A trip back in time to Doyle’s Meat Market in Truckee
Special to the Sierra Sun
From 1945 to 1979, “Doyle the butcher,” was the smiling face behind the counter at Doyle’s Meat Market on Truckee’s main street.
Since Doyle McGwinn was the only butcher in town he was mostly referred to as “Doyle the butcher.”
In post-World War II America, when red meat was still a bit of a luxury, being the butcher in town was an elevated distinction. But Doyle distinguished himself in many other ways. He invested in Truckee, had a helping hand for needy families, and a friendly ear for residents during hard times.
“I know he gave meat to people when they could not afford it,” said Judy Waggoner, 72, McGwinn’s daughter. “I remember there would be what our family called ‘the turkey fight,’ most Thanksgivings because my father would end up giving the best turkeys to other families. It would make my Mom mad and there would be quite the fight over that every year,” she laughed.
“People still come up to me at Tahoe-Truckee class reunions and tell me stories about how much my father helped them. I knew he helped a lot of people, but I guess I was surprised at how many he helped. Anyone who came to his meat counter was always greeted with his big Irish smile.”
She said her father was a hard worker, something she noted was a sign of the times in Truckee.
“You had to be tough to survive in Truckee,” she said. “The snow made it hard, but the kids loved it. A lot of them skied up at the old Hilltop ski area (just south of town across the river) with just a rope tow. Kids would even take their skis to school and ski at recess.”
Snow was not always a blessing. The town was cut off for weeks during a storm in 1952.
That was the winter 200 passengers were stuck for three days in a snowbound Southern Pacific Railway train above Donner Lake. But travel and tourism opened up more for Truckee after Interstate 80 was completed in 1964. McGwinn provided meat for highway construction crews and also for events during the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley.
The McGwinn family has deep roots in Truckee. Those roots go from the turn-of-last century McGwinn house listed on Truckee’s historic directory, and right up to California Highway Patrolman Alex Pereira. He is McGwinn’s grandson who has lived in Truckee for two years and patrol’s highways around town. His wife, Stephanie, is the president of the Teacher and Parent Association of the Tahoe Expedition Academy where their daughter Averi, 12, is a student. Waggoner lives in Napa but visits her son often in Truckee.
“Truckee was a beautiful place to grow up,” Waggoner said. “My dad had horses and I would ride a lot. My sister and I would also go along when he took the boat out on Donner Lake or fished in the Truckee River. Our house was right across from the river and he would get up real early to fish. If he caught a fish, he would bring it home to my mom (Althea). She would cook it for breakfast and he would still make it to the market on time. He was always on time because he ran the market by himself. I don’t remember him ever being sick.”
She said McGwinn was very loyal to Truckee businesses and made it a point to buy locally. He invested in Truckee properties until he died in 1997 in Reno at 81. His obituary in the Sierra Sun noted, “Mr. McGwinn enjoyed the High Sierra lifestyle, skiing, fishing, boating and horseback riding.”
Waggoner said her father worked 10 hours a day, six days a week at the butcher shop, but also managed his Old Town Properties investments.
“He was very industrious and read a lot of investment books,” she said. “He was an army butcher during the war and when he got home in 1945 he bought Truckee Meats on Main Street.” It became Doyle’s Meat Market at the rear of Tonini’s Market (later Ponderosa Grocery). Today, Best Pies is where the market operated.
GOOD OL’ DAYS
Other businesses Waggoner remembered from old Truckee were: Bank of America, Good Fellows Café, Truckee Mercantile, the U.S. Post Office (later moved to street behind main), the Native Sons building with dentist, Dr. Affeldt upstairs, Coffee And, Walker’s Toggery, Pastime Club, the Capitol Bar, Tourist Liquors, Heller’s Variety, Bud’s Fountain & sporting goods, Cabona’s clothing, the Sierra Sun, the Donner Theater (which burnt down Christmas Eve 1960), the phone company, a barber shop (upstairs), The Truckee Hotel, Mary Zaninos beauty salon (upstairs), and Lloyds Drug Store.
Across the street was Quilici’s Cleaners, two gas stations, and the Southern Pacific train station/bus depot.
In Gateway there was the ZEE Markets, Leamon’s Furniture Store, Tonini’s Fountain, Besio’s Clothing, and a florist. At Donner Lake there was a hardware store and small motels. Many of these old business buildings have been restored.
The restored McGwinn house is now home to Bolam Art Gallery, and is listed on Truckee’s historical registry. Waggoner said her grandparents, Michael and Winifred McGwinn, bought the house from Southern Pacific Railroad in the early 1900s. They had moved to Truckee from Stockton when Michael McGwinn has hired to maintain the only telegraph and then phone line into Truckee.
“If the line went down my grandfather had to put on snowshoes and go fix the line,” said Waggoner. “In those days it was just that one line that allowed Truckee to call over the mountain.”
When World War I ended in 1918, her grandfather announced the news to a crowd.
“And the town’s switchboard was right in our house,” she said. “My grandmother operated the switchboard for the town. I remember that the board would arc during electrical storms and we would hide under the bed. I think that is why my dad put asbestos shingles on the house when I was young.”
Waggoner’s mother died in 1970, and her only sibling, Frances, died in Sacramento in 2012. Waggoner and her sister both became teachers after graduating from San Francisco State. Waggoner earned a master’s degree in early childhood development and still does education consulting.
She still likes to drive by the McGwinn house when she visits her son at their home in Tahoe-Donner.
“Our house reminds me of the old Truckee. Growing up in the ’50s and ’60s meant people worked hard, everyone knew everyone, teachers reported on each child to their parent. Everyone was involved in the school sports and activities,” she said. “All school events were often celebrated with a downtown parade of decorated cars. Elementary school teachers acknowledged their students’ graduations with gifts and cards.”
Waggoner said she remembers those days in old Truckee when she visits her son. Pereira plans on continuing the McGwinn heritage in Truckee. “It has a special place in my heart, there are few places on earth that have world class skiing, mountain biking, fly fishing and golf all within ten minutes from your home. Why would anyone live anywhere else?”
This article was written and submitted by Tod Bedrosian, a classmate with Judy McGwinn in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh grades.
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In 2019, Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue received a grant of $395,500 from the Truckee Tahoe Airport District to replace an old snowcat and hauler.