste beginning at noon in the Bucket of Blood parking lot. A St. Patrick’s Day parade also begins at noon, with dancers from the Miriam Blanchette School of Irish Dance serving as grand marshals . . . There’s also a “Sons of Erin” St. Patrick’s Day Parade & Festival at the Events Plaza in Henderson from March 12 to 15 . . . One of the many state institutions in danger in this season of fiscal drought is the Nevada State Historical Society in Reno, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs. There will be fewer staff hours the gift shop and the museum may be closed altogether. As Reno historian Karl Breckenridge writes, “The State’s budgetary problems are real. No one can be exempt; I don’t live in a dream world, we’ll all lose a little. My hope is that those who make the decisions in Carson City know of our society and

make an informed decision about its future, and at least perpetuate it in such a way that when the State again begins to flourish, as it surely will, that the Nevada Historical Society, and its parent Department of Cultural Affairs, will survive as a place where we can take our visitors and grandkids to show them the ‘way it was,’ ‘way back in 2010. Please copy this website address (http://www.karlbreckenridge.com) and send it via e-mail to your legislators (the addresses are linked from the bottom of the page). They might get more than one e-mail, and open only the first one, but they’ll know that there’s a State entity that’s been around for 105 years, and a lot of folks would like it to take the least fiscal hit possible.” . . . Heard an urban legend involving Nevada? Free sex for GI’s at our whorehouses? Underage Megabucks winners deprived of their jackpots? Naked women hunted by paying customers armed with paintball guns in Las Vegas? Great stories, but doggone it they’re not true.

Photo by Max Winthrop

St. Mary’s in the Mountains, with scaffolding.

 

Beautiful St. Mary’s in the Mountains Catholic Church in Virginia City is undergoing a $2.3 million earthquake-proofing retrofit. The church will be closed to visitors and to its congregation of 20 worshippers until August . . .

An association of more than three dozen merchants along the Truckee River in Reno sponsor a variety of

enjoyable activities in what they’ve christened “The Riverwalk District” and you can sign up for their monthly newsletter. Art Walks occur the last Thursday of every month from 4 to 9 pm, embracing one-of-a-kind art exhibits, author showcases, theater performances, live music and more. . . . The Southern Nevada Birding and Wildlife Trail Partnership is providing travel information on the US 93/95 corridors of southern Nevada, focusing on natural sites for birding and wildlife viewing in Clark, Nye, Lincoln and White Pine counties. The group is also sponsoring the first-ever birding and wildlife-watching festival in southern Nevada March 13 – 16. A celebration of all things wild in the Mojave desert, it promises days of exploring, fun and learning along the Colorado River in Laughlin. Educational seminars, informational booths, field trips and even a nature art show are planned. Check the website for agenda and registration . . .

Courtesy the Dada Motel

Silver buttons by Vagner at the Dada Motel.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority teamed with McCarran International Airport to provide the displays at the convention center providing the same flight information as the screens at the airport. This gives conventioneers the freedom to attend to all of their business on the show floor with up-to-date information to plan their arrival time at the airport. The convention center also offers SpeedCheck Advance kiosks for checking in and printing boarding passes, and Airport SpeedCheck Advance, allowing travelers to check luggage for a fee. . . . An exhibit of Nevada art, “Selections from Dada Motel” is at the Marjorie Barrick Museum on the UNLV campus through March 28, here’s a preview. There will be another show in Reno in June . . . The new ‘ski search’ feature on the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority website offers detailed information on more than 18 area ski and board resorts. Explore this site to learn more about Reno-Tahoe skiing, boarding, resorts, weather conditions, ski conditions, ski shuttles and special ski and lodging package deals.

Overheard at the Liberty Bar in Ely: “I’m not at all afraid of dying, it’s being dead that gives me the willies.”

Happy Highways,

David W. Toll

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