NevadaGram #79 – On the Road, 1908, 1909 and 2008

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On the anniversary of The Great 1908 New York to Paris Auto Race Robin and I put on our goggles and dashed south to join in the festivities. Saturday March 22 was devoted to a re-enactment of the exciting day a hundred years ago when the Thomas Flyer came careening through the sagebrush into Tonopah, well ahead of its European rivals, paused briefly and then sped off to Goldfield.

Photographer unknown
The Thomas Flyer was photographed in Tonopah on March 22, 1908 on its way to Goldfield, San Francisco, Siberia and Paris.

The car had been churning through the sagebrush on its muddy way from Ely when it came to Twin Springs Ranch in late afternoon of March 20. There, while crossing a creekbed, six teeth broke off the drive pinion and the transmission case cracked. The driver, George Schuster, rented a horse at the ranch and headed off in the dark for Tonopah, 75 miles away. After a few hours he was met by four men who had set in a Simplex out to see what was holding up the Thomas, and he rode to town with them. There they solved the parts problem in the good old Nevada way: “From a doctor’s Thomas we borrowed the parts to repair ours,” he wrote in his memoir of the race, “and drove it onto Tonopah at 11 pm that night. Everybody in town waited up and rang fire bells.”

Photo by Jim Galli
Tonopah, 2008.

A parade of Tonopah cars escorted the Flyer to Goldfield, then the leading city of the state, where “there was a riotous welcome with cowboys and miners firing pistols. The street was jammed with people when we arrived, and it was a crowd such as could only be found in a western mining town. After a banquet we were on our way again toward Rhyolite.”

Photo by Max Winthrop
The celebration was enanced by numerous culinary delights, home-made and otherwise.

The 2008 centennial celebration began with a Friday night dinner at the Northern Saloon & Cafe in Goldfield, and continued the next morning with a photo shoot on Brougher Avenue in Tonopah, just where the Flyer had been photographed a century before. Noted photographer Jim Galli arranged the fashionably anachronistic bystanders in an approximation of the original photo taken in 1908. For authenticity’s sake he used his 1908 ish Eastman Improved #2 8X10 camera with a vintage Rochester Optical Co. 15 1/2 inch lens. The original Flyer could not be spared for the event, but a 1910 Cadillac pickup truck made a persuasive stand-in.

Photo by Jim Galli
Richie Clyne’s meticulously restored 1910 Thomas Flyer stood in for the original in Goldfield.

And no sooner had the moment been captured, than everybody drove to Goldfield and did it all over again. This time the photos were posed outside the Goldfield Fire Station, and attracted an even larger crowd of booted and bonneted participants, as well as a beautifully restored 1910 Thomas Flyer that was once a part of Bill Harrah’s collection, and described as his personal favorite.

photo by Joi Davis
Photographer Jim Galli

Once again Jim Galli squeezed the bulb to open the shutter of his 1908 Eastman camera, and this time some of the more exuberant models fired off their pistolas.

After that, Lady Loftis took off her clothes. She appeared on the stage of the Goldfield Community Center fully clothed in the high style of 1908, and then, before an enthralled audience, she disrobed down to her bloomers, providing an interesting and edifying commentary as she progressed.

Photo by Max Winthrop
The celebration continued late at Goldfield’s Santa Fe Saloon.

The celebration continued late into the night at the Northern, the Santa Fe and other Goldfield Saloons, conviviality and hilarity combining to complete an unforgettable day. It was a modest homespun celebration, small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, but its sincerity and simplicity made it enormously enjoyable, in the same way that home cooking can produce a more satisfying meal than a gourmet chef, because it’s about more than the food. (Which reminds me: there are two Memorial Day celebrations coming up for you to keep in mind, one at Tonopah and one at Gold Point. Mark your calendar and watch for details in the April Trip Report.)

Photo by Max Winthrop
Alice Ramsey came through Nevada on her historic ride.
Photo courtesy John Ton
This mural depicting Alice’s drive by John Ton is at Sierra and Liberty streets in Reno.

That was Nevada’s big automotive event in 1908. And it was the very next year that a recent Vassar graduate named Alice Huyler Ramsey became the first woman to drive a car across America. On June 9 she set out from 1930 Broadway in Manhattan in a brand new bright green Maxwell 30.

For two months she, along with two sisters-in-law and another female friend (none of whom could drive a car), bounced and sputtered across the USA, crossing Nevada via what’s now US 50 — with a detour through Rawhide — and arriving in San Francisco amid great fanfare on August 10.

