NevadaGram #158 – A Visit to Winnemucca, Comstock Mining Update


When we planned last week’s visit to Winnemucca we determined to try nothing but new restaurants and lodgings. No Griddle for breakfast. No Martin Hotel for lunch. No Ormachea’s for dinner. No Tortilla Factory any time. No Winnemucca Inn, no Winner’s Inn, no Scott’s Shady Court.

Frontier RV Park, Winnemucca Nevada
Frontier RV Park, Winnemucca

And so we discovered what I still call the Mancamp Motel even though I know it’s really the New Frontier RV Park, way out on Winnemucca Boulevard at the east edge of town and in plain view from the freeway where we booked a Park Model — unit? bungalito? cabinette?

There are 114 perfectly level pull-through trailer spaces with 15-20 occupied, 130 identical Triplex units, all empty at present but holding 390 souls when full, and 23 identical Park Models of which six or seven were occupied, everything arranged on a strict geometric grid. There is also a large Community Center with showers and laundry and a convenience store to come, everything spic and span, plus a Wingers Grill & Bar doing a good business at the entrance to the property. mancamp triplexes, Winnemucca Nevada

It was built last year as a ManCamp, currently untenanted but with a deal pending with a large mining company for as many of the units as it wants, and up to half the RV spaces, leaving 57 available for the traveling public. In the meantime, the property is being operated as a motel, with the Park Models being the top of the line. Ours was #13, at the end of Road F.

Shorty at the ManCamp
Shorty’s right at home.

Despite the hundreds of young trees — locusts, crab apples and ornamental plums — the visual impact of square corners and sharp edges persisted as we drove up. But once inside #13 it’s quite different. mancampalley200x300

This is the equivalent of a small suite in a modern hotel. There is a bedroom with a small closet, a shower/toilet/sink bathroom, full kitchen with a big fridge, and living room, everything brand new and meticulously tended. The mining company will use these for higher-echelon employees.

Oh, and did I mention that the daily rate during this interim period is $60? What’s not to like? We had dinner at Wingers (all thumbs up) and retired early to rest up for the next day in town, which begins at Delizioso, one of the top 10 coffee houses in the state — no, the world — located in the next block west of the Griddle and open at 5 am. Also within the charmed circle between the Griddle and Delizioso are the tasteful gift shop Goodnight Irene and the thoughtfully stocked wine bar Bella Grazia. This two block stretch on the north side of Winnemucca Boulevard is a major triumph of civilization.

Our visit coincided with the preparations for the great Tri-County Fair held over Labor Day weekend and the town was in a festive mood. Our emphasis on the new broke down at the end of our first afternoon when the mood overtook us and we had picon punches at the Martin. It wasn’t lunch, which we usually have there when we’re in town, but not new either. The effort collapsed completely the next day when we had lunch at the Third Street Bistro, an old favorite that proved irresistible after a demanding morning. I’m glad we did.

The Humboldt Museum

Mastodon skull, Humboldt Museum, WinnemuccaThe Humboldt Museum is a very interesting stop to make when you’re in town. It has two great attractions: the Stoker Collection of antique cars and trucks, and the enormous mastodon skull with its curling tusks. New Native American and Basque exhibits are currently being readied, and when the city finishes paving the street outside, the main entrance will be moved to the north side of the second floor where the mastodon is. The downstairs entrance will then lead into a closed-off courtyard of historic structures.

But we also discovered — in addition to Wingers — the Restauran El Mono on East Winnemucca Boulevard before it makes the turn toward the Fairgrounds. This was described to us as perhaps the most authentic Mexican food in town, and it was a very personal enterprise when we visited: one woman taking orders, cooking the food, ringing up the sales and wiping down the tables. I noticed some disparaging comments about the service on Yelp or someplace similar, as if the most authentic Mexican restaurant in Winnemucca should be run like a Denny’s. We liked it.

The theme for some community profiles are easy to define — “Sparks, City of Mystery” and “Fallon is for Lovers” are obvious examples — but Winnemucca doesn’t lend itself to such easy definitions.

It’s at a crossing of the Humboldt River first called Gravelly Ford by the early travelers along the emigrant trail. Ir was renamed Frenchman’s Ford and later re-renamed for the Paiute chief One Mocassin.

