I had a 50-year flashback yesterday as I watched the annual Nevada Day parade move down Carson Street. I remembered the Silver State’s 1964 centennial celebration and parade. I still have vivid memories of 1960s Carson City, when our town’s population was under 10,000.
In 1964 my late wife Consuelo and I lived on Michael Drive with our Mexican nephew, Rodolfo “Rudy-Rudy” Flores, who was a stockboy at Murdock’s Department Store, where Consuelo sold women’s clothing. Murdock’s was a retail “anchor” and store owner Roger Murdock spearheaded efforts to beautify downtown Carson. Roger and his fellow businessmen were effective civic boosters.
At that time I was working for Gov. Grant Sawyer, a moderate Democrat (these days he’d be a “Blue Dog,” like me), as the public information officer for the Nevada Gaming Commission and Gaming Control Board. In 1963, the Commission had revoked the gambling license of popular actor/singer Frank Sinatra for hosting Chicago Godfather Sam “Momo” Giancana, at North Lake Tahoe’s Cal-Neva Lodge, which Sinatra owned. As the Commission’s press spokesman, I survived a national media firestorm. Simultaneously, colorful brothel owner Joe Conforte was doing time for tax fraud at a federal prison in Washington state; the IRS is still pursuing him for unpaid taxes.
Back to the Silver State Centennial, we had a big Nevada Day parade in Carson featuring high-kicking 80-something Sade Grant and lots of horses, cowboys and politicians. So what else is new, aside from Ms. Grant? The parade’s grand marshals were the stars of the popular “Bonanza” TV show: Lorne Greene, the family patriarch; Dan “Hoss” Blocker; Michael “Little Joe” Landon, and Pernell Roberts. I never did figure out how they could herd cows in Virginia City or why “Daddy” Cartwright looked younger than his son “Hoss.” Oh well. And speaking of the Nevada Day parade and politicians, I’ve always enjoyed watching the politicos decide whether to ride horses or in cars in the parade. Back in 1964 Gov. Sawyer, who definitely wasn’t a cowboy even though he grew up in Fallon, rode in a car while Lt. Gov. Rex Bell, a fading western movie star, and up-and-coming Carson City politician Paul Laxalt rode horses. As we know, Laxalt went on to become lieutenant governor, governor, U.S. senator, and President Reagan’s “best friend.”
These days Sen. Dean Heller, of Carson City, rides a horse while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – the former “Pinky” Reid from tiny Seachlight – rides in a car when he participates in Nevada Day festivities. Today, Reid lives in a luxury hotel in Washington, D.C., so he doesn’t have room for horses.
Although Gov. Sawyer wasn’t up for reelection in 1964, I teamed-up with two fellow “Sawyer Boys,” Bob Faiss and Chris Schaller, to cheer the governor on as his car moved down the parade route. We’d run from corner to corner raising a ruckus as we went. Despite our best efforts, however, Laxalt defeated Sawyer, who was trying for a third term, in 1966. After a brief stint at the NBC/TV affiliate in Reno, Channel 4, I went to Washington to join the U.S. Foreign Service in mid-1967.
Nevada historian Patty Cafferata recently reminded me “a special lighting event was held at the Reno Arch” on New Year’s Eve, 1964, and Bill Stead started the Reno Air Races that same year. And just last week, Bob Brown, co-chair of the Nevada 150 Committee, reminded all of us why home means Nevada. “We are the people of Nevada,” he wrote, “the last vestige of the true West, the land of opportunity.” Amen!
Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, has been an adopted Nevadan since 1962.