Sesquicentennial: The oasis known as Fallon
When Mike Fallon built a crossroads store on his ranch property in 1896, the sparsely settled region of the Carson Sink had a nucleus for the first time since Kenyon’s trading post at Ragtown, to the west, served the wagon trains. In the same year the county renovated the old Virginia City-to-Fairview telegraph line (for which it had paid $975 in 1889) to serve as a single-line telephone system linking the farms and ranches in the area. As a consequence, you can have an almost unique experience here for a dime: make a phone call. The telephone system is still owned and operated by the County, the only one in the USA still run as a public utility.
Creation of the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District by the U.S. Reclamation Service shortly after the turn of the century prompted a tremendous spurt of settlement in the region to be provided with irrigation water, and the tiny settlement at Fallon became the seat of suddenly vigorous Churchill County in 1902. A bank was established in 1908, and Fallon was incorporated.
By this time the intensive agricultural development had begun to pay satisfying dividends. Fallon’s Hearts O’ Gold cantaloupes graced the menus of fine hotels and restaurants in the biggest cities of the nation, and Fallon turkeys brought premium prices.
For the Fourth of July celebration of 1911 the town fathers imported a wrestler who challenged all comers after lying down in the dirt and gravel of Maine Street and permitting his trainer to drive an automobile over his rigid body.
In 1915 the Nevada State Fair was held in Fallon, and the townspeople built an enormous “palace” of hay bales at the intersection of Maine and Center. The roofless structure measured sixty feet square and its walls rose eighteen feet high. At night dances were held within it while the king and queen of the fair presided on thrones of Fallon hay. Construction of Lahontan Dam was also completed that year.
Prices turned down after World War I, and Fallon fell into 20 years of dull times. Even the mining excitements in the nearby hills did not entirely lift the depression. In June, 1942, however, the Navy began construction of a small air station southeast of town, and Fallon’s economy jumped up again. The station was closed in 1946, but reopened during the Korean War. In 1958 it was dedicated to Lt. Cdr. Bruce Van Voorhis, a Navy pilot from Fallon awarded the Medal of Honor. The 14,000-ft. runway is the Navy’s longest.
It is also one of the busiest just now. The Navy’s use of the air space over a big part of the country to the east, to train pilots in combat techniques has made the region uninhabitable. Oil and fuel spills, as well as bomb drops, have accumulated enormous environmental damage. And at the same time, the base has expanded its activities (and its payroll) with accompanying benefit to the local economy.
For all the uproar, Fallon goes about its business with an air of quiet satisfaction, an easy, amiable, tree-shaded town. Meals and lodging are easy to find, and all automotive services are available. The Depot Casino, the Bonanza, the Fallon Nugget and the Stockmen’s are “full service” casinos. There are Mexican, Italian and Chinese restaurants as well as more common fare.
On a warm summer’s evening, after a scurrying rain squall has wet down the fresh-cut alfalfa and dusk has set the frogs and crickets to singing, Fallon is at its comfortable best. Take the kids swimming at the pool, or watch a Little League game at the City Park. One of the pleasantest images in my memory is from this park, of a little leaguer wearing number 7, the tail tucked halfway down his pants, and waving a glove the size of a satellite dish at the baseballs flying over his head.
If you’re in town during a Tuesday or Wednesday, take in the livestock sales. Cattle are the main attraction, but horses, sheep, hogs and goats are auctioned as well, and once in a while a burro. Somebody even paid $6.50 for a duck one slow afternoon.
The Churchill County Museum is on South Maine Street — Fallon is the only Nevada town to add the stately E to its big street’s name — and admission to the 14,000 square feet of engaging and vivacious exhibits is free. You’ll see a reconstructed Native American camp, an antique fire truck and a thousand items in between, ranging from arrowheads and neolithic tools through a hand-pumped vacuum cleaner and leather post cards.
Stillwater, briefly and long ago the Churchill County seat, is headquarters for the Stillwater Indian Reservation and home of one of the region’s most celebrated citizens, Fortunate Eagle. A few years ago Fortunate Eagle flew to Rome, descended to the runway and planted his lance in the asphalt, claiming Italy on behalf of the American Indians by right of discovery.
The celebrated storyteller “Squaw Tom” Sanders lived near Fallon for many years, and many of his tales were of the local Indian life. He is buried in the Indian cemetery at Stillwater.
In the early 1950s Fallon’s literary tradition was further enriched when a “poor, skinny, dreamy kid” of 21 from Portland, Oregon, showed up at the door of the Eagle Standard on Williams Street — the poet Richard Brautigan.