Motorists crossing Nevada’s midsection on U.S. 50 sometimes notice a name on their Google map — a place called Frenchman’s Station — about 30 miles east of Fallon and see absolutely nothing.
The site is located in the center of an interminably long stretch of highway that intersects Dixie Valley and is lifeless, remote and empty.
But up until the mid-1980s, Frenchman’s was a happening place. There, in the middle of the valley once stood a fairly thriving roadside gas station and diner, the last incarnation of a rest stop for weary travelers that could trace its roots back to the start of the 20th century.
Frenchman’s Station, also known as Bermond, was founded in 1904 by Aime “Frenchy” Bermond, a French immigrant who arrived in the Silver State in 1899. He established the station as a rest stop for freight wagons traveling between Fallon and the mining camps at Wonder and Fairview, located a few miles to the north and east.
In time, he built a small hotel, restaurant and bar on the site. Since it was the only respite from the surrounding harsh landscape, the place soon became a popular gathering place for travelers, miners and freight workers.
In 1920, there was enough going on at Frenchman’s Station to merit the opening of a post office, which postal officials named “Bermond” after the station’s owner. Not surprisingly, Bermond served as the postmaster. The post office closed in 1926.
Since there was not a water source on the site of the station, which was adjacent to a salt flat, Bermond hauled water from Lucky Boy Springs, located about 12 miles away. According to Barbara Hodges, on the Online Nevada Encyclopedia site, he charged customers for using water, placing a sign on a large holding tank that read, “If you don’t want to pay for this water, leave it alone.”
Photos from 1911 show two crude log structures on the site. However, by the 1920s, Bermond was successful enough to build several more professional, wooden commercial buildings, including one with a frontier false front painted with the name, “Frenchman’s Station.” A single gas pump stands in front of the structures, ready to serve any passing vehicles.
Hodges wrote that Bermond also served another type of refreshment that, at least in the 1920s, wasn’t legal — alcoholic beverages. During Prohibition, it is rumored that he operated an illegal still on the property.
Following Bermond’s death in 1926, the station was owned by his widow, Rose. She leased it to a man named Dude Gobin, who operated the hotel and restaurant for many years. Eventually, she sold the property, which passed through various hands during the next six decades.
In the early 1980s, the U.S. Navy announced plans to expand its use of the airspace over the Dixie Valley for training exercises, including bombing runs. Frenchman’s Station’s location, which had made it a virtual oasis in the desert for more than 80 years, placed it squarely in the middle of the Navy’s proposed bombing range.
For a time, Frenchman’s owners tried to co-exist with the Navy. The station remained open despite frequent, loud sonic booms and low-flying aircraft — in fact, to this day there are road signs along U.S. 50 in Dixie Valley that warn motorists to “Watch for Low Flying Aircraft.”
For several years, one of the most popular items for sale at the station was a T-shirt saying, “I Got Bombed at Frenchman’s.”
Finally, in 1985 the owners agreed to turn over the venerable station to the Navy. Two years later, the buildings were demolished and all evidence that Frenchman’s Station had ever existed was gone.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.