For the "Blues’ From Wendover to Eureka in the 1930s
June 20, 2003
“Within a period of an hour-and-a-half, eight lads, full of life and activity who had raced about Ruth’s basketball floor with not a care in the world, were lying in a wrecked car while death spread its mantle over two of them. Happy-go-lucky-youth had suddenly been turned into the bitter gloom of tragedy.” — Ely Times
Two of the youths, Christopher Collis and Charles Eberle, died at the scene. The other two died later that night at Steptoe Valley Hospital. The Ely Times article said, “Before dawn, Joe Montilione and Robert Baker had lost their struggle with the Grim Reaper.”
It was a tragedy that rocked the small Nevada community of McGill. The photo taken the night of the accident tells the story of the four ballplayers who met their end Jan. 7, 1933. It appeared Jan. 13, the day after the victims were buried.
The other four were badly injured and “are still battling against death, taking advantage of the fighting chance given them by attending physicians.” They were the 15-year-old driver Erling Linnell, 15-year-old Nick Pintar, 14-year-old Sylvan Morley and 16-year-old Charles Carr.
Carr now lives in Sacramento. The rest have since died.
Newspaper accounts place the head-on accident between the two Dodge sedans nine miles from Ely on the McGill Road.
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The eight ballplayers on a squad called “The Blues” were “jammed in the old Dodge like sardines in a can” for their return trip from Ruth, where they lost a league basketball game to the Ruth Independents 24-12.
Jerry Mahoney, driver of the second car, was returning home to Ely after closing up “The Browning Store, of which he is manager in McGill.”
Mahoney fractured his left knee and received a cut on his right leg.
The paper noted his 1932 Dodge sedan’s”reinforced steel frame” for “withstanding the shock much better.”
The town began saying its goodbyes Jan. 10 — first to Eberle, 15. The Ely Times reported “Today as school chums and friends throughout the whole district gathered in solemn tribute at the largest services ever held here … “
On Jan. 11, double services were held for 17-year-olds Montilione and Baker. “Over 700 persons were estimated to have been present this morning for the services. The funeral cortege numbered above 70 cars. White Pine High School dismissed at 9:45 for the morning.”
Mourners for Collis, 14, packed the chapel, and “Burial was in Ely cemetery within a few feet of the grave of his father.”
Tom Dotson was born in McGill on Jan. 9, 1926, to Tim and Myrtle Dotson. Today, he lives with his wife, Joan, on the Lazy TJ Livestock Co. holdings in East Carson City.
Dotson remembers the shock that hit the community.
“I was 7 years old the day that paper came out,” he said. “The whole town was in shock.”
Dotson remembers his days as a young man on the Lincoln Highway, riding the Lewis Bros. Stage between Salt Lake City and Ely. The stage line consisted of buses and cars. Dotson remembers that en route from the Nevada/Utah state line at Wendover, bus driver Ken Latimer would stop at the Boone Springs rest stop. Travelers were greeted by Mr. and Mrs. Elisegui and their daughter, “beautiful black-haired Anita,” Dotson said. Her family owned the station until the 1960s. “Now it’s up for sale again,” he said.
Down the road from Boone Springs is Lage’s Service Station, a gas station operated by brothers Sam and Bill Lage and their grandparents Henry and Martha Lage. They retired in 1945, after running the station for nine years.
The Pony Express cut across Fort Shellbourne, home to Shellbourne Station and a sandwich shop. It was just an eating place, a place to stop and get water. It served as an occasional stop for the stage.
Monte Neva Hot Springs
“A bootleggers’ paradise,” Dotson said.
Eight miles across Steptoe Valley west of Highway 93, in the 1920s and ’30s, the resort was a play place for miners from the nearby copper mines.
Unfortunately, according to Dotson, the miners’ wives played the most. When one shift was on, the other shift was sparking the miners’ wives. The place pretty much closed at the end of Prohibition, Dotson said.
Afterwards, the Civilian Conservation Corps was stationed nearby.
3 Mile Ranch
Three miles outside of McGill was the ranch owned by the Klaich family. Dotson said Grandpa Klaich would walk, winter and summer, the three miles back and forth to work at the Kennecott Copper Co. smelter.
On Nov. 7, 1941, Sheriff Clifford Drietzler met his end in the hills above the Klaiches’ 3 Mile Ranch. Stopping to check on what he thought was a stranded car, Drietzler’s path crossed that of an escaped prisoner named Shipley. Dotson said Shipley marched the sheriff up above the pipeline and shot him in the head. Authorities caught up with him seven miles this side of the Mexico border when he again ran out of gas.
Erling Linnell’s brother, Norman, has tended bar at the McGill Club for more than 64 years. Dotson says Linnell still remembers the old-timers’ names and what they drank. In Dotson’s day, the club was owned by Stan Draper and managed by Baird Spell.
One of the highlights, depending on your point of view, were badger fights. Regulars would take the Fuller Brush man or any traveling pots-and-pan salesman and get him all primed for a badger fight. They’d convince him that he could whip the badger, and all he had to do was set it loose by pulling a rope. Amid barking dogs and gunshots, the unwitting salesman would yank on the rope. The salesman would turn to run, not knowing there was no badger at at the end of his rope — only a collection of chamber pots.
“They still have one badger fight a year in Ely,” Dotson said. “One guy ran almost to the 3 Mile Ranch before they could get him stopped.”
Thirteen miles and 10 hours from Wendover, travelers on the Lewis Bros. Stage ended their journey in Ely.
From Ely, the highway traveled through Eureka, Austin and on to East Gate.
“There was an ice cream fountain here,” Dotson said. “They served the first double-deckers. Everybody stopped here. It was the watering hole between Fallon and Austin.”
The ice cream parlor was to the side of a house that was both a home and a school. The Gasper family lived there. “Mom was a school teacher, and I’m not sure if it was Al or Bill that was born in the house,” Dotson said.