Truckee spring cleaning not a new affair
Saturday is “Truckee Clean Streets Day,” with a very worthwhile goal of cleaning up our town. Truckee has usually had a problem with litter, garbage and junk collecting over the winter, and that trash needing to be cleaned up by its citizens in the spring. For many years the problem was documented in the local newspaper.The Truckee Tribune of May 29, 1869, which was the first spring that Truckee had a newspaper, told a story that would be repeated for many seasons. Many improvements to buildings were being accomplished, but the paper commented that Front Street (Commercial Row) was closer to an outhouse rather than a street. The newspaper declared that “it is a shame and a disgrace to every businessman on it, and he who stands back from clearing in front of his door because others do not clear theirs, is no better than his neighbor.” The paper went on to encourage a community effort to clean up the town.The message got through to most of the Front Street merchants. By June 5, much of Front Street was cleared of debris and litter. Businessmen such as Fred Burkhalter, Frank Pauson, Hawley & Harris, D.W. Miller of the Freight Depot, Plunkett & Harrison, Wilson & Griffith, and Weller & Morris were mentioned as being the leaders of the cleanup effort.
Spring cleanupsThe spring cleanups throughout the 1870s were more than just garbage on the streets. The three fires of 1871 leveled over 200 buildings in Truckee, some several times. Debris accumulated after these fires and needed to be hauled off. Large rocks, some several hundred pounds, were still in the street and each spring more were removed or sunk into the street. Sinking a rock consisted of excavating under it until it was sunk below the surface. Stumps were still being removed as late as 1878. Grading of the plaza was started in 1870, but was still in progress by the spring of 1876.One thing that both complicates and contributes to historical research is that all debris and garbage was hauled off and dumped at random sites. There was no single organized sanitary refuse disposal as we know it. Well into the 1920s, garbage and debris was hauled to vacant properties around the outskirts of town. Dump sites were in every direction. East and north of the cemetery were common sites, all the way out to Hobart Mills. Garbage was also dumped along U.S. 40 east of Truckee.Another dumpsite was out Hot Springs Road (now Brockway Road). The road to Donner Lake had a major rubbish problem in 1908. The Truckee River banks were a favorite dumping sites, so that when high water of the spring runoff came along, the banks were flushed clean.
Sometimes low spots were filled and holes were dug to bury garbage. When water lines were being installed along Commercial Row and Donner Pass Road in 1985, several dump sites were uncovered in parking lots and road edges that provided excellent artifacts that are on display in the Old Jail Museum. Recent redevelopment on Jibboom Street turned up bricks, bottles and other garbage-turned-artifacts.Cast-iron stomachApril of 1901 was a particularly notable year. The Truckee Republican reported that “something must be done to improve sanitary conditions, it is absolutely imperative. The streets are reeking of filth; dead dogs, dead cats, dead chickens and objectionable refuse of every description lie on the public streets. The alley in back of the Front Street business houses is in such a condition that a person would want a cast-iron stomach.”This was in the days before sewer systems, regular garbage collection, and community government. The paper complained that Nevada County was doing nothing to assist Truckee in maintaining a clean mountain environment. It was up to each business and residence to dispose of their own garbage in any way possible.
As the photo shows, cleanups were a community affair. Volunteers cleaned up the town just about every year. The major notable cleanup and paint-up was in the fall of 1959, in preparation for the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley. Since the Olympic Parade was to start in Truckee, the people of the community decided that their town, with its many weather beaten wooden buildings, needed a major facelift. The Fibreboard Corporation assisted by providing paint and equipment to complete the project.Sierra Sun Editor-Publisher Walt Barrett was the spearhead of community involvement. Long-time Donner Lake resident Rex Reid was a major organizer of the work. A color plan for the town was designed and adopted by the Chamber of Commerce and community groups. Beauty queens and the Truckee High School band were on hand for the event.Saturday’s town cleanup may be as memorable as others if Truckee’s resident’s will take pride in their town.Gordon Richards is the research historian for the Truckee Donner Historical Society. Comments, story ideas, guest articles, and history information are always welcome. Visit the Truckee Donner Historical Society Web site at http://www.truckeehistory.tripod.com. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Leave a message at 582-0893