Pine Nuts: The Union newspaper turns 150 |

Pine Nuts: The Union newspaper turns 150

On Wednesday I was invited to speak at the sesquicentennial celebration of the Grass Valley Union newspaper and warm up a full house at the Del Oro Theater for an historical motion picture debut. Having just finished celebrating Nevada’s 150th birthday, well, they picked the right man for the job.

The Union’s nascent young publisher called me Wednesday morning and asked if I might be able to work one of their founding fathers into my program, which I was happy to do. But you want to be careful about what you ask for.

“Happy Birthday to the Union,” I said. “I had the honor of knowing one of your founders, Jim Townsend, who had but one crying flaw to his otherwise sterling character, you could not squeeze the truth out of him with a cider press. He would tell you a lie for a dollar when he could get a dollar and a half for telling you the truth. We called him ‘Lyin’ Jim Townsend.’

“By to his own account, Jim was born with twenty toes, five on either end of each foot. His ankles were symmetrically situated to allow equal sprouting of the toes, and consequently his mother had to keep a sharp eye on him, for she never knew if he was coming or going. As an adult, his boots had to be specially made. “Lyin’ Jim was only with the Grass Valley Union for nine days before he got run off for attempting to sell his shares to a group of Copperheads. But that being told, old Lyin’ Jim Townsend helped to found one heck of a fine and long-lasting Union newspaper.”

I thanked the Grass Valley folks for inviting me to speak to their drama and AP English students at Nevada Union High School on several occasions over the past 26 years and thanked the parents for providing such trouble-free kids.

The excellent documentary confirmed what we have all learned over the years in visiting Grass Valley: They are a caring, close-knit community where everybody helps their neighbor out whenever possible.

As a specific example, when a downtown glass company burned to the ground, and the owner carried no insurance, the entire community turned out to help restore the building, including a competitor from down the block. And that’s the kind of place Grass Valley is today.

Nevada City and Grass Valley were at odds a half century ago. Teen gangs would meet in parks at night to fight, but they are one family today, which harbingers hope that our two major political parties, the Democrats and Republicans, can someday do the same.

The Union was kind enough to put me up in the Mark Twain Room at the venerable Holbrooke Hotel, which served me well, as I was able to shave with Mark Twain’s portrait in the morning and did not have to use the mirror.

If I were to live out my life in California instead of my beloved Nevada, I would like to live it out in Grass Valley. Their bars are full of live music on weekday nights.

Oh, speaking of fun, we shall be celebrating Mark Twain’s 179th birthday at the Mark Twain Cultural Center & Toccata Guttman Music Hall this Saturday night if you’re in the woods and looking for trouble.

The Union is a sister paper of the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza. To learn more about McAvoy Layne, visit

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.