Trucking to Truckee

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September 21st 2019
Published: September 21st 2019
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I first encountered the town of Truckee when I began skiing in the 70s. Truckee was a good place to eat or drink the evening away after a hard day on the slopes. In those days, playing hard all day and all night was both the usual and the expected. But Truckee has changed considerably ( and so have I) over the years. I would say it has become a little more of a destination, rather than a wide spot in the road to grab a beer or a steak. Besides a number of interesting eateries, shopping has come front and center with a variety of eclectic, rustic, and stylish retailers.

Truckee got its name from the Stephens Party in 1844, part of the first emigrant wagon train that successfully crossed the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They were ably assisted by a friendly Paiute Indian chief by the name of "Tro-kay". He ended up assisting thousands in their migration across the Humboldt Sink through forty miles of desert. The white men decided to call him "Truckee". Two years later, in 1846, the now infamous Donner Party attempted to cross the Sierras as winter set in. The party was said to have practiced cannibalism to survive. In the next few years, thousands passed through "Emigrant Gap". In later years, roads and travel stations were built. Then the first lumber mill was built in 1866. Both the Central Pacific Railroad and the silver mines in Virginia City needed the timbers. Lumber became Truckee's main industry for several decades.

In 1867, construction began on a railroad that brought up to 12,000 workers, including 10,000 Chinese immigrants. This became the greatest achievement in the U.S. in the 19th century. In 1868, the Nevada City Daily Transcript pronounced that Coburns Station is now called the town of Truckee. With the completion of the railroad, both the lumber and ice industries flourished. The ice house had a capacity of 80,000 tons, allowing refrigeration of fresh fruit and vegetables from the Valley to reach points east.

The road to prosperity had its rough spots, with fires destroying Truckee three times in 1871. In 1875, Boca Brewing Company was incorporated and became an instant success. By 1893, Truckee was gaining fame as a tourist destination and summer resort area. Daily stagecoaches brought passengers and tourists to Truckee and nearby Lake Tahoe. The low point came in 1886 when the white citizens of Truckee drove out the Chinese, who had been instrumental in building the very railroad that brought success to the area.

Between the 1890s and 1920s, Truckee became known for the Winter Carnival. The highlight was an ice palace with three foot walls. Tourists came to enjoy the ice palace and outdoor winter sports. The Carnival attracted over 2,000 people to the area to enjoy skiing, skating, sledding, and dog races. In 1935, an association was formed to maintain Hollywood's interest in using Truckee for movies. Of course, the Olympic Games of 1960 at nearby Squaw Valley also helped put Truckee and Lake Tahoe on the national map. It solidified the Tahoe area as an all year, four season recreational area. The Olympics also paved the way for the four lane Interstate 80 Freeway from the Bay Area, all the way to Tahoe, and on to Reno.

By the 1970s, subdivisions sprang up around Truckee, as people desired the small town lifestyle, as well as second homes for winter skiing and summer vacations. When Fiberboard opened nearby Northstar Ski Resort, the area had an upscale resort that helped bring better roads, utilities, and infrastructure to the area. Finally, in 1993, Truckee was incorporated and the Truckee Fire District was formed. Downtown Truckee has been preserved and will soon become a National Historic District.

Today's Truckee has the ambience of a mountain town, with the peaceful silence of the mountains, the majestic trees, and the chill of mountain streams and lakes. The population runs less than 20,000 people, though the numbers swell in winter and summer. Among the area attractions are: Donner Memorial State Park, Northstar-at-Tahoe resort, Tahoe Donner Equestrian Center, Coyote Moon golf course, and magnificent Lake Tahoe. Truckee is only 92 miles from Sacramento, and less than 30 miles from Reno.

In my skiing days, Truckee was never a resting place, but a great watering hole (singles bars) and grub stop on the way to a ski cabin or resort. The local law enforcement tended to look the other way as we staggered out of the bars around midnight. It was a great place to meet other young people, especially singles out for a ski weekend. It always seemed like we were outnumbered by female skiers looking for a place to drink, at someone else's expense.

In the 80s, I began to frequent the area during the summer, primarily due to my kids, and the plethora of golf courses. It never hurts that the ball goes from 10-20% further in the dry, thin altitude. Northstar became a regular stop on our summer vacation schedule. It had tennis courts, recreation center for kids, a huge pool, mountain biking, and kids camp. One of our favorite activities was the comb the nearby woods along the golf course for golf balls. Of course, an occasional brown bear chasing my son back into the condo was a sight to behold. A lazy rafting trip down the Truckee River, a day at Sand Beach cove, some fishing at dusk, and an obligatory ride into Reno for gambling were always on the agenda.

The town of Truckee went a little more upscale as well. Prices of food and durable goods went up, along with real estate and rental prices. New golf courses were added. And new roads were built to ease the traffic around Truckee. Truckee's most famous resident was none other than Tom Meschery, whose real name was Tomislav Nikolayevich Meshcheryakov. He was a former professional basketball player with the Philadelphia and San Francisco Warriors. He was known as a enforcer, and hooked up with the Laker's resident enforcer, Rudy LaRusso. After his playing and coaching career, he earned a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Iowa in 1974. He earned his Bachelor's degree locally at St, Mary's College in 1961. He taught high school English in Reno and creative writing at Sierra College until his retirement in 2005. He is also a poet and was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. He owned the Sundance bookstore and tea shop on the outskirts of Truckee.

Truckee is also a very dog friendly town. It seems that everyone who vacations in the North Tahoe area during the summer, brings their canine family members. Buddy (and now Lexi) has been up there many times, and loves the smell of the forest and the wild animals roaming the woods.

So, to brave the summer crowds, a stop at Ikeda's Fruit Stand in Auburn is always great therapy. Their home made pies, fresh fruit, organic veggies, and trail mixes are always a hit. If you want a sit down lunch or dinner, try Lou LaBonte's next door. Ikeda's is strictly fast and greasy food. Lou might actually have some greens or fish around on the menu. But the Tahoe crowd loads up on fresh fruit and veggies at Ikeda's. The parking lot is a jumbled mess. Dodge a few motor homes and women drivers, and the rewards will be worth it! Ikeda's was formerly one of the best kept secrets of diehard skiers in the 70s. Once the yuppies and boomers found it, it became a zoo, and of course, the Ikeda family prospered.

Fast forward to 2019: One of the primary reasons for this trip is to see an old and dear high school classmate, Dr. Jack, vet to the stars, in Auburn. After a nice lunch, we will drive on up to Truckee for the weekend. I will bring Lexi and my trusty road bike. What is the highlight of Truckee now?

Morgan's Lobster Shack, of course. Real Maine lobster, alongside the Truckee River. A perfect combination!!!

And besides our summer visits (Northstar mostly) here, I have stopped here numerous times on Amtrak, both directions on Amtrak's California Zephyr. So, yes, Tahoe, and specifically Truckee, has become a year round destination.


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