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Sen. Reid playing with electric trains
by Harry Spencer
Jun 12, 2009 | 767 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
To many youngsters of my generation, the ultimate Christmas present was a Lionel Electric train. A story that broke early this week called back to mind the smell of the smoky transformer and the way some of the track sections did not fit together too well in those days of yesteryear. That story pertained to Nevada’s U.S. Sen. Harry Reid switching his support for a MagLev train between Las Vegas and Disneyland to a different type of train — an electric train in this case — that could make the trip from Victorville, Calif., to Las Vegas in under an hour and a half at speeds up to 150 miles per hour.

This “Desert Express,” as it is called, garnered Reid’s support since, as he put it, the MagLev project had dragged its feet on development.

The other side of the story, as reported in the Las Vegas paper, is that one of the primary backers of the “Desert Express” is longtime political pro Sig Rogich. Primarily active in the Republican party since the days of Paul Laxalt and Ronald Reagan, Rogich not too long ago joined a long list of other Republicans who have come out in support of Reid’s reelection bid for the Senate next year.

Rogich is best remembered from the last general election in Nevada when, as a confidant to Gov. Jim Gibbons, he was “odd man out” in the famous incident between the current governor and a Las Vegas cocktail waitress.

Auto Realignment

According to word circulating on Reno’s “Auto Row” (Kietzke Lane,) we will probably see some major realignment in local auto dealerships. With Chrysler and General Motors bankruptcies, some longtime major dealers will no longer be in existence and some existing dealerships are expected to expand as they pick up new franchises. Winkel Motors will be receiving their Hummers from a Chinese manufacturer if all goes well and Saturn of Reno will get its cars from Penske. No word yet on whether or not the Pontiac brand will be sold or simply vanish as did Oldsmobile a few years back.

In addition to the Kietzke Lane realignment, there may be some changes on South Virginia Street, which is now home to six new car dealerships. It is rumored that the Lincoln-Mercury franchise will no longer exist in Reno and that the Suzuki brand will be moved to join its Lithia brother, Hyundai, on Kietzke.

While the domestic automobile industry is in a state of flux, the imports seem to be holding their own, with no threat of government intervention.

One of Reno’s longest established dealerships, 80-year-old Scott Motors on Virginia Street, was notified that its GM franchise would be pulled by Oct. 31, 2010. The matter is under appeal and much of what will eventually happen to GM franchises is still months away.

Celebrity Corner

While much has been made in this space about live entertainers and stars of movies and television that have visited this area in the past, there was another group of superstars that drew as much interest as did the entertainers when they showed up hereabouts: the professional sports stars.

One of the earliest was Joe DiMaggio, the famed “Yankee Clipper” who was a regular at the invitational golf tournaments that were started by Holiday Hotel (now the Sienna) owner Newt Crumley. His famed “mug hunt” golf outing drew major players from Major League Baseball, DiMaggio included. The next property to hop aboard the golf bandwagon was Harrah’s Tahoe, whose tourney featured almost an equal mix of entertainers and sports greats. When Charles Mapes got into the golf business he concentrated on the NFL and AFL heroes of that era. The main source of bringing in the former pigskin greats was Don Burke, who has played with the 49ers and then moved on to operate the San Francisco office for the city of Reno.

Mapes added a little patina to the sports greats that came to his tournament by naming an “Athlete of the Year,” who received a nice trophy outside of the golf awards. The first so honored was 49er John Brodie, who was quickly followed in subsequent years by George Blanda, Dandy Don Meredith, Kyle Rote and the “Mad Bomber,” Daryl Lamonica. Rick Barry of NBA fame was also a Mapes regular, as were a number of NFL coaches, headed by Red Sanders.

When the hotel casino invitational golf tourneys were in full swing here, the Holiday, Harrah’s, Mapes and John Ascuaga’s Nugget were the major participants. Since many of the high rollers, who were first on the invitation list, liked all four properties and vice versa, the rollers soon had an annual golf circuit of their own since none of the tourneys conflicted on dates.

To illustrate the luster that the pro athletes who attended had to the amateurs, I once quizzed one of the Mapes golfers if he would rather be in a foursome with Andy Williams or Joe DiMaggio. “DiMaggio of course,” he responded.

In later years, the NFL alumni chapter in the area did a number of tourneys in which the former NFL stars were the main attraction. And to top it all off, the annual golf tournament at Edgewood on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, which featured stars from all sports, got extremely high ratings on the NBC network.

Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.

Editor’s note: Harry Spencer’s column is sometimes a mix of reporting and opinion. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.
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