Frenchman's Ford on the Humboldt River
Frenchman’s Ford on the Humboldt River

Winnemucca was two towns for a long time, the first right down by the river itself where the stockmen held sway and then another one higher up the hill to the south after the railroad came through in 1869.

Bridge Street Winnemucca
Bridge Street in the 1920s

With one big astonishing exception, Winnemucca history is basically drama-free except for the drama that is common to every human community, with squabbles, vendettas, competitions and quarrels in abundance along with the generosity and kindness humans are occasionally capable of, but none of it of any great consequence outside Humboldt County.

Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch
The Wild Bunch in their new finery, supposedly bought with Winnemucca money. That’s Butch seated on the right, Sundance on the left.

The Great Exception occurred on the morning of September 19, 1900, when Butch Cassidy’s Hole-in-the-Wall Gang saddled their horses at the livery stable where they’d been resting up for a few days, and robbed the First National Bank. They rode out of town in a hail of bullets, carrying $2,000 in gold coins and got away clean; read more about it here. Winnemucca has been talking about it ever since, partly because there hasn’t been much else to talk about.

That is not a criticism. Far from it. As a resident of Gold Hill where a junior mining company is diligently destroying the Virginia City National Historic Landmark, I yearn for drama-free surroundings, the quieter and duller the better.

pumpkinkid200x300One welcome addition to the Winnemucca calendar is the October opening of the Lazy P Adventure Farm at 8280 Grass Valley Road, which orchestrates an entertaining Fall Farm Festival every Saturday and Sunday in October. Admission is free, but some activities require tickets. The corn mazes, for example, occupy 6 acres, and there are two of them, one for little kids and one that welcomes all challengers. Admission is $7 for ages 13 and up, $4 for ages 4-12 and there’s even a Flashlight Corn Maze from 6-10pm (non-haunted, last ticket sold at 9pm, same admission). 2014 corn maze, Lazy P Adventure Farm, Winnemucca NevadaThere’s a Pumpkin Patch, a Petting zoo and lots of fun stuff for kids to do — demonstrations, entertainment and good food. A marvelous playground for the grandchildren. Every Saturday and Sunday in October, plus November 1st.

Ralph WhitworthStill seeking a profile theme for Winnemucca. How about City of Broken Dreams, spun around the Ralph Whitworth story? You might think of Ralph Whitworth as karmic payback for Butch Cassidy’s raid.

He was a kid who grew up in Winnemucca, was gifted with a college scholarship by a local friend, went to worked for T. Boone Pickens and ‘made good in a big way’, as we used to say. He came back to his old home town a shrewd investor and he donated a million dollars to the county school system. Little Red Wagon

Then he began planning “America’s Car Collection” and bought nearly 200 cars — movie cars, muscle cars, street rods, kustom kars, dragsters — the famous “Little Red Wagon” among them —almost all of them American cars of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.I told the beginning of this heartwarming story in NevadaGram #67 dated March 2007.

Winnemucca Nevada Police DepartmentThe end of the story dribbled out over the next couple of years as the markets that produced Ralph’s millions tanked. Construction of the Exhibit Building was postponed and then quietly cancelled. The Restoration Shop, with offices and gift shop at the entrance was closed and then sold to the City of Winnemucca to become the Police Department headquarters. The new Candlewood Suites hotel was built on the site for the Exhibit Hall, erasing the last trace of Ralph’s big dream. With the dream went Winnemucca’s best chance to become a destination in its own right, instead of a rest stop on the way to somewhere else.

Comstock Mining Update

At its meeting of August 21 the Storey County Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of Comstock Mining Inc’s request for amendments to its SUP. The issue will come before County Commissioners McBride, Gilman and Sjolvangen who are poised to approve it. That will mark the end of Gold Hill as a living community.

Here is a recap of recent activity.

