Truckee Old Timer’s Picnic: Generations gather at Regional Park to talk history
If you missed the signs, you may have mistaken the Old Timer’s Picnic last Saturday for a town reunion.
“The Old Timer’s Picnic makes you think of somebody from way back. But that’s not it,” said Chelsea Walterscheid as she held her son Jack, 15 months, in her arms.
“It’s about locals. It’s not just about being an old timer, it’s also about meeting them and finding out what Truckee was like when they were young.”
No doubt there were plenty of old timers in the crowd of around 140 at the Regional Park. But while many, like young Jack Walterscheid, didn’t come close to old timer status, everyone in attendance did consider themselves to be among friends or family.
After all, people don’t come from as far away as Massachusetts to talk about railroads, old schools and big snow years.
“If you ask them about (the past) they will tell you,” said Sharon Pace Arnold, president of the Truckee Donner Historical Society and tender of Truckee’s family tree. “But it’s about the people. That’s Truckee. We were like one big family.”
“It’s about the people and the interconnectedness,” said Laura Horman who, along with her husband Dan, worked the historical society’s reception table.
Certainly, Truckee’s past was the common thread that wound itself through the crowd. From the ice houses founded by Tom Macaulay’s grandfather at the turn of the century to the demolition of Dot’s place (the alleged brothel on Jibboom Street that was recently torn down), the conversation flowing across the tables at the park was a historian’s dream. But then again, many of the attendees were historians.
“During the winter of ’52, the pass was closed for 28 days,” Laura Horman said as she began recollecting one of Truckee’s harshest winters.
“Here comes Azad,” her husband interrupted, welcoming one of the original locals, Azad McIver. McIver has lived in Truckee since 1922.
McIver’s brother, Dick Joseph, was an Armenian immigrant barber who arrived in 1917, and went on to own much of the land in the Gateway area and behind Safeway. Joesph later donated the land for Tahoe Forest Hospital and McIver has since made various donations to the hospice.
What was Truckee like when McIver arrived in 1922 at the age of 14?
“The population was 500, and everybody knew everybody,” she said. “We didn’t have all the tourists, machinery, or even electricity.”
But the stories that illuminated Truckee’s past were drowned out by more mundane talk.
“Is that you?When did you move to Colfax? Does anybody ever hear from Sturke?”
McIver’s own reminiscing was cut short by an old friend.
“Good to see you, good to see you,” she said, hugging and patting her old friend on the back.
Saturday’s picnic marked the 21st annual gathering of friends, family and, yes, old timers, with several in attendance having attended every picnic since its inception.
“I missed it one year, when I was in Italy,” said Harry Digesti, who owned and managed Tahoe-Truckee Fuel Co. and Allied Automotive in the ’50s.
How did the picnic start? Like so many other things in the nation’s “coldest town,” the weather played an important role.
“About 20 years ago, a lot of old timers would come to Truckee for Memorial Day. But often, it was still so cold (in May), that we decided to move it,” Arnold explained. “At the first Old Timer’s Picnic, everybody was so excited, some people hadn’t seen each other in 50 years, they were hugging and kissing and laughing and dancing.”
And judging from Saturday’s crowd, those traditions have been well maintained.
Still, time has made its presence felt.
“Over the last 20 years, we have lost about 125 people who have attended the picnics,” Arnold said. “But there’s another crowd coming in, so hopefully we will always have the picnic.”
Howard Snider, whose dad was a United States Forest Service ranger in Truckee from 1925-48, believes a sense of community will not only keep the picnic going, but Truckee itself.
“The people coming in, within a year, many of them are deeply rooted,” he said. “They make this community. It’s the people.”
As old acquaintances made their way out, past the Truckee Donner Historical Society’s reception table, staffed all afternoon by the Hormans, the salutations indicated next year’s 22nd Annual Old Timers Picnic is in good shape.
“Great to see you again,” Laura Horman said all the old timers that passed her table, slowly making their way toward the parking lot.
“See you next year, honey,” was the standard reply.
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