In the book she wrote years later, ”Veil, Duster and Tire Iron” (recently republished as Alice’s Drive”), she recalled an experience in Nevada:

as the women chugged along a pair of ruts through the sagebrush they saw a group of Indians racing toward them on horseback and heard what they thought were war whoops. ”I could almost feel the color drain from my face,” she wrote. ”I had read — not too long ago — about Indians having attacked people in the Western United States.” Then a jack rabbit jumped frantically across the road, barely ahead of its pursuers, who galloped after it without a second look at Ramsey.

They visited Tex Rickard in Ely, and stayed at the Riverside Hotel in Reno. “Good driving has nothing to do with sex,” she said years later. “It’s all above the collar.” An identical 1908 Maxwell is being prepared for a recreation of her momentous drive next year.

Robin and I recently made a 1400-mile journey of our own through the sagebrush, around the horn from Gold Hill to Laughlin and home again, via US 95, US 93 and I-80 as I’m updating The Complete Nevada Traveler for a new edition. Here are some of the discoveries (and rediscoveries) we made along the way:

Photo by Max Winthrop
The Chapala Supermercado in Yerington is always in party mode. At the back of the store you will find a spectacular meat counter and a tiny 3-table deli where you can buy a burrito worth celebrating. They are as big as footballs and truly magnifico. Hint: al pastor.

Yerington, already renowned for Dini’s Lucky Club, the Casino West and El Superior Mexican restaurant on Bridge Street, now has another culinary shrine: the Supermercado Chapala on Main Street across from the Lyon County Court House. The meat counter and tiny deli in the back are worth the drive all by themselves.

Hawthorne, famous for the El Cap, also has Maggie’s Cafe which is better than good and where you can buy a fresh-baked pie to take down the road for about $9. Henry Wong’s Chinese Fast food is another good bet, especially if you’re staying in town and want a motel room feast in front of the tv.

The big news in Tonopah is that the Chamber of Commerce is being revived and is open to provide visitor information. Turn west at Otteson’s Turquoise Shop, the Chamber office is in the Convention Center two short blocks up the street. Actually, Otteson’s is new too, and well worth a visit to see the treasures unearthed from Lone Mountain.

Goldfield, viewed from the cemetery.

Goldfield‘s big news is still the opening of The Northern Saloon & Cafe, already going strong next door to the Mozart Club.

Beatty‘s Burro Inn has been scraped away replaced by the new Death Valley Inn, and the venerable Exchange Club is now a hardware store. Yes, I said hardware store. Go figure.

Where Am I?
Photo by Max Winthrop
Send an e-mail if you know, we’ll look around for another prize. The answer will appear in the next Trip Report.

The casino at Indian Springs has new owners in April, and major changes are in the wind. None of them, fortunately, will affect Auntie Moe’s Trading Post, the eclectic shop packed with Native American artifacts that’s become one of our favorite shopping venues. If you stop at the casino to see what’s new, be sure to stop in the store and see what’s old.

Photo by Max Winthrop
The answer to our Where Am I?quiz in the previous Trip Report is: You’re on the River Walk in Laughlin, just north of the River Palms; here’s how it looks in daylight. The winner was a long-time subscriber from Findlay, Ohio who enjoys Laughlin as much as I do, and our friends at the Laughlin Visitor Center sent him some bodacious prizes!

In Laughlin the high point occured in the upstairs showroom at Don Laughlin’s Riverside, where the Smothers Brothers were booked in for a week. It was like a visit with old friends. The young iconoclasts have white hair now, and their signature bits (“Mom always liked you best!”) might seem predictable, but those were the bits we loved 40 years ago, and we still love them. We love Tommy as YoyoMan, we love Dick’s supercilious attitude, and we love the fact that they’re still bringing it after all these years. They skewered Dick Cheney the way they used to skewer Dick Nixon. “We Are Marching to Pretoria,” they sang, and we felt like marching along with them.

Photo by Max Winthrop
The beach at Big Bend State Recreation Area south of Laughlin.