Corrado De Gasperis, CEO of CMI charged before the Storey County Planning Commission that there was “evil intent for us to break the law” when the company was red-tagged for trespassing, that events had been “orchestrated” to shut the company down, and that the company had been “discriminated against”, apparently by the BLM. Classic paranoia? Or merely another in the endless string of complaints, after which he always adds “But we don’t complain.” (Watch for it)

What they’re saying about us: The San Francisco Chronicle stopped for dinner in Eureka and The New York Times went off the eaten track in Las Vegas. GigaOm: A solar energy producer in Churchill County is another indicator of a bright future for Nevada. “Apple built its data center in northern Nevada, partly to tap into these types of clean power sources. Tesla is looking at a spot just outside of Reno for its massive battery factory, and plans to use significant renewable energy. All of a sudden, Reno and the surrounding areas — long depressed and associated with casinos — find themselves at the center of an emerging clean energy tech explosion.” Overheard at Pietro’s Ristorante in Sparks: “Don’t be afraid to take a big step, Carlos. You can’t cross a chasm in two jumps.” Brief Notes from Beyond the Mountains: Virginia City‘s Camel Races take place September 5-7 in the historic community. The races originated with a tall tale from a newspaper man, and here we are all these years later and still living up to the legend — a demonstration of the power the mainstream press once wielded. Gates open at 10 am and races start at noon each day . . . Virginia City‘s Silverland Hotel failed to sell at the recent auction (minimum bid $5 million) and is now being offered for $3 million, no auction required . . . The Delta Saloon on C Street in Virginia City has a new owner, the first non-Petrini to sign the checks there since Dominic Petrini sold his share of the El Capitan in Hawthorne in 1946 and came to Virginia City to buy the Delta. Son Angelo served a term in the state Assembly before devoting full time to the family business.

Five Years Ago in the NevadaGram

A few weeks back Robin and I fed the chickens early and headed for Carson City where we went nightclubbing. Yes, nightclubbing in Carson City.

In the five years since this was written, the popular B’Sghetti’s was replaced by the even more popular Sassafrass, which is now moving to a new location and the future of Plan B is uncertain.

We found our way to B’Sghetti’s (on Carson Street in the heart of town), a good restaurant despite its name, but instead of the bar or the dining room, we descended into the Plan B MicroLounge.

June Joplin at Plan B, Carson City
June Joplin at Plan B

It was dimly lighted, with polka dots of light wandering across the walls. Maybe 50 people sat around the room, silent, while June Joplin stood in the spotlight, singing sultry. Bob Reid was in the darkness behind her, laying down lily pads with his keyboard for June to skip across, with drummer Jeffrey Scott setting the pace and Speedy Garfin pulling her along with clarinet, saxophone and flute solos right out of the jazzmaster’s playbook.

June and her talented pals get together from time to time to enchant the locals at Plan B. See you there. But you don’t have to wait! Right now in the privacy of your own home or office you can put on your sparkles, mix yourself a martini, turn the lights down low and [AnythingPopup id=”1″]Read the whole thing here

Reno‘s Great Reno Balloon Race, September 5-7, is the largest

free hot air ballooning event in the world, with more than 150,000 spectators expected if the weather is good. During three days in early September you can look up into the Reno skies and see a rainbow of hot air balloons soaring about. From its beginning in 1982 with just 20 balloons, The Great Reno Balloon Race now takes flight with up to 100 balloons each year. The “starting line” is at Rancho San Rafael Park . . . On Monday, September 8 at 7:30-9pm you can take a moonlit walk and learn about the history of the Washoe Valley on an easy one mile round-trip hike to the gazebo on the Deadman’s Creek trail at Washoe Valley State Park. The moon will be at its “lunar perigee,” meaning it is at its closest point to the earth, also known as a “super full moon.” Reservations are required and are limited to 30 participants. Call 775-687-4319 or e-mail to attend ($7/vehicle entrance fee) . . .

Bluenose the bicycle at Battle Mountain Nevada
Yes, that’s a bicycle and it’s burning up the highway.

During the week of September 8-13 cyclists from around the world will gather on SR305 south of Battle Mountain for the 15th consecutive year of racing on what is arguably the straightest, flattest, and smoothest road surface in the world. The 4,619ft (1,408m) altitude road allows riders an acceleration zone of 5 miles, enabling them to reach their maximum velocity before being timed over a 200 meter distance. The section of the road used for this event was repaved in 2009 with a smooth surface specially prepared for human powered racing by the Nevada Department of Transportation . . .

