The father of Truckee’s fireworks
The fireworks at Donner Lake have come and gone over the last 50 years, but the exhibition blasted-off thanks to a spark lit by Rex Reid, who still calls the lake home.Reid was only in town for a year or two when he decided to put on Truckee’s first fireworks show at Donner Lake. He rolled into town from Los Angeles, worked as a general contractor and joined the chamber of commerce. But, there was still a void in Reid’s life.”I was a newcomer, and I hadn’t been accepted, yet,” said Reid, who will turn 89 this month.He wanted a way to get in with the town’s people – all 898 of them – and find an outlet for what he calls “my civic pride.” “I served as president [of the chamber],” Reid said. “And I asked people what goes on around here for the Fourth of July, and they said ‘Nothing special.'”
So in 1951, Reid obtained a pyrotechnics license – he boasts that he had the only one in the Sierra at the time – and started a collection to fund a fireworks show. People gave him a dollar here and two dollars there.It was a true grass-roots effort.Reid says there were naysayers, people who said a fireworks show couldn’t be done, that it was a fire hazard.”The [former] publisher of the Sierra Sun [Walter Barrett] said it was a crime that we were blowing all that money up in smoke,” he said.For Reid, putting on Truckee’s first fireworks exhibition was an adventure.By the time the summer of 1951 rolled around, Reid said he had $94 for the show. Fortunately, a friend from the chamber of commerce had an out-of-town connection with fireworks from the previous Independence Day, which they purchased at a discounted rate.
Reid doesn’t know how many people attended the July Fourth celebration in 1951. He and his confidants from the chamber of commerce shot the fireworks from cannons on a private pier on the south shore of Donner Lake.”It was a lot of fun,” Reid said. “We had it organized so there wasn’t a lull in the program.”And they must have put on one heck of a 40-minute show.”People who originally didn’t like the idea were coming up to me to shake my hand afterwards,” Reid said.The next year people doubled and tripled their donations. Reid said letters rolled in from people all over the country, asking if the fireworks show was an annual event.The July 3, 1952, Sierra Sun reported that the Truckee Chamber of Commerce fireworks committee – comprised of Reid, Oscar Quam and E.K. Stice – raised $223 for the show with donations from local and nearby businesses.
That year they shot the fireworks from a raft on the lake made of nine, 55-gallon oil drums.By the third year, the lake’s fireworks had become a true spectacle. The county chamber of commerce gave the Truckee chamber $750 for the show. The CHP set up patrolmen on Highway 40 to direct traffic along Donner Lake, Reid said.Reid’s fireworks committee had to turn volunteers away.”We had to tell people we didn’t need any help because we had so many volunteers,” he said. “We had to tell them to stop helping because we could have blown their heads off with those mortars.”This weekend, as he has done each year, Reid will walk across the street to see the fireworks. Some years there hasn’t been a show, but when there is a show, he has his opinions.”Having been there and done that,” he said, “I criticize.”