Searching for answers about a WWI-era banjo |

Searching for answers about a WWI-era banjo

Jarid Shipley
Appeal Staff Writer

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Tom Dotson talks about his recent purchase of this historic banjo, while standing next to a Studebaker water wagon from 1882 at his Carson City home on Saturday.

Tom Dotson is always searching for pieces of Nevada’s past and, from the looks of the grounds of his home east of Carson City, his quests usually produce.

His three-acre property is littered with relics reminiscent of days gone by. In the stack of pictures he keeps, mixed with photos of family outings, are parts of his collection he has given away or sold.

“It isn’t about what it’s worth, it’s about the history of Nevada,” said the 79-year-old Dotson.

His current collection includes several horse-drawn Studebaker wagons from the early 1900s, a 1911 washing machine, 1917 wicker baby carriage and a caboose. He has sold antiques to many people and businesses in the community, including equipment that is now on display in front of the Piñon Plaza, according to Dotson.

At one point he even purchased the entire town of Curry, including the post office, gas pumps, wagons and implements.

“I bought everything in the town except the hotel, everything they had,” said Dotson.

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But, most of his attention recently has been focused on his latest acquisition, an old banjo supposedly played by Fred Frisby in the Carson City Firehouse Band during World War I. Dotson purchased the banjo from a buyer east of Dayton and is now hoping to authenticate it.

“We are trying to find out more about it. (The buyer) told me it was in the World War I Carson City Fire band and that Fred Frisby played it,” said Dotson. “I want to prove it’s authentic and find a picture of Frisby and the whole band with the banjo.”

Dotson is hoping that someone has the picture or can offer him information about the banjo.

The banjo has inlaid ivory frets and old fashioned tuning keys as well as Frisby’s name and “Carson City” written on the backside of the banjo. The banjo represents a piece of Carson City and Nevada history, bringing light to the band whose members included a relative of Carson City Sheriff Kenny Furlong.

Once the instrument is authenticated, Dotson hopes the Nevada State Museum or the Fire Department Museum will acquire the piece.

“We want to keep the history of Nevada in Nevada and preserve it so it doesn’t end up getting sold and shipped off to California or Utah,” Dotson said.

Dotson’s wife, Joan, said he doesn’t really look for one type of antique.

“He just likes Nevada and its history. He has turned people down who want to buy his things and take them out of state,” she said.

As for his hobby, his wife said she doesn’t mind having antiques around and it just fits her husband’s personality.

“If you can’t beat them, join them. If he is going to have antiques around then I will just decorate with them. He’s an antique himself, so it fits,” she said.

— Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at or 881-1217.