Ten Years Ago in the NevadaGram

Riley GrannanThe other day there came to me a ripple out of old Nevada: “A friend of mine bought my Grandfather’s old home and tore the old house down. It had been empty for some time. They found a box of old receipts dating back to 1889 and in the box was an article titled “RILEY GRANNAN’S LAST ADVENTURE”. It has no date on it, but you can tell it is very old. It consists of four typed pages and is the same as the EULOGY FOR A GAMBLER that I got off the internet. Can you help me out with any information? R.C., Boyce, Louisiana As I wrote to him, Riley Grannan was one of a small number of celebrated “sportsmen” (i.e. racetrack gamblers) of the 1890s — Diamond Jim Brady was another — whose exploits were reported in the newspapers of the time. He was famous for the size of his bets and the strength of his nerve, but late in 1907 he was tapped out broke in San Francisco. Bankrolled by friends, he moved on to Goldfield, then a bright spot on the Nevada map. When nothing presented itself there, he joined the rush to Rawhide, where he bought a saloon and gambling house called Moss’s Corner.

Read the whole thing here

Elko‘s RV Parks are full and lodgings are close to it as the uptick in mining has brought a new influx of workers and their families to town . . . On Friday September 12 at St. Gall Catholic Church, 1343 Centerville Lane, Gardnerville, Toccata orchestra and chorus will perform Faure’s Requiem, Grieg Piano Concerto with Ann LaRose performing plus Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with nationally known, Elizabeth Pitcairn. Advance tickets $25; $28 at door, Students $5 . . .

McAvoy Layne is the Ghost of Mark Twain
McAvoy Layne is the Ghost of Mark Twain.

The Ghost of Mark Twain (aka McAvoy Layne) will be the guest of honor at a fundraising dinner at the Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park in Minden on September 13, details here . . . The Ghost will also haunt the stage of the Eureka Opera House on Friday, September 19, and half of eastern Nevada is planning to be there . . . The other half will migrate to Winnemucca where a 45th birthday party is also scheduled for September 19 and running through the weekend. It will be 45 years to the day since Joe Mackie unveiled his new Winners Inn in 1969 after a major multi-million dollar remodel. The property had opened as the Sonoma Inn on May 27, 1947 and remodeling began in April 1969, and since opening day the Winners has never locked its doors. For the celebration details check out the Winners’ Facebook page . . . Jacobs Family Berry Farm in Carson Valley has 300 lbs of frozen berries for sale in 2-lb bags, plus jams and jellies and more fruit still to pick . . .

Doodads' Downhill Roller, Silver City
Doodads’ Downhill Roller

Silver City‘s Doodads Emporium is sponsoring the first annual “Silver City, Nevada Invitational Downhill Derby” on September 20 from 1 to 4 pm. The Derby will include a contest for best art soapbox cars, plus an “invitation-only” downhill gravity car timed race and a public arts fair in the town park (participation info: 775-847-0424) . . . On September 24th, the Broadway-style musical revue “The Magical Mystic Music Shoppe” will take you on a musical adventure from the swinging songs of the Roaring 20’s to the pop hits of today at the Sanders Family Winery in Pahrump . . . St. Augustine's Catholic Church, Austin NevadaSt. Augustine’s Church in Austin will celebrate a Grand Opening as Austin’s Cultural Center on September 27 . . . The Candy Dance in Genoa is on the last full weekend of September each year. Thus the dates for the 94th Annual Candy Dance Faire are Saturday and Sunday, September 27-28, 2014, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is a per vehicle parking fee in designated lots, with free shuttles to and from: Foothill Road south of Genoa, Genoa Lane east of Genoa, Jacks Valley Road north of Genoa — all $5 — and free parking in Minden at the Carson Valley Inn with $3 shuttle during faire hours on Saturday and Sunday. A classic Nevada celebration. . . . Parting ShotMt. Trego, Black Rock Desert Nevada Seen in just about every other car commercial. Train tracks run along base, Trego Hot Springs/Ditch along tracks, engineers hoping for a glimpse. Frog Hot Springs just south, the high road to Winnemucca through Sulfur, the back road into Blue Wing. The whisper of emigrant wagon trains to the north, most people walking across the hot alkali desert, those who could still walk, gold in their eyes, a sinking feeling in their hearts, High Rock Canyon still to come. But then: Surprise Valley! — Michael Sykes, Floating Island Bookstore, Cedarville, Nevada (Roop County)



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