Truckee’s past highlights historical society’s annual old-timers’ picnic
No grumpy old men attended the Truckee-Donner Historical Society’s 19th Annual Old-timers’ Picnic, nor were the old-timers in attendance rehashing the past as though the present were the worst of times. Rather, the 160 people, young and old, who attended Saturday’s event at the Truckee River Regional Park spoke to each other like any reunited group of friends, not about the distant past but about what’s been happening since they last met.
A keg of Truckee Amber Ale and soft drinks galore helped wash away the dust the cool wind blew in. Saturday’s colder weather didn’t turn people away, perhaps because these were Truckee old-timers, prepared for an outdoor event in July with winter parkas and layers of warm clothes. Many people brought old photos depicting moments in Truckee’s vivid past, passing them to local historian Guy Coates to photograph or better yet, donating them to the historical society for careful preservation.
George and Pat Kamp of Sun Valley, Nev., traveled to Truckee for the day to donate about 25 old Truckee pictures found when they sorted through George’s mother’s belongings after her recent death. Questions remained, however, as to the names of some of the people depicted.
“Where’s Mary King?” someone shouted. “Mary King will know who these people are.”
Sure enough, for the most part she did.
Though among themselves the old-timers didn’t seem anxious or hell-bent to relive the good old days, to a wanna-be old-timer asking the right questions, stories of the past were free-flowing and forthcoming.
Ava Glenn explained that she and her husband returned to Truckee from Dorris, Calif., for the 16th year in a row to attend this year’s event. Ava used to come to the picnic by herself, before she and her husband moved away, because, though he began working for the railroad in Truckee in 1948, he never considered himself a Truckee old-timer until he moved away.
During their time here, while he worked the railroad, Ava raised their children and then went to work in the local schools. She spent 28 years working in Truckee’s school cafeterias and to this day she remains in touch with many of the students she saw at lunch every day. Ava mentioned that she helped establish the schools’ support of the lunch program at the seniors’ housing complex in Truckee many years ago. She was sorry to hear that the program recently faced some funding challenges but was not surprised that the Truckee community had rallied to ensure the program will endure.
Leon Hutchins, who has lived in Truckee for 44 years, had to explain to a green reporter asking naive questions that the site of Saturday’s picnic, Truckee River Regional Park, is indeed Truckee’s old dump.
“I don’t think they ever checked here for methane gas,” he said, patting the green grass which many Truckee residents so thoroughly enjoy.
A guy named Pops used to run the old dump, Hutchins explained, and when he burned the garbage, huge billowing clouds of black smoke rose into the air, and very often nearly toppled planes taking off from Truckee’s airport.
When he was asked if he had ever thought about moving away from Truckee, Hutchins said he had moved: once to join the army and once to go to college. He worked many years for Teichert Aggregates, from where he retired. Since then he has not considered moving.
“I’m enjoying my life,” Hutchins said.
Though he never lived in Truckee himself, Tom McCauley is a young-at-heart Reno resident whose great-grandfather served in the War of 1812. When the U.S. government couldn’t pay its soldiers for their service, McCauley said, they handed out land script instead. McCauley’s great-grandfather came west with his land script in 1849 and was joined by McCauley’s grandfather three years later. In 1901, he became an ice harvester in Truckee. McCauley said his interest in the ice harvesting industry inspired interest in the general history of Truckee and the west. He’s been attending the old-timers picnic for about 10 years, he said.
Ella Waters, unlike McCauley, was born and raised in Truckee.
“I saw the town grow up,” Waters said. “I am 74 years old and the town has changed a lot. And oh, it’s wonderful to be here.”
Ken Snider traveled from Sacramento to attend Saturday’s old-timers picnic. He patiently explained to the relative newcomer asking questions that when he graduated from Meadow Lake Union High School in Truckee in 1946, he was one of five in the senior class that year. Of those five graduates, four still remain in or regularly return to the area. The most students the high school ever housed at one time, he said, was 70, and the population of Truckee during that time could not have been more than about 1,000.
When prompted and prodded with questions, Snider answered, acquiescing to the old-timer role imposed upon him.
The fishing back then was great, he said, and he loved those seven-pound German browns. The hunting, too, was bountiful and you could carefully select the choicest rack. The snow fell earlier and melted later and came in deeper record amounts.
Snider recalls working for the power company, getting paid to ski, not merely for the pleasure of skiing, but to mark with orange stakes where the power lines ran so that others in spring would not be electrocuted as the snow began to melt, revealing those buried lines.
“Every place has changed,” he said. “All the places I used to hunt have houses there or are private property now. But I’ve got the memories, that’s the main thing.”
At least one recent Truckee arrival is thankful that, like others, Snider is willing to share.
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