For many years there used to be a marvelous corridor that connected the cities of Sparks and Reno. It was called Fourth Street but it was actually old Highway 40, the only interstate here in the days prior to the freeway. This strip of road was home to a wide variety of businesses that included hotels, motels and commercial—both light and heavy—and an occasional bar and restaurant.
That the street suffered an almost terminal fate when I-80 opened years ago is a given. It degenerated from a busy channel of transport and commerce, into a rather seedy boulevard that proves still to be the most direct access between the two neighboring towns. Many of the pioneer businesses still remain in their original locations, but far more of them have disappeared –some replaced and others are just vacant lots where the dust swirls when the Washoe “zephyrs” blow.
In the mid ‘40s, while attending the University, I became most familiar with the 1.1 mile stretch of Fourth Street that began on the northeast corner of that byway and Virginia Street. There was a grand old gas station occupying a fairly small lot there that was called “Rissone’s”. From that point, somewhere between 5:30 and 6 a.m., I would meet up with the late Dale Murphy, who was also a student.
Together we would trek to two office buildings (the site is now occupied by the Twin City Surplus store). We were janitors and could whisk through the marginal chores in the two buildings in less time than it took to complete the round trip back to Rissone’s. The motivation for speed was the fact that we both had 8 a.m. classes at the U. This job paid fairly well considering the minimal time we spent at it five mornings a week, and it was a welcome addition to our monthly G. I. checks of $75.00. The “shanks’ mare” jaunt didn’t bother us as we were in our early 20s and both had had some rigorous marching training while in the military service.
Dale was a tall, aristocratic type who looked like he might have come directly off the boat from Great Britain. He had a commanding presence and carried himself in a very erect manner, befitting one of noble heritage. Actually, he was from the small town of Wells, Nevada, somewhere near the Utah border. He went on to law school and then practiced locally until the time he passed away. I still get chuckle thinking about “Duke Murphy” cleaning out the restrooms every morning.
I mentioned that some of the old places are gone now, as is Rissone’s. Former pugilist Dick Evans, who was a local character of the first water, used to have a bar several miles out on Fourth Street toward Sparks. He didn’t need a bouncer in that tough neighborhood because he delighted in personally tossing out loud mouth drunks and bullies. His bar was a favorite watering hole of legendary Nevada State Journal Editor, Ty Cobb.
Another huge establishment, Johnson Chevrolet body shop, occupied a full acre under roof almost directly across the street from Twin City. I know the dimensions are correct, because the year before Murphy and I had the “soft” job across the street. I had been steered to the Johnson facility by the University Athletic Department for a “cushy“ janitorial job. At first I thought I was being assigned one of those “winding the eight day clock” jobs that college athletes often fall into. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The truth was a two and a half hour afternoon chore that consisted of sweeping down the entire acre of concrete with a push broom and mixture of sawdust in engine oil, which was very efficient in catching up all the bits and pieces of metal and dust and dirt that was being pounded off the vehicles in for repair.
The shop people, and there must have been four or five of them, looked like beings from another planet as they ground away at the bent steel with huge grinders that gave off showers of sparks, shards of metal and lots of road dirt. Their faces were protected by huge flip down shields and their greasy work jumpsuits were covered with stains of many varieties. They would welcome me with a salute of their acetylene torches and point to huge piles of debris that they wanted me to clear away first.
As Roger Miller used to sing, “Ah, but two hours of pushing broom, buys a eight by twelve four-bit room.” No need for fancy aerobic gym equipment in those days.