New in Laughlin: Big Bend State Recreation Area, about 5 miles south of Harrah’s, is ours newest state park. It opened in 1996, and its 24 campsites were in the final stages of upgrade when we stopped in. There’s a $5 fee for day use: hanging out at the beach, using the picnic facilities, watching the beavers, coyotes, roadrunners and other wildlife. You’ll pay $10 to use the boat ramp, and, if you’re lucky enough to find one available, $25/day for a campsite. There are 24 sites tucked into the foliage along the river, all with whole hookups.
We spend two nights at El Rancho Boulder Motel in Boulder City, which I recommend, along with the Boulder Dam Hotel, to anyone visiting this attractive little city. We also had the good luck to wander into the Bistro Cafe, right on US 93 on Boulder City’s west side. Excellent! And the new Boulder City Chamber of Commerce office, which is a good first stop for any first-time visitor, is right at the center of the historic district.

Photo by Max Winthrop
The signature waterfall at the Casa Blanca Resort in Mesquite.
Happy landings at Heavenly

Mesquite continues to evolve away from its Mormon farm town roots into a visitor’s dream come true, especially if the dream involves golf. Here’s Mesquite’s story in a nutshell: the new Wal-Mart is open, and the Chalet Cafe, a living diarama/time capsule from the 1940s, is closed. There are four big casinos and one non-gambling hotel with 2200 rooms, five golf courses already in play and a sixth one building at the new Sun City Mesquite. I-15 provides a steady flow of visitors, but

Mesquite’s main markets are the Las Vegas Valley and the nearby parts of Utah, Arizona and Colorado. “Walk into Las Vegas a stranger and you’ll be a stranger all day,” a local marketer told me. “Here we’re low key and relaxed, friendly and service-oriented. We keep everything good and inexpensive, and that’s why so many of our visitors come back again and again.”

We arrived in Wells the day before the earthquake. We learned the sad news that there will be no more Heffeweisen (wheat beer) from Ruby Mountain Brewing Co., but the good news is that the brewery survived the quake intact despite being right at the epicenter.

Quick notes from beyond the mountains: An exhilarating new experience awaits at Lake Tahoe, where Heavenly Valley Ski Resort has added the ZipRider. To get to it, take the 12-minute Heavenly Gondola ride 2.4-miles up the mountainside to 9,156 feet. There you hop onto the Tamarack Express to the zip line take-off deck 525 feet higher up the mountain. This is where you make the 60-mph 80-second thrill ride 3,100 feet down a cable back down to the top of the Gondola. Like the gondola ride, the Heavenly Flyer is open year-round . . . Ely’s Renaissance Village will be open on Saturdays from June through September with a Farmers Market in August and September . . . Here’s a new Reno blog from the News & Review . . . Death Valley‘s spring bloom of wildflowers is already underway on the valley floors and climbing into the higher elevations. The winter rains have been such as to inspire the vegetation into another vivaceous display this year . . .

Cruising Lake Mead on the Desert Princess

On our Round the Horn drive through the sagebrush we took a cruise on Lake Mead. It was a cool February day, and we saw a distant rainsquall over the faraway Arizona shore.

April in Laughlin means River Run Weekend. The largest Harley-Davidson run in the West will include stunt shows, the HD lifestyle tradeshow, custom bike shows and the Miss River Run contest, concerts and more . . . The Press Club of Atlantic City gave first prize in the “Magazine Affiliated Online Journalism” contest, calling the site “an in-depth portal giving a pictorial sense of place and possibilities with an online magazine flair” . . . After winning $500 on a different machine, Susan Kurth, a visitor from Texas, pressed the ‘go’ button of a Wheel of Fortune quarter MegaJackpot slot machine at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe earlier this month. “It’s almost as if I felt the machine wink at me,” she excitedly recalled. “I heard one click, then another, and then I heard music. I realized I had hit the progressive jackpot and all I could think of was finding my husband to share the exciting moment!” Kurth and her husband have been returning to Lake Tahoe and Harrah’s for more than 40 years. “My husband is planning to retire soon,” she said, “and it’s been our dream to build a retirement home in Colorado,” said Kurth. “He’s been telling me that my dream home would cost millions, and here they are!” The machine paid $6,714,119 . . . There’s a nice article on Silver City in the Reno paper . . . Virginia City will celebrate Hippie Days Again beginning with a showing the movie, The Life & Times Of The Red Dog Saloon, at Piper’s Opera House 7:30 pm on Friday April 4th ($5 contribution to the Piper’s operational funds). On Saturday a Peace Parade traipses down C Street at noon, and after the parade, the local saloons will host ‘60s bands. That night Piper’s Opera House will feature Dan Hick’s & The Hot Licks, (7:30pm $25). . . .

Overheard at the Shipwrecked Bar at the River Palms at Laughlin: “Love your enemies in case your friends turn out to be a bunch of bastards.”

Happy Highways,

David W. Toll



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